The German pharmacy or Apotheke is not like an American Drugstore. The Apotheke sells only medications. It’s not like a CVS or Walgreen’s where, in addition to medications, you can purchase shampoo, cosmetics, household items, and snack food. (The German Drugstore sells these types of products.)

At an Apotheke, you have to ask the pharmacist for what you want, even an over-the-counter drug such as Aspirin. You can’t just pick it up. On the other hand, the German pharmacist has more latitude when it comes to prescribing medications, and it’s often easier to go directly to the Apotheke, explain your symptoms to the pharmacist and get the proper medication rather than visit the doctor.

As with most shops and banks in Germany, the Apotheken are closed in the evenings, on public holidays, and from Saturday afternoon (1 or 2 pm) until Monday morning. Not to fear. If you need medication on a holiday, every Apotheke has a notice posted on its door with the name and address of the nearest on duty Apotheke.

It’s important to remember that an “on duty” Apotheke is not “open” to the public, which means its doors are closed. A customer needs to ring the Apotheke doorbell to get service. A pharmacist will come to the door, and the customer will explain what he or she needs. The pharmacist gets the necessary medication, returns with the drug and bill, and the customer pays. At no point during the transaction does the customer enter the Apotheke. The customer remains at the Apotheke entrance at all times.