After WWI, Germany was plunged into one of the worst inflations ever to hit a western country as the
government struggled with the truly massive punitive damages demanded by the Treaty of Versailles.
During this brief period of hyper-inflation, people who did not convert their savings into tangible assets
lost them completely . Many bank accounts were closed because even large pre-war sums of 100,000
Marks were longer worth even the price of a postage stamp. The middle class was by and large reduced
to poverty, theft and petty crime soared, pensions became worthless and many people starved to death.
The stable Rentenmark was introduced in November 1923 in a reform by Hjalmar Schacht to replace the worthless Reichsmark. The Reichsmark was re-introduced the next year in a stabilised form and remained in that form until the introduction of the Deutsche Mark in 1948. (Note that Hitler had no involvement whatsoever over any of these events and it is sad that even some historians confuse Schacht's tenure as President of the Reichsbank in 1923 during the currency reform with his reappointment to that position many years later under Hitler.)
However an interesting by-product of this period was the rich variety of banknotes churned out from each town, displaying values of anything up to 100,000,000,000,000 marks. This web site is devoted to these incredibly high-value banknotes.
There were two main types of inflationary banknote printed. Standard Reichsbank notes, and what
is known as notgeld (a German word meaning "emergency money"). The Reichsbank notes were issued by
the central bank in Berlin, while notgeld was printed by city banks, small towns, all manner of public bodies,
the German railway departments and even private companies.
The good thing about collecting German money from this period is that while some notes can be
priced into the thousands of dollars, you can still pick up many of the commonest Reichsbank notes in pristine
condition for just a few dollars. (For examples of common Reichsbank notes, check
Ron Wise's currency site.)
Emergency money, ie issued by non-governmental organisations. In Germany
notgeld was issued as notes, metal and porcelain tokens, and even printed
on silk and leather. Note that German notgeld covers both the small-change
notgeld of 1917-1921 as well as inflationary notes of 1922 and 1923.
A German notgeld note with a value of 2 Mark or less (mostly in pfennig)
and usually around the size of a business card. These were issued by
German towns from 1917 onwards due to the hoarding of coins at the end of
the First World War, and there were thousands of different designs printed.
Because of interest shown by collectors, such notes were still printed as
late as 1922 in some towns, even when the scarcity of coins was long gone.
(The plural is serienscheine.)
What I've tried to do here is to represent a pretty wide range of towns with
notes that are more interesting or less commonly seen - with a preference for
higher denominations. Most notes are from my own personal collection, but
many thanks go to Juergen Spiegel, Frederick Fleischer, Marc Plessa,
Franz von Klimstein and everyone who has kindly provided scans.