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Courier Strike In Berlin Keeps ATMs From Being Replenished


A European capital city is running low on cash. The city is Berlin, the capital of Germany, Europe's healthiest economy, so it's not that Berlin residents are suddenly poor. The problem is that even wealthy people may not be able to get cash just exactly when they want it. That's because couriers who supply the city's bank machines are on strike. Many ATMs are now empty. Esme Nicholson reports on troubling news for a nation that prefers to pay the old-fashioned way.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Forty-four-year-old Frank Pause has found a working cash machine and, inevitably, there's a queue.

Are you going to pick up a bit more money than you would normally?

FRANK PAUSE: Yes, and maybe it's a good idea to do it, yes.

NICHOLSON: How much do you have now?

PAUSE: Check it out, I have 150 euros. That should be enough for lunch for today, yeah.

NICHOLSON: Joking aside, Frank was in line to take out more cash. Money couriers in Berlin walked out over a week ago, and there's no sign of a speedy resolution. For some consumers of Europe's largest economy, the strike is enough to trigger angst. According to the Bundesbank, 79 percent of all transactions in Germany are cash payments. Thirty-six-year-old Kai Murk was also waiting to use the ATM. He says paying in cash is about convenience and not only for him.

KAI MURK: I feel a bit awkward to pay something for 50 cents with a debit card. I don't really want to create extra effort for the cashier.

NICHOLSON: For others, it's about anonymity and data protection.

JURGEN MOORMANN: It probably will take more time than other countries to switch the mentality towards, for instance, mobile payments and to believe that companies like Apple or Google and so on will operate with the customer data in an appropriate way.

NICHOLSON: Jurgen Moormann is an expert in banking systems at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. He says that cash is king because Germans inherently trust the institutions that print and mint it. So as long as the strike lasts, ironically, there'll be more available cash at ATMs in the Greek capital Athens than in Berlin. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.