German mark makes a rather stubborn exit

Click to follow

At noon in Berlin the local bank's cash machine was ominously stuck at 04:47 and took no cards. The streets were deserted, the shops closed.

At noon in Berlin the local bank's cash machine was ominously stuck at 04:47 and took no cards. The streets were deserted, the shops closed.

There was no sign of life at the underground station either. The ticket machine programmed to accept the German mark pronounced itself out of order. No money, no ticket: the quest for the first sighting of the euro involved a fare-dodging journey into the heart of the German capital.

The stores there were shut too, but there was some movement at the bank opposite Europe's biggest shop, KaDeWe. Inside, several people were already backing away from a row of machines, examining their wares with suspicious eyes. "It looks rather strange, nothing like what I expected," one customer said.

With trembling hands, I pushed the card into its slot, punched in the number and gingerly touched the screen marked "200 euros". The machine produced a satisfied whirr and a collection of thin paper in different colours appeared. Flushed with success, I tried my Barclays Connect card and went for 50 euros. Again, no protest. You can get euros for your electronic pounds. Amazing.

Better spend it before those nice people in Brussels or Frankfurt change their minds. Tiffany's at the Europa Centre near the Ku'damm was open, and did not turn its nose up at the new currency. On the contrary. "We'd like to ask you to pay in euros," said a sign at the entrance to the café.

The head waiter approached and asked bluntly: "How are you paying?" A discussion ensued, during which it emerged that the café would accept both euros and marks but not a mixture of the two.

When the bill was paid, he whipped out his euro-wallet, and gave back euros and cents in change. Most other customers had to be dealt with out of the mark wallet. "There is no panic," he said. "But the first day is always difficult." But the mark was already fading away. At Cafe Hamlet, Nina the waitress looked grumpy when the old currency was mentioned. "I'll take it as long as you don't try a large bill," she said rather reproachfully.

By late afternoon, some people had taken their first tentative steps into the new world. The underground station was thronged, and the machines happily dispensed tickets for euros – but not marks, even though the currency of the "Economic Miracle" remained legal tender for two months.

Comments