Der Forumscheck, Notes Of Socialist Consumerism: 500 Mark, Voucher (East Germany, 1979)-Article

Updated: Mar 12

This East German voucher represents the 6th denomination of the "Forumscheck" (Forum Check). The Forum Check was a specialized form of East German currency, introduced on April 1979. They were used by East German citizens, to buy imported consumer goods. Which were highly desired, although heavily regulated within East Germany.


Forum Checks were received by converting foreign "hard currencies, at the Staatsbank der DDR (East German State Bank). By law all East German citizens were required to convert all hard currency into Forum Checks. The value of the Forum Check "Mark" was pegged (1:1), with the West German Deutsche Mark.


Forum Checks were issued in value's ranging from 50 Pfennig (0.5 Mark) to 500 Marks. Denominations differed noticeably in size and color, to avoid unnecessary confusion. Although all Forum Checks shared the same easily understood format. Appealing pastel colors were used to better promote a consumerist atmosphere, to the note. In regards to the (often frugal) East German bearer, seeing them as coupons to be spent. Rather than pieces of hard earned currency.


Observe

The observe features a simple, yet artistically appealing minimalist design. A dark purple cross forms the core of the design. The cross is off-set leftward and features differing shades. The horizontal "bar" is a darker shade, than the vertical. They join forming a square, with a faded gold Forum logo.


The note's "500" mark value is listed at the upper-left, lower-left, and lower-right corners. The lower-left "500" is large, with a rounded square style. While the remaining "500" feature a stylized faux-shine pattern. These "500" are printed in a deep Tyrian purple and feature cut-outs.


The background features wavering guilloché patterns, forming a stylish secondary underprint. It forms light violet ribbon, with dark purple guide lines. The guide lines shift to a magenta shade, where they overlap. Below portions of the observe's primary underprint can be seen along the edges. Made of interlaced dark purple and light brown lines, forming a chainmail-like pattern.


The note's text is off-set to the right, in 3 sections. The first section lists the note's issuer, the "Forum foreign trade company". Followed by a declaration of the note value, "five hundred marks to purchase goods". The final section instructs the bearer, that it can only be spent at Forum foreign trade company establishments. The note's serial number is "AB 191557".


Observe Translation

Forum foreign trade company
Check for five hundred marks to purchase goods
This check is intended to be spent at establishments of the Forum foreign trade company

Reverse

The reverse is more so sparse, than the observe. Featuring a noticeably different color scheme. The vertical "bar" is a light blue color, as opposed to dark purple. The Forum logo remains at the center, of the intersection, although in purple. The note's issue date "1979" is listed below the logo. The lower left lists it's "500" mark value.


The background differs from the observe and is highly visible. The guilloché ribbon pattern features a light blue backing, as opposed to light violet. The guide lines remain dark purple, although lack overlap color changes. While the underprint features repeating "cross-shaped" patterns. As opposed to the observe's "chainmail" pattern underprint.


Reverse Translation

This check cannot be redeemed and is not transferable

The origin of the "Forum"

The Forum check traces it's origin to the East German "Intershop". Intershop was a publicly owned enterprise (Volkseigener Betrieb-VEB), owned by the East German government. The state-owned Intershop was founded on 14 December 1962. As a means of acquiring "hard currency", from western tourists and employees of foreign governments. Initially beginning as carts selling duty-free cigarettes, at Berlin Friedrichstraße station.


During this period, Intershops were managed by Mitropa. A division of Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Imperial Railways) responsible for catering services. Gradually Intershop expanded it's inventory to include duty-free alcohol and consumer goods. First appearing as room service at the state-owned Interhotel chain. Which provided a luxury hotel experience for visiting foreigners.


Access to these facilities was restricted to East German citizens. As was access to the hard currency required to purchase from them. In 1974, the ban on possessing hard currency was relaxed. Thus allowing East German citizens to buy from Intershops. Although access to the Intershop's roadside equivalent, the Transitshop required foreign passports to enter. Transitshop were placed at rest stops, along the popular Autobahn (highway).


Foreign passports were required to purchase high-end products, at Intershops. The restricted items included luxury items such as jewelry, perfume, watches, and designer clothing. Strangely this list also included items produced domestically and reimported. During this period Intershops were a common sight along border crossings, U-Bahn (subway) stations, and airports. Further restricting East German citizens from purchasing these products. Was becoming increasingly difficult to politically justify.

The Berlin Friedrichstraße Intershop was the only location with window displays.
A view of an Intershop, at Berlin Friedrichstraße station.

As a compromise the "Forumscheck" was introduced on April 1979. This was accompanied by a restricting hard currency access, back to its pre-1974 levels. Although allowing East German citizens to convert their hard currency, at Staatsbank der DDR (East German State Bank) branches. Thus allowing the East German government to retain hard currency. While allowing it's own citizens access to hard currency goods. As the vouchers are matched to the forfeited currency.


During this era, Intershops were managed by "Forum aussenhandelsgesellschaft" (the Forum foreign trade company). The term "forum" chosen as reference to inter-cultural relations taking place. By the foreign tourist, which were the primary consumers of the shops. In addition to Intershop, Forum check bearers could shop at other Forum-related stores. These included Exquisit, a shop for luxury clothing, shoes, perfume, and cosmetics. While Delikat provided gourmet food items, which were high desired for special occasions.


In general, the Forum Check system paired with Intershop (and associates) fulfilled their intended role. That being acquiring hard currency for governmental activities, such as trading with non-Eastern Bloc nations. While simultaneously providing its citizens and outlet to acquire limited/restricted consumer goods. Encouraging it's overseas workers to return home, with hard currency. Rather then immediately spending it prior to retuning. In addition, to allowing East German families with relatives in the west. To receive exchangeable hard currency, which could be used to buy gifts.


With the 1990 reunification of Germany, the "Forum foreign trade company" was dissolved. Ending Intershop and Forum's other tourist orientated shops. It was later reported that Forum associated shops were often staffed by relatives of Ministry of State Security (Stasi) employees. As a means of minimalizing theft. All crimes which occurred at these locations, were investigated by the Stasi, in addition to regular police.


Size Comparison

An East German 500 Mark Forumscheck with US Dollar for Scale.
An East German 500 Mark Forumscheck with US Dollar for Scale.
 

Additional Notes

  • This note's dimensions are 145 x 66 mm or 5.71 x 2.60 in, roughly similar to a US Dollar

  • Standard size protective sleeves is the preferred method to preserve this note.

  • All non-currency related photos, are public domain images, provided by Wikimedia.

  • DDR is the acronym for Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic).

  • Period hard currencies were: US Dollar, British Pound, Deutschmark and Swiss Franc.

  • East Germany had a preference for the West German Deutschmark.

  • The pre-Euro Deutschmark was noted for it's stability and relative predictability.

  • The period Swiss Franc maintained q 40% minimum of gold reserve backing.

  • Prior to reunification nearly 80% of the East German workforce was employed by VEBs.

  • East German labor culture promoted non-work employee actives, used to boost moral.

  • VEBs had company sports teams, used to promote health awareness/entertainment.

  • Sports teams were occasionally associated with non-VEB organizations.

  • Dynamo Dresden began as the football club of the Dresden Police.

  • Stasi is an colloquial abbreviation of Staatssicherheitsdienst (the State Security Service).

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