All about money

Frankfurt (dpa) - It's so heavy - 12.5 kilograms - that a little kid might have a hard time even picking it up. And it's worth so much - around 460,000 dollars - that it would even give adults pause to consider what they would spend the money on.

No doubt about it, the star attraction at the Bundesbank's newly reopened museum of money is a glistening, solid gold bar. And it's right there, in a glass case, where you can reach through and try to lift it, but cannot steal it. 

Ten-year-old Ayman, armed with the knowledge of how much the clump of metal is worth, immediately knew what he would spend it on.

"First, a villa with a swimming pool," he said, before getting to the really important stuff. 

"Then four mice, three dogs, five cats and a big yard where the animals can live."

With this hands-on approach in the Money Museum at its headquarters in Frankfurt, the German central bank is really aiming at both youngsters and adults alike. During a two-year closure, the exhibition was enlarged from 600 to 1,000 square metres.

All you need to know, from A to Z, about money.

But what is money, actually? How did people pay for things before there was money? What do the banknotes of distant countries look like? How does a bank function? And what does the European Central Bank (ECB) - which is also based in Frankfurt - actually do?

The trick is trying to make abstract subjects into something that visitors can tangibly understand. For example, the matter of how, in the supermarket, apples that used to cost 1.99 euros per kilo now cost 2.40 euros.

Leila, 10 years old, suspects that it has something to do with organic farming. The exhibit points to another explanation - how inflation affects the cost of things, more so than many consumers are aware of.

"When I see this and how my 100 euros will be worth only 80 euros five years from now, it's scary," says Gerlinda Adam, 75.

"As a subject, inflation is and remains abstract," notes department head Tobias Pohl in explaining the concept of the exhibition with its 360-degree cinema screen, quiz stations, video games and monitors that visitors can operate.

"But if you portray a supermarket, then it becomes clear - that inflation is about my everyday living costs."

Bundesbank board member Carl-Ludwig Thiele sees a pedagogical side to the Money Museum, which was first opened in 1999.

"Many people lack even the most fundamental knowledge about the system of money," he says, praising the virtues of the museum. "Nowhere else in the world is the subject 'money' presented as vividly and impressively as here."

The museum displays are broken down in four thematic areas - cash, bookkeeping money, monetary policy, and global money. These cover the entire range starting with the first coins, such as a unique Roman coin with the image of Brutus - who took part in the assassination of Julius Caeser in 44 BC - all the way up to present-day digital money.

For international visitors the exhibits are also explained in English.

One curiosity is 174 paper bills gathered by a "banknote freak" and displayed sandwiched inside acrylic glass. The collection would provide the owner with legal tender for 229 territories around the world. Nine-year-old Julia says about this collection, "Some of the bills look like play money, like from a Monopoly game."

Things are less playful at that part of the exhibition dealing with the subject of what central banks actually are all about: monetary policy. Animated information panels illustrate what happens when the central bank raises or lowers interest rates.

Or what the effects are when, as is currently the case, the ECB is pumping billions into the purchase of government bonds.

Curators of the exhibition concede that they have to keep things simple on some aspects. For example, using a hawk and a dove to symbolize, respectively, tight and loose monetary policy.

"The illustration does not do justice to the complexity of monetary policy decisions," a museum statement admits.

The Bundesbank's old money museum received 40,000 visitors a year, chiefly school classes from around Germany. The new museum is expected to draw even more. "I'm convinced this is going to be a magnet for visitors," board member Thiele says.