Sixty-seven years of passport design and security features: The evolution of the Federal German passport

by Tom Topol

images taken from Regula IRS and

The very first Federal German passport

This article is about passport design but you will learn also interesting facts about passport history.

The Federal Republic of Germany was founded on 23 May 1949. However, the less known fact is that the young Republic was still under occupation of the allied forces and became a truly sovereign country only on 5 May 1955.

Passport applications in the first several months still had to be made at the offices of the allied forces. On 1 January 1950, the government office “Deutsche Amt für Ein-Ausreiseangelegenheiten” (German Office for Entry and Exit Affairs) became the main issuing authority but according to the occupation laws this office was still under the control of the High Commission for Germany.

Federal Germany finally gained the full rights from the allied forces to issue passports by 1 February 1951 [1].

Here you can see one of the very first Federal German passports, issued on 13 November 1950 at the German Consulate General in New York, USA. Although in reality this passport was issued almost three months before the Passport Act became valid. Supposedly, there was some agreement with the allied forces to cover Germans abroad in need of a travel document.

The very first Federal German passport design (1950-1955)

Let's take a closer look at the number code printed on the back cover of the passport, which states “1 10010 50000 5.50”. What does it mean? It is not known for certain what the first six digits “1 10010” mean, it may be a template number. “50000” is the number of the printed copies, while “5.50” signifies the printing date – May 1950.

The number code on the back cover “5.50” means May 1950, the very first batch of documents

The printed passport number of this specific document is “Nr.1000194”, the handwritten passport number issued by the consulate is “190/50”. It’s most likely that this passport was only the 190th issued in 1950 by the New York Consulate and the 194th passport booklet in general. Hence, it is truly a very early passport of Federal Germany and a great piece of passport history.

Consular passport, No.190/50. Which means that only 190 documents were issued in 1950 at the consulate at that time.
The passport booklet serial no. is 1000194

This passport holder Ludwig Carl Vogel was born 1909 in Stuttgart, lived and worked in the United States as an industrial clerk. By November 1955 his passport was renewed. Ludwig's passport stamps show mostly European travels to countries like Germany, Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria and the UK.

One of the very first Federal Germany passports issued on 13 November 1950 at the Consulate General in New York The very last stamp is a US entry stamp from 22 May 1955 in Philadelphia

The very first passport design was a green passport booklet which kept its color for almost 38 years until the introduction of the burgundy colored European Union document version in 1988.

In 1950/51, during the time of the “Wirtschaftswunder” (Economic miracle), surely, functionality of the travel document used to come before its design. In fact Germans had a strong desire to travel, therefore the standard passport had 40 pages and a soft cover. In 1956 Germans could travel visa free to 21 different countries. Italy was the main holiday destination for Germans in 1950's.

Early specimen – page pattern and design

What about security features then? In fact, there were none or very few. The document booklet spine was covered with a green linen tape which was probably rather a functional than a security feature. Rubber stamping and revenue stamps were commonly used which were also some kind of security features at that time.

The passport holder's picture was fixed with metal eyelets. The binding of the pages was then a stitching with no special thread. The complex graphic design and a watermark in the paper were the key security features at that time.

And we learn also about the passport fees. Vogel’s US-issued German passport was issued/renewed for a fee between $0.75 and $2.00, which was then between 3DM (1.5€) and 8DM (4€). A passport issued at home in Germany was just 1DM (0.5€). A visa for Denmark in 1951 was 5.60DM (2.80€) and to France 1400FF, 14DM (7€).

French visa issued at the consulate in Stuttgart 1954. The visa fee was 1400 FF

Fast forward 67 years to the latest German passport type

Germany has now one of the most advanced and secure passports in the world, produced by Bundesdruckerei GmbH and introduced in March 2017. A German passport allows its holder to travel to 178 counties WITHOUT the need of a visa. So, it’s also an excellent diplomatic effort to give these benefits to German citizens. This is often forgotten.

But also, the passport design has changed significantly! Compared to the rather boring design of the predecessor.

Front cover Back cover

The latest German passport contains several design elements referring to the Federal Republic of Germany. These include the eagle (the heraldic animal of the Federal Republic of Germany’s coat of arms), the national anthem, and the depictions of the Brandenburg Gate. These elements symbolize the reunited Federal Republic of Germany.

Federal eagle. Fragment. Offset printing Brandenburg Gate. Fragment. Offset printing Quadriga. Fragment. Offset printing

The motifs of the Brandenburg Gate and the Quadriga (a chariot located atop the gate and drawn by four horses led by Victoria, the goddess of Victory) are integrated in the security printing, some of their elements are visible only under UV light.

Page 1. White light Page 1. Ultraviolet light (365 nm)

The membership in the EU is depicted using the EU flag stars (blind embossing on the back cover, background security printing).

