TIME

When the Wall came down

Peter Keup can still remember how it felt to hold deutsche marks in his hand.

“It was special to even touch this money,” he recalls. “It felt solid. The East German mark was thinner, flimsier.” As a boy growing up in East Germany, he was sometimes sent West German currency by his grandparents on the other side of the border, be it as a birthday gift or a reward for good school grades. Keup pored obsessively over the notes, minted with the mysterious-sounding titles and images of unknown cities and historical figures. “Names from behind the Iron Curtain, an invisible world,” he reflects. Their worth to him was far more than simply financial.

In any case, there was only so much the 16 million citizens of the communist German Democratic Republic (G.D.R.) could buy in a sealed-off country of scarcity, shortages and joyless austerity. Tantalizing tastes of Western consumer goods could be obtained on the black market and at state-run “Intershops,” which only accepted hard currency, like dollars or deutsche marks (DM). Cigarettes, coffee, chocolate and pop records were on offer to those who could afford them. Others had to find their pleasures where they could. “I loved the smell of Persil and Ariel detergent in the clothes,” reminisces Nicole Hartmann, of receiving packages of hand-me-downs from relatives in the West as a young girl. “I always wanted to keep them unwashed.”

in November 1989, followed by the inner German border that ran from Czechoslovakia to the Baltic Sea, the gates to

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