GDR travel – Passport compulsory – Germany now a foreign country

  • Citizens of the federal republic may only enter the country with a passport, for travel to and from West Berlin a “transit Visa” for a one-day stay in east Berlin (as before) a “one-day residence permit”.
  • Analogous regulations apply to west Berlin citizens, except that the visas are entered “on an attachment to the valid west Berlin personal identity card”.
  • For travel to West Germany and west Ballin, GDR citizens require a passport instead of an identity card, which must be issued with an “exit Visa” for travel to the federal republic, and a “Sichtvermerk” for travel to west Berlin. > The cost of a transit visa has been set at five marks for one trip and ten marks for a round trip. For an entry visa, 15 marks must be paid, for an exit visa, five marks. A family of four visiting relatives in the GDR must therefore pay 80 marks for visas alone. A one-day residence permit for East Berlin costs five marks, as does a visa.
  • The so-called minimum exchange rates were increased. When staying in the GDR, German citizens will have to exchange ten (previously five) West Marks for East Marks per person and day; West Berliners have already had to pay this much. If residents of West Berlin receive passes for staying in East Berlin, they must exchange five marks per day (previously three); citizens of Germany have already had to pay this much. > A “tax equalization levy” has been introduced “for transportation services by West German and West Berlin companies on roads and waterways in the GDR” — namely:
  • Three pfennigs per ton and GDR kilometer; four pfennigs per ton and kilometer for the transportation of “dangerous goods” such as oil and gasoline; 0.8 pfennigs per person and kilometer for the transportation “of persons by motor vehicles” of West German or West Berlin companies; 35 pfennigs (dangerous goods: 45 pfennigs) per ton for transportation on the Mittelland Canal; 70 pfennigs (dangerous goods: 90 pfennigs) per ton for transportation “on other waterways.”


Transit Visa
Transit Visa
Stay permit
Stay permit







What is certain is that these pennies will add up GDR travel passport compulsory

All in all, the GDR will collect about 100 million West Marks a year more than before. Berlin’s governing mayor, Klaus Schütz, illustrates by example: “A family of four traveling (in transit) to and from Berlin now has to pay 40 marks more for this trip; a 20-ton “truck train” traveling to Berlin via Lauenburg now has to pay 134.40 marks in addition to the road toll; a 400-ton barge coming to Berlin via the Elbe now pays about 400 marks in ‘tax equalization charges.'”

It is uncertain what the effect of the political orders will be: > “Prohibited” are “transports with the printed matter of the neo-Nazi “NPD” or other neo-Nazi materials in freight traffic through the territory of the German Democratic Republic”; such transports are to be “rejected by the customs organs … rejected.” > GDR customs authorities may “only permit transport whose good’s accompanying documents do not designate West Berlin as belonging to West Germany in violation of international law”. > Customs documents containing the claim of sole representation” are not recognized; instead, the GDR authorities “issue their own documents.

All this was kept secret in East Berlin

But that something unusual was about to happen in Germany was clear at the latest when Walter Ulbricht returned from a mission to Moscow at the end of May, and it became known that the GDR and the Soviet Union had reached the most far-reaching agreements to date.

The German government had known for two years that visa applications were ready in the GDR GDR travel passport compulsory

That the GDR wanted money for postal services and transit traffic between the Federal Republic and West Berlin was officially communicated by its ministers to the Bonner’s — with details of the account number.

Nevertheless, on the morning of June 11, for which the People’s Chamber had been convened, the West German secret services — as before the building of the Wall in 1961 — knew nothing. When the first rumors of imminent GDR pressures emerged in the morning hours, the Constitutional Protection Agency replied: “Everything is quiet. The BND let it be known that nothing was imminent.

So then it hit ministers and deputies, brothers and sisters on this side of the zone border like a cold blow. Berlin was again a worry. The former head of the city and current Federal Foreign Minister Willy Brandt, who was on a state visit to Austria, received the news in the Imperial Hotel in Vienna. Leaning against the door of his room in his undershirt, he read to reporters what he had hastily scribbled in black felt-tip pen on an airmail sheet from the hotel: “The Western protective powers will have to make it clear beyond any doubt that they are standing up for the viability of Berlin and for unhindered access to Berlin with all their might.”

Chancellor Kiesinger was conferring with the Bonn Finance Cabinet when the bad news from East Berlin reached him. He had the All-German Minister Herbert Wehner and Foreign State Secretary Duckwitz summoned to his study, where he conferred with them, along with Chancellery State Secretary Guttenberg and Deputy Speaker Conrad Ahlers. He announced immediate talks with the Allies to the Governing Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Schütz, by cable. GDR travel passport compulsory

A Black Day for Germans

But when Schütz, who for his part saw a “black day for the Germans” coming and was already talking to the deputy city commanders in Berlin, read the deciphered Chancellor’s telegram to his assembled advisors, embarrassed laughter flared up for a moment in the embarrassed “What Now” group: The chancellor requested hints as to what he should discuss with the Allies.

Even these reactions of the first hour showed what became clear in the following days: Bonn’s powerlessness in the face of East Berlin’s pressures and the realization that even the Allies would not be able to change anything.

