Author Topic: Inflation in Weimar Germany  (Read 1607 times)

Offline vardaman

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Inflation in Weimar Germany
« on: October 14, 2011, 09:29:06 AM »
We hear a lot about inflation and "Weimar Germany" is batted around a lot, but it usually is something like paying for a loaf of bread with a wheelbarrow full of money. We rarely hear how inflation impacts the daily life of normal individuals. This excerpt from a Toronto newspaper by Ernest Hemingway is very insightful.


   excerpted from - German Inflation Crossing to Germany Is the Way to Make Money
   The Toronto Daily Star, September 19, 1922 – Ernest Hemingway


   There were no marks to be had in Strasbourg, the mounting exchange had cleaned the bankers out days ago, so we changed some French money in the railway station at Kehl. For ten francs I received 670 marks. Ten francs amounted to about ninety cents in Canadian money. That ninety cents lasted Mrs. Hemingway and me for a day of heavy spending and at the end of the day we had one hundred and twenty marks left!

   Our first purchase was from a fruit stand beside the main street of Kehl where an old woman was selling apples, peaches and plums. We picked out five very good looking apples and gave the old woman a fifty mark note. She gave us back thirty-eight marks in change. A very nice looking, white bearded old gentleman saw us buy the apples and raised his hat.
   “Pardon me, sir,” he said, rather timidly, in German, “how much were the apples?”
   I counted the change and told him twelve marks.
   He smiled and shook his head. “I can't pay it. It is too much.”

   He went up the street walking very much as a white bearded old gentleman of the old regime walks in all countries, but he had looked very longingly at the apples. I wish I had offered him some. Twelve marks, on that day, amounted to a little under two cents. The old man, whose life's savings were probably, as most of the non-profiteer classes are, invested in German pre-war and war bonds, could not afford a twelve-mark expenditure. He is a type of the people whose incomes do not increase with the falling purchasing value of the mark and the krone.

   With marks at 800 to the dollar, or eight to a cent, we priced articles in the windows of the different Kehl shops. Peas were 18 marks a pound, beans 16 marks; a pound of Kaiser coffee, there are still many Kaiser brands in the German republic, could be had for 34 marks. Gersten coffee, which is not coffee at all but roasted grain, sold for 14 marks a pound. Fly paper was 150 marks a package. A scythe blade cost 150 marks, too, or eighteen and three-quarter cents! Beer was ten marks a stein or one cent and a quarter.

   Kehl's best hotel, which is a very well turned out place, served a five-course table d'hote meal for 120 marks, which amounts to fifteen cents in our money. The same meal could not be duplicated in Strasbourg, three miles away, for a dollar.

   Because of the customs regulations, which are very strict on persons returning from Germany, the French cannot come over to Kehl and buy up all the cheap goods they would like to. But they can come over and eat. It is a sight every afternoon to see the mob that storms the German pastry shops and tea places. The Germans make very good pastries, wonderful pastries, in fact, that, at the present tumbling mark rate, the French of Strasbourg can buy for a less amount apiece than the smallest French coin, the one sou piece. This miracle of exchange makes a swinish spectacle where the youth of the town of Strasbourg crowd into the German pastry shop to eat themselves sick and gorge on fluffy, cream-filled slices of German cake at five marks the slice. The contents of the pastry shop are swept clear in a half an hour.

   In a pastry shop we visited, a man in an apron, wearing blue glasses, appeared to be the proprietor. He was assisted by the typical “boche” looking German with close cropped head. The place was jammed with French people of all ages and descriptions, all gorging cakes, while a young girl in a pink dress, silk stockings, with a pretty, weak face and pearl earrings in her ears took as many of their orders for fruit and vanilla ices she could fill.

   She didn’t' seem to care very much whether she filled the orders or not. There were soldiers in town and she kept going over to look out of the window.
   The proprietor and his helper were surly and didn’t seem particularly happy when all the cakes were sold. The mark was falling faster than they could bake.

   Meanwhile out in the street a funny little train jolted by, carrying the workmen with their dinner-pails home to the outskirts of the town, profiteer's motor cars tore by raising a cloud of dust that settled over the trees and the fronts of all the buildings, and inside the pastry shop young French hoodlums swallowed their last cakes and French mother swiped the sticky mouths of their children. It gave you a new aspect on exchange.

   As the last of the afternoon tea-ers and pastry eaters went Strasbourg-wards across the bridge the first of the exchange pirates coming over to raid Kehl for cheap dinners began to arrive. The two streams passed each other on the bridge and the two disconsolate looking German soldiers looked on. As the boy in the motor agency said, “It's a way to make money.”