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Welcome Money

Journalist Malcolm Jack tells the story from the fall of the Berlin Wall of 'Begrüßungsgeld', the 100 Deutschmark welcome money gifted to East Germans as they crossed to the West.

Between the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and the policy's hastily enforced end on 29 December 1989, East German citizens claimed an estimated four billion Deutschmarks in so-called ‘Begrüßungsgeld’ or ‘welcome money’ from the West German authorities.

Tens of thousands stood in line at banks and town halls up and down West Germany, waiting to collect their state-sanctioned gift of 100DM (around €80 today). For most East Germans, shortages of basic goods were a fact of daily life and luxuries were all but non-existent, this modest windfall represented the first true spending money that they had ever possessed, and in spending it they would have their first encounters with modern-day capitalism and consumerism.
In this programme, journalist and teutonophile Malcolm Jack heads to Berlin to find out what East Germans bought with their Begrüßungsgeld and, 30 years on, what became of those purchases.

In Berlin, Malcolm meets Jens ‘Tasso’ Muller from Saxony, who, on his first trip west, travelled with friends to Kreuzberg in Berlin. It was the first time he had ever seen graffiti tags, on every corner in every place. Having never seen graffiti tags before, he worked out it must be done with a marker so that was the first thing he bought. As it cost an exorbitant 11DM, he just bought one, but it would be the first of many. Today Jens is better known by the alias 'Tasso' and his tag is recognised all over the world - as a professional graffiti artist he has visited 31 different countries and counting; all thanks to one black ink Edding marker, igniting a passion for street art he didn't even know existed.

Amongst other East Germans and East Berliners, Malcolm meets fashion designer and former international model Grit Seymour. Grit’s welcome money was spent on fresh exotic fruit and a copy of Italian Vogue which was previously inaccessible to her in the GDR. Malcolm also visits a former Stasi prison with tour guide and former inmate Peter Kreup, whose welcome money provided a sense of power and freedom that he had previously been denied after spending 10 months incarcerated by the regime. Performance artist and lecturer Else Gabriel shares her unorthodox approach to the welcome money, and the bounty it brought her which she still keeps in her studio. Nicole Hartmann was just 11 years old when the wall fell, and remembers the feeling of solidarity that she felt when her East German village banded together to look after the people in the streams of cars, all travelling to Berlin to collect their Begrüßungsgeld. We also hear from Professor of German History at University College, London about the reasons for the introduction of the welcome money itself, and its impact on the process of reunification.

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29 minutes

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