Having the euro as the primary currency throughout most of Europe is a blessing compared with more than a decade ago when each country had its own currency.
Being retired, I have experienced this convenience firsthand, having the luxury of time to travel frequently to Europe and at least once a year to Germany.
Crossing European borders previously meant passport controls and converting currencies. The establishment of the Eurozone (those European Union countries using the euro) and the Schengen Agreement (open borders between most European countries) now eliminate both hassles.
Will push come to shove?
The monetary crisis of many European nations at the end of 2010 raised calls by prominent individuals in Germany to dump the euro and return to its former deutsche mark.
Of all the Eurozone countries, Germany is considered economically the strongest, but it has its own problems too. Germany was required to contribute a significant portion to the EU financial bailout packages, but its government knows it can’t keep on supporting the rest of the EU.
A poll of 1,000 Germans conducted in April 2010 by the Hamburg-based Ispos Social Research Institute revealed that 51 percent wanted the deutsche mark back; 30 percent wanted to keep the euro, and 18 percent were undecided. It was not surprising that those more than 50 years old most tended to favor the deutsche mark’s return, compared to younger Germans who were polled.
Another poll by Germany’s Infratest dimap in December 2010, after the Irish bailout, indicated that 57 percent of those asked felt that Germany would have been better off keeping the deutsche mark than introducing the euro.This all brings up the remote possibility of a return to the deutsche mark and a renewal for collecting German notes — at least those of the Federal Republic.
Since its establishment in 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany hasn’t released as many paper money issues as compared with other nations established about the same time, such as Israel (1948) and India (1947). Consequently, interested paper money collectors can start now and avoid the possible increase in competition for the notes.
Not all EU uses the euro
Not all EU member countries use the euro. Three original EU members, all constitutional monarchies — the United Kingdom (England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland), Sweden and Denmark — under provisions allowed by the EU constitution, have declined to adopt the euro.
Others that have joined the EU in the past few years and, after meeting various financial requirements, will eventually convert to the euro, as Estonia did on Jan. 1, 2011.
However, no EU country has yet done the unthinkable — withdrawn from the Eurozone. If Germany withdraws, some have predicted that both the EU and the euro will collapse. However, currently Greece appears the better candidate to be the first to withdraw from the eurozone.
Origin and evolution of the mark
Like many other international monetary units, Germany’s mark was a weight measure. It was typically 8 ounces, although some variations were found during the Middle Ages and the mark’s weight varied somewhat among the counties. The mark was also employed as an unit of account, called the Mark Banco, by the Bank of Hamburg and used throughout the Hanseatic League.
The mark first became the monetary unit for German currency in 1873 after the various German states were unified in 1871. Colloquially, as it was backed by gold, the mark was termed the Goldmark, and replaced the kreuzers and talers previously in use.
Based on a decimal system, the deutsche mark was divided into 100 pfennig. The Reichsbank became the nation’s central bank in 1876 and began to issue bank notes denominated in marks.
When World War I started in 1914, the Reichsbank issued the papiermark (i.e., paper mark) when the deutsche mark was taken off the gold standard. During and following the war, inflation soared dramatically until November 1923 when the Reichsbank replaced the papiermark with the newly created rentenmark (i.e., security mark) notes, equaling 1 trillion papiermark. These “security marks” were successful in stopping inflation, being well-accepted by the people despite not being legal tender. In August 1924 with inflation now under control, the reichsmark was introduced as legal tender equal to the rentenmark, and both circulated concurrently until 1948.
On June 21, 1948, the deutsche mark was first introduced by the Bank deutscher Länder (Bank of the German States) throughout the three western occupation zones (American, British and French), what was then known as the Western Zones. (The Federal Republic of Germany, familiarly known as West Germany, was not formed until May 23, 1949.)
When West and East Germany reunited (the reunification is known as the Wiedervereinigung) on Oct. 3, 1990, East German mark notes were scheduled to be exchanged for deutsche mark notes. For individuals, the first 4,000 deutsche mark notes were exchanged at par (1:1), regardless of denomination; above that, the exchange was reduced by 50 percent (2:1).
Before its end in 1999, when it was replaced by the euro, the deutsche mark was one of the world’s strongest currencies.
Although not a Federal Republic until 1949, Germany’s first post-war bank notes not issued by the Allies (a.k.a. the First Series) were those issued by Bank deutscher Länder in 1948, the forerunner to the Deutsche Bundesbank.
The bank was located in Frankfurt-am-Main, a city that would quickly become Germany’s financial hub and, in 1999, the headquarters of the EU’s European Central Bank.
The first 1948 (undated) notes were issued in 5- and 10-pfennig values and had no artistic merit. The first notes that were denominated in deutsche marks, replacing the worthless reichsmarks, were dated Dec. 9, 1948, and denominated in 5-, 50-, and 100-deutsche mark values.
