Associated with Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum, Freie Universität Berlin

Picnic with contemporary witnesses

“Hungry or full? Let's talk about food shortages and abundance! Ask story-tellers at a narrative picnic how they have experienced the years of hunger in the post-war period and share with them your experiences of eating in abundance and your dietary preferences. There will also be typical post-war dishes for tasting.” 

This was the invitation to a picnic with contemporary witnesses, which took place at the Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum, Freie Universität Berlin on the afternoon of July 15th, 2017.

This invitation was extended to six women aged between 78 and 98 years old and 11 young people, students and employees of the Freie Universität. They sat around a table in the garden and talked to each other about how the people of Berlin had fed themselves in the years after the Second World War. 

Participants at the Picnic of Contemporary witnesses sharing food stories

Photo credit: Katharina Rosenkranz

Exciting and tragic stories came to light. As a 10-year-old, one of the seniors remained alone with her small siblings in the Soviet-occupied East Prussia. Because they had nothing to eat, the children joined the treks to the west and came to Berlin. But there, too, the food situation was not much better. The food was strictly rationed and many people did not enough to survive. Thus, those who could afford it bought food in the black market. All the others went to the countryside to ask the farmers for food, to search the cropped fields for remains, or to collect wild-growing vegetables, berries or herbs. 

This latter course of action linked to the nettle soup, which was served at the picnic and which had been prepared following a post-war recipe. Other typical post-war food on the picnic table were a potato bread and false liver sausage, which contains no meat. In order to establish a link with today's food situation, the picnic guests were also served delicious modern dishes such as a vegetable quiche and polenta and a blueberry tart. 

While young people have no problem throwing food away, the experience of starvation makes it impossible for the older people to do that. Everything has to be eaten up to the last crumb. The picnic gave participants the opportunity to share their stories and appreciate each others' point of view.