D-mark birthday party that became a wake

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The Independent Online
GERMANY yesterday began saying farewell to the symbol of the nation: the money that restored pride and prosperity to the defeated country.

It was 50 years ago today that the mighty Deutschmark had its humble beginnings, as the first crates of banknotes printed abroad were split open by Allied soldiers and the contents distributed among the pauperised population. Thus began the German "economic miracle".

In any other circumstances, the anniversary would have been a cause of wild celebrations, but yesterday joy seemed to be in short supply. The commemorative event at Bonn's History Museum, was more of a wake than a birthday party.

The slogan emblazoned on the rostrum did not help. "With the D-mark towards Europe," it proclaimed, unwittingly begging the question: "What then?" The answer was given on the commemorative posters, which depicted a one mark coin mutating into a euro. The speakers had come to praise the mark, not to bury it, but the awkwardness of the moment could not be concealed. These wonderful banknotes, woven into the tapestry of Germany's astounding rags-to-riches story, will soon be no more than fodder for the shredding machines.

Twice this century, Germans had lost all their belongings to wars and hyperinflation. The birth of the mark banished such fears, opening the gate to a steady future of perpetually-swelling bank accounts. And now, all these certainties are to be sacrificed on the altar of European integration.

Theo Waigel, the finance minister, sought to soften the blow. "Germany is not losing the D-mark, but rather, gaining a stable currency of a vast internal market," he chirped.

Hans Tietmeyer, custodian of the mark in his capacity as president of the Bundesbank, reminded the audience of some historical facts, including British opposition at the time to an independent German central bank. Mr Tietmeyer praised at length the culture that made the mark such a stable currency, though he did admit that not all Europeans had shared the Germans' awe.

"The DM is both - beauty and the beast," he said. And then the sponsor's message, to be broadcast to every European capital: "If the euro is to gain a similar or greater reputation, it must be built on the stability traditions of the D-Mark."

The baby was thus handed over to Wim Duisenberg, the president of the European Central Bank, who will shortly be doing Mr Tietmeyer's job. It is a tough act to follow, the Dutchman conceded. "It is no easy task to make the euro as stable and well-regarded in the world as the D-Mark," Mr Duisenberg said. "Nevertheless," he added in a solemn voice, "I can assure you that my colleagues and I will do our utmost to attain this goal."