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14 Harsh Realities Of Life In Germany After WWII

Updated September 23, 2021 211.2k views14 items

When Hitler was defeated by the Allies in WWII, he left behind almost no post-conflict plans. It had been tantamount to treason under the Third Reich to even mention the possibility of defeat, and by the end, practically every single resource available had been poured into the WWII 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, razed, and trampled by tanks and troops for years. 

In a speech on May 8, 1945, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery described the situation that Germany faced:

"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-WWII 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 WWII 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 countries 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-WWII tension over Germany; both sides were unwilling to open fire, 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 30 years.

  • People Lived Amid The Destruction

    Photo: Photo Library and Archives of Canada / Good Free Photos / Public Domain

    Berlin was devastated by bombing from WWII (estimates say up to 80 percent of historic buildings in the country's main cities were lost), and reconstruction efforts were slow to get underway. Much of the city was unsafe and uninhabitable, with certain areas 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 the outside. Rationing had started during WWII 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 1946-1947 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 conflict or had lost at least one parent, leading to an overall lack of adult supervisors. Children, and especially teens and preteens, roamed the streets in packs.

    When schools did reopen, often in half-ruined facilities, they were underfunded and understaffed, with some schools reporting student-to-faculty ratios of 89 to 1.