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Compound interest can really compound when you leave a loan unpaid for 500 years.

Let this be a lesson in paying your credit card bills on time.

Back in 1562, the sleepy eastern German hamlet of Mittenwalde loaned the city of Berlin a bit of money. It was about 400 guilders, according to a certificate of debt found in the town's archives. Berlin was supposed to repay the debt in full, along with 6 percent interest a year. But they never did. Today that 400 guilder loan is worth an estimated 11,200 guilders, or 112 million euros. If you adjust for inflation and compound interest, the debt could literally lie in the trillions.

As you might imagine, the debt-ridden German capital doesn't so far appear eager to work out a payment plan (the city is currently facing an estimated 63 million euro budget shortfall). And it turns out, this not the first time this debt has come up. According to Reuters:

Town historian Vera Schmidt found the centuries-old debt slip in the archive, where it had been filed in 1963. Though the seal is missing from the document, Schmidt told Reuters that she was certain the slip was still valid.

"In 1893 there was a debate in which the document was examined and the writing was determined to be authentic," Schmidt said.

Schmidt and Mittenwalde's Mayor Uwe Pfeiffer have tried to ask Berlin for their money back. Such requests have been made every 50 years or so since 1820 but always to no avail.

Photo credit: Eder /Shutterstock

About the Author

Amanda Erickson

Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab. 

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