What better way to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth than splurging on literally worthless souvenir bank notes? In the German city of Trier where the philosopher was born, that’s what Chinese tourists are doing—whether to profit off of reselling the notes in China or to celebrate the communist icon with a unique souvenir.
Trier has the enviable position of celebrating Karl Marx’s 200th birthday at a time when “communist” Chinese travel (or “red tourism”) is at an all-time high. While there are many so-called red tourism destinations in China and around the world vying for China’s big-spending travelers, few can provide a stronger pitch than Trier in 2018.
For communism or history aficionados, the city offers everything from a bronze statue of Karl Marx donated by the Chinese government, to traffic lights depicting Marx, and a wide variety of tours related to Marx and his legacy. Among these are “In the Footsteps of Karl Marx,” ”How Wine Turned Karl Marx Communist,” and why not the theater play “MARX! LOVE! REVOLUTION!”
Needless to say, countless souvenirs depicting Marx and his legacy are also available for purchase in the city.
And while souvenirs and other mementos tend to be popular with Chinese tourists, one souvenir seems to have proven particularly popular with Chinese visitors to the city, namely a commemorative zero-euro bank note which—unsurprisingly—depicts Marx. The commemorative banknote which is worthless by design is sold by the city of Trier for 3 euro each ($3.40) and has proven a huge success.
When the banknote was launched back in April, the initial batch of 5,000 notes were sold out almost immediately and were soon followed by another batch of 20,000 notes. Now, months after Marx’s birthday in May, customers remain excited about the unique euro notes. According to a recent report, as many as 100,000 notes have now been sold, with a staggering 25 percent of these sold to Chinese visitors to the city. For orders made now, the expected delivery is at the beginning of September.
But it’s not all about buying a memory of Trier or Karl Marx for oneself. Instead, reports state-owned Global Times, “the souvenir bills are seen as a commercial opportunity by some, as Chinese people consider Marx a renowned thinker.” According to the paper, Marx bank notes are sold by Chinese traders on Taobao for between 40 yuan ($5.79) and 200 yuan ($28.94) each, with notes with consecutive serial numbers particularly expensive as they appeal to collectors.
Chinese visitors buying commemorative zero-euro Karl Marx notes to sell for a profit in communist China is a great irony and an interesting snapshot of our times. It’s also a great snapshot of the business of global Chinese travel with all its ups and downs. Politically-motivated tourism? Check. Arbitrage-driven tourist consumption? Check. Chinese tourists driving tourist spending in a lesser-known destination? Also check.
Too bad it’s a hundred years until the next hundredth birthday of Karl Marx.