Going for gold at Berlin department store


Mistrust the capital markets? Buying a little nugget means you can hedge your bets

FOR ALL HER going on about gold, there’s no sign of Shirley Bassey in Berlin’s Galeries Lafayette.

Still, the Berlin branch of the French department store, though smaller than its Parisian parent, has something unusual to offer: a gold dispensing machine.

With little fanfare, the store has just installed the machine on the first floor, offering its customers another expensive temptation among the designer dresses and shoes.

At first glance the unremark- able machine could be a ticket- or junk-food dispenser, but a look at the window reveals its precious contents: a line of gold nuggets of all shapes, sizes and prices.

The screen behind reveals the damage: €44 gets you a 1g nugget of gold. 5g costs €174 and the prices continue up to the pleasingly rounded 250g nugget for €7,822.

The prices are updated every 10 minutes and a quick mobile phone cross-check reveals the prices to be an accurate reflection of current market values.

Customers can pay with cash as well as debit and credit card and, in the interests of research, I decide to buy a 1g nugget. With little fuss, and even less excitement, the machine spits out a receipt and a black “Gold to Go” box. Inside, among a lot of padded packaging, is a small plastic bag containing what looks like a mobile Sim card. Embossed with the words “Heraeus Feingold 999.9”, the nugget is tiny, thin and laminated in a flat plastic case. It’s a 24-carat disappointment.

Not so for Galeries Lafayette: they say the machine has been doing a brisk trade. “It’s been a big hit with customers, who are buying gold both as small presents for family and friends as well as an investment,” said a store spokeswoman.

The machine is operated by German company Ex-Oriente- Lux, which is rolling out machines across Europe and as far away as Abu Dhabi and Las Vegas.

It launched its “Gold to Go” operation four years ago to capitalise on what it saw as a lingering mistrust of capital markets created by the global economic crisis. With the minimum of fuss and the maximum of discretion, it sees an opportunity offering casual, nervous investors the timeless value – and protection – of gold.

Trade is slack at the gold machine on a quiet afternoon this week. One couple are drawn by the machine’s golden exterior, but walk away shaking their head after a few seconds’ perusal.

“I heard about this, I’d consider buying something small for my daughter but would worry that someone would see me buying and rob me outside,” said Clemens (48), visiting from Munich. Berliner Karl (36) said that Germans’ hard-wired fear of inflation meant that the machine might do a brisk trade if uncertainty over the euro continues. “But it’s not for me, I’m an optimist in general and about the euro in particular, he said. “Things will have to get a lot worse before I start investing in gold. At least I’ll know where to come when things go that far.”