Man steals 100,000 worthless East German marks

Fri Jan 14, 2011 11:41am EST
 
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BERLIN (Reuters) - More than 20 years after reunification, police in eastern Germany stumbled upon a man's stash of worthless 100,000 East German marks, believed stolen from a bunker for sale to collectors.

Police were searching the apartment of a 33-year-old man in the city of Halberstadt on drug, weapons and extortion charges when they found a suitcase filled with the defunct currency.

"It's unknown when or where the money was obtained, but we suspect that it was stolen," a police spokesman said, adding that several 200 and 500 mark notes found were extremely rare in East Germany.

"That would have been an unthinkable amount of money for the average East German," the police said. "Today only collectors would value it."

During the currency union in 1990, small amounts of East German marks held as savings could in certain cases be traded in for deutschemarks at a rate of 1 for 1 -- the same artificially high rate valid for wages and pensions.

Unlike their western German counterparts, they cannot still be exchanged for euros.

Police believed that the East German marks were stolen from their final resting place, a labyrinthine storage facility underneath nearby hills that has its own noted murky past.

The underground warehouse was originally built as a forced labor factory in the Nazi era and was later used to store the existing 1 billion East German marks -- 620 million total notes -- after the currency was removed from circulation in 1990.

The left over marks were later incinerated in 2002.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; editing by Paul Casciato)