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Date Pick# Denomination Observations Obverse Reverse
1964 22 5 Mark  
Scan donated by: Thomas Krüger of Switzerland
1964 23 10 Mark  
Scan donated by: Thomas Krüger of Switzerland
1964 25 50 Mark  
Scan donated by: Thomas Krüger of Switzerland
1964 26 100 Mark  
Scan donated by: Thomas Krüger of Switzerland

History of the East German Mark
The East German Mark or in German: Mark der DDR, commonly called the eastern mark (Ostmark in West Germany and after the reunification), in East Germany only Mark, was the currency of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Its ISO 4217 currency code was DDM. The currency was known officially as the Deutsche Mark until 1964, Mark der Deutschen Notenbank until 1967 and the Mark der DDR (Mark of the GDR) after, it was referred to colloquially as simply the Mark. It was divided into 100 Pfennig (Pf).

On 21 June 1948, the Reichsmark and the Rentenmark were abolished in the western occupation zones and replaced with the Deutsche Mark issued by the Bank deutscher Länder (later the Deutsche Bundesbank). Because the Reichsmark was still legal tender in the Soviet occupation zone, the currency flooded into the east from the west where it was worthless. This caused sudden inflation, which caused the privately held cash supplies of East Germany to become worthless overnight. As an emergency measure, the Soviets affixed a seal to those Reichsmark and Rentenmark banknotes for which the owners could prove their origin. Only those Mark were exchanged when the Deutsche Notenbank issued the new East German Mark with the subsequent currency reform. The provisional notes were issued a few days after the changeover in the Trizone.

In July 1948, a completely new series of East German Mark was issued. It maintained the official name Deutsche Mark until 1964, but it was known, especially in the west, as the Ostmark, or East mark. For the next several years, the currency was denominated Mark der Deutschen Notenbank (MDN).

With the constitutional amendments of 1968 and 1974, the leadership of East Germany moved away from the original goal of a unified Germany, using the phrase "... of the GDR" where earlier they would simply have said "German ...". In this way the name of the currency was changed from MDN to Mark der DDR (M), or "mark of the GDR", and the name of the state bank from Deutsche Notenbank to Staatsbank der DDR. Coins minted prior to the renaming, with the legend Deutsche Mark (i.e., in 1 and 2 DM denominations), continued to circulate for several years, but they were gradually replaced by the early 1980s by coins with the legend Mark.

It was officially valued by the East German government at parity with the West German Deutsche Mark, but it was never freely convertible. By Zwangsumtausch (or Mindestumtausch), visitors to East Germany were required to exchange a set amount of 25 Deutsche Mark for Ostmark at this ratio for every day of their stay. On the black market, though, the rate was about 5 to 10 M to one DM. The East German Mark could not be spent in Intershops to acquire Western consumer goods; only hard currencies or Forum checks were accepted.

Upon adoption of the Deutsche Mark in East Germany on 1 July 1990, the GDR Mark was converted at par for wages, prices and basic savings (up to a limit of 4000 Mark except for children (less) and pensioners (more)). Larger amounts of savings, company debts and housing loans were converted at a 2:1 rate whilst so-called "speculative money", acquired shortly before unification, was converted at a rate of 3:1. This inflated exchange rate was intended as a massive subsidy for eastern Germany by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany, and remains controversial among economists, with some arguing that the exchange of currency was the most practical way of quickly unifying the German economy, and others arguing that the exchange increased the disruption of German unification beyond what they otherwise would be, by among other things, making eastern German industries uncompetitive.

East German Banknotes
Old Rentenmark and Reichsmark banknotes had stamps affixed in 1948 in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Deutsche Mark. These were replaced by new notes later the same year, with all the same denominations issued, plus 50 Deutsche Pfennig and 1000 Deutsche Mark.

A second issue of 1955 contained the denominations 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 deutsche Mark, whilst a third series of 1964 contained the denominations 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Mark der Deutschen Notenbank. The final series of East German banknotes carried dates of 1971 or 1975 and was in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Mark der DDR.

The state bank of the GDR had planned to issue 200- and 500-Mark notes. The notes were, in fact, printed in 1971 and in 1984 as a preparation, but were never circulated. A few examples are held by collectors.

These notes differed from the lower-denomination notes in that they did not have a personality on the obverse. The 200-Mark note had on its front a family with two children in front of a modern GDR high-rise. The back pictured a schoolyard with eight children and a teacher. The watermark was a dove of peace.

On the 500-Mark note, the front showed the seal of the GDR (hammer and a pair of compasses in a wreath), while the back showed the State Council (Staatsrat) building of the GDR.

After Reunification, Getting rid of the East German Mark
Almost all the paper money of the GDR (about 100 billion Mark, or 620 million banknotes with a volume of 4,500 m3 (160,000 cu ft, about 300 boxcars)), including all the currency collected at the time of the monetary union and the never-used 200 and 500 Mark banknotes, was stored in 1990 and 1991 in two 300 m (1000 ft) long sandstone caverns in the Thekenberge near Halberstadt. In total, 3,000 tons of banknotes, passbooks, and checks were stored there, having been brought by military convoy from the old treasury in Berlin. With the merger of the state bank, the money went into the possession of the KfW in 1994.

The 13 km (8 mile) tunnel system was built by prisoners of war at the end of World War II, and was used by the National People's Army under the code name "Malachit", or camp complex KL-12 NVA-Nr.16/630. It was the bunker with the largest floor space, and was used for the safeguarding of devices and munitions that would be needed for war. The money was protected from theft by two meter (7 ft) thick concrete walls and heavy steel doors. For cost reasons, the money was left to rot under the natural humidity, but it was further covered with gravel.

In July 2001, it was discovered that two Halberstadt residents had gained entry to the tunnel system through an unsecured opening and made off with numerous banknotes. The two, aged 24 and 26 were convicted of the crime and sentenced to four months in prison and three years of probation. Furthermore, they had to pay 120 Euros (about US$164) to a non-profit organization. The uncirculated 200 and 500 Mark notes still appear from time to time among collectors.

Because of the theft and the slowness of the rotting, the KfW then decided to burn the old currency. Between April and June of 2002, 298 containers of the currency remains were burned in an incinerator (6 containers per day) along with household refuse. The last container was burned 25 June 2002.

See Also
Germany: On 1 July 1990 East Germany reunified with West German and adopted the West German mark
Banknotes of the Federal Republic of Germany
Euro: On January 1, 2002 Germany adopted the euro as its national currency replacing the mark
Banknotes of the European Union

Page created:     7 November 2007
Last Update:       7 November 2007

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