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For Germany's older generations, the change to the euro awakens memories of the stressful currency reform of 1948

“The Little People Are Always the Ones Who Suffer”


Thomas Faltin, Stuttgarter Zeitung (independent), Stuttgart, Germany, Oct. 31, 2001

Translated and posted Worldpress.org, Nov. 30, 2001

What bad times they were! Agathe Lieseke, born in 1912, can still remember the galloping inflation of the early 1920s: “My sister made seven pfennigs an hour, and each evening we used her wages to buy flour, because the money would be worthless by morning.”

Times were not much better during the currency reform of 1948. Everyone got just 40 new deutschmarks. Erna Schranz, born in 1922, put the money toward the burial of her newborn child. And Esther Prinz, born in 1924, saw the money run right through her fingers: passport photos for six deutschmarks, a mattress for 20. As a refugee without any possessions, Lydia Bachmann, who had been exiled from Poland after the war, received just 20 deutschmarks.

Whoever lived through such times sees the coming Euro changeover through different eyes. So it is for these four ladies, all residents of the Zamenhof retirement home. They know that the Euro's arrival is no equivalent of the previous reform, but it still makes them worry. "Who knows if inflation will be kept under control?" asks Esther Prinz. And Agathe Lieseke is quite sure that businesses will seize the chance to raise prices: “It's the little people who always suffer.” On one point, all four agree: “We were happy with the deutschmark, and would rather do without the euro.”

They already know a good bit about the new currency. A banker swung by the retirement home to show them some of the new bills. Calmly, the ladies took in the strange news that they themselves would not actually have much to do. They had expected something more of this great financial transaction. But their bank accounts will convert themselves. The hot chocolate they buy from the home will cost just 59 cent. As for their jars full of change, they have long since given them to the kids, so there's no question of holding on to it or using it.

Not all seniors are so skeptical about the euro launch. Olaf Bong, born in 1929, considers it politically and economically sensible. Any comparison with 1948 he considers bizarre. “Back then we were coming out of a financial crisis.” Heinz Hanle, who, like Mr. Bong, is an active member of the Seniors City Council, doesn't expect any surreptitious price hikes, either. “There will still be competition for buyers, so the market will quickly regulate itself,” says the 71-year-old.

But Mr. Hanle knows it from his conversations: Many old people distrust the euro. One of them is 75-year-old Anneliese Mutschler: “The euro is a good thing, but we'll be praying all the way to the cash register.”

On the contrary, Mr. Hanle prefers the pragmatic approach. “Early next year I'm flying to Tenerife. Finally, I can compare prices there and here directly.”


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