In Munich, GER, I plan to visit the Christmas market for some Glühwein (hot wine).

From what I read, you can return your glass and get a portion of the price back. The glass is somewhat a souvenir.

I'd like to gift one to mama and one in my bf. Can I drink one and ask for an extra glass (which I will pay it's atomic price)? That would mean that I would walk away with two glasses, while drinking only one glass of wine.

I am afraid that this won't be allowed, and since my German are way too rusty, I thought I should ask, since I couldn't find my answer in the Internet.

Edit: There is a debate to whether it's allowed to keep the cup/glass in the first place.

  • 7
    I've done this several times, and normally, if you tell them you want to take it with you, they'll give you a clean one when you return the dirty one.
    – Chirlo
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 9:12
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    You might try getting "Can I take the glass back to Greece as a souvenir" written down if you really want to check.
    – mdewey
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 10:18
  • I could @mdewey, but that's a last resort solution.
    – gsamaras
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 10:23
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    My friends (German) said that if you want, you can just take the cup, you do not need to return it because you've paid for it already. Sure, there maybe some 'legal/theft' statement but in real life, people don't take it too serious.
    – Binh
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 7:59
  • Thanks @Binh, but at the end of the day, with all this debate being made, I might feel guilty when I do it! Maybe, I'll just have to buy another souvenir, fridge magnets are always a saver! ;)
    – gsamaras
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 8:03

5 Answers 5


I live in Munich and the deposit you pay is intended to cover a breaking or taking of the cup. Especially at a Christmas market it is expected that people will keep the cups or bottles as souvenirs -- that's why the deposit is so high. The more valuable the cup, the higher the price of the deposit. So don't worry about it being "stealing."

I have never seen the stand that sells the drinks also sell the cups by themselves. Especially because each stand has unique cups.

Most people at Christmas markets will be able to help you if you speak English. If you don't feel comfortable discussing it with them, you could buy one wine and a "Kinderpunch" a non-alcoholic version of the drink so that you have two cups but not that much alcohol. Alternatively -- and this may be a little weird -- you could offer to buy another person's cup off of them for the price of the deposit. I'd probably just go with buying two drinks, paying the deposit and keeping the cups.

  • Chris that is an answer I would expect to see, thanks! The other answer names that stealing, and not as expected... I do not want to go to jail! :P I don't like alcohol, so Kinderpunch all night!! haha, thanks! PS: Great tip about every stand having its own cup! I thought every market has its own, nice!
    – gsamaras
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 7:45
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    @gsamaras As an alternative for the Kinderpunch you could also almost always buy a hot cocoa/hot chocolate at german christmas markets, in my experience at least Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 9:44
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    @DennisvanGils oh if that's an option, I will go for it, thanks!
    – gsamaras
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 9:48
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    Tiny spelling remark: It’s Kinderpunsch. You are guaranteed to get into trouble if you start punching children (Kinder). ;-)
    – chirlu
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 14:03
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    Do they really have unique cups? I have the impression, that all stands in every single town have nowadays the same cups. There is no even the year number on the cups now.
    – Neusser
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 14:59

Even if you pay a deposit for the glass, cup or other tableware, you are supposed to return it and get the deposit back. It does not entitle you to steal the cup, even if you forfeit the deposit by doing so. Deposit for tableware is quite common in Germany, not only at the christmas markets.

There are however usually several places to buy such cups as well, but expect them to cost more than what you pay as deposit.

Edit: Since I didn't expect it to be necessary to justify this answer, I didn't do so or link to any resources, but I seem to be mistaken. I thought it should be obvious what a deposit is and that paying a deposit does not entitle to keep the item. From a legal point of view, there is really no difference between paying a deposit for a wine cup or for a rental car and I also thought it should be obvious that you can not take into possession tableware, which you have provided when going out for something to eat or drink.

When I now google for the subject, it seems to be a common enough misconception, also among Germans, that you can keep tableware for which you have paid a deposit. It is a recurring subject in German law forums and even now and then a topic for newpaper articles. Even if two lawyers usually have three different opinions, they mostly agree on this topic: No, of course you can't keep anything for which you have paid a deposit. If you ask the persons running the booths or markets, their attitude usually lie somewhere between 'we can't prevent that customers take the tableware anyway' and 'if every customer would nick their cup, we would run out of cups three weeks before christmas'. Many christmas markets do not use generic cups, but have special yearly editions made. Even if the deposit is obviously higher than the production costs, you can not automatically infer that it is acceptable to keep the cup. A high deposit can also be used as a mean to get a higher return rate of the tableware. Even if it may appear that a booth operator earns money anyway if the cup is not returned for a high deposit, it may just as well mean that the operator will run out of cups and have no possibility to obtain more cups on a short notice.

