Germany only agreed to eventually give up the mark in favor of the euro because the European Central Bank was designed just like the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, as an anti-inflation watchdog whose mandate does not include political considerations — such as stimulating job growth like the U.S. Federal Reserve.
The experience of hyperinflation is one that has been passed from generation to generation, said DZ Bank research economist Michael Stappel.
"My grandmother always talked about how every day prices were going up, how a bread roll that cost 10 pfennings then cost 5 million marks, and that could never be permitted to happen again," he said. "And my grandmother never spent — she always saved, maybe 80 percent she saved."
Germans today don't save quite that much — 11 percent on average — but that's still much higher than less than 6 percent in the U.S. or 6.5 percent in Japan, for example.
And even the approach to saving is conservative, with 40 percent going into bank accounts, 30 percent into life insurance — and only 6 percent into stocks, Stappel said. Another 3 percent goes into bonds.
So when Merkel holds Greeks and Spaniards to strict standards in return for European Union bailout funds — to which Germany is the largest contributor — and regularly shoots down ideas on quick fixes to the euro crisis, it should come as no surprise, Stappel said: "It's a part of the German culture."
Attitudes toward debt are starting to change, albeit slowly.
Credit cards, for example, are often needed for online purchases and are starting to become accepted in more places — albeit often only with a roll of the eyes. And Ikea is taking them now in two of their nearly 50 German stores, spokeswoman Josefin Thorell said.
But both the stores that do take plastic are near the border with France where there's more demand from customers that they accept credit cards, said Thorell.
"It's to make it easier for the French customers," she said.
Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm contributed to this report.
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