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WÄRA: The "Shrinking" Money from Schwanenkirchen

The "Wära Wonder" in the Bavarian Forest caused worldwide interest


Hengersberg. When the international economy was going through a difficult financial crisis at the beginning of the 1930s and masses of unemployed people were suffering terribly,  the area of Hengersberg- Schwanenkirchen-Schöllnach experienced a unique, local economic upswing.


What had happened? How could the rusty economic wheels have been stimulated?


In 1929, the mining engineer, Max Hebecker, was able to buy at auction the „burned down and flooded" brown coal mine in Schwanenkirchen for 8000 reich marks. He was a businessman and belonged to  the  group known at that time as Physiocrats, an organisation, which followed the teachings of a controversial economist, Silvio Gesell (German merchant, theoretical economist, social activist, anarchist and founder of Freiwirtschaft). Hebecker was a very socially involved, active and courageous entrepreneur.  During a difficult period and despite initial criticism, particularly from the media, he attempted the Freigeldexperiment  (monetary reform experiment) and in this way helped numerous people in the area of Schwanenkirchen/Hengersberg  to find work and food.


To  run and develop the mine, Hebecker needed money – at that time, few people were willing to invest in a closed-down mine. Therefore, Hebecker turned to friends who operated the WÄRA-Tauschgesellschaft or Exchange Society founded in 1929 in Erfurt.  They immediately recognized the  positive public relation possibilities for their WÄRA-Experiment if the plan could be successful.


The mine was, therefore, able to open with a credit of 50.000 WÄRA.   It began to operate  at the same time that the  international economic crisis was spreading all over the world,. Immediately, the local social welfare office lost 30 to  40 unemployed people who had been on the dole. It was as if a  phantom had created work and food for the people.  This  economic boom was recognized even by opponents of  the monetary experiment.


The  Wära-bills looked like this!


The WÄRA was a means of exchange, equal in value to the Reichs mark. Uniquely, it was controlled by regular  value reduction , losing one percent in value every four weeks. This reduction, however,  could be balanced out by buying a stamp (at the cost of WÄRA 1 Cent = 1 Reichspenny). This measure was supposed to ensure that the „money" was not  hoarded and withdrawn from the economy.


WÄRA was the first money that „used itself up" and which did not make the owners richer, the longer they kept it.  There were ½, 1, 2, 5 and 10 Wära-bills.


Hebecker paid 2/3 of the wages in WÄRA and 1/3 in Reichs marks so that employees had money for public authorities and local shops, which did not accept WÄRA.  At information meetings, Hebecker tried to convince business people to accept WÄRA-bills, but they were sceptical.


Then he set up a company canteen at the mine and purchased goods for daily consumption from businesses that were members of the  WÄRA-Exchange Society in North and Middle Germany.


Soon local business people realized how much revenue was being lost and they offered to accept  WÄRA-bills.  The cash registers  suddenly became very busy, to the pleasure and joy of business owners.  Goods were „bought" without having to spend any Reich marks.  One Hengersberg merchant said: We willingly lose one percent each month if we have regular turnover. If the mine were closed down, people would be unemployed and would not have either WÄRA or Reich marks and would not be able to buy anything.  Schrinking money is, in any case, better than hard currency that one does not have."


There was no doubt that in this small area, the WÄRA was indeed  working wonders.  No one believed anymore in the  necessity of having gold backing  to establish a solid currency.


More than 50 newspapers reported about the „WÄRA-island in the Bavarian Forest" and from the „WÄRA-Wonder of Schwanenkirchen".   Soon, the Reich mark authorities took notice of events in Schwanenkirchen  and tried to do away with this experiment.  Since the WÄRA was not a currency, however, but only a means of exchange or trade and not money in the legal sense, the normal courts were unable to do anything to forbid it.  It was not until the Emergency Laws were passed on  30 Oktober 1931 which declared the WÄRA  to be emergency „money" that it could be forbidden.


This ruling  brought the end of an experiment after only one and one-half years, which had started out in such a hopeful and positive manner.  Unemployment again became rampant in the area of Hengersberg / Schwanenkirchen.


The  Freigeldexperiment ,however, could not be hushed up completely. The idea was taken over abroad.  There were similar attempts in Austria (Wörgl/Tirol), Switzerland, France, Spain and in the USA.


by Franz Fischer

translated by Deborah Lehman-Irl