How Germany Turned Its Currency Into Toilet Paper By Printing Too Much In 1920s

Kevin Mwanza
Written by Kevin Mwanza
Germany turned its currency into toilet paper by printing too much in the 1920s after the end of World War I saw the currency devalued by hyperinflation. Piles of new German banknotes awaiting distribution at the Reichsbank, during the hyperinflation in October 1923. Image: German Federal Archive/Creative Commons

In the 1920s, Germany turned its currency into worthless paper after its government printed banknotes in an effort to keep up with a currency that was spiraling down in value during the World War I.

The excessive printing of the currency by the German government to finance military expenditure pushed inflation out of control after it lost the war and could not seize resource-rich territories as it had planned.

The country’s currency, which was exchanging at 4.2 German marks to one U.S. dollar in 1914, depreciated to 4.2 trillion marks to one greenback in just nine years.

While inflation crept up slowly at first, it accelerated in late 1922, ballooning from 2,000 marks per dollar to 20,000 to a million and beyond in just a few months, riding on a wave of economic panic and mistrust.

The hyperinflation was so bad that waiters often had to climb on top of tables to announce new menu prices every half hour and workers brought wheelbarrows, sacks, and suitcases to work to collect their wages.

The 20 million, 50 million, 1 billion, and 5 billion mark bills were some of the notes that a working-class person would have carried in order to purchase basic goods like bread, meat, and coal to heat their homes.

This quick devaluation of the mark made survival arduous for ordinary Germans as it made their salaries worthless and they struggled to buy basic goods for their families.

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The revolutionary years and the hyperinflation are remembered as one of the most tumultuous periods in modern German history and still impact German fiscal policy.