Would the Allies, as the "Stuttgarter Zeitung" put it, "leave it at a harnessed protest, or will they do more? But what?"

Indignation and resignation mingled in the German press from right to left. The “Welt” in Hamburg called the GDR Berlinale a “piratical prank” and yet recognized “that formal rights and conditions … have hardly been violated”. The left-liberal “Frankfurter Rundschau” found it “really disgusting what Ulbricht and his people have recently cooked up,” and yet stated: “We must swallow our anger, as difficult as that may be.”

Everything that holds the Federal Republic together at its core – coalition and opposition, trade unions, and the long-distance freight industry – once again took to the streets in protest. But it remained as ineffective as this time even action by SDS students, who were not allowed to carry their protest through the Wall and complained that the GDR had replaced “socialist politics with bureaucratic regulations.”

What appeared to the German Employees Union as a “brutal relapse into Cold War forms,” to CDU member Johann Baptist Gradl as a “clear case of blackmail,” and to Bavaria’s CSU as a “cold dismantling of Berlin’s status” made it clear that Bonn — once the champion of a policy of strength — is powerless on the German question.

The “stake in the flesh” of the East, as Ernst Reuter once called the half-city of West Berlin, is now being used by Walter Ulbricht as a lever against Bonn. And Bonn has to stand idly by while the GDR uses this lever. The Allies, who would have been happy to leave the problem to the Germans long ago, do not feel touched as long as their rights of access to the western part of the old Reich capital remain untouched. Or, in other words: Berlin is now only a German problem — an international one at best on hold.

This has been clear since the Allies allowed Ulbricht’s Wall to be built in 1961 — albeit under protest. And it became clear then that the Allied position in the capital of the defeated had been difficult from the hour of victory.

The Allies had to rely on access routes

that — like vital umbilical cords — ran 200 kilometers through Soviet-controlled territory. And when Stalin, by now at enmity with the allies of old, closed these access roads in 1948, World War III seemed imminent. U.S. General Lucius D. Clay wanted to force the breakthrough with tanks.

But Washington still found a way out: The Americans took to the air, bridged the blockade on land with their “raisin bombers,” but also accepted the political division of the city by the SED, thereby indicating that they, along with their two allies, felt responsible only for West Berlin in the future.

After the blockade ended in 1949, the Americans were satisfied with an access arrangement that, according to U.S. Ambassador Murphy, did not fulfill “their legitimate claim to access to this city without restriction.”

The limits of the claim were made clear, nine years later, by Nikita Khrushchev. On November 27, 1958, he made an ultimate demand on the Western powers to vacate Berlin within six months and to transform the western sectors into a “Free City.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles

Stalin’s blockade in mind, reacted cautiously: if Moscow handed over control of Allied Berlin traffic to Ulbricht, the Americans might accept the GDR guards as “agents” and “vicarious agents” of the Russians. And President John F. Kennedy — still confronted with Khrushchev’s now-prolonged ultimatum when he took office in January 1961 — was also “not concerned with whether Russian or East German border guards stamp Western papers on the autobahn …”

He postulated the three “essentials” that America alone would advocate — by force of arms if necessary: the presence of Western troops in West Berlin, Allied access to the city, and the viability of the city of West Berlin.

The Soviets accepted the new Berlin game rule

When they had Ulbricht’s border guards build the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961, they did not touch any of the three Kennedy maxims. And when GDR people also wanted to visit U.S. soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse in October and the Americans had tanks marched up, the Russians promptly aborted the test attempt.

Berlin Crisis 1961
Berlin Crisis 1961

Only once since then, in October 1963, did the Soviets attempt to diminish the remnants of Berlin’s four-power status by pressuring the Americans. They stopped a U.S. military convoy at the Babelsberg autobahn checkpoint.

For 52 hours, Red Army soldiers and GIs were in a fighting position

Twelve Red infantry fighting vehicles, quadruple flak, and an infantry company against 61 Americans. Then, as if nothing had happened, the Russians pulled out. The Soviets opened the turnpike, and the U.S. column was given free passage — as had all others after it so far.

But to the same extent that the Soviets and the Western powers disengaged from their Berlin confrontation, Walter Ulbricht’s GDR gained leeway for its own political goals. And nothing demonstrated Western impotence vis-à-vis Moscow’s protégé more clearly than the increase in the GDR’s power to act on its borders. GDR travel passport compulsory

Road Tolls

For the first time in 1951, the East Berlin government levied road tolls (“Straßenbenutzungsgebühr”) on civilian Berlin transit. In 1952, it cut off West Berliners’ hitherto free access to the GDR, and in 1955 the last Soviet rights to control civilian Berlin traffic on land and water were transferred to Ulbricht’s authorities.

