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

As this West Berlin journalist reports, continuing supply bottlenecks in the planned economy made Christmas shopping in the GDR a nerve-wracking experience. Widespread shortages belied Communist functionaries’ proclamations of success.

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Christmas Shopping in the GDR

What is the availability of consumer goods for the GDR population this Christmas season? Central Committee Secretary [Werner] Jarowinsky and Minister [Gerhard] Briksa, the two highest ranking East Berlin functionaries for trade and supply, examined this question in early December in Mecklenburg. They visited shops and department stores, learned about the availability of goods and discussed current supply questions with salespeople and shoppers alike. Over the past few weeks, high-ranking functionaries in other GDR districts have shown a similarly high level of interest in the supply question “on the ground.”

Since the Polish crisis*, the SED leadership has evidently taken the supply problem very seriously. After all, it knows all too well that a stable supply situation and a high standard of living have a decisive influence on the internal stability of the GDR and even serve as a kind of “protective shield” against the “Polish bacillus.” For it is apparent that the economic situation, individual prosperity, and possessions are determining the thoughts and actions of people in the socialist German state to a growing extent. The “socialist lifestyle,” in contrast, seems to be fading further and further into the background.

Nervousness Instead of Merriment

The Norddeutsche Zeitung, which is published in Rostock, even fears that the “race for status” and possessions is having an increasingly negative effect on communal life in socialist society. “It is especially obvious in the weeks just before Christmas: many people’s thoughts are all too fixated on material standards, which need to be surpassed time and again; and in this otherwise wonderful holiday season, more things are being exchanged than thoughts,” the newspaper complained recently. It is not only friendliness, per se, but also altruism and cooperation that are withering away. Someone is deemed a helpful partner only if he can “get hold of something” for someone else. The newspaper appealed to GDR citizens, asking them not to storm the stores “so doggedly or with elbows flying,” and it called for an end to “the race for Christmas presents.” The upcoming holiday should make people “merry” and not “nervous.”

Nice words, but ones that certainly don’t go to the heart of the problem, since GDR citizens race from store to store mostly because of supply shortages. Not without reason did Central Committee Secretary Jarowinsky state during his “professional visit” in Mecklenburg that greater effort is needed to improve the availability of goods (and sales conditions).

The SED Politburo sees the situation the same way. Even though it was reported at last week’s meeting of the Central Committee that continued progress is being made in supplying the population with new, high-quality consumer goods, the Politburo still warned factories to produce consumer goods at a level commensurate with demand, to reach “a markedly higher scientific-technical standard for these products,” and to pay greater attention to “1,000 little things” and to “ensuring the necessary availability of spare parts.” For despite considerable increases in production, there has still been “no success in stabilizing supply in important areas.”

* Reference to the Polish unrest that led to the creation of the independent trade union Solidarity – trans.

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