One of the most famous travel documents in history is the “Safe Conduct” by Emperor Charles V for Martin Luther’s journey to the Imperial Diet of Worms in 1521. During the Middle Ages and early modern period, such documents were issued only in exceptional cases. After the French Revolution, government passport systems emerged throughout Europe. Then used identification documents such as for rag pickers, the dead or enforcement passes are now long forgotten, as are the health passes during the cholera epidemic of 1831 in Hamburg and Berlin.

Der Passexpedient

Above is part of the contents description and wet my appetite to read the book, especially being a collector of German travel documents. Please enjoy my following review.

The book has four chapters covering the German passport and ID card systems of the last 220 years. This is only the second book ever published on this topic. In 1866 a senior civil servant called Hugo Häpe published his book “Die Entwicklung und Reform des deutschen Passwesens” (Development and Change of the German Passport System).

After a brief introduction of travel and passport history the author defines clearly what his readers can expect.

The book shows the influence of wars, railways, and epidemics or of individuals such as Schinderhannes on the passport systems of the German states in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Nazi years are covered as is the special status of Berlin after World War II. The new German Identity Card was introduced on 01 November 2010. In the age of the internet ID cards have a role never envisaged 10 years ago and will have to play their part in fighting identity theft, also in the electronic media. This topic is discussed as well.

The targeted readers are historians and legal scholars, so passport collectors might have slightly different or additional expectations of such a publication. However this book is a great source for all passport collectors, not only for German collectors! I do collect and research for more than eight years and I learned a lot from this page-turner which has the right mix of both entertaining and solid facts.

What are “Geleitbriefe”, “Lumpensammlerpässe”, “Leichenpässe”, “Wanderbücher”, “Sanitätspässe”, “Zwangspässe”, “Musterrollen”, “Urlaubspässe” or “Reise-Routen”? Well, the book will tell you all about these different passport types in detail. I kept the original German terms for these types of “passes“ as an English translation is not that easy and might be even confusing.

Did you know that the German term “Reisepass” (passport) was used just from the beginning of the 16th century (1523)? Or that the Nazi (NSDAP) party membership cards were legally recognized as valid identity documents? The author brings much more facts to the surface which helps to understand much better the nature of the documents which we so love.

Furthermore he vividly describes how passports were issued and controlled in the beginning of the 19th century, how the first passports got forged and the story behind a “Schinderhannes security card (pass)”. You will read about notable persons like Graf Harry von Arnim, Kaspar Braun or Dr. Wilhelm Solf and what their connection is to travel documents.

The book uncovers most relevant facts for every collector of such documents. I will not write all of them down here because you should best discover the merits of this publication on your own.

Other topics are the German Empire, Weimar Republic, Nationalism, Occupied Germany, Federal Republic of Germany, German Democratic Republic, the special status of Berlin and the modern German passports and ID cards.

As a collector you might wish to see a collection of all types of German passports/ID cards ever issued but this was not the main objective of the book, as mentioned above.

Personally, I miss a few significant facts/pictures, e.g. a description/photo of a “Temporary Travel Document in Lieu for Passport for German Nationals” which was issued shortly after the end of war by the Allied Travel Office which divided German into four occupation zones.

This was actually the first “passport” after WWII in Germany. For the German Democratic Republic (GDR) it is also worth to mention that GDR passports where legally valid until December 1995 even though the GDR disappeared as a state following unification in 1990.

I know a collector who has such a document in his collection: A 1990 issued GDR passport with a visa for Israel from 1993. A precious piece of German history!

Well, I strongly recommend this excellent book to all passport collectors without any hesitation and I am sure the “Der Passexpedient” will quickly become the reference for the German passport and ID card system. By the way, a “Passexpedient” was the title the head of a passport office had at the time.

Well done, Passexpedient Mr. Reisen 😉

The book presents a comprehensive discussion of the nature of the passport during the last 220 years, with more than 180 illustrations on 240 pages. It is an indispensable collection for historians and legal scholars. ISBN 978-3-8329-7471-8. The sales price is €59. The book is presently available only in German.

About the author

Andreas Reisen (49), Head of Division B5: Information and communications technology for the Federal Police at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Germany. Mr Andreas Reisen is the head of the ICT strategy division within the Federal Police Directorate-General at Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior, a position he has held since June 2012.

Mr Reisen took up his current post having headed the Federal Ministry division responsible for passports and identity documents from 2005 to 2012. He successfully introduced the first- and second-generation ePassports in Germany (2005 and 2007) and the eID card in 2010. From 2002 to 2005 he was in charge of the federal eGovernment initiative BundOnline 2005. He is a physics graduate with a master’s degree from RWTH Aachen University.