German Postal History

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by Rick Aalhuizen

The German political history is perfectly reflected in its postal history. In the early days, the carrying of mail was the privilege of the Nobility and in 1748, the count of Thurn and Taxis, whose family originally came from Cornello in Northern Italy, was officially appointed “Postmaster-General of the Holy Roman Empire”. This family, which was then living in Regensburg, carried out this duty and profited greatly from this monopoly, the postal service of southern Germany, until 1806.

From about 1290 the early ancestors of this family, then called Tassis, had operated courier services in the Italian City States. Franz (Francisco) von Taxis (1459-1517) had set up a horse based message transport system, which had proven so efficient, that the Habsburgs needed it to control their expanding empire. In 1490 Emperor Frederick 3rd offered a communication monopoly to this family, then based in Bergamo, Italy. In 1608, the Thurn and Taxis became Barons of the Habsburg Empire.
The Thurn and Taxis post monopoly attracted a lot of jealousy and Napoleon Bonaparte was the first who attacked it. In 1852 the family issued postage stamps.
The last Thurn and Taxis postal system was purchased and nationalized by the Prussian (Northern Germany) Government in 1867.

In 1806, when the "Holy Roman Empire" collapsed, (Conqueror Napoleon), the office was left in limbo and in 1808 the young Kingdom of Bavaria asserted the right to control its postal service and compensated the Counts of Thurn and Taxis for their financial losses.

Hamburg, before the issue of postage stamps:
This letter was sent from Hamburg to Bordeaux and partly by Thurn & Taxis (Tour-T) via Valencia:
Hamburg was a free Hanse city, with its own postal service until 31-12-1867. It then became part of the North German Confederation and part of the Reich on 1-1-1872.

After the introduction of the adhesive postage stamp, we see how divided the Holy Roman Empire had become. The three Hanse cities (Hamburg, Bremen and Lübeck) issued their own stamps, as did the Grand Duchies of Baden, Oldenburg, Hessen and Mecklenburg-Schwerin.Also the Duchy of Brunswick and the Kingdoms of Hannover, Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg and Saxony.

Brunswick 1856:

Brunswick was a Duchy with its own postal services until 31-12-1867.It was then taken into the postal administration of the North German Confederation and with that absorbed into the postal service of the Reich on 1-1-1872.

Hannover 1859:

Hannover was a Kingdom, that became a province of Prussia after 1866. She issued stamps from 1850- 1867.

Baden was a Grand Duchy, that issued its own postage stamps, until being absorbed in the postal administration of the German Reich in 1872.Baden issued stamps from 1852- 1868.

Prussia was a Kingdom with its own postal administration, that went over into the North German Confederation and later into the German Reich. Prussia issued stamps from 1850-1866.

The North German confederation was a political confederation, formed in 1866 after Prussia defeated Austria. On 1-1-1868 stamps were issued for all member states and valid in Prussia, Bremen, Brunswick, Hamburg, Lübeck, Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Oldenburg and Saxony.

As there were two currency systems valid in these states, 2 sets of stamps were issued simultaneously. One was based on the "100 kreuzer in the gulden" and used in the Northern district and the other based on the "30 groschen in the thaler" in the Southern district.Left we see a cover from the North and on the right, one of the south.

Bavaria had obtained the monopoly of her postal services in 1808, after she had compensated the Thurn & Taxis family for their loss.The postal administration of Bavaria lasted until 31-3-1920 and reflected a turbulent time on her postage stamps, before it was absorbed into the German Reich.(The Weimar Republic). Some very early Bavarian letters:

A later card with the portrait of Prince-Regent Luitpold, who was appointed a week before King Ludwig drowned himself.

Then came world war one and the result was disastrous for the monarchy. A revolution broke out on November 7, 1918, the King was deposed and a socialist, by the name of Kurt Eisener came to power. The stamps were then overprinted with „Volksstaat Bayern„ (People's State Bavaria).

