Imagine you have to apply for a visa in advance for almost every trip. You fulfil very strict requirements and your visa application gets rejected in the end. For German citizens, this remains the exception, since you can travel with a German passport in 188 countries visa-free.
But this wasn’t always the case. The German passport has a 67-year long history behind it.
How it all started…
It all began with the foundation of the Federal Republic on 23 May 1949. Now it was still occupied by the allied forces and it became an autonomous country only on 5 May 1955.
Despite the autonomy, you still had to apply for your passport at the offices of the allied forces.
On 1 January 1950, the government office “German Office for Entry and Exit Affairs“ (Deutsche Amt für Ein-Ausreiseangelegenheiten) became the main issuing authority. According to the occupation laws, this office was under the control of the High Commission for Germany.
One of the first Federal German passports issued on 13 May 1950 contained a green passport booklet, which remained for the next 38 years. Burgundy coloured European document version in 1988, replaced this passport.
Finally, on 1st February 1951, Federal Germany received the full right from the Allied forces to issue passports.
In 1965, owner of a German passport could travel visa-free in 21 countries. This passport had very few security features, incomparably less than the modern passport.
First stage – integration of facial biometrics
On 22 June 2005, the German Federal Government adopted an ordinance introducing biometric passports. The “Bundesrat” approved this passport on 8 July 2005. Otto Schily, Federal Minister of Interior, of that time, described the cabinet decision as “an important step on the way to using the great advances in biometrics for internal security”.
The main trigger for the implementation of biometric features on passports were the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the USA. The Member States of the European Union then agreed on the introduction of biometrics feature. This worked for passports, visas and residence documents in order to better verify the identity of travellers.
Statement of this Regulation in 2005 is also referred to as the first stage of the introduction of biometric/electronic passports (ePassports) in Germany. The first information you could find on this biometric passport was only an electronic copy of the passport photograph and the data from the machine-readable area.
At the same time, new regulations came into force for, what is now known as biometrics passport photographs (ICAO-compliant portrait).
Chip integration began on 1 November 2005. Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) developed The Golden Reader Tool. This tool is now implemented as an international reference software for reading the information stored on the chip.
Second stage – Integration of fingerprint data
In 2005, Ministry of the Interior of Germany issued a decree for which is now called the first stage of introduction of ePassports. The second stage of the introduction of biometric/electronic passports demanded a change in the law. In this stage, there was an addition of storage of fingerprints in the chip of the ePassport.
Fingerprint as an identification feature
On 25 May 2007, the German Bundestag passed a new passport law.
The new passport also contained the fingerprint of the cardholder identity. When applying for a passport at the citizen’s office, you would need two fingerprints taken with the help of fingerprint scanner.
For the children under the age of six, there is no need for fingerprints. Also, children up to the age of twelve receive a child passport without an electronic storage medium (chip). In other words, there are no fingerprints recorded during the application.
Until 1 November 2007 parents could register their children in their own passports. After that particular date, everyone needs their own travel document. There was no place anymore for religious or artist name. After the intervention of the Catholic Church and artists’ associations, this field has returned in the new version of the Identity Card Act on 1 November 2010.
These are the changes made. For the younger applicants under 24 years of age, the period of the passport validity increased from five to six years duration. Applicants aged 24 and over (previously 26 and over) now receive a passport valid for ten years.
Two official EU languages Romanian and Bulgarian are added to the passport. An ‘instruction manual’ is available on the last front page. Also, The serial numbers changed from random alphanumeric to serial numbers.
Many of the innovations are only recognized under special lighting or from a special angle of view. For example, there is a holographic portrait next to the usual photograph in green with lettering and the name of the holder in blue. One of the new security features available is that individual motifs in the passport are now transferable when tilting the page. An example is a federal eagle motif that transfers into the letter D.
A new feature also is a personalized security thread equipped with the document number and the name of the holder. Passports will use higher quality security paper with security thread and watermark. In addition, motifs such as the Brandenburg Gate and the lettering “Federal Republic of Germany” is noticeable under the ultraviolet light.
The German passport:
- Has 32 pages (there is a passport with 48 pages for frequent travellers);
- Contains a chip with biometric data (passport photo and fingerprints);
- It isn’t extendable, you can only reissue it;
- Must be valid for at least another six months to apply for a foreign visa;
- Also exists in blue colour for refugees without other documents.
The standard version of the new passport with 32 pages now costs 60 euros for persons over 24 years of age and is valid for 10 years. The previous price for twelve years was 59 euros. For the passport with 48 sides, for frequent travellers, you need to pay 82 euros and for the express version 92 euros.
The German passport, introduced in March 2017 applies as one of the most advanced and forgery-proof passports in the world. It allows visa-free entry or visa on arrival in 188 countries.
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