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Shortages Complicate Christmas Shopping in East Germany (December 21, 1980)

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The Politburo’s Demands

There are serious reasons for the Politburo’s call for factories to produce “at a level commensurate with demand.” For although the economic plan for this year was fulfilled and the scheduled production of goods was achieved on a value basis, a number of factories had delivery backlogs for certain products, often popular ones. For instance, in early December in Magdeburg, ten companies had delivery shortfalls of more than five million Marks, while in the district of Dresden, goods with a total value of 25 million Marks failed to be delivered to stores as required by contract.

The situation is similar in the other districts. The missing goods are offset by other goods that are “delivered ahead of schedule.” As the daily Sächsische Zeitung made clear, however, these goods can’t make up for the numerous contractual shortfalls, because “someone who needs a pair of pants won’t find much consolation in the fact that – since he can’t get them – he can have two jackets instead.” Jackets, the paper noted, aren’t the same as pants. The problem is made worse by the fact that quite a few factories are producing more goods in the higher price range, because it is more lucrative for them; therefore, fewer products in the lower and mid-range price categories are making their way into stores.

This has caused this year’s Christmas supply to be greatly restricted. Functionaries concede that there are “disgruntled customers.” In letters to the media, GDR citizens criticize the fact that there is ample reporting on plans that have been met and exceeded but too little concern over which demands have been satisfied. “After all, I don’t want to buy what happens to be available at the moment, but what I like and what I need,” wrote one reader to the Norddeutsche Zeitung. The paper warned the factories against producing according to the maxim: “Everything will be bought anyway.” This practice serves no one, the article said, and in fact does harm.

The level of public displeasure is in fact greater than what is expressed in the media. When you talk to GDR citizens these days, you often hear opinions like the following (from a working mother in a district capital on the Oder River): “The Poles aren’t standing in line here anymore, but the lines are still getting longer and longer. Whatever you want to buy is either unavailable or much too expensive: you’re constantly running from store to store. And if no one knows you, then you don’t get anything at all. Everything that’s scarce is sold under the table. Where’s this going to lead?”

Two young female college students learned just how selling things “under the table” works. In a self-service store on Leuschnerplatz in Leipzig, they discovered a whole freezer filled with frozen peaches, strawberries, and currants. Overjoyed, they of course helped themselves. But, as the two outraged students wrote to the East Berlin [satirical] magazine Eulenspiegel, their joy was short-lived, since the cashier took the rare delicacies away, explaining that the contents of the freezer had already been sold.

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