Unbelievable, it is already 30 years ago when Germany East and West reunited. When the wall came down in Nov 1989, I wanted to go to Berlin but couldn’t. My first trip to the now open German Democratic Republic (DDR) was in May 1990 when I visited an East German penpal. Back then, I was collecting coins, including DDR coins. I met my penpal for the first time in his small hometown of Klingenthal, Saxony. His family was amicable, and I had a great time there for a few days. Also, sitting in and driving a Trabbi. The East German plastic car. We wanted to go to a coin auction in Leipzig but skipped the plan after finding a huge open-air flea market in Leipzig with unique antiques. No wonder, as East Germans couldn’t sell or export abroad. Everything they collected over 40 years you could find there—a collectors wonderland. And, oh wonder, I also met by random a fellow collector from the West on this vast flea market. German Reunification
Before we went to the market, we stopped at a typical DDR restaurant for lunch after our hours-long drive. We could order only the dish of the day and waited a long time for our food. We sat at our table for quite a time; some people got served before us even they came after us. Asking the male servant about this, he answered, “But these are important local guests.” The dish was simple, enough, and surprisingly – delicious. We still paid in East Mark for our inexpensive dishes. German Reunification
The grocery stores we visited had almost no goods to offer anymore. Leipzig was full of abandoned Trabbis in front of abandoned flats. We saw some of these flats. The doors unlocked, and we thought the tenants just left moments ago as we could still find so many stuff in these flats—dishes, books, clothing, photographs.
I visited Saxony Switzerland, a hilly climbing area, and a national park around the Elbe valley south-east of Dresden. Together with Bohemian Switzerland in the Czech Republic, it forms the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. Just beautiful. I remember we paid for a typical Saxony sausage with a bun and a drink one East Mark. German Reunification
Well, my passport still got a stamp when entering the DDR but not when leaving.
The first and the last DDR passport
For me, as a German, the passport history of the DDR is most exciting. To collect travel documents of a state which existed just 40 years is a challenge nowadays, especially for the very early types from 1955-1961. An ordinary citizen could not get a passport before 1955. Only Diplomats and Functionaries had passports for foreign travel from 1950 on. I do also hold a Seamans passport from 1953. German Reunification
The German Democratic Republic was founded on 7 October 1949. The first passport law was issued in 1950, an update in 1954.
Passport 1955 German Reunification
Until the wall in August 1961, someone can find travel to quite exotic places. I do have passports with several exotic visas like Burma, Vietnam, DPRK!
This passport is most likely one of the very last travel documents issued by the government od the DDR!
The last DDR Visa? German Reunification
This Federal Republic German passport probably shows the last DDR visa issued by the border troops. After the wall was open a visa was not anymore required, but passports still got stamped. My German passport has a DDR stamp from May 1990. Two months later on 1 July border control between the two German states became obsolete. This means I do have also one of the last DDR stamps in my travel document.
DDR passports remained in use until 31 December 1995. I am still on a quest for a passport issued in Stalinstadt!
FAQ Passport History
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1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?
The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...
2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?
Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...
3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?
"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...
4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?
Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...
5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?
Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.
6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?
7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?
During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...
8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?
Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.
9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?
Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.
10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?
A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉
11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?
First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...
Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.
Question? Contact me...