On February 1, 1919, Eisener was shot dead on the very day that the parliament of the People's Republic was due to meet. His death sparked off an insurrection, that was crushed after fierce fighting. On May 5,1919, Bavaria became a "Free State" with a new constitution. The stamps were overprinted with "Freistaat Bayern" and the same overprint was applied to remaining stocks of the German definitives of the Germania design.

In 1920 the postal services of Bavaria and the German Reich (Weimar Republic) were amalgamated and the Bavarian stamps were overprinted "Deutsches Reich" and valid for postage throughout the whole country.Here is an example of mixed franking of German and Bavarian stamps on August 7,1920.

Württemberg was a Kingdom, that issued its own postage stamps in 1851, after it had joined the Austro-Prussian Postal Union. These first postage stamps had a commemmorative inscription in the side panels, signifying " Austro- Prussian Postal Treaty, signed April 1, 1851."

In 1857 a new set was released, such as:

In 1902 the German Imperial Postal Service was introduced, but Württemberg stamps were permitted for Government and Municipal correspondence. The last of these stamps were in use until July 1925.

The First Reich

The German Empire

In 1862 Count Otto von Bismarck was appointed Chancellor of Prussia and he skillfully manipulated the future of Europe. He established a new North German Confederation and bound the Southern states of Baden, Bavaria and Württemberg into a military and economic alliance.

In 1869 Bismarck's ideal of a united Germany, under Kaiser Wilhelm 1 (the King of Prussia) was realised and in 1870, after the defeat of the French at Sedan, Germany established herself as the strongest military power in Europe.

The Reichspost, the Imperial postal administration of Germany, was established on May 4, 1871. As we have seen, the different states and cities operated their own postal services before that date. The postage stamps of the North German Confederation and the southern States were used until December 31, 1871; Württemberg continued to produce stamps for local Government use and Bavaria was the only German state, which retained the privilege of issuing its own postage stamps after 1871 and its issues survived as late as 1920.

The German Empire's first stamps were issued in January 1872 and consisted of two sets, with denominations in thaler or gulden currency. These two currency systems still existed in the Empire. The covers shown, are in the thaler currency and used in the Northern district.

On January 1,1875, a uniform decimal currency, based on "100 pfennig in a mark" was introduced throughout the German Empire. A new definitive series of stamps for use in both the Northern district, as well as the Southern, was released at the same time.

4 years later, the grammar was changed and 10 pfennige became 10 pfennig.

The year after Kaiser Wilhelm 2nd's accession to the throne, a new series came out with the Imperial Eagle.

How advanced the Imperial Postal Service was, is shown by the fact that in 1861 the Siemens and Halske company were commissioned to build a pneumatic dispatch system for Berlin. The Germans called this " Pneumatische Depechenbeförderung ", which meant " Pneumatic tubes used to transport letters, small parcels and telegrams by means of pressurised air." The first line, between the main telegraph office and the stock exchange, entered service in 1865, the second in 1868. The system was made available to the public in 1876. At this point, it also got the name " Rohr Post " (Tube mail),so named by the General Post Director, Heinrich von Stephan [Father of the Universal Postal Union (UPU)].
By 1939 it had 90 offices, 400 km of tubes and 12 high speed lines, delivering some 8 million dispatches a year. An example of the Rohr Post:

Between 1899 and 1900 Germany introduced a pictorial serie, which showed the female allegorical figure of "Germania", based on a portrait of the Wagnerian actress Anna Führing. The serie was inscribed "Reichspost", but it was superseded on April 1, 1902, with a simular series, inscribed "Deutsches Reich".

The new century seems to have been full of promise, people looked with great optimism to the future and the post office specially issued a card for that purpose. Whether the 20th century has been that good to Germany, is in hindsight (2007), a debatable point.

On the left, we see the card cancelled on December 31, 1899 and on the right January 1, 1900.

