Will the coronavirus pandemic speed up the end of cash in Germany?

Worries about the spread of coronavirus in Germany saw many businesses switch to being ‘card only’. Could this mark a change for cash-loving Germany? Or is Bargeld here to stay?

Will the coronavirus pandemic speed up the end of cash in Germany?
Is the future digital? Photo: DPA

The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in dramatic changes – for a temporary period at least – such as working from home. And in Germany lots more people and businesses turned to card payments instead of cash. But is that still the case now the pandemic is easing?

While Germany has a strong and enduring love for cash, hygiene concerns relating to the coronavirus may permanently change this.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) expressly said card payments – particularly contactless card payments – should be encouraged as a means of halting the spread of the virus.

What's the situation in Germany?

Card payment is becoming more popular in Germany – in 2018, card payments even outstripped cash for the first time.

However, anyone who lives in Germany knows that many places do not accept card, and you should always carry some cash in your wallet.

Now the pandemic is accelerating the contactless payments trend, Ingo Limburg, chairman of the Deutsche Zahlungssysteme initiative told German broadcaster MDR.

Currently, almost half of all payment transactions in Germany are made by card, according to a representative survey commissioned by the project.

It has dropped slightly since the height of the epidemic: at the beginning of April, around two-thirds of Germans questioned in a survey said they were paying by card out of consideration for cashiers working on the frontline of the pandemic.

But Limburg said awareness over the advantages of card payment is still strong.

Read more:

He said customers who began using contactless payments for the first time during the pandemic say they are now enjoying the advantages of fast and convenient processes, rather than using card only out of concern for shop workers.

Banks have also been noticing this trend. The President of the Eastern German Savings Bank Association, Michael Ermrich, pointed out that the contactless card procedure is not only more hygienic, but also more convenient for customers. And he’s convinced that the trend will continue beyond the pandemic phase.

But Horst Gischer, economist at the University of Magdeburg, doesn’t think that the development towards increased digital payments will continue after coronavirus. For one thing, he says, it's impractical to pay only small amounts of money digitally.

Meanwhile, he said using cash as a transaction protects privacy, while providing security to the seller who receives the payment immediately.

Why do Germans love cash so much?

It's down to two main factors: a desire for privacy, and a fear of debt. Throughout modern times, Germans have historically preferred to pay with cash.

Card payments allow financial institutions and potentially others to monitor where your money is being spent, which is something that reminds Germans of the slippery slope of a surveillance state. 

German distaste for debt has halted the rollout of credit card payment in the country – the German word for debt ‘Schuld' also means guilt – meaning that even if you wanted to pay with credit card it would be difficult. 

Up until recently, many major supermarkets and retail chains wouldn't accept credit cards, regardless of the size of the transaction.

That has changed but there are still many cafes, restaurants and clubs that won't accept card.

A survey conducted at the end of 2019 shows that it could take a bit longer before Germans, who pay with cash much more often than in other countries in Europe, switch to digital. 

Even among those under 30, only a quarter said they were ready for a life without cash. And, not surprisingly, the older they are, the lower the approval of das Bargeld (cash). Only five percent of those aged 65 or above can imagine a life without it.

What do you think? Is cash on the way out in Germany? Tell us for a future article by emailing: [email protected]

Member comments

  1. You will pay a card fee and they will know everything you purchase. Another scam to get people to give up anonymity. Digital cash can also simply disappear from accounts.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.