When Hitler was defeated by the Allies in World War II, he left behind almost no post-war plans. It had been tantamount to treason under the Nazi regime to even mention the possibility of defeat, and by the end, practically every single resource available had been poured into the war effort. What remained after Germany's surrender was a grieving populace mourning the loss of millions of their people and a countryside that had been shelled, bombed, and trampled by tanks and troops for years.
"'Displaced Persons’ were roaming about the country, often looting as they went. Transportation and communication services had ceased to function. Agriculture and industry were largely at a standstill. Food was scarce and there was a serious risk of famine and disease during the coming months. And to crown it all there was no central government in being, and the machinery whereby a central government could function no longer existed."
Life in post-war Germany was very, very difficult for a very long time, and the country's rise out of that brutal era has its own word in the German language. They call it the "Wirtschaftswunder," which translates to the "Economic Miracle." Their situation after the defeat of the Nazis was so dire that nothing short of a miracle - and the back-breaking efforts of the Allies and the hardy Berliners themselves - could have saved the country. It was also one of the most unprecedented situations in world history; no cities have been through anything quite like Germany after World War 2. Here are some of the unique, harsh, and ultimately triumphant realities of what life in Germany after WWII was like.
Berlin Was Divided
After Germany's defeat, Berlin was divided into four zones, one for each Allied power. As the Allies' relationship with Russia began to deteriorate, it was the Berliners that bore the brunt of that tension. Russia set up what was known as the Berlin Blockade, cutting off all access to the eastern side of Berlin and forcing the other Allies to airlift relief supplies to the needy residents. The early seeds of the Cold War were sewn in the post-war tension over Germany; both sides were unwilling to fire any shots, but Berlin and Germany became cards to be played by the larger world powers.
This would eventually lead to the 1961 erection of the Berlin Wall, which would stand as both a physical barrier and a metaphorical symbol for the bifurcation of Berlin for almost thirty years.
People Lived Amid the Destruction
Berlin was devastated by bombing from the war (estimates say up to 80 percent of Berlin's historic buildings were lost), and reconstruction efforts were slow to get underway. Much of the city was unsafe and uninhabitable, with certain swaths falling entirely into disuse.
People were forced to simply make due, continuing their lives as best they could amid the destruction. Businesses got back underway in buildings that were missing walls and roofs, people moved in with family members whose homes were still standing, and patchwork fixes were implemented until real construction work could be done.
Everyone Was Hungry All the Time
The constant shelling and air strikes had also taken their toll on the German countryside, devastating the country's crops and livestock reserves. The infrastructure in and around Berlin was in ruins, making it difficult to bring food in from outside. Rationing had started during the war and slowly increased as time went on; by 1946, the British zone had reduced the average German citizen's food allotment to a meager 1,000 calories per day.
The winter of 1947-1948 was known as the "Hunger Winter" and some estimates put the average caloric intake as low as 700 calories per day - well below starvation levels. It is believed that hundreds of thousands of Germans perished from famine and famine-related conditions between 1945 and 1949.
Children Ran Wild
As the Denazified school system - not to mention the rest of the German government - was reassembled, the children of Berlin had little to no structure in their lives. Many had been orphaned by the war or had lost at least one parent, leading to an overall lack of adult supervisors. Children, and especially teens and pre-teens, roamed the streets in packs and juvenile crime saw a significant increase.
When schools did reopen, often in half-destroyed facilities, they were underbudgeted and understaffed, with some schools reporting student-to-faculty ratios of 89-1.