A Bad Card Day

My tour book had warned me, but neither Peter or I had believed it. Germany is very much a cash country. The only credit card that was widely accepted was the Eurocard, and all I had was Visa. I was able to pay for my lodging with my Visa card, but everything else was cash. I don’t like carrying around a lot of cash, so during my first week in Germany, I’d drawn money out of an ATM machine 3 times.

On Monday morning, after I’d spent much of the cash I’d had on German commie postcards and music, Struwwelhitler, and other treasures at the House of History, I needed more to mail German comics to Peter and to pay my expenses for the next few days.

But to my horror, the ATM at the Cologne train station, the very same one which had dispensed money to me twice already, told me my ATM card was incompatible with the system. Half in shock, I went to another ATM, which told me the same thing. I started to panic. Had someone hacked my card? Was my bank account cleaned out? Back at home, it was the wee hours of the morning, my bank couldn’t answer, and Peter couldn’t talk to them on my behalf.

So I did the one thing I really really hadn’t wanted to do, but had to, and got a 200 euro cash advance on my credit card. I mailed Peter’s books off and bought a train ticket to Bacharach, and desperately hoped the ATM machine there would be more forgiving.

When I arrived at the youth hostel castle in Bacharach, I tried to pay for my room with my credit card, but to my complete abject horror, now my credit card wouldn’t run. I’d been proud of speaking German exclusively, but I was actually grateful there was a British clerk at the desk and she could tell me in language I could clearly understand that it was likely their card reader that was at fault, not my card. But it was still horrible. I went to Bacharch and had two beers at one of the few restaurants open in the off-season, and then made my dinner with the leftovers of my Kaufland stash.

My credit card worked the next day, but my ATM card was dead. Only when I got home and was able to pick up messages on my American cell phone, did I find out my bank had locked down the card after seeing transactions come across it from far away Cologne. While I should be grateful for the security, I was in a hard place, and I didn’t have another decent meal in Germany because I was afraid my cash would run out.

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