Kroner on shopping under hyperinflation (1923)

In late August 1923, Berlin journalist Friedrich Kroner wrote the following account of the difficulties of shopping amid rapidly rising prices caused by hyperinflation:

“It pounds daily on the nerves: the insanity of numbers, the uncertain future… An epidemic of fear, naked need: lines of shoppers once more form in front of shops, first in front of one, then in front of all. No disease as is contagious as this one. The lines have something suggestive about them: the women’s glances, their hastily donned kitchen dresses, their careworn, patient faces.

The lines always send the same signal: the city, the big stone city will be shopped empty again. Rice, 80,000 Marks a pound yesterday, costs 160,000 Marks today and tomorrow perhaps twice as much. The day after, the man behind the counter will shrug his shoulders: “No more rice”. Well then, noodles? “No more noodles.” Barley, groats, beans, lentils – always the same, buy, buy, buy. The piece of paper, the spanking brand new note, still moist from the printers, paid out today as a weekly wage, shrinks in value on the way to the grocer’s shop. The zeros, the multiplying zeros!

They rise with the Mark: hate, desperation and need – daily emotions like daily rates of exchange. The rising Mark brings mockery and laughter: “Cheaper butter! Instead of 1.6 million marks, just 1.4 million Mark.” This is no joke, this is reality, written seriously with a pencil, hung in the shop window and seriously read.

It rises with the Mark, the haste to turn that piece of paper into something one can swallow, something filling. The weekend markets overflow with people. City police regulate traffic. The lines consume the product stands. “I’ll have two dozen turnips.” “There’s only one dozen”… The next pushes forward from behind: “Two dozen turnips.” “There’s only one… next!”

Somewhere, patience explodes. Resignation breaks… “Come on, when am I going to get my butter?” screams a woman. “Your butter? It is not your butter by a long shot. By the time you get to the front of the line, your butter will be all gone.” And then comes the umbrella handle, a response crashing through the glass cover on the cream cheese. And the cop standing watch outside pulls a sobbing woman from the store and charges are filed.”