500 DDR Mark and 200 DDR Mark: East Germany’s mysterious banknotes

During the last years of the Cold War, the East German state bank printed millions of 500 DDR mark and 200 DDR mark banknotes, but they were never put into circulation. What was the reason for this, and how come these never-issued banknotes are routinely for sale on sites like Ebay?

Staatsbank der DDR - 500 mark banknote

Text on the 500 DDR mark banknote reads “Staatsbank der DDR Fünf Hundert Mark der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik 1985“. Other elements on the bill include the denomination ‘500’ and the national emblem of East Germany: a hammer and a compass, surrounded by a wreath of wheat ears.

  • colour: brown
  • dimensions: 160mm x 69mm
  • composition material: paper
  • front: hammer and compass, ring of wheat, German flag
  • back: State Council building, East Berlin

Staatsbank der DDR - 200 mark banknote

Text on the 200 DDR mark banknote reads “Staatsbank der DDR Zwei Hundert Mark der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik 1985“. Other elements on the note include the denomination ‘200’ and the hammer, compass and ring of rye from socialist DDR East Germany’s national coat of arms.

  • colour: green
  • dimensions: 152mm x 66mm
  • composition material: paper
  • front: East German family, hammer and compass, wheat, flag
  • back: children and teacher at school

East Germany's highest value banknotes

If the banknotes of 500 DDR mark and 200 DDR mark would have been put into circulation, they would have been East Germany’s highest value banknotes. In 1985 the highest denomination banknote in East Germany was the 100 DDR Mark banknote. West Germany’s highest value banknote on the other hand was a 1000 Deutsche mark bill.

In 1985, the average monthly salary in DDR East Germany was 1,130 DDR-mark. A banknote of 500 DDR mark would have been worth 44% of a worker’s monthly income. The UK’s average monthly salary in 2018 is £2,300 pounds. The value of a 500 DDR mark banknote would have been comparable to just over £1000 pounds in the UK today.

100 DDR mark banknote Karl Marx
1000 Deutsche Marks banknote - Johannes Schoner obverse accepted for exchange

Why these banknotes were never issued

There are a number of theories about why the banknotes of 200 and 500 DDR-marks were never issued. A popular theory is that the value of the banknotes was deemed too high, and that introducing them might have caused inflation.

Another theory is that the banknotes were printed only to be issued in case of war with the West. This is similar to the $4 Billion cash the American Federal Reserve stored in a the Culpeper cold war bunker near Mount Pony, Virginia.

Source: welt.de

Why these banknotes are for sale on Ebay

In 1990, when East Germany and West Germany were reunified, both parts adopted the (West-German) D-Mark as their official currency. DDR-mark banknotes could be exchanged for D-marks for a short time only. On 1 July 1990 all DDR-mark banknotes lost their value.

DDR mark banknotes in cold war bunker
DDR mark banknotes closeup

The demonetized, worthless East German banknotes, with an estimated value of 100 billion marks, were buried in a cold war bunker near Halberstadt in 1990. When the bunker was reopened in 2002 for underground construction works, most of the money was gone, stolen.

It is therefore amazing but true that every one of the 500 DDR mark and 200 DDR mark banknotes for sale on sites like Ebay was at some point stolen from an underground East-German cold war bunker.

In a similar story from 2017, around a billion rubles in old Soviet money were taken from an abandoned mine.

Exchange of DDR marks

If you have any old DDR marks in your drawers: At Leftover Currency we exchange all East German forum cheques and DDR banknotes from 0.50 mark to 100 marks.

We do not exchange banknotes of 500 DDR marks and 200 DDR marks. This is because these high value banknotes were never really used in East Germany. All 500 and 200 DDR mark banknotes on the market are in fact stolen money.

If you have any German Marks to exchange: