Money doctors put notes back together
4 February 2005, FRANKFURT - All that the deceased had left her daughter was a pile of colourful snippets of paper. They were the remains of more than EUR 120,000 in banknotes after they had passed through the shredder. "The woman felt she had been neglected by her daughter and did not want her to inherit the money," explained Edgar Kornuebe from the Bundesbank, the German central bank. Bad luck though for this attempt at revenge. Her daughter took the strips to the Bundesbank, and its staff were able to p
4 February 2005
FRANKFURT - All that the deceased had left her daughter was a pile of colourful snippets of paper. They were the remains of more than EUR 120,000 in banknotes after they had passed through the shredder.
"The woman felt she had been neglected by her daughter and did not want her to inherit the money," explained Edgar Kornuebe from the Bundesbank, the German central bank.
Bad luck though for this attempt at revenge. Her daughter took the strips to the Bundesbank, and its staff were able to put the shredded notes back together again.
The Bundesbank's "damaged money" centre in Mainz is the only place in Germany which offers this service.
Banknotes and coins which are burned, decayed or damaged - often beyond recognition to the untrained eye - are reconstructed at the centre by specialists. And for the public it does not cost a cent.
There's a new arrival at the service desk: a clump of ash which looks as though it would disintegrate at the slightest draught of air. This black pile turns out to be the remains of a bundle of banknotes salvaged from a house fire. Almost EUR 10,000 have gone up in flames.
The 15 "money detectives" at the desk set to work with microscopes and tweezers. They carefully turn the remains of the paper over layer by layer, searching through the cinders for evidence, trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle of torn notes.
Just a square millimetre can be enough to determine a note's worth, if part of the denomination, glossy strip, hologram or other markings are discernible.
European central banks will replace euro notes to their complete value if the customer can present more than 50 percent of the note.
If less than 50 percent remains, the bank will still replace the note if proof is provided that the remainder has been destroyed.
The chance of having a damaged note replaced is actually good. Last year the Bundesbank replaced banknotes to the value of EUR 12.6 million, including DEM 2.6 million. The bank processed 18,900 requests, with only 1,390 cases rejected.
In one of the rejected cases a man claimed he had burned notes worth EUR 200 in the oven. In fact, Bundesbank investigators discovered 28 notes worth DEM 14,500. The police were called.
There was rejection, too, for a family which hid DEM 200,000 at a friend's house only to find that the secret hideaway had become a wasps' nest. All that remained of the stash of brown DEM 1,000 notes were traces of the colour brown.
The bank refused to replace the notes as the colour used for the notes is commonly used in other print material. The family lost its appeal against the decision.
No special qualifications are needed for the Bundesbank's detective work apart from plenty of patience, a steady hand and sensitivity.
Money examined by the Bundesbank staff has often belonged to people who have lost their lives in accidents, disasters or other tragic circumstances. Banknotes salvaged from the Concorde plane crash, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the tsunami disaster have been processed at the bank.
The Bundesbank's biggest job so far was going through 12,558 DEM 1,000 notes from a spectacular kidnapping case in Germany. After many years the money - part of a buried ransom - was surprisingly discovered in 1997.
The notes were in bad shape, eroded by damp and eaten by insects, but the Bundesbank was able to repay almost DEM 13 million to the industrialist family whose son had been kidnapped.
Every year there is a rush of post-Christmas activity for the bank's staff. The festive season invariably sees Christmas trees go up in flames along with cash gifts, envelopes containing banknotes torn in half, or savings carelessly thrown into the fireplace.
Kornuebe's advice is simple: "It's best to keep large sums of money in the bank."
Subject: German news