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DIRTY MONEY

Germany is reconstructing piles of flood-damaged cash—just to burn them

Euro bank notes
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Piece work.
GermanyPublished This article is more than 2 years old.

Earlier this summer, heavy floods displaced tens of thousands of people in central Europe. The flooding was particularly severe in parts of eastern and southern Germany, where thousands of homes were destroyed. Out on the streets, many towns and cities are still working to recover from the damage. But behind the the scenes, there’s a different kind of repairing going on: a team of forensic scientists is reconstructing more than 100,000 euro banknotes worth more than $4 million that were damaged in the floods.

Germany’s central bank, the Deutsche Bundesbank, employs a team of 13 scientists whose job it is to revive damaged or destroyed banknotes. When heavy floods hit, their task is all the more daunting. The 100,000 banknotes currently being reconstructed were sent within eight weeks of the floods, many recovered from private basements, bank safes and cash machines. In total, more than 840,000 banknotes worth over $42 million have been checked by the team this year.

The process is time-consuming, and involves tedious tasks like separating out each banknote in hopes of accounting for as many as possible. But it’s also an important one. Once the banknotes are reconstructed and verified, the reserve repays the owner in full. As for the damaged banknotes? They’re burned.

The process is fascinating. Here’s a closer look.

Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Many damaged banknotes come in torn and stuck together. Here, a forensic scientist carefully seperates euro banknotes which were damaged during the recent floods.
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
The forensics team has to carefully sort through hundreds of thousands of scraps. Here, banknotes damaged during the recent floods are laid out for inspection.
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Some are barely legible.
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
And others are nearly intact.
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
But even with less than 50% of a note, the team can still reconstruct the bills.
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Larger pieces are pasted together, often with scotch tape.
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
And banknotes are organized into bundles.
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Each bundle is then counted and marked to indicate its worth.
Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Once the banknotes are sealed, the bank can reimburse those who have sent them in. Here, a wad of 50 euro notes lies on a table in front of a sign reading ‘ flood money’ at the money analyzing laboratory of the Deutsche Bundesbank in Mainz.

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