Packstation: These systems were just the beginning, new postal machines should be able to do much more.
But can they really replace branches?
Photo: Stephanie Pilick/ picture alliance/ dpa
The post office at the corporate headquarters in Bonn is a little hidden, at the end of the outside staircase.
The yellow sales room is reminiscent of the past: open on Saturdays until 12 p.m., otherwise until 5 p.m.
The opening times were similarly short in the 1990s when the Federal Post Office was privatised.
So much for the past and present.
The future looks different, it can be seen directly in front of the Bonn branch: There is a "post office" there - a machine where parcels can be picked up and dropped off, stamps bought and letters posted.
In all likelihood, there will be more such machines in the future.
There are 100 postal stations in Germany so far, and the trend is rising.
They are in cities like Bonn or Bayreuth and in communities like Bendestorf (Lower Saxony) and Illrieden (Baden-Württemberg).
Compared to the 13,000 Packstations, which are only designed for parcels, this type of machine is still in its infancy.
Some advantages are obvious: The machines do not close and also run on weekends.
They are inexpensive for the group because there is no staff behind a counter.
And it is easier to set them up than set up a new branch and run it permanently.
That is why politics is also open to the systems.
There could be many more of these soon.
Not everyone can do postal business with a machine
Some disadvantages, however, only become apparent at second glance, and the social association VdK is now warning of them.
According to a spokesman for the association, the devices cannot be used by wheelchair users, people of short stature or people with visual impairments.
A dense network of branches with staff is important so that everyone can do their postal business independently in the spirit of inclusion.
In addition, older people cannot be expected to use the machines because they need advice.
The Federal Ministry of Economics recently presented a key issues paper containing proposals for reforming the completely outdated postal law.
The law contains obligations that Swiss Post, as a so-called universal service provider, must comply with.
The guidelines date back to 1999 - from a time when many Germans still wrote extensively letters and often only knew e-mails from hearsay.
Since then, it has been stipulated that the post office must have at least one post office in every municipality with more than 2000 inhabitants.
If there are more than 4000 inhabitants, the point of sale must not be further away than two kilometers.
Swiss Post has a hard time fulfilling this obligation.
According to the Federal Network Agency, there were recently around 140 locations nationwide where the post office should be, but it isn't - a good one percent of the mandatory locations are that. The deficit is often due to the fact that a kiosk or a small supermarket has closed.
Such shops are considered post offices if the yellow giant has a counter in it.
In the course of structural change in rural areas, more and more retailers are giving up.
As a result, Swiss Post has fewer external helpers offering services on its behalf.
This puts the group under pressure when it comes to the obligation to have branches.
Now the machines come into play.
So far, they have not been relevant to fulfilling the branch network obligation.
In the future, however, "digital and automated solutions" should be "appropriately taken into account" within the framework of the universal service, as stated in the ministry's vaguely formulated key issues paper.
Machines that are available at all times could »meet the needs of the users«.
If vending machines were counted towards the branch requirement in the future, that would clearly be a relief for Swiss Post.
It is still unclear how exactly the reform will turn out and how the revised branch obligation will look like.
But one thing is clear: the legislator has the vending machine issue on the screen.
Positive signals are coming from the Bundestag about this part of the reform, from almost all parliamentary groups.
Is a consultation via video chat enough?
Would the change in the law be a step towards a vending machine branch network?
A Post spokesman is cautious.
On the one hand, he points out that machines have long since become an indispensable part of many areas, such as when buying tickets or withdrawing cash.
"In the postal sector, too, it is the case that frequently requested services such as the purchase of postage and parcel stamps or the dispatch of letters and parcels can be handled easily and conveniently using automated equipment." set.
At the same time, they also want to try out hybrid formats, for example machines with advice via video chat.
He is referring to the post office, where video consultation should soon be possible.
The Vdk sticks to its criticism: A supply close to home is important - and by that he means primarily contacts from flesh and blood.
The district council is also not very enthusiastic and calls for the previous strategy of cooperation between the post office and traders to be strengthened.
In the reform, a first legislative proposal should be available by the summer, and the amendment could be completed by the end of 2023.
Depending on the outcome of the changes, the course could then be set for increased use of postal machines in Germany.