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In 2002 Germany and 11 other West European nations started using a common currency - the euro. Since then several other countries have adopted the euro. Five West European countries - Great Britain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland - haven't switched to the euro, nor have any of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. More will no doubt join the "club" in future years.
Today, the euro is the world's most powerful currency, used by more than 320 million Europeans in twenty countries. The countries currently using the euro are:
On January 1, 2008, the two newest countries adopted the euro - Cyprus and Malta. On January 1, 2009, Slovakia will begin using the euro. On January 1, 2010 Lithuania joins the Eurozone and on January 1, 2011 Estonia is expected to convert to the euro.
The Euro consists of seven bills each of a different color and a different size; the more valuable it is the bigger it is. The five-euro bill is gray, the 10-euro one red, the 20 blue, the 50 orange, the 100 green, the 200 brownish yellow and the 500 lavender. Each bill pictures a different door or window on the front side and a different bridge, plus a map of Europe, on the reverse. The doors, windows and bridges are not modeled on real ones. All is done to avoid anything that could be associated with a given country.
The euro is divided into 100 cents, and there are eight coins, with values of one, two, five, 10, 20 and 50 cents, one euro and two euros. Each of these is also a different size. The one- and two-euro coins combine gold and silver-colored metals. The 10, 20 and 50-cent coins are gold-colored and the one-, two- and five-cent ones copper colored.
Unlike the bills, the coins are different in each of the 12 original countries. The front side is the same everywhere, but each country has its own design on the reverse. Germany has its traditional eagle on the one and two euro coins, Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on the 10-, 20- and 50-cent ones, and an oak branch on the one-, two- and five-cent ones The different national coins are good in all 12 countries, however, and many people will no doubt make a hobby of collecting them.