How much bread and meat will I be able to buy tomorrow? Food Rationing in Germany from 1915 to 1950

Supply, the combined impact of Allied blockades and weather-related crop failure left its war-ravaged citizens sick and starving.

By Robert A. Selig


For most Germans today, the answer to the question “How much bread and meat will I be able to buy tomorrow? Next week? Next month?” depends more on the state of their wallet than on the availability of bread, meat and other necessities of daily life on the shelves of their local grocery store. If a grocery store, or a butcher or a baker should ever be out of any given item, that deficiency is usually temporary, and quickly corrected. The next day at the latest it will be available again. But that was not always so, even if only a rapidly diminishing number of Germans remember those days. For the generation of my late grandmother, however, born in 1907, food ration cards, or Lebensmittelmarken in German constituted a reality for almost half of the first 43 years of her life.

Rationing of foodstuffs, but also of water, fuel, clothing, leather, alcohol, soap or any other non-food item, which was available on a Bezugsschein or talon, indicates either their scarcity or an attempt by the government to preserve critical resources, control their distribution and assure a more equitable consumption, but also to channel their use into other uses considered more important. Ration cards, which allowed their owner to purchase a certain amount of the item listed, are a phenomenon of the 20th century, when governments issue them in times of national emergencies such as a severe economic downturn and, most frequently, in times of war. Their issuance was often accompanied by other measures such as dilution with inferior substances meant to artificially increase the supply of the rationed item. The German governments issued ration cards during both World Wars, and for years afterwards, as the country struggled to get back on its feet again, viz. following the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to the hyperinflation of 1923, and during the Allied Occupation and the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany between 1945 and 1950. In the German Democratic Republic, bread was rationed until May 1958, potatoes and coal until 1966.

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