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"What You Won't Read in Baedeker. A Short Travel Guide through the Eastern Zone" (1947)

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In Saxony, too, which has always been one of Europe’s most densely populated areas, hunger rules the land. Previously, in Baedeker times, industry could repay what had to be contributed from the agricultural regions of the East. [ . . . ] Today, industrial dismantling has eaten away crucial parts of the factories, and the Eastern territories are no longer supplying anything, in any case. The bleakness of this situation makes it almost naturally clear that the reports about Saxony may mention good will here and there, but note little success.

And there is the March of Brandenburg. And there is Forst, once the famous “city of hats,” today overcrowded despite of all the rubble; and in the middle of it all is a transit camp reserved for “illegal border crossers.” In Guben, there is a sign by the train station: “Mission in service of solidarity with the people of the March.” People in Cottbus were saying that before the new harvest arrived, they had not seen a sliver of potato since Christmas, and that the meat markets frequently had no meat, but only cottage cheese [Quark]. Finally, there is Frankfurt an der Oder, the great station of transports from Russia, where a “packages from the West initiative” made it possible to help the returnees in the first place. Packages are a must! For what can a returnee do with the 50 DM he is paid in the transit camp of Cronenfelde? All the states of the Eastern Zone have their counseling centers in Frankfurt. But there are no counseling centers for returnees from the Western Zones. Memo: “The returning prisoners of war are now in a better state of health than before. Still devastating, however, is the sight of half-starved women returning from Russian forced labor camps.” [ . . . ]

According to the memos, the situation is worst, however, in the Oderbruch. Severely affected in the last year of the war, the area was dealt a death blow by the catastrophe that was the burst dam of last year. Most of the localities around Seelow are about 80 percent destroyed. Fallow fields as far as the eye can see; quickweed, thistles, reeds. Farmsteads with 200 or 300 acres but without a single horse. And many farmers do not have a single cow. Still, contrary to original pronouncements, a “delivery quota” still weighs on the farmers, who, when they plow, often have to yoke themselves to the plow. Faced with a terrible famine, the farmers are groaning about the “quota” of this “bureaucratic masterpiece.” Old Schwedt, the tobacco town of the Mark, has been hit so hard that the residents are living only in cellars: of the city’s 20,000 former residents, only 6,500 were left. Tuberculosis and a “tobacco quota,” which made it seemingly impossible for them to grow enough potatoes. Everything had changed since the Baedeker days. Only the Oder was still there. One could look across to the other side: no more arable land, fields; only weeds, brambles.

[ . . . ]

Source: Jan Molitor, “Was nicht im Baedeker steht. Kleiner Reiseführer durch die Ostzone” ["What You Won’t Read in Baedeker. A Short Travel Guide through the Eastern Zone"], Die Zeit, November 20, 1947; reprinted in Christoph Kleßmann and Georg Wagner, Das gespaltene Land. Leben in Deutschland 1945-1990. Texte und Dokumente zur Sozialgeschichte [The Divided Land. Life in Germany, 1945-1990. Texts and Documents on Social History]. Munich: C. H. Beck, 1993, pp. 62-64.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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