The Chancellor, who was born in Hamburg but grew up in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was chatting to young people at a EU citizens’ dialogue meeting in Hannover on Monday.
But when the moderator asked her about her personal experiences of Europe in the time of East and West Germany, she revealed that she had smuggled “Westgeld” as a holidaymaker in the Eastern Bloc, where she travelled regularly.
Westgeld was a term used in the GDR to describe the Deutschmark (DM), as well other western currencies sometimes. Unlike the GDR Mark, West German money was not a legal tender in the GDR, and had a higher value which made it a desirable for those living in the east to have.
The GDR punished the smuggling of West German money at that time with confiscation or even imprisonment, reports Bild. According to the “Gesetz zur Regelung des innerdeutschen Zahlungsverkehrs” (Law for the Regulation of Domestic German Payment Transactions), a permit was required for the possession of a DM.
Limited budget for backpacking
Angela Merkel at the EU citizens' dialogue event on Monday. Photo: DPA
Describing her backpacking adventures, Merkel told Bild: “In Bulgaria and Romania you used to be able to camp freely, so you wandered around. You had 20 kilos on your back.”
The 64-year-old's trips ranged from visiting the mountains to a “paddle in the Masuria”, a region in northern Poland.
The CDU leader said one catch, however, was the “limited budget”, reports Focus Online.
“As a citizen of the GDR you were only allowed to exchange 30 GDR Mark a day”, she said. “But a camping site in Budapest already cost 10 or 15 GDR Marks.
“There you could only (afford to) eat packets of soup. And that's why you always tried to smuggle a little Westgeld when you had some.”
Merkel said she also brought back “West books” – and smuggled them into the GDR. “But customs were very strict”, so the books had to be well hidden.
A woman in former East Berlin making use of the 'DDR Mark' after monetary union between East and West Germany in 1990. Photo: DPA
“It was all very difficult, but also very interesting,” Merkel said.
'Germans are not punctual'
Despite the many journeys she made within the Eastern Bloc, Merkel longed to visit the USA. She made her first trip to the Italian island Sardinia after the opening of the East German border, but “very quickly also San Diego in the United States”.
It has been a week of surprising revelations for Merkel. On Monday she admitted her government had made mistakes in the handling of the former German spy chief Hans-Georg Maaßen’s promotion. However, this subject did not come up during the meeting.
The other topics of conversation at the citizens' dialogue ranged from Brexit to dealing with foreigners in Germany. Asked about how to deal with stereotypes, she stated: “There are also unpunctual Germans. I know a lot of them.”