Posts Tagged ‘Holy Roman Empire’

From Thaler to Euro

Monday, March 6th, 2017

The Thaler was a silver coin used throughout Europe for almost four hundred years. It served as currency in Germany between the 16th and the 19th centuries. The Thaler was first minted in 1519 from locally mined silver in Joachimsthal in the Kingdom of Bohemia, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire at that time. Today, the town of Joachimsthal lies within the borders of the Czech Republic. The word “Thaler” is an abbreviation of “Joachimsthaler,” the term by which the coin was originally known. In 1902, the German spelling of Thaler was changed to Taler in conformance with a spelling reform. Dollar is an Anglicised form of Thaler.

History of the Thaler (Taler)

The Thaler or Taler could be rather gigantic in weight and size. Some of the coins weighed in excess of a full pound of silver; some reached a diameter of more than 5 inches. Similar coins began to also be minted in neighbouring valleys with silver deposits. Each valley named its coins after the valley (thal) it came from. Many silver coins came into existence with different names. To make it easier, the silver coins began to be known as “Thaler” in the German and “Tolar” in the Czech language.

These early Thaler or Taler served the Holy Roman Empire as a standard by which to value various European region’s currencies. The Thaler (or Reichsthaler) was the currency of Prussia until 1754 when the Conventionsthaler was introduced. From 1857 to 1871, the Vereinsthaler served as standard currency in most German states. In addition, there were many other Thaler variations in use.

From Thaler (Taler) to Deutsche Mark

Following German unification in 1871, Germany adopted the German gold mark, officially known as the Mark as its currency. In 1914, the link between the Mark and gold was abandoned. In late 1923, during the time of the Weimar Republic of Germany, hyperinflation made the paper Mark virtually worthless, and it was replaced by the interim Rentenmark (1,000,000,000,000 paper Mark for one Rentenmark) and by the Reichsmark in 1924.

Toward the end of World War II, the Allied occupation forces printed occupation marks or military marks to be accepted at par with the Rentenmark and the Reichsmark. Banknotes worth 15 to 18 billion military marks were issued for purchases by the occupying forces in Germany and to pay soldiers’ wages. In June 1948, military marks were demonetised as part of the West and East German currency reforms.

On 21 June 1948, the Deutsche Mark (colloquially called “Westmark”) was introduced in the western zones of occupation in Germany (West Germany. And on 23 June 1948, a different Deutsche Mark (colloquially called “Ostmark”) was introduced in Soviet-occupied Germany. The Westmark replaced the Ostmark when Germany was reunified in 1990.

From Deutsche Mark to Euro

In 1999, the Euro replaced the Deutsche Mark (Westmark), initially only as an electronic currency. Then, in 2002, Euro notes and coins replaced the Deutsche Mark entirely. Although not every Eurozone member state has its own mint to produce euro coins, Germany mints its own. All euro coins are legal tender throughout the Eurozone, and all designs feature the 12 stars of the EU and the year of imprint.

But who is the father of the euro sign? Two different camps claim paternity. More at

1 Euro coin, featuring the 12 stars of the EU, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

1 Euro coin, featuring the 12 stars of the EU, Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, “Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom,” click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of



A Man Called Martin Luther

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Martin Luther, German monk, Catholic priest, and professor of theology was born in 1483 and died in 1546. By questioning some of the basic tenets of the Roman Catholic Church he laid the groundwork for becoming one of the most influential figures in the Protestant Reformation movement.

Martin Luther – early years

Martin Luther was born in the town of Eisleben in southeast Germany, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire at the time. He initially entered the University of Erfurt to pursue a legal career. But at age 22 he had a life-changing experience that set him on a different course. One day, he was caught in a horrendous thunderstorm. A lightening bolt struck near him. Luther cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” He was spared and took his promise seriously. He left law school and entered a friary in Erfurt. In 1507, he was ordained to the priesthood, became the dean of the newly founded University of Wittenberg one year later, and was awarded his Doctor of Theology in 1512.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

Martin Luther – his 95 theses

When a papal representative was sent to Germany in 1516 to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Luther vehemently objected. Indulgences were grants for good works. They were given by the pope. They could also be purchased by donating money to the church and then be used to temporarily relieve punishment for minor sins. Luther felt this practice was wrong and protested by nailing a sheet of paper on the door of the All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg. The paper contained 95 Theses. Thanks to the newly invented printing press, his theses spread throughout Germany and Europe within weeks and sparked the Reformation. Throughout 2017, Germany celebrates the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s life and theses.

Martin Luther – later life

When Martin Luther refused to retract his theses, the Catholic Church excommunicated him in 1921. At age 41, he married the 26-year-old former nun, Katharina von Bora. He devoted his life to organizing the new church. He wrote a German Mass, developed the catechism as a teaching method, translated the New and the Old Testament into German, and wrote numerous hymns. His hymn Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her (From Heaven Above to Earth I Come), based on Luke 2:11-12, is still sung every Christmas season. In his later years, Luther grew increasingly bitter toward several segments of society, particularly Jews and Muslims. According to the prevailing view among historians, the Nazis later incorporated his anti-Jewish rhetoric. He died at the age of 62.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.


Berlin in antiquity

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Berlin in antiquity – what was it like? What do we know about that period? As early as the first centuries of the Common Era, various Germanic tribes inhabited the banks of the Spree and Havel. Both are rivers that flow through modern day Berlin. During the course of the Great European Migration, many of these Germanic tribes left their native territories and moved west toward the Rhine River and south toward the Western Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire was huge and encompassed today’s Spain, France, England, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, parts of Yugoslavia, and parts of North Africa. Slavic peoples from central and Eastern Europe moved into the vacated lands.

As the vacated lands turned predominantly Slavic, two of these Slavic tribes settled in the Berlin area. Around 720, the Hevelli established themselves along the River Havel. They founded the trading post of Spandau, now a borough of Berlin. The Sprevane put down roots in the vicinity of today’s suburb of Koepenick, close to the River Spree. Two hundred years later, Slavic tribes settled the area that today represents the core of today’s Berlin.

Otto I reigned as a German King from 936 to 973

Otto the Great
founder of the Holy Roman Empire

Two hundred years later, in 948, Otto I, also known as Otto the Great, founded the Holy Roman Empire. In 962, he was crowned Emperor of the Romans by Pope John XII. The Holy Roman Empire is not synonymous with the Western or Eastern Roman Empires, however. The former proclaimed itself to be the successor to the Western Roman Empire. It quickly established German control over the largely Slavic inhabitants of the region. The territory of the Holy Roman Empire centered on the Kingdom of Germany along with several small neighboring lands, including the Kingdom of Italy. The Emperor’s appointee, Markgraf Gero, led several crusades against the Slaves until they rebelled against German overlordship in 983. Then the region, once again, returned to Slavic control.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.