American Man Accidentally Buys 10 Liters of Beer in Germany

This is a “Bierkasten,” which translates to “beer box,” or “giant container full of wonderful things.”

My wife is a Gymnasium teacher here in Hannover, Germany, which means she gets 6 weeks off work each summer. So, to celebrate the beginning of her summer break this year — and also our recent move from a horrible apartment in the city into a wonderful new house in the suburbs — my German wife decided to host a small BBQ in our back yard. She invited 4 or 5 of her co-workers and promptly sent me to the local Edeka supermarket to buy beer.

She asked me to bring home exactly “3 six-packs of Ratskrone pilsner,” and she asked me to do this because one can buy Ratskrone (like most German beers) in half liter bottles. But unlike most German beers, you can score a sixer of this shit for like 2 euros. That’s cheap as balls, even by American standards. So I grabbed one of the trolley suitcases we use to carry groceries and shagged ass to the store.

“I’m coming for you, my little golden children!”

Once there, I grabbed a shopping cart and beelined it for the hooch aisle. Of course there was only 1 six pack of Ratskrone left. How could a simple errand in Germany ever go wrong? Luckily, the clerk — a friendly young man wearing a beer-stained apron — was stocking the shelves nearby, so I approached and did my best to speak German with him:

ME: “Excuse me please. Do you have more of these things? These large… six bottles of Ratskrone beer?”

CLERK: “Uh, let me ask.” (He walked into the storage room and yelled a question to his boss, who then yelled something in return.)

CLERK: “Sorry, we’re all out, but we do have these…” (He said, pointing to a big plastic carton full of individual Ratskrone bottles. NOTE: These cartons hold 20 bottles of beer — 10 liters total — and in Germany, everyone knows who buys them: college students about to get obliterated.)

ME: “Oh. Have these bottles the exact same prices?”

At this point, the clerk walked back and forth between the six pack aisle and the carton aisle, explaining to me the price difference in lightspeed German. I nodded as if I’d understood a goddamn thing he said, thanked him for the help and proceeded to calculate the logistics on my own.

Pictured: “beer math.”

The Wife asked me to buy 3 six packs, I thought to myself. That’s 18 half liter bottles no matter how you count them. I’ll just get these loose sons of bitches instead.

So I put the six pack back on the shelf and placed 18 individual bottles in my shopping cart. Then, I remembered you can buy an entire plastic carton full — 20 half liter bottles — and you get a better deal, so I grabbed an extra two bottles to make it an even 20. That’s when I realized, Shit, the chick at the cash register will think I just want 20 loose beers and forget to give me the sweet carton discount, and there is no way in hell I’m going to be able to clarify my intentions in German.

So, I placed all 20 beers back in the carton, lifted the entire carton into my shopping cart, and went to the cash register. The cashier — a kind, nerdy little woman with glasses — scanned one of the beers and rang them all up. What follows is our conversation, if you were to translate everything directly into German:

CASHIER: “That will be 9.59 euros with refund, please.”

ME: “Okay. Must I take this plastic thing with me?” (I asked, pointing to the container.)

CASHIER: “Uh, no, you don’t have to… but you won’t get your carton refund back.”

ME: (Looking very confused.) “May I not, right now, this plastic thing give back?”

CASHIER: “Well, when you return the glass bottles, you will get your refund back on those, but if you don’t bring them back with the container, you will lose the container refund.”

ME: “I am very sorry, but I am, at this very moment, learning German.”

CASHIER: “Oh, no problem,” (she said, continuing to speak German, only now leaning forward and pointing to things on the receipt.) See, here is the bottle refund, and right here is the container refund…”

ME: “Right, but can I not, exactly now, return the container and get money?”

CASHIER: (Thinking for a moment…) “Oh, I understand. Let me ask my manager.”

The cashier hollered some German words over the PA system and then sat there, waiting, while the rest of the people in line glared at me. The manager appeared — a very thick, very bleach blonde woman — and listened as the cashier explained my intentions:

CASHIER: “This customer does not want the plastic container. Can we just ring everything up again and give him the container refund back?”

MANAGER: “No.” (Then, speaking directly to me…) “You must return the container with the bottles in order to receive the container refund.”

ME: “May I do this right now?”

MANAGER & CASHIER: (Speaking in unison–) “No.

ME: “I do not understand correctly. Must I first exit this food store, walk through this food store, and then give back the container?”

MANAGER: “The container must be filled with empty bottles of this exact type of beer. Otherwise, we cannot be sure you bought them here.”

