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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
Zeitung (independent), Stuttgart, Germany, Oct. 31,
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
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.