The aim was to write a feature story which is related to my blog. I decided to interview my grandparents about German cuisine during the Second World War.
I hope you enjoy it :)
An oral history of Second World War cuisine in rural Germany
By Jennifer Zschocke
Life during the Second World War was not easy for the citizens of Germany, but for children it was especially hard. There was never enough food and hunger was a constant companion. No matter if they played with their friends or hid in air raid shelters, they were always starving. Nevertheless, people had to eat something and they made do with the most curious meals.
Living in the countryside, such as the Erzgebirge, during the war had some advantages. Most important for the villagers was active trading between the people. “One woman grew tomatoes in her garden, and we traded onions form our garden with her”, 76-year-old Günther Zschocke remembers. He was only seven years old when the war was finally over, but he remembers his childhood vividly. He says that he and his friends were often so hungry that they stole some apples from a local orchard. Unfortunately, while climbing back over the fence, the boys were once caught and got a good trashing. Coming home from those adventures, there was no plentiful meal waiting. The most common dinner was ‘hair soup’; a soup made from water, marjoram and grated potatoes. Water and marjoram were brought to the boil and the potatoes were grated into it. “It wasn’t as bad as it sounds”, Mr Zschocke adds smilingly.
Breakfast consisted mainly of some bread and sometimes a bit of milk. Mr Zschocke often went to a local farmer to trade some milk and often had a secret helping of it when the farmer was not looking. After breakfast the children had to help the family in various ways. “In summer, we went into the forest to pick wild blueberries and mushrooms”, Eleonore Zschocke, an expellee from German Bohemia, explains. This was an essential part of rural cuisine and helped the majority of people through the war. Some of those dishes are still eaten today such as mushroom schnitzel, pickled mushrooms or blueberries with milk.
Additionally, the people depended on the kindness of the farmers. During harvest time in September and October, they were allowed to pick leftover wheat ears or potatoes from the fields. Still, that was not as romantic as it sounds. “There were at least 60 people there, mainly children, and you were lucky if you got half a bucket full of potatoes”, remembers Ms Zschocke. If the gleaning was plentiful, they children got a treat in the afternoon: coffee dregs cake. This cake was made from boiled potatoes and coffee dregs (or, most likely, fake coffee dregs). It was not sweet because sugar was a rare commodity. In the evening, some families had dinner with fake bacon. This was breadcrumbs fried with onions and a bit of bacon fat. “It was exactly as horrible as it sounds”, Eleonore Zschocke explains.
Finally, in 1945 the war was over. Günther Zschocke remembers his first encounter with the Russians vividly. “Suddenly, there came a wagon up the road. It was full of Russians and we ragged kids were really curious about them. And we were hungry.” After the Russians made camp on a field nearby, the children approach them and the soldiers gave them some hot stew and bread. This was for most of them the best meal they have ever had. Of course, the end of the war did not mean better food straight away, but over the years the living standard and food gradually increased. Still, it is surprising that the elderly often remember their childhood in war with fondness and nostalgia. “Despite all the food shortage and hunger, we had a happy childhood. We would not want to change it”, Mr and Ms Zschocke conclude.