I often hear people refer to common shops as pharmacy (so, "Apotheke" in German) even though they are no pharmacies. This appears to be totally random. Sometimes they mean grocery stores, sometimes specialist shops and so on.

Person A: "Ich war in diesem Lebensmittelgeschäft."

Person B: "Ja, in dieser Apotheke war ich auch schon."

When to call a common shop "Apotheke"?

  • I only ever herd 'Apothekerpreise' used to describe higher prices in some shops.
    – TaW
    Nov 12, 2016 at 10:47

2 Answers 2


"Apotheke" is used ironically for any shops with expensive pricing. Person B in your example says that this grocery store is very expensive in comparison to different grocery stores.

The punchline of this idiom is not to say that a shop features expensive products but that the goods are overpriced in relation to its competitors.

The second definition in Wiktionary fits (and Duden approves):

(2) Umgangssprachlich, übertragen, abwertend, Handel: Geschäft, das hohe Preise für seine Waren fordert

  • 2
    There is also a connotation that the shop has a wider sortiment than others (pharmacies are required to fulfill any prescription), so while people are unhappy to be paying high prices, they still understand that the shop exists because there is a genuine demand. Nov 11, 2016 at 13:08
  • 1
    Comments are not for making a survey on the regional prevalence of an idiom; this has been moved to chat.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Nov 12, 2016 at 7:40

Apotheke was slang (in northern Germany, as we learned) for a usually owner-operated tiny shop which charges enormous prices for "exotic" goods not available in department stores or chainstores. Hence the name Apotheke, as they do operate exactly the same way in Germany.

Fünfzehn Euro für einen Schraubenschlüssel? — Den musste ich bei Eisenkarl kaufen, im Baumarkt gibt's keine in Schlüsselweite 40. — Trotzdem, fünfzehn Euro. Was für eine Apotheke!

Those shops ceased to exist and in fact, today it's usually the chainstores which are heavily overpriced in contrary to small owner-operated shops which sell only through the internet. So, the meaning of Apotheke changed a bit.

Ich war noch schnell beim Blödmarkt, einen Ethernet-Switch kaufen. — In dieser Apotheke? Kannst du den nicht einfach im Internet bestellen?

  • 2
    I disagree for a number of reasons: 1) It is not restricted to the North. 2) I don’t exactly follow your described ‘change of meaning’. I also feel it is rather uncommon to use Apotheke to refer to a big chain.
    – Jan
    Nov 11, 2016 at 19:22

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