ME: (About ready to cry…) “Should I just have purchased 20 bottles of beer without the container?”

MANAGER: “No no, this way is cheaper.”

Having recognized the word “cheaper,” I nodded my understanding vigorously, apologized to everyone like a repentant criminal, stuffed the receipt in my pocket and took off. Once outside, I placed the bottles inside the luggage trolley and walked home with the empty beer carton swinging in my hand, letting every single one of our new neighbors know my wife and I spend our Tuesday evenings consuming lethal amounts of beer.

“Hey there, Günter! How you doin’? Yep, the Missus and I are about to go on a real hellbender. You’ve still got that ambulance on speed dial, right? Har har! See you in church!”

Score one for America.

To read more of my emotionally scarring adventures in Germany, please check out my other Culture Shock posts.

28 thoughts

  1. I don’t know what kind of straight-edge German community you live in, but those plastic cases are definitely not just for “college students about to get obliterated.”

    Everyone that enjoys a Feierabendbier buys those. You slowly drink it over the course of a couple weeks, return it, and purchase a new one. Since those drink stores have such short hours, it is German custom to have a basement full of beer just in case of an unexpected visitor or spontaneous party.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. billiger! :))

    I was half-expecting a title-continuation the likes of “said American disappeared from the radar for a couple of days afterwards for unknown reasons”.

    Hilarious, nevertheless. Understanding the Pfand system definitely takes a while – I had a similar thing happen to me when I first bought something that’s returnable in De. Complete withe the fast German and the chorus of Nein. :))


  3. Hilarious! I particularly love that the clerk and the manager both answered “NO!” in unison at the end! Just like in an old episode of “I Love Lucy!” Bwahahaha!


  4. Bringing me to tears of laughter again… I love your GermEnglisch! According to an American friend of mine who works for a German company, Pillar #2 of German engineering is: “Why would you do it any other way?”
    I found myself wondering why you would NOT want the plastic crate. When you return the empty bottles (in the crate), you just put the whole crate on the conveyor belt, it’s sucked into the bottle bank, and you get a receipt crediting you for €4,50 (or whatever). Takes 7 seconds. Feeding all those damn bottles individually, waiting for the green light between each one…4 minutes? Then add all the angry, impatient stares…

    (But then I understood the trolley suitcase business, into which the crate would likely not fit.) Still, speaking to Pillar #2, Germans can be inflexible at times…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Usually Germans are as lazy as Americans and shop their beer crates by car – so they just put the crates with the full bottles into their trunk and drive happily home. No problem there. Problems start when you try the no-car approach. Or have a car like a Polski fiat .. Where the “trunk” is in front and has as much room as an evening handbag … or even slightly less.


  6. I bet you were everybody’s favorite person, since Germans love waiting in line so much. Ha ha. Bierkasten are awesome though. We brought 10 of them full of Erdinger and Bitburger to the states with us, and now they hold my empties until I haul them to the recycle container!


  7. Oh my lord, I’m dying. This is great… but if you visit Bavaria you may want to invest in a little red wagon, because you ALWAYS buy a Kasten, and usually more than one at a crack. We usually hit the Getränkemarkt once a month, and load up on beer, water, and some juice. It’s usually 7 or 8 cases a shot, I’d say. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I just love the way you describe all these little daily experiences, full of humor and irony! (I’m not the biggest beer drinker on earth (never) – and can’t exactly understand your enthusiasm to beer – but I love the scenery anyway!! :-)


  9. I have taken back empty beer crates before and it was just fine :) And I agree with Courtney, it’s a completely normal and decent thing to do to buy beer in crates of 20.. I always thought 6-packs were for college students!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s Germany enough. But you are right, they do it manually and you have to ask the guy mostly… I think either Berlin and Munich are German, just each in their different way. The South has a different mentality in some ways :)


  10. American here–cracked up reading this and had to start over halfway through to read it aloud to my German husband. Yes, yes, yes and YES. I can completely imagine this happening to me. Can’t wait to read more of your blog :)


  11. You should consider buying 1 Bierkasten every 2 weeks at least, or your neighbours might think you are one of those vegan, hippy communists or worse.


  12. The Bierkasten is the most normal thing. Just as Beth (a little above) says: Why would you not want it? It is so much more practical – you get the storage right with the bottles. Even the trunk sizes of German cars are measured in the amount of how many of those containers fit in them. :D Your posts remind me sometimes of how awesome we Germans are. Haha…


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