Packetfahrt Pty. was a private mail carrier in Berlin, which was abolished by the "postal reform law", which came into effect on April 1, 1900. The owners received compensation from the Government and the majority of her employees were taken over by the Imperial Reichs Post. Packetfahrt, which started with 25 porters and couriers, employed over 1000 when abolished. It used to carry letters for 3pf and postcards for 2 pf. Printed matter was charged for according to weight, the fees being a fraction of the Imperial Post Office prices. In the last year of its existence, the Berlin private postal enterprise distributed 53.450,000 packets of printed matter, 33,000,400 ordinary closed letters, 13,226,000 registered letters, paid 1.708.000 money orders and collected the amounts, called for by 1,208.000 receipted bills. Although her charges were nominal, the company regularly paid dividends of 20%.

Two cards with the "Germania" stamps.

Here are another two covers with the Germania stamps. Both 5pf items have been cancelled on the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year of the new century.

<We see here how in 1912 with airmail was being experimented. On one side the airmail card and on the reverse side, a photo that shows how the welcoming committee greeted the plane.

These "Germania" stamps remained on issue all through World War 1 and even in the early years of the Weimar republic.

Here we show a lettersheet for the soldiers at the front in 1914.

There were no special stamps for the soldiers, just a cancellation "Feldpost" and a rubber stamp from the censor.

A soldier's letter from 1917.

Two covers from occupied Belgium.

On the left, we have a civilian cover, (although the sender is in the infantry) sent in war time, while on the right we have a commercial post card sent to Holland in 1915, censored and provided with a 1pf surcharge for the Red Cross.

That the "Germania" stamps were still used in the early twenties, is shown by the cover on the left and the parcel slip on the right.

The second Reich

The Weimar Republic

In 1919 the Weimar Republic issued its first stamps, to commemmorate the sitting of the first National Assembly.

Some late colour changes for the Imperial stamps.

1919 An early airmail card.

The story of hyper inflation.

On November 10, 1906, the correct franking for a postcard was 5pf; this grew to 10pf on November 11, 1920. A rise of 100% in 14 years.Then it took off and became 150pf on September 9 1922. A rise of 1500% in 22 months.

The full frightening story can be seen by the stamps, that have been issued.

One wonders, how business was still functioning with mail increases like this. From 6 Mark on 25/11/22 to 40 Mark on 25/5/23.

Early inflation covers.

It is getting worse: 16.000 on the left and 10 000,000 on the right.

On this card from Wiesbaden to Kiel on September 20, 1923, one can see that the cost were 100 000 Mk, but there were apparently no stamps availlable and they just stamped it: "Gebühr bezahlt" (Postage paid)

There is a story of a man, who in November 1923, wheeled a wheelbarrow full of paper money from his work to home. Halfway, nature called and he went into a convenience. When he came out, the paper money was tipped over onto the pavement and somebody had stolen his wheelbarrow. Maybe urban myth, but very believable.

Just to show, how ridiculous the situation had become, we see here a hundred million Mark banknote,(by then they were only printed on one side) that went through the mail franked with a 10 billion Mark postage stamp.(22-11-1923)

On the right we see how the pre-paid post card had to be franked extra to stay in business,while on the left we see how the new "Renten Mark" brought sanity back in the system.
At the end of 1923, a new system of paper money, guaranteed by mortgage bonds, funded in real estate, was introduced; the so called "Renten Mark".This gave the government breathing space to stabilise the currency.

Between March and November a new series, featuring a republican eagle came out.

Also in 1925 and 1926 a set to celebrate the millenary of the Rhineland and a set of airmail stamps were issued.

Between 1926 and 27 a new series was issued, which featured famous Germans, such as Goethe (3 & 25 pf), Schiller (5pf), Frederick the Great (10pf) and Beethoven (8 & 20 pf).

From 1924 onwards, charity stamps and cards were issued to support the needy.

Between 1928 and 1930 a new definitive series, featuring President Ebert (1919-1925) or his successor President Hindenburg.(1925-1934)

The 8pf and the 15pf of these were overprinted with "30 June 1930", which was the date of the evacuation of allied troops out of the Rhineland. What the Germans thought of this, is shown by the reverse of this card.

The Weimar Republic issued several different postcards. Some about important events and some about important people.

