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

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Waiting for the “Special Sale”

The people of the GDR always have to be ready to jump if they want to get their hands on special products or something presently in short supply, and even that doesn’t always help, as another example from Eulenspiegel shows: In the Centrum department store in Erfurt, a line of people formed for no apparent reason in front of an empty stand that had sold dishes on multiple occasions. The line got longer and longer, although no one knew if anything would be sold – and if so, then what – since the staff offered no information. When cartons were finally brought in and the “special sale” began, the people in line found out what they had been waiting for: The packages contained one large glass plate and six small dessert plates, imported from Hungary. Anyone who didn’t need dessert plates had waited for naught.

GDR citizens can tell dozens of similar stories about such shopping experiences, which of course create bad blood. Working people in particular complain that they are disadvantaged when it comes to shopping; “special sales” often take place during working hours and afterwards “nothing decent” is to be had. There have been repeated protests in various large factories as a result. According to reports from Rostock, in late November dockworkers apparently even refused to load food destined for Poland. Over the past few weeks, factory shops have organized large-scale “special sales” for Christmas, apparently to appease the workers.

Criticism of High Exports

In light of the supply shortages, which, according to GDR citizens, exist for handkerchiefs and men’s socks, as well as towels, underwear, linens, outerwear, dishes, and high-quality industrial products, and even for gingerbread, chocolate Santa Clauses, and – as was the case last year – candles, the GDR population continues to criticize the high export levels. Recently, the media has responded to this criticism repeatedly, and has stressed that supply cannot be improved by reducing exports. The media maintains that even more exports are necessary to cover the costs of urgently needed deliveries of raw materials, certain foods and luxury foodstuffs, and other goods that cannot be produced in the GDR.

It is indeed true that the GDR cannot solve its supply problem by limiting exports. What is needed is the production of far more – and better – goods, both for export and for domestic consumption, with greater attention being paid to demand. Accordingly, the economic plan for 1981, which the Volkskammer passed on Wednesday, provides for considerable growth rates. The production of industrial goods is supposed to increase by almost six percent, and for certain factories and categories of goods the planned growth rates are in the double digits. The plan also emphasizes the task of “ensuring supply in all price groups,” so that supply better corresponds to the demands of the population. Of course, despite all its efforts, the GDR is still far away from having a supply that is truly “commensurate with demand.”

Source: Michael Mara, “Christmas Shopping in the DDR” [“Weihnachtseinkäufe in der DDR”], Tagesspiegel, December 21, 1980.

Translation: Allison Brown

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