Designing the Euros

How do you design a single currency for 12 nations with jealously guarded identities? That was the task handed to Robert Kalina, an engraver at the Austrian National Bank in Vienna, who was chosen over 46 other applicants to design the euro banknotes. Governed by strict guidelines from the EU--“No portraits of historical figures or designs attributed to any particular monument in any single country”--Mr. Kalina choose the “ages and styles of Europe,” as his theme and took European architecture as his inspiration.

The seven notes--5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros--each signify seven periods of European architecture--Classical, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Iron, and Modern. The focal image on each note is a bridge, symbolizing communication between the people of Europe.

Mr. Kalina could not risk giving prominence to a particular country by using a specific bridge: Instead, by scanning pictures of bridges from art history books, and using imaging software, he took different parts of different bridges and created virtual designs representing the various architectural styles.

The front of each banknote incorporates the EU flag framed by 12 stars and set on a map of the continent. Other architectural elements on the front are windows and doors, symbolizing “the new and the open.”

Each Central Bank was allowed design its own coins. Most countries stuck with tradition and put faces on their coins: Queen Beatrix adorns the eight Netherlands coins, King Juan Carlos is on some of Spain's coins, Cervantés on the others. Belgium has King Albert II on its coins. The Vatican--though not a member of the EU but using the euro because of its dependence on Itlay--released a limited edition set of coins, featuring John Paul II. In Austria, a portrait of Mozart decorates their coins.

The Greek coins have a number of different images. Two of the coins depict Europa being abducted by Zeus in the shape of a bull. Another, the 1-cent coin, depicts an owl (design taken from an ancient Athenian 4-drachma coin). Other designs on the Greek coins include important historical political figures and different ships reflecting Greece's maritime legacy.

As for Mr. Kalina, what does the future hold? “I made myself unemployed now,” he said speaking to Le Monde. Though he was only joking. The Austrian Central Bank, while no longer designing schillings, have contracts with a number of other countries to design their currencies. He is currently at work designing a common currency for Bosnia-Herzegovina.