24 February 2007

Shopping in Konstanz, Germany

Konstanz is 1 kilometer from the border between Germany and Switzerland. A convenient geographic fact that served them well during World War II. Every night when the rest of Germany would have black-outs in a vain effort to avoid Allied bombing missions, the citizens of Konstanz would leave their city brightly lit. And it worked. The Allied forces thought Konstanz was part of Switzerland and it was never bombed. Clever, eh?

But history was not our purpose today.

Since arriving in Switzerland we have repeatedly heard that you must go to Konstanz for the shopping. Every weekend, an hourly train from Zürich and a steady stream of cars with Swiss license plates cross the border full of those seeking one thing - value shopping.

Although the sales taxes are much higher in Germany (currently 19%), all of the stores provide a VAT form which you can use to reclaim the taxes at the border. You must also declare your purchases with Swiss Customs if the total amount you spent equals or exceeds 100 CHF (per person) and pay 7% sales tax to Switzerland. (See note below.) In the end you have a 12% discount on your goods.

Today we headed off to scope out the shopping scene and perhaps purchase some cordless telephone handsets not available in Switzerland. We were joined by L and I, on a hunt of their own to find linens for their German-made bed.

I am afraid we were disappointed in our own search. The electronics store did not carry the handsets we need. Our search continues. Fortunately, L & I were more successful and returned home with a bag of bed linens.

In the end we concluded that it is only worth the extra effort of driving to Konstanz if you are purchasing a big ticket item or plan to purchase many smaller things. In our case, the savings did not equal the cost of the gasoline for the trip. It would have been even less worthwhile had we paid for train tickets.

But we did see enough of Konstanz to know that it is a charming town with a beautiful Old City area that is picturesquely situated on the Bodensee, a large lake the Rhein both flows into and out of. In addition, the town seems to have a relatively large Asian immigrant population. Much to the pleasure of our taste buds. For lunch we ate at an Asian restaurant with a combination of Vietnamese and Thai entrees. I had the best Pad Thai I've tasted since coming to Europe. (Not quite as flavorful as my favorite Thai restaurant in the United States, but thankfully not as bland as the three places we have tried in Zürich.)

Next time we go back it will likely be as tourists. My only regret is that I forgot to bring my camera.

NOTE: To those who attempt to avoid paying the Swiss Customs, please be aware that if you get caught you will receive a long and unpleasant inspection, a stiff fine and have to pay the taxes anyway. Plus your name lands on a list of those to watch. Do not forget, shopping is a common reason to visit Konstanz and Swiss officials keep an eye out for those who may be returning with undeclared goods.


Greg said...

They changed the limit on the tax-free import to 300chf. See http://www.ezv.admin.ch/zollinfo_privat/zu_beachten/00350/index.html?lang=de for more info. It's only in German, Italian and French right now. They have written it in English in the past.

There are very specific limits on some things you can bring into the country. Things like meat, milk, cheese and liquor are strongly controlled. Potato products are very heavily taxed. You'll want to visit the above site and see what the limits are. Exceeding any of these limits opens your entire importation to duty charges, even if you're under 300 chf.

A chart of food limits is here: http://www.ezv.admin.ch/zollinfo_privat/essen_trinken/00356/index.html?lang=de

A side note. The border guards tend to look at you like you're crazy if you go to France and don't bring back any wine.

Peter said...

FYI: About WWII bombings. Nazi-Germany forced Switzerland to introduce black-outs as well some years after the war had started. They said, illuminated swiss cities would be orientation guides to allied bombers. Some swiss Cities close to the border, Basel and Schaffhausen notably, were also several times mistakenly bombed by US bombers.

J. Pablo Fernández said...

Is there a directory of shops in Konstanz? I'd like to check whether something is available before going, I need a large toy store :)