This afternoon, I went to the bank to pick up some cash from one of the machines in the foyer. A few people were queuing for the clerks where the foyer leads into the bank's main floor. At the end of the queue was an African woman, rather small, headscarf, mismatched outfit with long skirt and roomy cardigan - instantly recognizable as one of the 1 million refugees that have come to Germany during the year 2015.
She turned round a few times and looked at me and the others who, like me, were using the cash machines. After one more look at me - I had finished by now and was about to leave - she approached me, a bank card in her outstretched hand, and asked in broken German "Bitte helfen?" ("Please help?").
In a mix of English and German, we established that she wanted to draw cash from her account and didn't know how to operate the machines, and so I showed her what to do.
When the choice of amount to withdraw came up, the smallest sum on the menu was 25 €. She pressed that button, and a message popped up, saying that there weren't enough funds on the account; the maximum amount possible was 20 €.
I told her what the message said, and she nodded and pressed "confirm" in order to get the 20 €. She smiled and nodded some more and repeated "Danke, dankeschön!" a few times. I smiled back and left.
And began to feel uneasy. An inner voice told me to turn round again and give the poor woman some of the cash I had just withdrawn. A second inner voice warned me that I had no idea how she would react - would she be offended, because she had so clearly not been begging for money, only for help with the machine?
I must admit that cowardice won, and I left the building without doing anything more for the woman.
Walking home, I reflected at how different our lives were - certainly not only in terms of money, but probably under every aspect imaginable.
When I had been getting cash from the machine minutes before her, of course I had been offered the same choice of amounts to take out. My decision was only based on my general dislike of carrying much cash around, not on limited funds.
I had been buying stuff in town without thinking much about their price - she most likely had to be very careful with those 20 €, to make them stretch as far as possible.
I am not rich, but I am not poor, either. It is safe to say that I am working middle-class; I have a job that I like and which pays reasonably well. Nearly half of what I earn goes off as taxes and to "the State" in its various functions. I live in my own flat (still largely owned by the bank, of course, but eventually, it will be properly mine). When I feel like it, I can buy myself stuff that I don't really need, simply because I like it. And as for the things I need, such as food, electricity and heating, I can pay for them without having to sacrifice anything else. If I were so inclined, I could travel more than the one Yorkshire holiday I go on every year. Yes, I am comfortably well-off - it hasn't always been so, and I feel very grateful for not living as precariously close to the limits of my personal finances anymore.
So, a 20-€-note would not have hurt me. Would it have hurt her? Proably not. I am a coward sometimes.