This Tastes Like Hell! Food In 1940 Berlin

Since spices including pepper and later salt were unavailable, food was bland. Meat was strictly rationed and few received even the rationed amount. If one bought beef, for instance, the bone was counted against the weight of meat one was allocated. While people had ration cards for fruit, no one ever saw any to buy. This is a constant theme in every diary from the time I have ever read and I’ve read most of the ones translated into English or originally written in English.

If you have an interest in diaries then I recommend Berlin Embassy by William Russell, Last Train From Berlin: An Eye-Witness Account of Germany at War by Howard K. Smith, Diary of a nightmare: Berlin, 1942-1945 by Ursula von Kardorff, Berlin Diaries 1940-1945 Marie Vassiltchikov, When I Was a German, 1934-1945: An Englishwoman in Nazi Germany by Christabel Bielenberg, Berlin Underground 1938-1945 by Ruth Andreas-Friedrich. There are many more but this is a start.

As I mentioned above these diaries all share at least one common theme – food; a constant obsession with simply getting enough to eat. Clearly food was so important because it is mentioned so often by those who lived through World War Two in Berlin and other cities. Finding enough to eat was a daily struggle. Hoarding enough supplies to do something as simple as baking a cake took months and usually involved buying some ingredients on the black market. (It will not surprise you that many high ranking Nazis were involved in selling scarce items they had access to on the black market.)

Ration cards were only good at the shops in your neighborhood. For instance if you had a ration card for beef, you could only use it at the butcher’s market in your neighborhood. You couldn’t use it anywhere else. If the butcher’s market were flattened in an air raid, then getting a new set of ration cards for another butcher was a long and tedious process. Food theft became common as the war went on and in the last months the thefts were brazen with shop windows being broken in the middle of the night and all the contents stolen.

Woman scavenging for food, Bayreuth, Germany, April 1945.
Boy in Berlin with food.

While one assumes everyone was thin, some people got fat because they could only find items rich in starch such as macaroni, bread, and potatoes. There wasn’t anything to put on them since butter was not available ever from about 1938 onwards. Neither was cream or whole milk. That entire supply was for children and wounded soldiers. Coffee was only for wounded soldiers. Everywhere else in Germany coffee served as an alternate currency much like cigarettes or alcohol did.

Women, who had to work and do the shopping which involved standing in long lines, always carried mesh bags with them in case they saw any item for sale. If you came across a store which was selling a small supply of radios, for instance, then you bought one since you could trade it for food. People took their silver, valuables, rugs, paintings et al into the countries and bartered with farmers for food.

Nazi Germany created a hell for those it cast out such as the Jews, gay people, dwarfs, those who were depressed, crippled, and so many more. But Nazi Germany failed in building a paradise for “Aryan” Germans. But the German people realized that far too late, of course, and as the King James Version of the Bible tells us:


…for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

– Galatians 6:7

[Images courtesy of Heritage Images and Historical Boy’s Clothing.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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