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Mind the Fine Print, Know Your Grammar: The Odds of German Pricing

One day a lady came into a beauty salon in Berlin and said: “I’d like to get some highlights in my hair please.” The hairdresser asked her to take a seat and started to work with the lady’s full long hair. When asked how many highlights she wanted, the young woman told the hairdresser to spread them out evenly over all of her head.

When told the price of her new hairstyle, the woman thought she must have been hearing things. “Wasn’t it only one Euro for the whole thing?”, she asked, thinking of the small advertisement she saw in the elevator of her house.  “No, ma’am”, the hairdresser said and explained that it was one Euro per strand, not one Euro for the whole service.

Even though this story might sound rather absurd to most of you, (I know, why would someone charge you by hair strand and not just give a price for the whole thing?) it is nevertheless a true story I was told a couple of years ago in Berlin and I chose it as an intro example because it illustrates a confusion that many people who are new (or old) in Germany have: the confusion with the local pricing strategies.

So before you find yourself in an awkward and surprising situation like the one above, let me guide you through some aspects of German pricing strategies that I have noticed so far (continuation may follow later).

Know the language, know the grammar

What gets most people into the pricing trap is the way that prices for goods and services here are being advertised. You may see a nice colorful ad on the train, like a bus company that offers trips from Berlin to many places in Germany in Europe. So you sit there, look up to the poster and see in large print Berlin- Paris ab 33 Euro! The first thought that is most likely to cross your mind at this point is: Awesome! I get to go to Paris for only 33 Euros! But let me tell you that no, you are most likely not going to Paris for only 33 Euros.

The trick is in the little word ab, which is German for starting from but because this little ab is printed so small, many people either don’t notice it, or the internationals who end up here have no idea what that word means.

So if you see a price X on an advertisement and it has the word ab in front of it, it means that price X is the lowest where you can start but normally the prices will be higher than what you see now. Especially for things like train or bus tickets you can pay that price only if you book several days or weeks ahead also, that price will be for a one way ticket and not a trip back and forth.

Hidden costs

Even though budget airlines have to state their ticket prices with taxes and extra costs included, which is why they also switched to the ab strategy, this rule still does not apply to all businesses in Germany. There is such a thing as a ‘hidden price’ that you will not know about from the start.

The best example for that are nail studios. When I went to one for the first time, the text on the window said: complete modeling 20 Euros, refill 15 Euros. I thought that was quite a good offer and went in to get my nails done. In the end, I did not pay 20 Euros like I thought I would but 27 Euros total.

That is because when nail studios state prices, they only tell you about the actual price of the refill or complete modelling alone. Depending on what it is you want to have done with your nails after that, be it French manicure in white or in different colors, with plastic gems or glitter, air brush motives etc., the price will vary. Since I wanted to get simple French manicure, which costs 7 Euros, I had to pay 27 Euros in total. Twenty for the actual service and seven for the design. By the way, each plastic gem costs about 50 cents to a Euro, so be careful when choosing to have one on each finger.

The same applies when you buy event tickets at a booking office. These offices are meant for people who buy the tickets in advance and who don’t buy them from the actual organizer of the event, which makes sense if you don’t have a credit card or don’t want to go all the way to the theater just to be told that tickets are out. In that case you just go to the booking office aka Theaterkasse near you.

Tickets bought at a booking office have an extra cost of 1- 2 Euros. So don’t be surprised if instead of 11,90 Euros you have to pay € 13,90. That is not necessarily something everyone knows and it is not always mentioned when you look up the prices online.

The last thing I can think of are taxis. Though I am convinced that this is more or less common knowledge, when you get in a cab, the taximeter will not start counting from zero but from € 3,40. So basically, getting into the cab alone will cost you over three Euros. That is done probably so that if you get in and choose to get out immediately without driving anywhere, the driver won’t end up empty-handed.

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