Here we have Heinrich von Stephan, the father of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and President von Hindenburg.

In October 1933, the last definitive stamps of the Weimar republic appeared. The date coincided with the 85th birthday birthday of President Hindenburg. These Hindenburg birthday stamps, known as the "Medallion" series, bore a profile of the aged President on a circular background, against a frame of darker shade.

Some official covers from the early Weimar republic.

On January 28, 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialists (Nazi party), Reichs Chancellor of Germany and by the end of the year, Hitler had become virtual ruler.

Although the Nazi party had not won the election, together with the "German Nationalists" they formed a majority in Parliament. Through passing an "Enabling Act" Hitler freed himself of constitutional obligations and parliament control.

The Third Reich

Nazi Germany

This propaganda card cancelled on 11/11/33 showed people why rearmament was necessary.

Left: Cancellation on 16-1-1934: "Air defense is National duty. Become member of the air defense league!" On the right: "Munich, capital of the movement." (This is where Hitler started)

Left: A reminder of the Colonial past (11-8-34) and on the right: propaganda for establishing the "labour service" franked by a mourning stamp of President Hindenburg.

The Winterhelp charity issues were still being issued in stamps and cards.

This letter to the USA, showed some strong propaganda on the reverse. "He, who wants to save a people, has to think heroicly."

Then came the Sudeten crisis and the cancelation on this card (31-1-1939), showed that there was a Sudeten solidarity meeting in Hamburg and after it was over, the cancelation on this cover (18-3-1940), celebrates the 1st anniversary of Hitler's visit, after the take over of the republic of Czechoslovakia.

Then came the blitz krieg and the quick occupation of Luxemburg and the Alsace.The Hindenburg stamps were overprinted and the cards carried the slogan: "The struggle for freedom".

The censor was flat out.

This card and cancelation (Munich) celebrate the first ten years since coming to government. On the front we see Hitler's portrait.On the rear the notice, that this portrait is also availlable in a larger size.

This time the same cancelation is in Berlin. The cancelation on the right, calls women and girls up to work in the postoffice and maintain the tie between home and front.

A special card from the East.Some of the "Hitler" stamps are overprinted "Ostland" and others are not.

A censored letter from Crakow in occupied Poland and on the right the reverse of the cover.

As in the first world war, the soldiers did not need stamps for their mail, but for airmail feldpost a stamp was required.

This card was issued to celebrate the State visit of the Prince-Regent of Yugoslavia to Berlin on June 1 1939. It was this Regent, who in early 1941 gave Hitler permission to send his troops through Yugoslavia to attack Russia. When the Prince returned to Belgrade,Parliament refused to rattify that permission and the battle for Yugoslavia delayed Hitler's attack on Russia for a month.

The Allied occupation of Germany.

After the collapse of the Hitler regime, Germany was divided into 4 zones. The USA. Britain, France and the Soviet Union, each had a responsibility for one of the zones and Berlin was divided into 4 sectors as well. British and American forces started to reorganise Germany's postal services at the end of the war and stamps inscribed: "AM Post Deutschland" were produced in the USA and Britain.

These were the American censored letters.

Although the English and Americans worked closely together, the English still had their own censors.

The French occupation authorities at first issued a general issue of stamps for their zone, but withdrew them after 2 years and replaced them with seperate stamps for the three German states in their zone. Here we see Baden displayed.

Another card and cover from Baden.

A cover from Württemberg and from the Saar, both states within the French zone.

The Russian army had made no immediate provision for a civil postal administration in the Russian zone, so individual postmasters made their own temporary arrangements. These "Postmaster's provisionals" included defaced stamps of the Nazi regime and locally printed stamps. By the end of 1945 the Soviet authorities had organised the postal services into six regional administrations. They were Berlin-Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommeren, East Saxony, Saxony, N.W. Saxony and Thuringia. Here we have a cover from N.W Saxony.

Early in 1946 Britain, the USA and Russia agreed to combine their postal administrations, but the French continued to produce seperate stamps.
On the left we see a cover with the first type of stamp for the three zones. On the right is the second series.

