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German Town’s ‘Euro’ Test a Flop _ Except for Coin Collectors

October 11, 1996

WALDKIRCH, Germany (AP) _ The mayor thought he had a great idea to get skeptical townspeople to back a single European currency: have some sample ``euro″ coins minted and persuade shopkeepers to accept them in a two-week trial run.

But as Mayor Richard Leibinger’s test comes to an end Sunday, most in this Black Forest town say it was a flop. That is, all but the collectors who snapped up almost all 7,000 of the limited-run coins in two days.

``Twice someone made purchases with a `euro.′ Both times it was the mayor,″ said Christine Schill-Hornauer, selling apple tarts and other goodies at her family’s bakery.

Ordinary Germans say they are reluctant to give up the mark _ one of the world’s strongest currencies and the symbol of German affluence.

``My neighbor says we’re never going to get the (real) euro anyway,″ said retiree Ursula Stoltenburg. ``I’m in no hurry.″

Leibinger, who favors the monetary union with Europe, convinced a local banker and merchants around the cobblestone Market Square to try the experiment after Selestat, France _ Waldkirch’s sister city just across the Rhine _ staged a successful coin experiment in May.

The project ran into trouble from the start.

Although Chancellor Helmut Kohl strongly supports the move toward a single European currency in 1999, the Finance Ministry prohibited the experiment. They cited potential problems in controlling the country’s money supply _ one of the arguments used by Europeans against the currency union.

The federal government finally gave its approval after Waldkirch promised the coins would be used only as barter, not as legal tender.

That was a fatal flaw: it meant that stores couldn’t give change in marks for purchases made with the ``euro.″

A local bank minted only 7,000 silver and brass euros, and then in denominations of three ``euros, ″ or $4, and of 25 ``euros,″ worth about $33.

While the bank quickly sold out of the coins, few of them actually made it into circulation.

At another bakery, owner Ruth Herr took down a sign listing prices for pretzels, rolls and whole wheat bread in euros because she said it only encouraged people to ask her if she had any of the coins _ which she didn’t.

It appears that the collectors who snapped up the trial euros guessed correctly that they would be hot items.

Martin Pislcait, whose store sells collectibles ranging from rare coins to basketball cards, was offering double the face value for anyone looking to sell the experimental euros.

``This is perverse,″ he said. ``Why should anyone buy something worth six marks when he knows I’ll give him 12 marks for it?″

Leibinger’s still mad at the federal government for ruining his experiment. He said he just wanted to show people that losing the mark would not be the end of the world.

In England, a county council is being taken to court after being accused of issuing its own currency.

Since April, the Isle of Wight’s council has minted about 8,500 coins, called Ecus after the European currency to show their support for the European monetary union.

Morris Barton, town council leader, said the coins were sold to tourists to help raise money for charity.

A Treasury spokesman said the council was warned that they were violating the law. Lawyers representing the council are due to appear in court on Nov. 14.

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