Pack your own bags
Because you'll have a hard time finding someone to do it for you in German supermarkets. Grocery shopping in Germany is different than in the US, and I'm not only talking about the merchandise.
It begins with the shopping trolley. They're usually parked outside the store, and you will need a one Euro coin (or a 50 Euro-Cent coin, depending on the model) to release it. The trolleys are stackable and connected with a short chain, you see. Depositing a coin is sufficiently enticing for consumers to return the trolley to its rightful place, instead of leaving it in the middle of the parking lot scratching cars. Saves negligence law suits, and personnel who this side of the Atlantic spend considerable hours collecting lost trolleys or accompanying customers to their cars only to be able to take the trolley back inside.
Then there's the merchandise, as previously alluded. Of course the German culinary scene is presentable and has reached impressive heights in the bigger cities. Still, compared to the US, the love of convenience food is not as wide-spread. Families tend to cook and prepare the majority of their meals at home. Which is why you'll find fewer choices of ready-made or microwaveable meals in the stores' freezers, and certainly fewer branches of fast food or snack-type establishments. This is a great motivation to venture into recreating family recipes, and a traditional sauerkraut and sausage dish with mashed potatoes is easily prepared.
Depending on the town you're in, farmers' markets will be held between once a week to every day. They remain the first choice for fresh meat, poultry, cheeses, flowers, fruits and vegetables, which is also reflected in the price. German discount stores like Aldi (click here to check out their US presence) or Lidl enjoy great popularity, too, especially when it comes to canned goods, bulk buys, and sanitary or cleaning articles.
Be sure to choose a good time to go shopping. Saturday mornings tend to be tedious and crowded, since most shops close early on Saturdays (around 2 p.m.) and remain closed on Sundays. During the week, opening hours are allowed to range between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., the usual hours falling between 8 a.m. and 6.30 p.m.. In fact, some stores only open until 8 p.m. one day a week, where I come from that's on Thursdays. (All things to keep in mind when you're working and stay in the office late.)
Thanks to European imports and exports, you may find labels explained in German and another language, like French, Spanish, Polish, or Italian. Depending on the article, labels might include all European languages, but personally, I don't remember seeing English very often. In other words, remember to bring your pocket dictionary, and make foodstuff some of the first vocabulary you learn! In any case, the price you see on the label is what you'll pay at the register, because value added tax (currently 19 %) is already included.
You're ready to pay, you reach the till a.k.a. "die Kasse," and you can't find plastic bags to store your food? That's because Germans have been taught to bring their own bags and baskets for many years. Certainly, you can buy plastic bags in the store when you forget to bring your own, but they'll cost you: between 20 Euro-Cents and 1 Euro depending on the size of the bag. And yes, it is unlikely you'll have either teenager or pensioner there to help pack your bags. You can pay with cash or bank card in most locations, however, foreign credit cards are not accepted everywhere. Some registers only accept EC cards, i.e. debit cards issued by German or European banks. Checks are hardly ever used anywhere, at least not to my knowledge.
I hope you've enjoyed this little trip into the "Supermarkt," and don't forget to take back your trolley! For more information, check out these pages.
Til next time, thanks to the Wanzl company for the image of their 554 DRC-series D-15. ;-)