These type of postcards were also used in the three zones.

This ended when the mark was devalued and the values were different West and East. The Mark was devalued at midnight on June 20,1948.Old stamps were only useable for 2 days, June 21 and 22, at 10 times the old postage rate. This letter was returned to sender as it was 70 pf short.

The Anglo American zone issued in September 1948 a new series of stamps, featuring German buildings.Left is the Cathedral in Cologne and on the right the Brandenburger Gate.

The two Germanies.

In September 1949 the British, the American and the French zones were amalgamated to form the German Federal Republic ( Deutsche Bundes Republik). These kept on using the building stamps until they issued the posthorn series in 1951.
The Russian zone became the German Democratic Republic (D.D.R.- Deutsche Democratische Republik) in October 1949 and the occupation issues were then superseded by the stamps of East Germany.
West Berlin was under 4 power agreement until 1948. On March 1948 the Russians started the blockade of Berlin and on June 24 all traffic to and from West Berlin to the West was halted. The Western powers countered with a massive airlift, a shuttle service with huge supply planes, that brought in a daily average of 8000 tons of supplies. Arrangements were worked out for lifting the blockade after 324 days.
A tax of 2pf was levied on all correspondence for the relief of the city of Berlin. The use of these tax stamps was discontinued in March 1956.

25 years later this event was commemmorated with a special stamp.

West Berlin became a province of the German Federal Republic on September 1950, but continued to issue its own stamps. (Usually simular type, as seen here.)

A very important occasion for West Germany was the visit of Queen Elisabeth in 1965.

Here we see some covers from West Berlin.

Berlin, being the capital, was also very important to East Germany. Here we see two covers about Berlin from the German Democratic Republic.

These are some covers with common definitives of the German Federal Post.

And these are parcel cards.

Pre-paid post cards remained in use.

That the past was the past and that the world moved on, was shown by the fact that Germany was accepted as an equal amongst nations.This card celebrates the cooperation treaty of 1963, between France and Germany.

It became a foundation member of the European Community, when it signed the Treaty of Rome in 1956.

As the previous capital of Germany was now in East Germany, Bonn became the capital of the German Federal Republic.

The past is always a great source for commemmoratives. Here we see a special stamp in memory of Otto Wels, who in 1933, was the only man in the German Reichstag, who spoke up against Hitler's "Enabling Act". (This was the act, that gave Hitler dictatorial powers.) His famous words were:"Wir sind Wehrlos, aber nicht Ehrlos." (We are without defense, but not without honour.)

Father Maximilian Kolbe was a Catholic priest, who had been arrested and sent to Auswitz. There he gave his life, to let another man live, who survived the camp to tell the tale.

People, who were part of the resistance movement against the Nazis, were remembered on 20-07-1964, twenty years after the July plot in 1944.

50 years of voting rights for women, was commemmorated with this minisheet.

1972 was the year that the Olympic Games were held in Germany. This time not in Berlin, but in Munich.

Here are some early covers from the German Democratic Republic.

Later they became more colourful and full of praise of the life in East Germany.

They also referred to the past and the terrible things that occurred during the fascist regime. Here we see the monument at Putten, a village in the Netherlands, where 600 men never returned from the concentration camp, that they had been taken to.

East Germany also used pre-paid postcards.

1990- Germany reunited again !!

In 1989 the wall in Berlin came down and the German Democratic Republic amalgamated with the Federal Republic and stamps were inscribed "Deutschland" instead. The Postoffice became "Deutsche Post". This cover from Dresden (former East Germany) uses German Bundespost stamps in 1994.

This cover has mixed franking: some Bundespost and some Deutschland.

On the left we have a minisheet commemmorating 200 years William Tell and 150 years Faust and on the right, the memories of 1945, when there were millions of refugees and lots of destroyed cities.

Then in 2000 the "Deutsch Mark" disapeared and Germany has a new currency, like the other members of the European community, the "Euro".

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