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Germany (before 1949)


1872, Northern: 30 groschen = 1 thaler.

Southern: 90 kreuzer = 1 thaler.

1875, 100 pfennigs = 1 mark.

1923, 100 reuten pfennig = 1 reuten mark.

1928, 100 pfennig = 1 reichsmark.

1948, East and West marks were differentiated.


Prussia's strength and the comparative weakness of the southern and Rhineland states which had tended to be used by Prussia as a buffer against France and Austria had prevented a full unification earlier in the century. However, economic, political and cultural forces which had always been present were now working towards unification. The realization of this dream of most Germans had been prevented by the jealousy of the many smaller states and the alliances with Prussia or Austria. The emergence of the German Empire in 1871 was also the triumph of the efforts of two Prussian aristocrats; the politician Bismarck, who was Chancellor of Prussia, and von Moltke, who was chief. of the Prussian general staff.

Three wars were fought in this period which led to the creation of the German Empire. In 1864 Prussia and Austria settled by force the problem of Schleswig- Holstein which had troubled the major powers since the revolt in the province in 1848. The short war from 1 February to 1 August 1864 led to the inclusion of the disputed region in Germany with joint control by Prussia and Austria.

Bismarck now turned on Austria who had been the reluctant ally against Denmark. By exerting pressure and creating friction, Austria was forced to denounce Prussian power politics at the Diet of Frankfurt on 14 June 1866. In particular, the continuing occupation of Holstein and the secret treaty with France were cited as examples. Most German states including Bavaria, Hanover and Saxony, sided with Austria; Bismarck revoked the Germanic Confederation which had been formed after the Napoleonic wars. He had also concluded a treaty with Italy, and Austria was thus forced to fight a war on two fronts. Prussia having defeated the Austrians at Koniggratz (or Sadowa) on 3 July 1866, the French were asked to mediate and, at the Treaty of Prague, Austria was excluded from German affairs. The German states north of the Main river were formed into the North German Confederation under Prussian leadership. The south German states remained nominally independent, but because of indemnities gradually became allied to Prussia.

Napoleon III of France believed his army to be invincible and the unexpected formation of the North German Confederation led to increasing friction between France and Prussia. When Bismarck tried to place a Hohenzollern prince on the Spanish throne, Napoleon realized that he might have to fight a war on both fronts, and declared war on Prussia. The result was a crushing defeat for France and the acquisition of Alsace and Lorraine by Prussia. Germany then became a reality as a unified territory and in December 1871 the King of Prussia became Emperor of Germany.


FIRST STAMPS see under individual states.

1 January 1872.

The final unification of Germany took place after the fall of France in the Franco-Prussian War. The northern states had all been forced to join the North German Confederation in 1867 and the more independent southern states had all fought with Prussia against France.

First issues for the whole of Germany, excluding Bavaria and Wurttemberg, who still continued to issue their own stamps, were printed in both currencies - groschen and dialer for the former North German Confederation, and kreuzer and gulden for the incorporated southern states.

In 1875, as a further step towards final integration, the currency for the whole Empire was changed to 100 pfennig to 1 mark. The new values were issued on 1 January in the Empire and Wurttemberg, but not until a year later in Bavaria.

During the next few years Bismarck, as Chancellor of the Empire, built a series of alliances and Germany began to spread its influence overseas. German stamps without overprints were used in Africa at Cameroun (1887), German East Africa (1888), German South-West Africa (1888) and Togo (1889); in Asia at Constantinople (1872), China (1887) and Kiaschow (1898) and in the Far East and Pacific in German New Guinea (1890), Marshall Islands (1889) and Samoa (1887).

In March 1890 Bismarck had completed his great work and was dismissed by the Kaiser. Germany then continued with its expansion in China, Africa and, by alliance with Turkey, in the Near East.

In 1874 the Postmaster of the German Empire, Heinrich von Stephan, had been largely responsible for the establishment of the General Postal Union (Universal Postal Union from 1878). The German Empire was one of the first 22 signatories.


At the start of World War I Germany invaded Belgium on 3 August and the country was quickly overrun, except for some fortresses and the port of Antwerp. These eventually fell in October 1914. German stamps overprinted for use in Belgium were issued in 1914.

