This is the first of a series on the Eiderstedt Region and St. Peter-Ording in Schleswig-Holstein in northern Germany. Already some bridge articles have popped up in The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles. The Links are found at the end of this article.
To start off this article, I would like to start with the origin of this title: Nur Bar ist Wahres. When translated into English, it literally means only cash is the real thing.
When looking at this carefully, one has to ask why it is important to have cash when we can pay everything with the plastic card. When you look at the story that you are about to read, you will understand the logic behind taking a few minutes to go to a bank and arm yourself with valuable sheets of paper.
The story starts out at the Eidersperrwerk (The Eider Barrage), located 11 kilometers south of St. Peter-Ording and adjacent to the NABU Wildlife Refuge at Kattinger Watt. Together with my wife and daughter, we made the third of three long-distance bike tours of more than 30 kilometers round trip. We had just finished a tour through the Kattinger Watt region and were enroute going back to St. Peter-Ording to attend a local celebration at the suburb of Böhl when we were caught by the first of many waves of storms that passed through that afternoon. Known by locals as Schietwetter, the storm front presented high winds and heavy rainfall, combined with high tidal waves which are typical of weather along the North Sea Coast. Seeking shelter at the earliest possible convenience, we found a small restaurant Fischbistro Kattinger Watt, located across from the parking lot at the Barrage. The restaurant offered the most typical of local entrées in the region- anything dealing with fish and Bratkartoffeln (roasted potatoes with ham and onions), along with a good grog (hot water with rum) and a bottle of Flensburger.
There was one catch and it caught us just as we were about to pay: Nur Bar ist Wahres! We only accept cash.
Uh oh! :-O
Explaining this to the cook, we came up with an agreement where we would pay the bill the next morning. However, when living in a society where transactions are almost exclusively done by card, I could not help but find out why many places in the Eiderstedt region only take cash. As this was an occurance with souvenir shops and cafés, I had a chance to find out by interviewing a few people, including those who originated from the big cities, like Berlin, who were also caught off guard when they moved to St. Peter-Ording. After a few misses, I had a chance to talk to a taxi driver who gave me a round trip to the restaurant to pay the bill and like others, only accepted cash as transaction. His answer came along the lines of dead spots and lack of reliability with the banks.
This is where things made sense from that conversation. Why do stores in a rural but tourist region like Eiderstedt accept only cash has to do with reliability and survival? And it has to do with the following explanations:
- Internet is NOT everywhere. Even in a densely populated country, like Germany, you can expect to find dead spots no matter where you travel- by train (despite the Bahn’s attempts of incorporating the wireless LAN onto ICE trains and other forms of regional services), car or bike- and no matter which region. While cities with populations of more than 70,000 are well equipped to provide these services at no cost, rural regions, especially in the northern half of Germany, are prone to deadspots where people have almost no internet access. Therefore any attempts to make transactions via computer is futile for communication is patchy at best, nonexistent in the worst-case scenario. Even if you spend more for internet upgrades even on your Smartphone, there is no guarantee of 100% communication online without any distractions due to dead spots, which happen 70% of the time in areas like Eiderstedt. This leads us to the second explanation…..
- Banks are unreliable. Because of the housing crisis of 2008-9 in the US and its effects on banks and businesses, banks have become scrutinized by customers and merchants for a number of reasons. Many of which are focused on one of two items that we carry in our wallet: the credit card and the bank card. While with the bank card, what you purchase is withdrawn from your bannk account diretly, with the credit card, you buy on credit and pay later. Both have serious impacts on businesses who believe that in order to do business, you have to have real liquidity. After all, merchants need that real asset in order to pay their bills and purchase new products for the shelves. If you buy on credit and cannot pay, the merchant suffers because of the gaping hole you left it. If your bank bars you from making transactions because of insufficient funds, the merchant also suffers as well because they cannot earn their money through your purchase of their products. This is why many businesses prefer real money over the card because of the high risks involved. This was noticeable among most businesses along the North Sea coast, especially restaurants, souvenir shops, cafés and even bike rentals. But one should also keep in mind that other areas with sparse populations and not much access to banks and the internet have the same attitude as well, such as those in the Erzgebirge, Franconia, the Black Forest and the lakes region in Mecklenburg-Pommerania, just to name a few.
- The Unwillingness to Embrace Change- Like in the North Sea region, many rural areas that had once had industry have now turned to tourism as their main source of income because of its only viable way to survive. Except the population has, for the most part, gotten much older and more inflexible to different ways to doing transactions. While some countries, like Denmark, are pushing to eliminate cash and coins in favor of using just the card, the internet is making thing simpler to order and reserve things, and the bitcoin is making its way to the mainstream currency, the older generations are having reservations toward using them because of problems involving their complexity and security. With hackers invading private and business accounts for the purpose of stealing e-assets as well as real ones, many having been in the business for generations have elected to stick to the cash currency that has never failed them regarding transactions. It’s safe, easy to use, and costs can be adjusted based on personal preferences and external factors affecting their business. “Sicher ist sicher” or in English: “Better safe than sorry” is their slogan but one that seems to work best.
There are many more reasons to add, but they would all fall into the categories of lack of internet, lack of security and trust and finally, the lack of willingness to change. Tradition trumps modernity, real commerce trumps e-commerce and henceforth, cash trumps the card. This was a lesson learned for the ages and one that you as a tourist should keep in mind when travelling anywhere:
Don’t leave home without cash because not every place will take the card. Enough said. 😉
If you love fish or anything local, the the Fischbistro at Kattinger Watt is highly recommended. Almost every sort of meal offered there has fish in there or is 100% local, whether it is something with matjes or forelle or even a good Labskaus, a local specialty that features a mixture of eggs, beets and other vegetables mixed and served with Bratkartoffel. Given its location at the parking lot near the Barrage and the boat docking area, as well as at the junction of key highways and bike routes, it is a convenient stop for those wishing for a half hour break plus a small souvenir from a shop next door. There is take-out and one can buy fish at the Fish-o-thek to take home. Customer service was really hometown friendly and in cases of situations like this, they will find a way to solve that problem. Just keep in mind, Bar ist Wahres. One of many examples of places where cash gets you far. The card- stash it, cut it up and for those who are used to e-shopping, suck it up. 😉 Grade: A (1,0) for its delicious food and great service!
Links to a pair of Eiderstedt Bridges posted to date: