Home Fires Burning: Food, Politics, and Everyday Life in World War I Berlin

By Belinda J. Davis | Go to book overview

6
A FOOD DICTATORSHIP

Following on the October butter riots, 1916 opened in Berlin and other German cities with a resounding cry for total centralized control of food supplies that would guarantee the “fair” and “equitable” distribution of food. The “food question” was “the only topic that all of Germany [was] discussing.” 1 Paradoxically, the government's ability to institute firmer control, specifically over food distribution, became the lit mus test of the Wilhelmine regime's “reformability.” The government accepted the challenge, announcing early in the spring of 1916 the inauguration of the War Food Office (Kriegsernährungsamt, or kea), under the auspices of the Prussian Ministry of War, to oversee all food distribution. Many Berliners publicly rejoiced at the establishment of the kea in May 1916, the culmination of seven months of nationwide popular demand. But the public soon perceived this office to have failed in its mission; the cycle of government response followed by failure ran its course now on a grand scale. A bitter and unrestful summer followed, concluding with popular support for the new Supreme Army commanders' determination to expand their powers over domestic affairs. Acclamation for a “dictatorship” led by new Supreme Army commander and war hero Paul von Hindenburg in August must be seen as support for a “food dictatorship,” a “militarization of the pantry,” a “positive state” that would intervene forcefully and effectively to see to the nutritional needs of civilians as it did those of soldiers. 2

Government officials and the general public alike debated the merits of a military food dictator and simultaneously more democratic control, making for strange political bedfellows. As a further paradox, those most concerned to relieve civilian suffering during this period of rapidly spreading hunger failed to do so, while those least concerned may have best succeeded. These circumstances turned contemporary political labels and presumed agendas on their heads throughout 1916 and generated broad, engaged debate on food scarcity, German politics, and the appropriate relationship between state and society. The military administration exploited popular concern to mobilize civilian resources for military plans. But as the domestic crisis proved intractable, military leaders faced a greater challenge than they

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Home Fires Burning: Food, Politics, and Everyday Life in World War I Berlin
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Illustrations *
  • Maps & Figures *
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Home Fires Burning 15
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Germany from Peace to War 9
  • 2 - Bread, Cake, and Just Deserts 24
  • 3 - Women of Lesser Means 48
  • 4 - Battles over Butter 76
  • 5 - One View of How Politics Worked in World War I Berlin 93
  • 6 - A Food Dictatorship 114
  • 7 - Soup, Stew, and Eating German 137
  • 8 - Food for the Weak, Food for the Strong 159
  • 9 - The End of Faith 190
  • 10 - Germany from War to Peace? 219
  • Conclusion 237
  • Notes 247
  • Bibliography 307
  • Index 343
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