- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

FRANKFURT, Germany Europe's national currencies have vanished into history, well ahead of their official expiration tomorrow traded in for euros, lost in couches, taken home by foreigners, or hoarded as mementos.
Tomorrow is the final day that old cash will still buy something, as the remaining nine of the 12 countries using the euro phase out their national currencies. But it has been days, in some cases weeks, since many cashiers have seen German marks, Italian lire or Austrian schillings clink into their tills.
Britain is not using the euro.
The percentage of transactions occurring only in euros is "almost 100 percent," said European Central Bank spokeswoman Regina Schueller.
While officials express relief over the smooth transition, some Europeans are preparing farewells for their old national cash and the kings, poets, artists and thinkers who adorned it. The euro-skeptic Italian government, for instance, is asking people to toss their lire in Rome's Trevi Fountain in a ceremonial gesture.
But the majority of Europeans seem to have shrugged off the change and buckled down to figuring how much things cost in euros.
Karin Mueller said not a single mark was used by the hundreds of morning rush-hour commuters buying newspapers at her shop next to the train station in Frankfurt yesterday.
She is still learning to figure prices, however.
"One still thinks a bit in marks," she said.
Rocco Derito, barman at the Caffe Doria in Rome, said only about one customer a day pays in lire.
Horst Bergauer, a Vienna supermarket employee, said the few still paying with schillings were mostly older people.
"But the amounts dwindle," he said. Now his daily take in the old currency is only about 1,000 schillings, or $62.
There have been a few quibbles with the euro. Most people seem to have a story about a hairdresser or cafe that raised prices during the transition by rounding the new price up to the even euro. The European Central Bank says rounding down due to competition will cancel that out, however.
Bankers and government officials do not expect a last-minute rush to banks. The Netherlands, which phased out the guilder Jan. 28, saw only a slight increase in exchanges in the last 48 hours.
Ireland said goodbye to its pound Feb. 9, and France bid adieu to the franc Feb. 17. Countries where the old currency expires tomorrow are Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain and Portugal.
In Italy, the government plans to donate lire tossed into the Trevi Fountain to the Red Cross and to fund a "Monument to the Lira," whose site, design, cost and date of completion are not clear. In Germany, Finance Minister Hans Eichel was to hand over to a museum the dies and printing plates used to make marks.
Though the old cash will not be legal tender for purchases, it still can be exchanged at branches of countries' national banks. Terms for trading in old money vary from country to country. In Belgium, for instance, coins can be turned in until 2004 and bills indefinitely.
After Feb. 28, however, private banks may either refuse or charge a fee.
While the change may nearly be over for the public, armored-car companies and banks are still busy transporting the last of the old money to central banks, where it is destroyed.
Still, tons of money no one is estimating how much won't ever return because it is lost, being kept for nostalgia's sake or gathering lint in the pockets of travelers who have gone home.
Of about 49 billion German coins put into circulation, around 20 billion aren't expected to be turned in, said Peter Walter, chief cashier at Germany's central bank.
"A huge amount of that will be one-penny, two-penny coins, so the value of those 20 billion coins will be very low," he said.

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