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German Vending Machines

One of the more positive stereotypes out there about Germany relates to efficiency and automation.  Germany is known for engineering machines and gadgets to solve problems you didn't know you had.

You can see some of this in the wide variety of vending machines here (called an "Automat" here). While some of these now can be found worldwide, Germany (and Japan, too, of course) has been automating sales and billpaying for decades - long before it was popular to sell anything other than coffee out of a vending machine!

Perhaps this is also a partial answer to the early and Sunday closing hours? You will be surprised what you can find in a vending machine here!


First Aid Automats:

First we have the First Aid Vending Machines, which you'll find around Munich in several subway stations. We don't quite understand the Obama-looking cartoon doc, but it is useful to be able to buy headache medicine, tissues, or bandaids while out and about.

First Aid vending machine in Isartor station

Here, a closeup of the contents...water, juice, cough supressant, gum, first aid products, etc. We're not really sure what the red "Alkohol Test" is - if it's rubbing alcohol wipes or a breathalyzer. 

You can actually find the Swiss-made Alkomat in the toilet areas of some bars.  It is a breathalyzer type vending machine. Though, I have to wonder how often this more challenges drunk people to see how high they can blow rather than people checking to see whether or not they can drive...













Speaking of drinking and vending machines, the First Aid Automat (same brand and logo) in the Karlsplatz station has an interesting selection. To me, this looks more like a hangover cure machine rather than a first aid one. It's all water, tomato juice, tissues, breath mints, and gum. Not really going to cure much other than bad breath, dehydration, or hangovers, but still it's there.  















McDonalds EasyOrder automats:    

Even McDonald's is getting on the automat bandwagon, with its new EasyOrder kiosks. McDonald's can get quite busy at peak hours. This new system lets you place the order AND PAY at the kiosk, then pick up in the Easyorder line. Quite smart!


















The photo booths aren't exactly unique, but the quality and number of them here are impressing. There are photobooths (usually at least 2) in every subway station. And they're preset to give you the accurate size for a variety of different bureaucratic needs. And in Germany, you're going to have bureaucratic needs.... They will also reject your application for having the wrong size photo, having too big of a smile, and other issues of non-conformity. As usual, there is a logic behind these frustration - Germany adopted biometric technologies long before anyone else, so the pictures must be in the correct size and proportions.













Art/Design Automat: 

This vending machine in the Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) is unique. It sells limited edition, one-of-a-kind, or hand-made art and design products. Stationery, porcelain, shirts, earrings, and other trinkets. It seems that artists can rent a slot to sell goods through the UnikatAutomat, with the Automat taking a commission on the sold goods.

You can see some of the products available on their online shop.

Right now there is only one of these, but they are planning to expand. I have not idea if this will really work or not, but it's an interesting idea.






The one below is rather interesting and more uniquely German - the Überweisungsautomat (the "bank transfer automat"). Basically it is an ATM for paying bills and making transfers. In Germany, there really aren't checks.  Companies will have them, but private individuals rarely do. Virtually all bills, then, must be paid by bank transfer.  You can set up a recurring transfer, fill out an authorization and mail it in, transfer online, or use one of these machines.

What's unique, however, is that it will automatically scan the form. You'll see the small box on the right above the keyboard, marked "Transfer Form." Every bill comes with a preprinted form that contains the recipient's bank info, your invoice number and amount, and your customer number. It's an orange and red form that looks just like the version on the screen below. You enter your bank account number, sign it, and stick it in the "Transfer Form" scanner. It scans it in and pays the bill for you. If you are transfering funds for other reasons, or you lost your form, you can also use the keyboard to type in the data yourself.

Virtually all bills here are paid by transfer - efficiently and without having to mail anything - and most bank accounts include some number of free transfers per month.  

What's fascinating to me is how long these have been around. There are some bill-pay kiosks in the US now, but these machines have been around at least a couple of decades. Herr J remembers them (looking exactly the same) from his study abroad here circa 1993!




And we couldn't discuss German vending machines without mentioning the beloved and controversial cigarette vending machines.  These have been around for a long, long time. They used to be controversial because anyone could buy cigarettes and tourists always found it a bit odd to have cigarette machines on the street corners.  They're controversial today because they're a bit complicated to use and don't always work, causing smokers much annoyance.

I assume they take cash (but I'm not sure), but they do take EC cards (the standard debit card here).

However, you additionally need to scan your German drivers license or ID card to verify your age. I'm guessing that does make it a bit difficult for any foreigners who don't have the required documents. We also noticed how high the slot is for the debit card - it's close to 6 feet off the ground. I guess that's a clever low-tech way of discouraging children from buying - the old "if you're tall enough to put your money on the bar" test.



MediaMarkt toGO: 

 And finally we have MediaMarkt toGO. MediaMarket basically is the German version of BestBuy. I know vending machines selling iPods are not exactly new, but this is unusual for Germany. And has quite a variety as you can see in the smaller pictures below - it sells everything from video game DVDs to hair dryers to Garmin navigation.

(Also, it's always good to know where you can buy things like batteries, chargers, adapters, and SD cards on holidays and Sundays!)

Not surprisingly, this is in the subway station to the Hauptbahnhof, being a good stop for forgotten gadgets, chargers, headphones or whatever else you need for your trip.

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