It wasn’t until I came down with my first cold in Germany that I realised the remedies I usually buy weren’t available at the supermarket check out or the corner shop. More surprisingly they weren’t available at the Drogerie (drugstore/chemist) either. I’m not simply talking about the brands, the actual products; anything with any actual medicinal value was nowhere to be found. For over the counter medicine Die Apotheke (the pharmacy) is what you’ll need.
Now I have to explain that there are some elements of German life that I am really happy with, whilst some of my fellow foreigners have more opposing views. One of these is the Apotheke. What makes the Apotheke such an opinion divider? Customer service, price and quantity are the most hotly debated. Personally, the fact they close at lunch time for an hour or so and a wednesday afternoon (days will vary) took a while to get used to but I’d only count that as a mild annoyance.
For nicht verschreibungspflichtig (non prescription) medication you have to consult a pharmacist. This can be intimidating for a non-German speaker but rest assured that most Germans speak at least a little English and charades works the rest of the time. The pharmacist will always ask about your symptoms and they aren’t at all quiet about it, leave any embarrassment at the door, no one cares if you have foot fungus or piles, this is all part of sending you home with the correct product (or telling you it might be more appropriate to see a doctor).
A range of products for various maladies can be found lining the walls of the Apotheke. Their prices however may make your eyes water. As someone who is used to paying very little for basic medication like paracetamol/Tylenol in packs of 30, a pack of 10 for 6+ Euros was a rude awakening. Many branded products (which are generally imported) will also cost more than you are used to shelling out. The advice of the pharmacist can be so useful in identifying a similar, and sometimes better product, at a sometimes better price. Further information on medications and prescriptions has also been blogged by Hyde.
The pharmacy is a place to seek advice, no appointment necessary. In this way it acts as a filter for the doctors surgery, keeping waiting times down and giving free advice to everyone. Pharmacists are well trained and a fount of information, one pharmacist friend could not believe that people could purchase over the counter medications without a personal warning of the side effects in the UK. So far I’ve traded most of my old remedies for ones that work the same or in most cases better, and I’ve even been told to go straight to a doctor once. You will also find plenty of holistic cures, lozenges and high-end skincare inside the sometimes traditional wooden clad walls of the Apotheke. If you ever find yourself in Heidelberg the Deutsche Apotheken-Museum (German pharmacy museum) is well worth a visit for a peek into medical care of the past and a look at the interiors of the traditional Apotheken.
Germany loves a non-medicinal cure. Erkältungstee (common cold tea) was something that I smirked at when I arrived, now always have a box on hand for cold season and push it on my friends at the first sight of the sniffles. Whilst opinions have been mixed ‘get that stinking tea away from me’, ‘I realised I was better when I could taste that hideous tea’, ‘smelly but it works’ and I haven’t stopped picking up a packet of painkillers at the airport, I also haven’t sat in a Germ filled doctors waiting room for a sinus infection since I moved here.
Hope you’re all feeling well