East German Travel Treaties

Travel Freedom? East German Travel Treaties

Not many people realize that for a nation insisting on walling in and restraining the travel freedoms of its citizens, East Germany (GDR) was surprisingly liberal when it came to signing open travel treaties with foreign nations. Citizens of countries that had signed travel treaties with the GDR were allowed to travel to the GDR quite freely, without needing to apply (and pay) for a travel visa before departure. East German Travel Treaties

Friendly Nations East German Travel Treaties

Though friendly foreign nations topped the list of countries allowed to travel to the GDR without a visa (including Algeria, Syria, South Yemen, and multiple African nations), it is essential to remember that military and civilian government personnel of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France based in West Germany and West Berlin did not need to apply for an East German travel visa when transiting to and from West Berlin, as they were under the direct jurisdiction of the Soviet Armed Forces (and not the East German government). East German Travel Treaties

Lebanese Travel/Passport

One country that benefited from this travel privilege was the Republic of Lebanon, a small Mediterranean country that would find itself embroiled in a 15-year civil war from 1975 to 1990. In hindsight, the GDR was very active in Lebanon during those years. In 1973, the GDR authorities dispatched Mr. Bruno Sedlaczek, deputy head of the third non-European department (Near and the Middle East), ambassador to Lebanon (1973 to 1977). East German Travel Treaties

The shown Lebanese passport highlights the need for a travel visa to visit Czechoslovakia before departure. However, entering the GDR required no prior visa, with an East German visa stamp issued instantly upon entering East Berlin.

Lebanon Civil War

Lebanon’s civil war is estimated to have forced approximately one million refugees to flee the country. Though it was nearly impossible to escape to West Germany, a particular loophole facilitated this. The treaty allowed visa-free travel between Lebanon and East Germany. Fleeing conflict became easier with affordable Interflug plane tickets. Once in East Berlin, this person could go directly from Schönefeld Airport to a checkpoint leading into West Berlin.

In West Berlin, an asylum application was usually easily granted. GDR travel treaties allowed millions from conflict zones like Lebanon, Somalia, South Yemen, Nigeria to find new homes in West Germany and Scandinavia.

Another interesting Cold War article from my friend Mat. East German Travel Treaties

GDR Travel – Passport compulsory – Germany is now a foreign country

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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?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

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 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

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...