When I entered Germany in 1915 there was plenty of food everywhere and prices were normal. But a year later the situation had changed so that the number of food cards—Germany’s economic barometer—had increased eight times. March and April of 1916 were the worst months in the year and a great many people had difficulty in getting enough food to eat. There was growing dissatisfaction with the way the Government was handling the food problem but the people’s hope was centred upon the next harvest. In April and May the submarine issue and the American crisis turned public attention from food to politics. From July to October the Somme battles kept the people’s minds centred upon military operations. While the scarcity of food became greater the Government, through inspired articles in the press, informed the people that the harvest was so big that there would be no more food difficulties.
Germany began to pay serious attention to the food situation, when early in the year, Adolph von Batocki, the president of East Prussia and a big land owner, was made food dictator. At the same time there were organised various government food departments. There was an Imperial Bureau for collecting fats; another to take charge of the meat supply; another to control the milk and another in charge of the vegetables and fruit. Germany became practically a socialistic state and in this way the Government kept abreast of the growth of Socialism among the people. The most important step the Government took was to organise the Zentral Einkaufgesellschaft, popularly known as the “Z. E. G.” The first object of this organisation was to purchase food in neutral countries. Previously German merchants had been going to Holland, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries to buy supplies. These merchants had been bidding against each other in order to get products for their concerns. In this way food was made much more expensive than it would have been had one purchaser gone outside of Germany. So the Government prohibited all firms from buying food abroad. Travelling agents of the “Z. E. G.” went to these countries and bought all of the supplies available at a fixed price. Then these resold to German dealers at cost.
Such drastic measures were necessitated by the public demand that every one share alike. The Government found it extremely difficult to control the food. Farmers and rich landowners insisted upon slaughtering their own pigs for their own use. They insisted upon eating the eggs their chickens laid, or, upon sending them through the mail to friends at high prices, thereby evading the egg card regulations. But the Government stepped in and farmers were prohibited from killing their own cattle and from sending foods to friends and special customers. Farmers had to sell everything to the “Z. E. G.” That was another result of State Socialism.
The optimistic statements of Herr von Batocki about the food outlook led the people to believe that by fall conditions would be greatly improved but instead of becoming more plentiful food supplies became more and more organised until all food was upon an absolute ration basis.