Tag Archives: re-unification

Trouble at the East German border and at the punk rock concert in East Berlin

More tales of old East and West Germany… when Berlin was divided in two by the Berlin Wall and, for West Germans to get into West Berlin, they had to drive through part of East Germany.

“In the 1970s,” Rudiger Schmidt told me in Nuremberg yesterday, “I went with my mother to Berlin.

“If you went to the border, the East Germans asked you Are children on board? Do you have weapons? and my mother was very nervous, because she was old and she thought, if she said something wrong, she would be sent to Siberia.

“I was driving to Berlin with my mother beside me and an East German policeman asked Are children on board? and I said No and, at the same moment, my mother said Yes. He looked into the car, asked Where are the children? and my mother said This is my son.

“The policeman did not find it funny.

Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

German rock band Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

“Have you heard of Die Toten Hosen, the rock band?”

“No,” I said.

“They are from Düsseldorf and started in the early 1980s.”

“What does Die Toten Hosen mean?” I asked.

“The Dead Trousers,” replied Rudiger. “In Germany, if a situation is boring and nothing is happening, you say That’s dead trouser – tote hose.

“Just after Die Toten Hosen had started as a band, they went on a tour through Germany and drove from West Germany to Berlin and I went with them in the tour bus. The driver of the tour bus was from Cologne and people from Cologne think they are very funny.

“When we arrived at the East German border, the East German policeman asked Weapons, explosives, children? – He did not ask Do you have weapons, explosives, children? – He just asked Weapons, explosives, children?

“So the driver of the bus, who was from Cologne, said Oh, well, give me two weapons and twelve children.

“The policeman said Please park over there and take all things out of the bus.

“It was about 2.00am in the night and we had to do it. We took everything out of the car and the policeman went inside and was checking everything when the driver of the bus said Oh, while you are inside, please check the oil.

“The policeman did not find that funny.

“We had to take the wheels off the bus, take the seats out of the bus and we did not have the tools to do it – the screwdrivers and the spanners. We just had our little knives. The East German policemen were standing there for two hours laughing at us. We had arrived at the border at 2.00am. When we were finished, it was 7.00am in the morning. All because the driver from Cologne had made these two little jokes.

Lead singer Campino with Die Toten Hosen in 1985

Campino of Die Toten Hosen in 1985 concert

“Die Toten Hosen were going to play two concerts in West Berlin and one concert in East Berlin… but to play the concert in East Berlin was not allowed, so we each had to go into East Berlin via different border checkpoints to take in the instruments.

“The place where they played was a church and, because it was forbidden, you could not have any posters. Nothing.”

“This sounds dangerous,” I said.

“It was kind of dangerous,” said Rudiger. “They started the show and soon after that a guy came into the church and said Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens – You could not get grilled chicken in East Germany every day. Maybe once a month you could get them.

“So this guy said: Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens and everyone ran out of the church and the band was left with no audience. Nothing. And that was it. The concert was over.”

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Clever people made dodgy money when East and West Germany were re-united

An East German GDR border scout apparently photographing grass along the border

An East German border scout apparently photographing grass along the border

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.”

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