I am staying with my eternally-un-named friend’s friend Rudiger in Nuremberg in what used to be West Germany.
“When East and West Germany were re-united in 1990,” Rudiger told us yesterday, “the two currencies were not united immediately. If you were an East German and you parked illegally in West Germany, you could pay the fine in East German marks and get any change back in West German marks.
“So people would drive from (the former) East Germany to West Germany and park illegally. If you got a parking ticket for 10 marks, you could pay the bill with a 100 East German marks note and get back 90 West German marks. At the time, I think the exchange rate was 1 West German mark = 14 East German marks.
“So, if you were fined 10 marks, you paid with 100 East German marks and got back 90 West German marks which were worth 1,260 East German marks.
“Every Sunday and Monday, there were lots of East German cars parked in the pedestrian zones in West Germany. People would stay for a day to get the parking ticket.
“Also, if you came from East Germany to West Germany, you were given 50 West German marks in the city in which you arrived.
“If someone came from East Germany to Nuremberg, they would be given 50 marks; they would then go to Munich and get 50 marks, go to Hanover and get 50 marks and park illegally in every town.”
“And,” I asked, “there was no central control if you got 50 marks here or there or there?”
“No,” confirmed Rudiger. “There was no control in the first weeks.”
“For how long?” I asked.
“Two or three months,” said Rudiger. “There were so many people coming from East Germany that they couldn’t control it and the bank branches would sometimes run out of money. So the banks had to go to supermarkets and ask Would you lend us some marks, please?
“The supermarkets would lend the banks the money. The banks then gave the money to the East German people who had arrived. And the East German people would then buy goods from the supermarkets who would then lend the money to the banks. The money would go round and round and round in one day.”
“A good money-making deal for East Germans,” I observed.
“West Germans made money as well,” Rutger told us. “A West German friend of mine at that time had an aunt in East Germany and she gave him East German money. He took it and put it into a bank in West Germany – as East German money. At the time, still, the exchange rate was 1 West German mark = 14 East German marks.
“One year later, he knew that the exchange rate should be changed to 1 West German mark = 1 East German mark.
“It was a good deal.
“And, as for cars… the East Germans all wanted West German cars, so we sold them our old cars.
“At that time, my sister had an accident and her car was totally broken and a man approached her in the street – she did not know him and he was not from East Germany, he was a West German – He was saying to her Oh! Give me that car! What do you want?… and she joked and said 2,000 marks and he took out his wallet and said OK and she sold it on the street for 2,000 marks – a totally broken car.
“He bought it because he could sell it to an East German.
“Some of the East Germans bought cars here in Nuremberg and couldn’t get home. On the motorways in West Germany, there were lots of broken cars bought by East Germans who had not made it home.”