Like the previous generation of passports, the new German passport contains an embedded contactless chip on which the passport holder’s data, photograph and two fingerprints are stored.

On the front cover there is an eagle (the heraldic animal of the Federal Republic of Germany’s coat of arms) in gold embossing.

Back cover. Oblique white light. Blind embossing Front cover. Fragment. Gold embossing Front cover. Fragment. Gold embossing

The front and the back flyleaves are made of security paper containing security fibers and motifs which are visible only under UV light.

Front flyleaf. White light Front flyleaf. Ultraviolet light (365 nm)

The title page (the data card with a chip) is made of polycarbonate and contains a transparent window combined with a changeable laser image (depending on the viewing angle, the changeable laser image shows the photograph and the date of birth of the passport holder). On the left-hand side of this page, there is a metalized (machine-variable) security thread personalized with the holder’s name and passport number. The federal eagle, some musical notes and the text of the national anthem, the letter “D” are embossed into the polycarbonate surface.

Changeable laser image. Fragment
Title page. White light Metalized (machine-variable) security thread. Fragment
Title page. Oblique white light Federal eagle. Fragment. Blind embossing Letter “D”. Fragment. Blind embossing
Text of the national anthem. Fragment. Blind embossing

The data page contains the passport holder’s personal data and innovative security features. The holder’s color photo is integrated into the material of the card (like the alphanumeric serial number); it is holographically repeated and appears in changeable laser image on the title page. All further personal information is laser-engraved into the inner layers of the page (issue and expiry dates along with the holder’s nationality have tactile symbols).

Data page. White light Personal information. Fragment. Laser engraving

When the passport is tilted, the letter “D” changes color from blue to green. The holographic secondary image, along with four federal eagles, to the right of the full-color portrait becomes visible in green. Similarly, the name of the passport holder is shown as a holographic text in blue. Moreover, there is a bicolored holographic repetition of the machine-readable zone. Finally, a three-dimensional image of the federal eagle in red completes a system of full-surface anti-copying features.

Data page. Hologram visualization
Letter “D”. Fragment. Optically variable ink (OVI) Holographic secondary image Holographic name of the passport holder
Bicolored holographic repetition of the machine-readable zone
Holographic Brandenburg Gate Holographic federal eagle Three-dimensional image of the federal eagle in red

The parts of the polycarbonate data page become luminescent under UV light: the Brandenburg Gate with the Quadriga, the word “DEUTSCHLAND”, etc. These parts are not visible under white and IR light.

Data page. Ultraviolet light (365 nm) Data page. Infrared light (870 nm)

The security paper of visa pages contains half-tone watermarks depicting the federal eagle surrounded by the European stars. The motifs of the reunited Federal Republic of Germany are illustrated on the pages under UV light. Only the security thread with the German flag remains visible under IR light.

Visa page. Transmitted white light Visa page. White light Visa page. Ultraviolet light (365 nm) Visa page. Infrared light (870 nm)

The German passport is stitched using a multicolored thread (colors of the national flag) which is luminescent under UV light.

Central spread (pages 16-17). Ultraviolet light (365 nm)

The serial number on the passport pages is laser-perforated. As several sheets are perforated simultaneously, a conical decrease in size of the perforated holes is observed in the successive pages of the document.

Blank serial number. Laser perforation


What an evolution from 1950 until today! Modern travel documents like the German passport may include up to 20 security features, some are just known to security printers. For me as a German, the latest passport is truly a masterpiece in terms of design and security and it remains very functional at the same time. E.g. the current cover has become more flexible compared to the stiff cover of the previous model.

By the way, ICAO guidelines recommend to overhaul a passport at least every ten years to be up to date with technology and to counter fraudsters and forgers.

The Bundesdruckerei GmbH did an excellent job on this travel document. Congratulations!

[1] Ausstellung von Pässen, Mitteilung des BmdI vom 14. Dezember 1950 – 1211 C – 662/50, GMBI, S.138



Tom Topol is a well-recognized expert on passports & their history with several publications (see reference list online). With 15+ years of experience he’s consulting collectors, foundations, museums and news media agencies on this topic. Tom is a member of both, the British Ephemera Society and the Ephemera Society of America.

His website is a goldmine of information on historic travel documents. Tom is covering also current news on passports, visas, border security and security printing via Twitter @passporthistory.

About Regula

Regula is the leading entity providing solutions in questioned documents analysis, border control as well as conducting specialized training to law-enforcement about secure documents. Regula product portfolio includes devices for document verification, image processing software and information reference systems about identity documents and banknotes. Having more than 25 years of expertise Regula provides its solutions to more than 130 countries and cooperates with government institutions, international, regional and specialized organizations.

Images of the contemporary German biometric passport are taken from Regula Information Reference System «Secure Documents Ultimate».

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