New law in Germany could have major effect on coin collecting

?On the evening of Nov. 9, 1989, Harald Jäger was a border officer in East Berlin. He had rushed to his post after viewing a television newscast in which an East German official said (mistakenly) that East Germans would immediately be able to cross into West Germany, something that had been denied to citizens of the Communist-governed nation for decades.

Border officer Jäger found a growing crowd of excited East Germans waiting for the opening of the border gates so they could cross over into the free West. After consulting with his superiors, Jäger chose to interpret the various statements from the Politburo and his superiors very broadly as granting him permission to open the gates to protect the crowd from hurting themselves in the crush. The result from that decision was the bringing down of the Berlin Wall, something quite unintended.

So what does this have to do with coins?

In Germany, the Act on the Protection of Cultural Property went into effect on Aug. 6, 2016. The core scope of the act’s six main provisions, according to its opening statement, was (in part) to govern the protection of national cultural property against removal; the import and export of cultural property; and the placing on the market of cultural property.

While on its face the act seems reasonable — nations have a right and duty to safeguard their national cultural property — the numismatic community in Germany is warning of “potentially devastating consequences” as the result of the act. That’s because the act “imposes unjustified and unmanageable legal and economic burdens on all persons legitimately trading art or other culture properties like antiques, paintings, or coins,” according to a position paper released by a group of lawyers in Germany fighting against the regulations, which include provisions that could require the registration of individual coin collections; the potential for dealers and collectors to be stopped at Germany’s borders with their inventories and collections of coins; and disruption to coin auctions in Germany.The lawyers fighting against the imposition of the new regulations in Germany warn, “The new rules primarily aim to discover ‘national cultural property’ which was unknown to German authorities so far. ... The former legal regime of restricting exports of national significance has been replaced by a general monitoring system that applies to any export of cultural property.”

Like border officer Jäger, one can envision an individual German official interpreting the act as granting permission to declare an individual’s coins as “national cultural property” and subject to import-export restrictions. This could make travel to an event like next year’s World Money Fair in Berlin problematic. Hobbyists should watch closely as the show nears.