Throughout most of World War I Germany was not part of the battleground and German troops were in occupation of allied territories. Special issues appeared for the East and West Military Command areas in 1916. The East Area issues were used in the Russian Baltic Provinces after the conquest of Russian Poland. The West Area issues were used for line of communication troops in Belgium and northern France which were occupied by German forces. These issues were withdrawn late in 1918. Similar issues were also used in Russian Poland and Romania in 1915 and 1917 respectively.

The decisive factors in the latter stages of the war were the collapse of the Russian front after the Communist Revolution of 1917 and as a result Germany's ability to transfer substantial forces from the eastern to the western front. This led to the German offensive in March 1918, but with the support of the newly arrived American expeditionary force the Germans were held and then forced back in an Allied offensive. This began in August and led to the final collapse in October-November 1918.

Inspired by the Communists and sparked by mutiny in the German navy, civil disorder broke out in Germany and the Kaiser fled to Holland on 10 November 1918.

Occupation of Germany 1918-30

At the end of World War I Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France, and the Rhineland was occupied by American, Belgian, British and French forces.

Belgium issued overprinted stamps for its area of the Rhineland, which were issued on 20 September 1919. They remained in use until the Belgian troops withdrew and stamps remained valid until 30 April 1931. At the same time, further overprints were issued for Eupen and Malmedy on 15 January 1920. These also used German currency. No referendum was held in these areas, but those who wished the territory to remain German were asked to sign a register. As few of the inhabitants took this opportunity, the League of Nations awarded the territory to Belgium and it has remained Belgian since 1920 when the decision became effective.

Britain did not issue special stamps, but normal stamps of Britain were available at the Field POs which were attached to the occupying forces. Initially, all items were handled as 'On Active Service' and no postage was charged except for special services such as registration. The situation was changed in 1921 and from then the forces were charged at the same rate as if they were in Britain.

In 1918, because roads and railways were severely damaged, mail was flown into Cologne, the British headquarters in Germany, by the RAF. This service initially operated from Marquisc near Boulogne, but later flew from Hawkinge near Folkestone to Cologne. This was the first British international airmail service. In October 1922 a regular airmail service was operated by Instone Airways to Cologne and the fee for mail carried was 2d, a lower figure than for the rest of Germany. British forces gradually withdrew and the final army P0 closed in December 1929.

French occupation was centred on Mainz and that of the Americans on Coblenz. These bridgeheads included a radius of 18 miles on the eastern bank of the Rhine. All occupying powers used Field POs for their troops in Germany. The Americans withdrew in 1923, but the occupation by the other Allies continued until 1929-30.

On 11 January 1923, because of Germany's failure to maintain payments of reparations, French and Belgian troops invaded and occupied the Ruhr. The area was not evacuated until August 1925, and again military mail services were provided for the occupying forces.

The Rhineland was demilitarized on the withdrawal of the occupying powers but was re-occupied by the German army in March 1936.

Germany 1918-39

Following the collapse of the German army and the victory of the Allied forces, the Kaiser was deposed and exiled to Holland. The Weimar Republic was formed on 9 November 1918 and issued its first stamps on 1 May 1919. Germany lost Alsace -Lorraine to France and had its eastern frontier re-organized to allow Poland access to the Baltic. West Prussia and Posen became part of Poland in 1918 and 1920 respectively. East Prussia still remained German but was separated from Germany by Polish territory. Bavaria and Wurttemberg ceased to issue their own stamps and became an integral part of Germany.

The rapid fall in the value of the mark in 1923 led to many overprints and frequent changes in the postal rates. On 1 December 1923, the currency was changed to the gold mark (1 gold mark was equivalent to x marks of the former devalued currency).

In 1923 Hitler made his first attempt to obtain control in Munich but failed and was imprisoned. In 1933 Hitler became Chancellor and the Third Reich was created. First stamps were issued on 12 April 1933. German forces re-occupied the Rhine-land in 1936. Occupying forces had been withdrawn in 1926, but it had remained a demilitarized zone.

Austria was occupied on 13 March 1938; Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia, in October 1938; the balance of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939; and Memel on 23 March 1939. On 1 September 1939 Germany invaded Poland and World War II began.


World War II began with the German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939. On 17 September Russian troops invaded Poland from the east, and on 28 September Poland was divided. Germany annexed those parts of Poland which had been lost in 1919-21 and the remainder became a German protectorate called 'General Government'. Overprinted German stamps were used from December 1939 to April 1940, when the new definitive series appeared.