Here is a seriously ment legal discussion on the subject (in German) about wether keeping the cup is to be concidered as larceny or embezzlement.

And no, I am not saying that you are likely sent to jail for stealing. Chances are very high that noone will notice or care. However if someone does, they are right and you are wrong. And yes, there is of course no law preventing you from asking the booth if you can keep a cup and they can then decide if it is ok or not.

  • 6
    It's stealing??? Damn it! Are you sure? I am pretty sure I had unserstood that these glasses are meant to be festive and may as well serve as a souvenir! I am talking specifically for Christmas market, which are created/operated only in Christmas!
    – gsamaras
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 7:42
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    No, not always. At markets like Christmas markets or wine fests, the glass or cup is intended to be a souvenir if you want it. At some wine fests you can't give the glass back at all. Then at some fests they do want the glass back (see Oktoberfest). Ask if you are not sure.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 8:08
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    This answer is wrong. It's pretty clear the stands ask for a deposit price which is higher than the cost of production of the glass. There would be no benefit and only risks if it wasn't the case. Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 10:13
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    So what happens with those cups with nice "xmas 20k18" writing on them on 1st of January if they are not intended to be sold ? Do they get reused for the next year or do we have a bunch of people (probably the city) invested in cups to be bought by visitors that didn't keep their cups ... Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 11:58
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    Is it a deposit though? At many U.K. beer festivals you actually purchase the glass and then have the option to sell it back to the venue for a set amount rather than a deposit and refund scenario. One festival I was involved with had problems one year because too many people wanted to return their glass and they were loosing a lot of money because they anticipated most would keep the glass.
    – Notts90
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 16:09

Theoretically, this is covered by Pfandrecht, in which the merchant takes the role of the creditor (Pfandgläubiger / Sicherungsnehmer) and you take the role of the debitor (Sicherungsgeber). The deposit (Pfand / Sicherheit) is your property but remains in the merchant's possession as long as you possess[1] the loan (= the cup) under the premise that you will hopefully return the loan at some point.

Now if you do not return the cup, one may have the opinion that this would strictly be (minor) theft since you attempt to (or actually do) take a moveable object that is owned by another person with the intent of taking over ownership illegitimately. That's arguably, within limits, a kinda legitimate point of view. I wouldn't know if that stands in court in presence of Pfand, though.

However, the very intent of the deposit is (BGB §1204) to satisfy the demand of the creditor in case the debitor does not fulfill (i.e. give back the cup). So, very very very strictly, not returning the cup wouldn't count as theft, but would cause Pfandreife. Which means that the merchant will further on be allowed to spend the money you gave them. End of story. That's the reason why every halfway intelligent merchant (or bank) will only ever give a loan that is worth less than the security.

Practically, everybody does it ever now and then, and nobody cares. Taking home your cup is a perfectly "normal" thing, people won't even raise an eyebrow. Contrarily, you can even ask shop runner for a clean cup that you wish to take home and 99.9% certain they'll happily give you one.
In which case BGB §1205 (2) would apply, the deposit being explicitly, and officially transferred and the loan (the cup) being explicitly forfeitet.

Even more practically, even if the merchant -- hypothetically -- humiliated himself insofar as to call police over the cup (for alleged theft) they would not even come, let alone arrest you (even if the theft claim was considered valid). Law enforcement, in reality, is a sad joke in Germany. There's a law against everything, which probably includes breathing in public places.
But in practice, if you have a permanent residence and unless you already have 25 felonies on your record, there's no way you go to prison, let alone for a cup that's worth 30 cents (and for which you paid 3€). Last week, an 48 year old in Siegburg walked free (well, parole, but that's walked free) after being caught distributing child pornography. If you wonder how that could possibly happen, well, he has a permanent residence, first conviction, and he feels honestly sorry.

So, no worries about your little souvenir cup. You're not going to get a life sentence over taking it.

