We publish the following letter from a reader dealing with conditions in Germany. The writer is an American now studying in Switzerland.—-Ed. Comm.
On the train, rattling eastward from Buchloe, I recalled three previous visits to Munich . . . in 1925, 1945 and the Spring of 1948. In more than two decades the surrounding countryside had undergone little change. There were still the same rolling meadows, broken by the quilt patterns of crops and dark patches of forest. White-walled, red-roofed villages dotted the landscape and clustered more thickly as the capital approached. The countryside had changed little, but the city was battered by war beyond recognition.
In 1925, despite war, hunger and inflation, Munich was still the German Paris, with its wide, tree-lined avenues, sidewalk cafes, spacious squares and well-groomed parks. The green Isar was a kind of Seine, meandering through the town past villas and heroic monuments. Munich even had its Quartier Latin—the suburb of Schwabing—where artiste and writers from all German-speaking countries (Rilke, the Zweigs, J. C. Heer, O. M. Graf) came to live and work. The Wittelsbach kings had been admirers of the Bourbons, and their capital became a symbol of this admiration.
In the Summer of 1945 we slid slowly into Munich in a U.S. military train. The great arched station had been gutted and wrecked . . . the sky was visible through the girder-skeleton. As an ironic touch, a huge rusty sign proclaimed Munich “The Capital of the (Nazi) Movement.” In 1925 one had to walk half-an-hour from the Bahnhofplatz to see the great Frauenkirche. Now its twin towers, with their onion-domes, were visible from the station steps. Round about was a sea of rubble . . . bricks, plaster, wooden beams and twisted girders, with jagged roofless walls alternating with houses miraculously spared. Gaunt, seedy throngs . . . Germans and a dozen other races . . . swarmed through the littered streets. Jeeps, army trucks and command cars were the only traffic. Shop windows were bare. Munich, 1945, was a skeleton picked clean.
In the Spring of 1948 the rubble had been cleared from the streets. It was now piled up in the empty lots, behind the jagged walls, and grass was growing between the bricks and beams. The great squares were more spacious than ever, lined by hollowed buildings that resembled skulls. The streets were still crowded . . . the influx of refugees from Eastern Germany had swelled the population to 800,000. There was more civilian traffic. The small, egg-shaped Volkswagen, for which the Hitler regime collected down payments, had appeared at last. The shop windows were a little fuller, but many of the goods were clearly marked “Samples Only.’’ There was some evidence of rebuilding, mainly repairs on the less damaged structures. But thousands of families still lived in air-raid shelters and cellars and would continue to do so for a long time.
In mid-October, 1948, Munich, along with Western Germany, had gone through last Summer’s currency reform. The new Deutsche Mark, issued for ten of the old, was in circulation. Its appearance had worked a miraculous change in the street scene. Now the shop windows were crowded with goods of all kinds— household utensils, clothing, radios, shoes, leather goods, books, paper, luxury items. Even groceries and butcher shops displayed wares most of their customers had not seen in years. In the midst of Munich’s moon-crater landscape it was possible to sit down to a meal of eggs, meat, fish or poultry. For a slight increase in price the food coupons were waived on rationed items. A correspondent for the Paris Herald-Tribune wrote an enthusiastic article about the success of the “Währungsreform,” pointing out that a duck dinner cost less in Munich than in New York or Glasgow, that a German Leica camera, which costs 450 Dollars in the U.S.A., can be bought for 175 in Bavaria. Surely the western occupation powers had worked a modern miracle.
There is only one thing wrong with this glowing picture. The German masses, having lost over 90 per cent. (the frozen bank deposits were recently reduced again) of their savings, cannot afford to buy most of the goods so temptingly displayed. Our Herald friend forgets that his 175 Dollars, at 15 Marks to the Dollar, represents seven months’ pay to the average German worker. His duck dinner, at six or eight Marks, is a days’ wages to a German clerk or carpenter. Once again, as in the early Twenties, Germany will be a playground for the well-heeled tourist. But what of its citizens? Recently the American consul at Munich announced he would accept applications for visas. He got over two million replies.
We had missed Munich’s famous “Oktoberfest,’’ which, we were told, was celebrated this year with something of the old lavishness. (Among other things, there were fried chickens at 12 Marks apiece.) As a partial compensation we visited the annual Fall Fair at Memmingen, a western Bavarian town of 20,000 near the foothills of the Alps. The old streets and squares were lined with booths and jammed with farmers. People rode in on hay wagons, buses and tractors to this post-currency Jahrmarkt, to feast their eyes on the pottery, cloth, dishes, toys, farm implements and luggage. Laughing children and young people rode the chutes, swings and merry-go-round. This was almost back to normalcy. But here, too, high prices and empty pocketbooks put a damper on gaiety. With a toy ballon at 2 Marks, a “Lebkuchen’’ heart at 2.50, a 100-gramme bar of inferior Czech chocolate at 5.50, a set of dishes at 30, many a youngster and housewife had to be content with “window shopping.’’
Like all other attempts to patch up a rotting system, the West German currency reform will be a long-term failure. Repercussions are inevitable. At this writing the workers of Heidelberg are on strike against high and rising prices. As Winter comes, signs of discontent will grow. With them will grow a knowledge on the part of the German proletariat (now truly have-nots) that the road pointed out by their old teachers—Marx and Engels—was the right one, after all. There is no substitute for Socialism.