During 1940 to 1942 Germany continued to occupy territories until its control either by conquest or alliance stretched from the Pyrenees to the Caucasus and Volga River, and from El Alamein to the North Cape. Gradually during the succeeding years the Allies regained territory. For details of stamps issued in the conquered territories refer to individual countries.

Internally, there was little disruption initially; Germany had the tactical advantage of internal lines of communication and was not subject to the same problems as the Allies. However, the severe bombing which began in 1942 gradually broke down the internal services. Railways and roads were severely damaged and not only strategic resources but mail was seriously affected.

German forces serving overseas were issued with letter forms and cards which did not require stamps and can be recognized by the numbers in 'Feldpost' marks. A similar system used by British forces. By late the Allies in the west and east beginning to enter Germany. Rhine was crossed in March 1945 From then until the surrender on 7-8 May 1945 Germany gradually disintegrated.

In the period following the surrender of Germany, the civil post was under continuous pressure. The road rail systems were a shambles and little is recorded on the method by which letters were carried except on a basis. However, an Allied Military Post was established in the area of Aachen, which had been captured by US forces in October 1944 and stamps issued on 18 March 1945 (for further details see Allied Military Post below).

Axis Powers 1942
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Germany was divided into four zones; Russian, American, French and British. Berlin, the former capital, was inside the Russian zone and this was divided into four sectors. The Russian zone became the German Democratic Republic on 7 October 1949, after the Allied zones had become the German Federal Republic on 21 September 1949. However, postally period between 1945 and 1949 was complicated by the many issues which appeared in different areas.

At the Yalta Conference in February 5 the division into zones of occupation had been agreed. Following the main surrender, stamps of the Allied Military Post which had been issued at Aachen in March 1945 came into use throughout the British and American zones, and by June local issues began to appear in the Russian zone.

Allied Military Post
Stamps were used throughout the British and American zones from the surrender until they were replaced by a general issue in February 1946. There were three printings of the same design, one from America (Bureau of Engraving in Washington), one from Britain (Harrison & Sons Ltd of London) and one from Germany (G.Westermann of Brunswick).

American, British and Russian Zones
Before the start of the Cold War and the Berlin Blockade from June 1948 to May 1949, a single issue was used throughout Germany except in the French zone. First stamps were issued in February 1946 and continued until June 1948. At that time, the British, American and French governments, announced that they had introduced a reformed currency. The Russians reacted by introducing a reform of their own and from 24 June 1948 the combined issue was withdrawn.

British and American Zones
Initially, the stamps of the combined zones were overprinted with a pattern of posthorns and these were used from July to September 1948, when the new definitives inscribed DEUTSCHE POST were issued. These remained in use until the formation of the Federal Government in September 1949.

French Zone
A definitive issue for all sectors of the French zone was issued on 17 December 1945. It remained in use until 1947, when each of the sectors issued set inscribed with the name of the area. Special issues appeared for Baden, Rhineland-Palatinate (inscribed Rheinland-Pfalz), the Saar and Wurttemberg. This last included the area of Hohenzollern and the KreisLindau district of Bavaria.

With the exception of the Saar district (q.v.), the French zone was incorporated into the Federal German Republic on 21 September 1949. The stamps of the zone then in use could be used throughout West Germany until the end of that year and commemorative stamps until 31 March 1950. A planned set for each of the districts, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the UPU, was released on 4 October 1949, after the date when they joined the Federal Republic. These could be used throughout West Germany.

Russian Zone
On first occupying the eastern part of Germany, the Russians organized the zone postally on the basis of O.P.D. (Oberpostdirektion or Higher Post Direction). These all issued stamps in 1945. The districts and dates were as follows:

Berlin - Brandenburg (OPD Berlin) -June 1945.
Mecklenburg - Vonpommeru (OPD Schwerin) -28 August 1945.
Saxony (OPD Halls) - 10 October 1945.
West Saxony (OPD Leipzig) -28 September 1945.
East Saxony (OPD Dresden) -23 June 1945.
Thuringia (OPD Erfurt) - 1 October 1945.

From February 1946 the Soviet zone used the combined issue with the American and British Zones. However, when the Americans and British decided to reform the currency in June 1948, the Russians introduced a reform of their own on 24 June. As an emergency control, stamps were marked either by a handstamp or other means with the O.P.D. number. Many hundreds of different markings resulted, before a general overprint on the previous issue appeared on 3 July 1948. These were worded 'Sowjetische Besatzungs Zone'.

Allied Zones of Occupation 1945
Click map for larger view

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