[1] Possess seems like a funny word, but this is intentional. German common language distinguishes more clearly than English between owning and being in control of (= possessing). While you possess the cup, the merchant nevertheless owns it.

  • 2
    German common language distinguishes more clearly than English … – That’s legal language. I doubt you’ll find any layperson who distinguishes between Eigentum and Besitz.
    – chirlu
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 14:00
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    @Chirlu: I remember wondering about that when I was 6 or 7, when indeed, both were "the same" to me. At that time, TV news had it that some armed robber stole a car to flee and "possessed the car for 20 hours before police got him". I wondered how you could possess (own) something that you stole. But of course that's perfectly possible! Most adults very well understand that distinction in common (not-legal) language (though people who say things like einzigster and gebrauchen brauchen ohne zu might not, admittedly).
    – Damon
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 15:03
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    The distinction in English is evident in the phrase "Possession is nine tenths of the law". Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 16:05
  • Some examples from newspaper headlines (via Google News) where Besitzer obviously isn’t used in the legal sense: Geldbörse aus Auto-Fenster geflogen: Polizei sucht Besitzer, Dieser Teddybär sucht seinen Besitzer, Besitzer nach versuchtem Fahrraddiebstahl gesucht, Laptop-Dieb schickt Besitzer eine E-Mail, Polizei in Lörrach sucht den Besitzer eines überfahrenen Hundes, Polizei sucht Besitzer von gestohlenem Smartphone, Polizei fängt entlaufene Pferde ein: Besitzer unbekannt.
    – chirlu
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 19:04
  • The phrase "possession of stolen property" isn't coherent unless a distinction is made between possession and ownership. And of course it's a major plot point in Harry Potter (ownership versus possession of the Elder Wand). And if we're being linguistically pedantic, "loan" as a noun refers to the act of gibing something, not the thing loaned. Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 19:45

Buying a cup of mulled wine, paying a deposit and then not returning can be considered theft in legal terms.

(German source): https://www.augsburger-allgemeine.de/wirtschaft/Ist-es-Diebstahl-Gluehweintassen-zu-behalten-id36241727.html

At the same time in the article it states and as also stated in the other answers stand owners expect not all of the cups to be returned and they are generally OK with the deposit covering the costs for the cups and it is highly unlikely that you get into trouble for taking a cup instead of returning it.

The solution stated in the quoted article:

Just ASK the stand owner if it is o.k. to take the cup instead of returning it.

They may accept, they may decline or they may ask you to pay 1 or 2 euros on top of the deposit for you to keep it. This way everybody is happy. And don't worry about rusty German. Most stand owners will speak English or you can just ask somebody to ask for you.

Enjoy the Christkindlmarkt!

  • 1
    If it's not the norm, I don't think I would ask for it. Having worked as a waiter, serving the water in some very delicate bottles, several customers were asking to keep them, even buying them, and my three bosses were negative to it.
    – gsamaras
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 10:38
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    Interesting article, but I am not sure I believe the cited source. The article is based around the statement of one lawyer - not the decision of a court. Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 10:50
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    @gsamaras I would expect that the supply of those bottles was in some way limited then, or at least not budgeted for, or the bottles themselves were a selling point of the restaurant itself and selling / giving them away would dilute their image.
    – Baldrickk
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 11:58
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    This is the best answer in my view. The legal and the practical aspects are addressed succinct and correct. My personal experience was also always positive: Just ask, they might be even glad you asked instead of just keeping it and give you a clean mug/glas.
    – Dubu
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 14:23
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    @Dubu, that is right in many places, but these markets have a different system, where you buy your glass or cup and keep using it for the rest of the market.
    – Willeke
    Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 15:23

My experience, also in the North, not just in Munich, is that one can always ask to buy the glass/cup/mug. I have never been refused and am generally given a clean one, often wrapped to prevent breakage. I have even asked on behalf of a non-German speaking friend who wanted one of each type and the stall holders happy to help.

I imagine that the cost of the deposit (Pfand) is less than the replacement cost, so they actually want people to have the mugs.

Or maybe they are just in good mood because it's Christmas time, and they want to be nice to everyone :-)

  • 1
    "Or maybe they are just in good mood because it's Christmas time, and they want to be nice to everyone" -> As long as they make money, which is fair! +1
    – gsamaras
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 14:30

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