The latter two denominations were a quantum leap in artistic improvement over their predecessors as they feature reproductions by the German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471 to 1528).
The 1948 50-deutsche mark notes show the portrait from the painting Portrait of a Gentleman (1524), which some numismatic catalogs have labeled as the “Merchant Imhof” (the merchant’s name was Imhof) and is also similar to the image on the 1922 5,000-mark reichsbank notes.
The 100-deutsche mark notes show the portrait from the painting Portrait of Jakob Muffel (1526). Muffel was a friend of Dürer and was the mayor of Nuremburg in 1514. The same portrait of Muffel also appears on the 1924 50-billion mark reichsbank notes.
In August of 1949, both 10- and 20-deutsche mark notes were issued featuring allegorical female figures.
With the Deutsche Bundesbank formed in 1957 to replace the Bank deutscher Länder as the nation’s central bank, a new series of notes was issued in January 1960 in seven denominations from 5 deutsche marks to 1,000 deutsche marks.
The face designs featured renderings from portraits of five German Renaissance painters. Albrecht Dürer’s Portrait of a Young Venetian Woman (1505), Portrait of Oswalt Krel (1499), and Portrait of Elsbeth Tucher (1499) were on the 5-, 10- and 20-deutsche mark notes respectively.
Only the man’s head from the painting Hans Urmiller with His Son (circa 1525) by Barthel Beham was used on the 50-deutsche mark notes. Christoph Amberger’s Portrait of Sebastian Munster (circa 1552) is pictured on the 100-deutsche mark notes. Hans Maler’s Portrait of a Beardless Man (1521) appears on the 500-deutsche mark notes. Lucas Cranach (nee Lucas Maler) the Elder’s Portrait of the Magdeburg Theologians: Johannes Schöner (1529) is depicted on the 1,000-deutsche mark notes.
A new series of eight denominations was introduced between 1990 and 1992, including the introduction of a new 200-deutsche mark denomination.
The face designs on the 1990 series notes honor well-known German scientists and artists; male and female subjects were chosen in equal numbers. The subject of the back design generally has a close relationship to the person on the face.
The Countess Bettina von Arnim (1785 to 1859), a writer, singer and composer, appears on the face of the 1990 5-deutsche mark notes, while the back illustrates Berlin’s most recognizable landmark, the Brandenburg Gate, which sat between divided East and West Berlin.
Mathematician and physicist Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777 to 1855) is pictured on the 10-deutsche mark notes and a sextant is illustrated on the back along with a diagram depicting the triangulation of the Kingdom of Hanover, for which Gauss was commissioned by King George IV of England in 1828.
Author and poet Annette von Droste-Hulshoff (1797 to 1848) is pictured on the 20-deutsche mark notes with a quill, a beech tree — a significant symbol from her novella, “die Judebuche” (“The Jew’s Beech”) — and an open book on the back.
Architect Balthasar Neumann (1687 to 1753) is depicted on the 50-deutsche mark notes with a back design showing an image and a blueprint of the palace of Friedrich Karl von Schönborn at Wurzburg, which Neumann designed.
Pianist and composer Clara Schumann (1819 to 1896) is featured on the face of the 100-deutsche mark notes with the image of a grand piano on the back.
The 200-deutsche mark notes have a portrait of Paul Ehrlich (1854 to 1915), who won the 1908 Nobel Prize for Medicine, while the back shows a microscope, a caduceus and laboratory retort.
Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 to 1717), an artist and entomologist, and who is often considered the “mother of biology,” is pictured on the 500-deutsche mark notes. One of her illustrations showing a dandelion with butterfly and caterpillar is pictured on the back.
Germany’s highest post-World War II denomination, the 1,000-deutsche mark note, features the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm (1786 to 1859) and Jakob (1785 to 1863), who are known world-wide for their folk stories. Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few of the tales they wrote. The back shows the frontispiece of the Deutches Wörterbuch (German dictionary) that is in the Royal Library in Berlin.
Because of advances in counterfeiting, improved security features — color shifting ink on the two highest denominations, microprinting, intaglio-printing, watermarks, and security threads — were employed for the fourth series.
Raised intaglio-printed combination of dots and horizontal bars on the face allowed the blind to determine a particular bank note’s face value for the fourth series notes.
In 1996, holograms were added to the existing designs for the 50-, 100- and 200-deutsche mark notes as an additional security measure to deter counterfeiting.
If Germany were ever to withdraw from the Eurozone and return to the deutsche mark, it already has the expertise and technology to print new generation bank notes ,as the Bundesbank currently prints many of the euro notes for the European Central Bank.