Friday, August 31, 2007

Do you want to bring electronic devices to Germany?

I moved my whole household to Germany and decided to keep some electronic devices. Small things like hair dryers we gave to friends, but my stereo and our espresso machines were big enough investments that we wanted to keep them. Do you know what will work in Germany and what won't? Do you have a good transformer?

Devices with batteries are no problem, but, basically, any devices with motors will have problems. The change in frequency (from 60 Hz to 50 Hz) is something that a transformer can't change. Sometimes motorized products become stressed over time and just break down. So, consider what you risk tolerance is for bringing motorized devices. If you are just going to be in Germany for a short period (1-8 weeks), then don't worry too much. But a year or more in Germany usually is going to test any questionable devices.

In case you didn't know, don't bring an NTSC television to Germany. Here they use PAL. What are NTSC and PAL? Well, NTSC is a North American standard for video transmision, and PAL is a European standard. That means that you can get it to work electronically, but all you will get will be snow. However, if you have a huge DVD collection and a DVD player, then that is less of an issue. Many televisions in Germany can take an American DVD player with a NTSC signal and show it. When you buy a tv here, just be sure that it is compatible with NTSC and that the tv has the same kind of video connector that your player has. There are lots of adaptors here, so you should be able to get it working.

Many people have asked me what kind of a transformer would I recommend. Well, there are several kinds, depending on your device. Most laptops and computers have universal power supplies. If you look at the power labeling, they will say something like "110-220 v". If that is the case then you can either swap for a German power cord or just get a cheap plug adaptor. You will find small, traveler adaptors at electronics store like Saturn or MediaMarkt. But, they should only be used for short trips where you are bringing a hair dryer or something like that. Don't use them often, because they do break quickly. I have friends who have been on business trips and had one of these things go out on them after 2 weeks abroad.

Since I have some large devices at home -- espresso machine and stereo -- I needed to get some devices that could transform some very heavy wattage. To figure out what kind of a transformer you need, you will need to calculate the wattage of the device. Find the power labeling and multiple the volts and amps (watt = volts x amps). This will tell you how powerful the transformer needs to be.

I looked into lots of options and even bought one transformer from Conrad Electronics. However, I would highly recommend that you avoid their transformer. Why, you ask? Well, it turns out that some devices from the US are sensitive to which way the plug gets put into the outlet. You will notice that in the US any grounded plug (the ones with 3 poles) can only go in one way. However, in Germany a grounded plug can go in upside down, too. Well, I had a nice power conditioner for my stereo that I had plugged into the Conrad transformer and it fried the device. I tried contacting Conrad about the issue, but they have ignored me. Ever heard the term "Service-Wüste"?

After lots of research, I found only one company that has the quality of device that I want. The company is called HSGM ( and they have superb transformers ("Transformator" -- some people just say "Trafo"). This isn't their core business, but they are really friendly and helpful if want to buy their products. What you will end up getting a very heavy device about the size of a bread box and with a very non-iPod design. It may not be attractive, but it is a reliable beast. They have built in a wonderful feature that senses which way the plug has been put into the outlet. If it is in correctly, you will hear a light "pop" after about 2 seconds. If you don't hear this safety mechanism, than either your hearing isn't good enough or you will need to rotate the plug. The safety mechanism will not pass electricity through the device if it isn't plugged in correctly.

Here is the website of transformer manufacturer if you want to contact them and buy one of their products:
» HSGM (Heißschneid- Geräte und -Maschinen GmbH)

For some more background info on the subject, check out the following websites:
» World Electric Power Guide
» Wikipedia: Domestic AC power plugs and sockets


Carol said...

So, um... question: my curling iron and straightener both say 120/240 on them, but the guy at the travel store said they still wouldn't work and that I have to get specific devices that say "dual wattage" or whatever. Was he just trying to make a sale? Why can't I just use an adapter?

And... my laptop, which I bought in June 2006 (which I REALLY don't want to fry!), says 110/220 (different than the hair implements); why is that? And is it true that I CAN simply use the adapter (not a converter) for that and it will recognize the different current before it self-destructs?

Sorry... but I'm confused, and I don't want to fry my stuff OR waste money!

Thanks in advance!


John G said...

The guy in the store didn't know what he is talking about. If it says 120/240 then it is intended for travel. There is no other reason for that.

For example, on the AC adapter for my laptop, there is a label where it says "INPUT 100-240V". This means that the adapter can handle either US or German current. I have travelled with laptops and desktop computers before and swapped out the cables without having any problems. Internal, there is a switch which can sense which voltage you are using.

If you could send me a picture of the labeling, I could interpret it for you.

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Ashley said...

I am getting ready to leave for Germany to live their for a whole year. I recently bought a camera with a rechargeable battery and had just realized I'll need an adapter to actually charge the battery for my camera. I have a Sony DSC-H3 Cybershot camera, do you have any recommendations for that?