20 CRITICAL TRADE ROUTES
5. Halsbrucke, Germany
How a recycling plant in Germany keeps money flowing in the Vatican
In a white factory in east Germany a machine pours out metal cakes, which are rolled into strips. Discs are punched out of them, before being trimmed and polished, turning them into so-called “blanks”, which are spat-out into white boxes. The site runs non-stop and is fed by a metal recycling plant, turning out billions of unmarked, metal coins. It is impossible not to handle the factory's product: it is one of only three industrial blanking factories in the world, and is thought to be the largest, accounting for every coin in the eurozone, from one-cent pieces (which are steel, coated with copper) to the two-euro coin (a combination of copper, nickel and brass). The site also specialises in Nordic Gold, a copper-aluminium alloy that doesn't tarnish (so coins stay shiny) and is antibacterial (so they don't spread germs). The blanks are driven off in unmarked lorries to a site owned by Germany's state-owned mint, where they are stamped, struck with a 150-tonne press, etched with a letter indicating where they were minted (“F” is for Stuttgart) and stuffed into bags at a rate of nearly 200 per second. It takes roughly ten hours to turn boxes of blanks into €1m, though output is regulated, and lorries leave under high security, driving to Germany's central bank, the Bundestag. Another big outlet for blanks is Finland, which invented modern smelting, giving it the world's most advanced metal-processing industry: Finland's mint also owns the royal mints of Sweden and Norway, and the blanking factory itself, which it bought in a cash transaction. Alternatively, blanks are driven to a colonnaded building in Rome that makes money and passports for the Vatican. What happens to old coins, once they are withdrawn from circulation? Nickel-rich coins are sold to China, where they are tipped into furnaces directly as nickel feedstock.
Launching a metal coinage takes at least three years: the EU began planning the design for the euro in 1996, it was introduced in '99 and replaced national coins in 2002
There are 128 billion coins in circulation in the eurozone, according to official estimates, which are skewed by millions of counterfeits
The EU's coinage adds-up to €27bn, but its metal content is more valuable and could be melted down profitably