Forgotten currency from Cold War era was stored in bunker
- Published: Apr 2, 2022, 10 AM
One consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a revival of fears that another “hot war” will expand to other parts of Europe.
On March 13, the German news site, thelocal.de, cited an Agence France-Presse news service story that said interest in access to the safe haven of underground bunkers was on the rise in the region. One existing bunker, in a residential area of the small western German town of Cochem, is now a museum with an important link to currency.
At the height of the Cold War, the German government, perhaps informed by its experience with Operation Bernhard, when the Nazis used concentration camp prisoners to forge English bank notes in an attempt to ruin the enemy’s economy, were fearful the Russians would do the same to them. The Bundesbank as a countermeasure to this eventuality, printed and hid away 15 billion deutschemarks worth of emergency currency, codenamed “BBK II” deep in a nuclear bunker directly under Cochem. It was such a highly classified secret that no one in Cochem knew about it for years. In addition to the Cochem hoard, about 11 billion Deutsche marks were stored at the bank headquarters in Frankfurt.
Beginning in 1964, for 10 years, trucks delivered 10-, 20-, 50-, and 100-mark notes that ended up filling 18,300 boxes in 12 floor-to-ceiling cages in a space accessed via a secret passage from what was called an employee training and development center. The faces of these bank notes were almost identical to the real ones then in circulation, but the backs differed substantially. Of the 100-mark notes illustrated, the emergency note is at the bottom.
By the 1980s, as the Cold War neared its end and bank note technology became more sophisticated, the secret currency no longer met Bundesbank security standards. By 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, all the never-used money had been destroyed. All such notes today are said to be facsimiles.
After the Cold War, the bunker became the property of a regional cooperative bank and then a real estate fund. It was bought in 2016 by German couple Manfred and Petra Reuter, who turned it into the Bundesbank Bunker Museum that is still open to visitors.
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