German reunification in 30 words : #9: Blaue Fliesen
To mark 30 years of German reunification, we're taking you on a linguistic journey through 30 key German words and phrases that charted Germany's Cold War division, reunification and what happened next. Today: Blaue Fliesen.
Berlin - Germany's Cold War division meant that East and West Germany had their own separate currencies: the GDR had the Mark (nicknamed Ostmark in the West), and the West had the Deutschmark - or D-Mark, as it was more commonly known. East Germans were not allowed to own D-Mark until 1974, but even when they were, there were only limited opportunities for them to use the currency within the GDR's borders (read more in our entry on Intershops).
That's the official story anyway - in reality Western money was used to pay for goods and services on the GDR's internal black market. There were some situations in which using another common slang term for D-Mark, Westgeld (Western money), would have been much too obvious. So adverts or salespeople would ask customers to pay in "blaue Fliesen" (blue tiles) - a secret code referring to the 100 D-Mark note and its blue hue. The term was also used for the purposes of smuggling hard currency.
In the end, the D-Mark did, for a short time, become official currency in the GDR. As the two Germanies prepared for reunification, the Monetary, Economic and Social Union between the countries came into force on 1 July 1990, which saw the West's currency, economy and social security system applied in the East. For many GDR citizens, getting West German money was an exciting moment - the D-Mark was seen by some as a symbol of economic prosperity and the intriguing Western world beyond the Iron Curtain.
Fun fact: 1 July 1990 was a Sunday, so shops were allowed to have a verkaufsoffene Sonntag - an unusal Sunday when shops are allowed to open - which we still enjoy today. On that day, goods like TVs, cars and foreign travel, which the D-Mark had now made accessible to Eastern customers, were in high demand.