After the Wall was built in 1961, the SED regime barred West Berliners from entering East Berlin and forced negotiations with the Schöneberg Senate on the issue of passes. And as before, all protests in Bonn and West Berlin later remained ineffective when the GDR

  • In April 1965, members of the German Bundestag were denied land passage to Berlin,
  • In March of that year, closed transit routes to Berlin for all NPD members,
  • In April, extended this quarantine to federal ministers and senior officials of the federal government. Sent home at the Drewitz GDR checkpoint, as the current president of the Bundesrat, was Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Schütz, who heads a city that has long since lost its battering ram effect against the East. Stirred by unrest under red flags, burdened with an economy in the red, the glittering thing — even if it still sparkles between the “Long Lulatsch” and the Memorial Church — fell into its own shadow.
The island of Berlin costs West Germany more than eight million marks every day!

Despite the enormous subsidies that Bonn funnels into the old imperial capital, and despite the Senate’s stereotypical assurances that Berlin’s economy is “healthy at its core,” neither Bonn nor the Berlin Senate has been able to kill the germs of disease in the island economy. There is a lack of financial backers and workers. GDR travel passport compulsory

In the crisis year of 1967

Industrial investment shrank by 25 percent, and the number of workers in the industry fell by 25,000 to 267,000. For the first time, the outflow was greater than the inflow. Labor offices booked a migration loss of 5437 workers.

West German workers moving to the city often turn their backs on it after only a few months because they cannot find inexpensive housing. West German entrepreneurs willing to relocate cannot find cheap properties on the speculator-dominated real estate market that could make the move palatable to them.

For industry, Berlin has long been worth a sideline at best. Major local companies such as Siemens and AEG outsourced research and development departments to West Germany. The Berlin companies were downgraded to dependencies. Of 2.2 million West Berliners, almost 600,000 are pensioners, and the proportion of those over 65 is almost twice as high as in the rest of Germany: 21 percent.

This city, sick of itself GDR travel passport compulsory

offered itself to the GDR to put Bonn’s enemy on the defensive. And never before has the opportunity been so favorable as in these weeks: Big Brother in Moscow could be won over to the long-awaited pressures all the more readily because the GDR stands blindly aside the frightened Kremlin in the disintegrating Eastern bloc. Two leading powers of the West were paralyzed by their own problems — France by the revolt of its workers and students, America by the Vietnam War, and its social conflict after the second Kennedy assassination. Finally, the Federal Republic provided the pretext: bypassing the emergency laws.

Only two years ago, the constitutional law expert Professor Theodor Eschenburg was able to suggest in the “Zeit” that recognition of the GDR could be bartered for a guarantee of the status of West Berlin. Last week, when the GDR action left Bonn with only the option of reacting with mere protest, this kind of barter deal already seemed almost inconceivable.

The world’s second-strongest trading nation GDR travel passport compulsory

No longer even felt able to exert economic pressure against the GDR. The possibility of exerting a political influence on the GDR through Interzone trade was gone. This weapon has become blunt since the GDR has tied itself economically more and more to the Soviet Union and Interzone trade has shrunk. GDR travel passport compulsory

From the post-war high in 1966 (three billion marks), the volume of Interzone trade fell by 8.6 last year, and by 13 percent in the first quarter of this year, below the previous year’s result. And today Bonn is more interested in Interzone trade than East Berlin.

The week before last, Foreign Minister Brandt wrote a letter to Chancellor Kiesinger at the urging of his economic comrade Karl Schiller, demanding concessions in Interzone trade: Schiller wants to grant the GDR loans and tax rebates.

"The wind is no longer blowing in our faces," Khrushchev had proclaimed after the Wall was built. Today the wind has entirely changed: it is blowing in Bonn's face.

For 20 years, the Federal Republic considered itself the only legitimate successor state to the destroyed German Reich — a claim that is still reflected today in legal absurdities such as the customs law, which according to the commentary on the law is supposed to apply “within the borders of 1937,” or in the law on value-added tax, which understands “domestic territory within the meaning of this law” to mean all of Germany on this side of the Oder and Neisse rivers.

For 20 years, since the Berlin blockade, Bonn’s reunification politicians had backed the wrong horse. They wanted to ignore the other postwar Germany, which was to be trampled on with goose-foots “above and below,” until the communist rulers ran out of steam.

But now Bonn is suffering from all-German shortness of breath. The “sharp countermeasures” announced last Thursday by Chancellor Kiesinger, who had rushed to West Berlin for comfort, were exhausted in plans that hardly hurt the GDR government — such as refusing to sign the nuclear ban treaty, which Moscow also wanted, or barring the GDR officials from traveling to NATO countries.

Thus, it may have become clear to far-sighted people in Bonn last week that Germany had lost not only World War I and World War II, but also the reunification battle in the Cold War. GDR travel passport compulsory

The bill for the June 13 showdown is being paid by the Germans who sit between the fronts, the Berliners — residents of a city about which a chancellor’s adviser just said, “Of course, if you have cancer, you’ve known for some time that he’s going to die. But the mourning just doesn’t begin until he’s dead.”

The GDR border guards who have been adorning the passports of German citizens with the hammer-and-circle symbol since 0:01 a.m. last Thursday are putting the stamp of reality on Bonn’s illusion of Germany. GDR travel passport compulsory

Source: Der Spiegel 25/1968 (translated by the author)

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?

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...