Berlin tries life under a single European currency

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BERLIN - Berliners are, for this week only, taking part in an experiment to see what life will be like under a single European currency. The city's biggest bank, Landesbank Berlin, has had minted 1.3 million coins - representations of the planned euro - which can be bought at street kiosks and exchanged for selected items in more than 50 restaurants, bars and shops until May 11.

The scheme, backed by the European Commission and the federal government, is concentrated in two of the city's most busy shopping and tourist areas - Kurfuerstendamm and Rote Rathaus. "We want visitors to have the chance to buy them too," says Bettina Hickstein, euro coordinator at the Landesbank Berlin.

Promotion is via information booklets and public relations. A telephone line is also being publicized that connects members of the public with a euro specialist, of whom they can ask questions. In addition, Berlin mounted a fete last week-end that focused specifically on the advent of the single currency. The event has been timed to coincide with "European Week" that takes place every year in Berlin.

By May 7, some 500,000 of the euros had been bought (at a cost of $1.8 for 1.5 euros), though Landesbank, which has financed the coin production, will not know to what extent consumers have used the currency to pay for goods until next week.

For their part, retailers have been working hard to encourage sales in euros. McDonald's, for example, has created a special euro meal, of four items (a drink, fries, a burger and an ice cream) for four euros. And a clothing shop has specifically designed a bikini in blue with yellow stars, to depict the flag of the European Union. One had sold within the first seven days, despite its 100 euro ($120) price tag.

Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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