Germany: "It's palpable."

(By Shannon Smiley For The Washington Post)
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Sunday, June 8, 2008

Frank Hermann, 53, sells antiques at a flea market in Berlin. He makes a decent living but "began to notice a real change in prices several months ago. I have changed my shopping patterns to compensate."

A price-conscious consumer, Hermann is frustrated with price increases.

"Even when I am going out for a cheap lunch in a cafeteria, I have realized that I have started comparing the prices of the different menus, and I usually choose the cheaper one," he said. "Not because it necessarily appeals to me, but because I don't see a need to pay more."

The flea market where he sells his antiques "is a reliable gauge for the economic climate in Germany. In poor economic times, browsers buy less. It's palpable."

But he said he's protected by a good standard of living in Germany and is optimistic severe food shortages won't reach him.

"The last time we had a real shortage here was during the Cold War, when many people hoarded food and were worried about a nuclear war," he said. "But thankfully, we are not at that situation here, today, in Germany."

When he reads about crises in Burma or parts of Africa, "it is hard to comprehend the urgency. It bears little relation to the degree of comfort we have."

-- Shannon Smiley

© 2008 The Washington Post Company