German Ship Money of the 1930s

Gneisenau 2 NDL.jpg
The German passenger ship SS Gneisenau of the Norddeutscher-Lloyd Line. The Gneisenau sailed between Bremen and the Far East.

In response to the Great Depression, the German government of Kurt von Schleicher instituted severe economic policies including currency reform in 1932. One of the more drastic measures imposed was making the reichsmark (RM) inconvertible and prohibiting the export of RM currency. In other words, RM could not be exchanged for foreign currency and RM notes could not be taken out of Germany. Importing foreign currency was also prohibited. These steps were intended to keep foreign exchange out of the German economy.

Excerpt from a pamphlet explaining German currency requirements for travelers.

These policies created problems for German cruise ships which used RM but could not take it out of the country. They also presented difficulties for foreigners wishing to travel in Germany because they could not obtain RM notes for use in Germany.

The currency limitations required the creation of special monetary instruments for use on cruise ships known as ship’s money orders (Bordanweisungen) and special traveler’s cheques for tourists.

One RM and five RM ship’s money orders for use on SS Gneisenau on its 15th voyage in August 1939. This was the ship’s last passenger voyage before the start of WWII. The Gneisenau was sunk by a mine in the Baltic Sea in 1943.

The ship’s money orders were denominated in RM and could only be purchased and used on board the cruise ship on that particular voyage. The ship’s name and voyage number were printed on the money orders. At the end of the voyage the money orders were exchanged back into RM notes.

Registermark cheque for 5 RM issued for use on the Hamburg-Amerika Line.

Foreigners who were traveling to Germany on cruise ships had to purchase special traveler’s cheques that were denominated in Registermarks. One Registermark was equal to one RM but the Registermark cheques could not be used for direct purchases. On ship the cheques were used to acquire ship’s money orders which were then used for purchases. Once in Germany the Registermark cheques were converted to RM notes only at approved financial institutions in Germany.

Traveler’s cheque for 25 RM purchased in New York in 1939. Eugene Prince, the owner of the check, was an American intelligence agent who traveled frequently to Germany in the 1930s.

Travelers going into Germany on land or on foreign cruise ships could not exchange their currency for RM notes directly. These travelers were required to purchase RM denominated traveler’s cheques from approved institutions outside Germany. Like the Registermark cheques, these traveler’s could not be used for direct purchases but had to be converted to RM notes once in Germany.

Upon departing Germany, travelers had to deposit their remaining RM notes with a financial institution in return for a receipt. (Travelers could bring up to 30 RM in coin into or out of Germany). The receipt was then presented to the institution outside Germany from whom the traveler’s cheques were purchased for redemption in the home currency.

These policies remained until the beginning of WWII. The Allied Military Government imposed similar restrictions on the RM after WWII but that will be a topic for another day.

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