College Connect: The Bank of Mom and Dad

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Connor Murphy, ASU Cronkite School

connor-murphy-twitter-headshotEven among other major European cities, German towns and cities are unique for their dependence on cash. Whether you’re buying a pilsner at a beer garden or postcard to send home, cash is the preferred method of payment. This is not to say that credit is not a major part of the German economy, but everyday transactions are generally paid in cash only. In many restaurants and shops, credit cards are simply not accepted. And even in grocery stores or other major outlets that may accept cards, cash is always preferred. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way on a recent trip to Germany.

This summer I traveled to Germany to visit a friend. We toured numerous towns and cities, concluding our trip in Berlin. Before I traveled to Germany I had heard that cash would be essential for this trip, so I brought a substantial amount of Euros in cash. But by the time we arrived in Berlin, I needed to make a withdrawal from credit to get a few more Euros.

While I needed more cash for general expenses, such as food and drink, I also needed cash for one purchase in particular. I had promised to buy my parents a corny souvenir and had just found the perfect item: a fake piece of the Berlin Wall.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, small pieces of this great divide became cherished mementos to many Berliners who lived through the horrors of the Cold War. However, the factory which produced the concrete to build the wall – an East German producer – quickly saw opportunity in the new capitalist market. For the last 27 years, this company has produced fake versions of the wall at their factory using the exact same concrete mix, and then proceeded to smash these fakes walls just as the original wall was taken down. Fake pieces of the wall are then sold to tourists who think they are purchasing a genuine piece of the original wall (the company has supposedly produced enough of these fake walls since 1989 to produce four new Berlin Walls).

A fake piece of the Berlin Wall was exactly the sort of cheesy, corny souvenir that I knew my parents would love. But to buy it, I needed more cash.

Using my smartphone, I looked up the nearest ATMs that accepted my credit card, an American Express. When I attempted to withdraw funds, however, the card was declined. Knowing that there was a substantial amount of funds remaining on the card, I tried another ATM. Again, I was unable to withdraw. After a third failed attempt, I decided to call American express. At first, I was simply trying to buy a piece of concrete, but without any cash, I was suddenly wondering if I could survive for the next few days.

To my dismay, American Express informed that they no longer allowed withdrawals outside of the United States. The company which only weeks before had sent a new credit card that was marketed as, “a passport to the world,” was utterly useless in this cash based economy.

After swallowing my pride, I called the bank which every college student dreads, but inevitably uses: the bank of mom and dad. Through some quick online transfers, my parents placed funds from my American Express on my other card (a Bank of America debit card), from which I could easily withdraw at any Deutsche Bank.

Crisis averted and Euros in hand, I finally got that fake piece of history.

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