Prior to World War One, Germany was a prosperous nation. In the decades since its unification, it had become an industrial powerhouse leading Europe in fields like chemicals, machinery, and optics. Its gold-backed currency traded at comparable rates to the British shilling, Italian lira, and French Franc (about 4-5:1 against the U.S. Dollar). Nine years later, hyperinflation hit its peak in 1923. A loaf of bread in 1922, Germany cost 163 marks. In September 1923, it cost 1,500,000 marks. At the peak of German hyperinflation, a loaf of bread cost 200,000,000,000 Marks.
How hyperinflation leads to bread costing 200 billion Marks
Hyperinflation began in 1921, a few years before its peak in 1923. Its causes stem primarily from World War One. Except for World War Two, this conflict was the most expensive in world history. Germany and almost every other country that took part in the war drove itself deep into debt, financing this conflict. When Germany eventually lost, they also faced an additional penalty of 132 billion gold marks in reparations.
Germany began to buy foreign currency at any price to make payments, driving their already weak money further down. As their currency devalued, they had to print more money to pay back their debts, leading their currency into a death spiral.
They were able to stabilize their currency in early 1922 at around 320 Marks per Dollar. Following that, they held a few international reparations conferences, including one led by J. P. Morgan, a U.S. investment banker. These were unable to find any working solutions and things spiraled out of control again.
In the peak of hyperinflation, one U.S. dollar was worth 1 trillion Marks. The currency had become worthless. A wheelbarrow of money couldn’t buy a loaf of bread and was more useful as kindling. That’s how the price of a German loaf of bread could get so high.
A trillion mark note next to a loaf of bread. As hyperinflation spun out of control, the government responded by just printing larger denominations of cash.
Money was so useless, many would use it as fuel during the winter.
More industrious people found interesting uses for the banknotes – like wall paper!
A loaf of bread earlier in 1923 when it cost 4.6 million marks. People had no idea what they were in for later in the year!
Cash often had to be transported by wheelbarrow.
German children had a lot of fun with cash! Here’s a few kids building a pyramid with banknotes.
Here’s a nice dress made with cash!
Some kids would even make kites with German marks.
I don’t envy this banker having to count all of this money.
It got so bad that it became easier just to round up the cash and burn it in bulk.
This woman is using it as kindling to light her stove.
This is a nice costume of worthless coins. The top says “The King of Inflation.”
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