Damaged euro banknotes due to the flood disaster ©Nils Thies

Bundesbank receives large quantities of damaged banknotes for analysis following catastrophic floods

Following the devastating floods that hit parts of Germany in July 2021, affected inhabitants as well as local banks and savings banks were left with soaked and dirty banknotes that were unusable. In Germany, the Bundesbank replaces damaged cash free of charge. As wet banknotes cannot be processed by machine, they are being painstakingly dried and cleaned. In addition to being soaked in the floods, this money is often also contaminated with mud, sewage or heating oil. This means that each banknote has to be processed individually and, on top of that, Bundesbank staff are required to take various protective health measures depending on the degree to which the notes are contaminated.

Bundesbank inundated with damaged banknotes

Floods in Germany have repeatedly resulted in the Bundesbank being inundated with damaged banknotes. “Following the floods in eastern Germany in 2002 and 2013, the disaster in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate in mid-July is presenting the Bundesbank with another challenge,” remarked Executive Board member Johannes Beermann during his visit to the National Analysis Centre on 1 September. He went on to say that while the centre in Mainz usually receives damaged banknotes to the tune of €40 million each year, it had received €51 million from the flood-hit areas alone by the end of August. The sheer quantities are representing a challenge for the experts at the Bundesbank. The banknotes need to be dried and processed as quickly as possible. “We will take care of everyone whose cash has been rendered unusable by the floods,” said Mr Beermann, who asked those affected to send their damaged money at their earliest convenience to a Bundesbank branch or directly to the National Analysis Centre in Mainz.

Tumble dryers used to speed up processing

Normally, banknotes would be processed manually prior to drying. “Given the influx of submissions, however, this is currently impossible. For this reason, tumble dryers were procured at short notice in order to be able to dry the banknotes quickly in these exceptional circumstances,” explained Mr Beermann in Mainz. These are machines that work at low temperatures, as higher temperatures could quickly result in further damage. Mr Beermann strongly advised members of the public to not dry their banknotes in their own dryers. Instead, he said, individual wet notes should be air dried in the normal fashion or brought directly to the Bundesbank.

Bundesbank responds by deploying staff in large numbers

After drying, the banknotes are usually crumpled and folded and need to be flattened, checked for authenticity and counted – all by hand. Submissions are kept strictly separate at each stage, and of course two specialists must be present at all times to ensure compliance with the dual control rule. In order to be able to handle the deluge of damaged money, trained staff from across the Bundesbank were sent to Mainz to provide support.