Chapter

Grounds for Discontent?

Katherine Pence

in Communism Unwrapped

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199827657
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950461 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199827657.003.0008
Grounds for Discontent?

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Coffee, a nation-wide addiction in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was chronically hard to come by. From the rationing period after 1945 to an acute crisis and outright protests in 1977, the East German populace pressured the socialist state to provide access to real coffee beans, but often had to settle for various ersatz beverages. The black markets and smuggling of beans between East and West became rampant, and East Germans perennially compared their shortages to West Germans’ easier access to beans on the world market. By the end of the 1950s, consumer dissatisfaction added to the growing number of East Germans making their way across to the other side. Even after the the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, Western coffee continued to traverse this barrier in the form of gift packages and smuggled goods, and was prized as a status symbol and a tool for bartering. In examining coffee drinking in the GDR, this essay illuminates the interconnection between the socialist state and society. But coffee drinking was also a private act. In the absence of a Habermasian public sphere in the GDR, the private Kaffeeklatsch became an important site of sociability and free expression that ran counter to the socialist ideal of a mass community of workers. Coffee drinking in the GDR was fraught with difficulties due to its scarcity, but coffee was also a resolute emblem of how East German citizens marked out their own spaces for social connections and even laughter.

Keywords: coffee; East Germany; black market; German Democratic Republic (GDR); smuggling; Cold War; photography; trade; consumption; Berlin

Chapter.  12646 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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