19/8/1916 Bread riots in Hamburg

Germany and Austria-Hungary are increasingly short of food. War mobilisation has taken agricultural workers from the land. Both countries have attempted to make up the shortfall with prisoners of war, but still a shortage of farm labourers has contributed to falling production. However, a larger factor in the Central Powers’ food crisis is the British naval blockade. Before the war, Germany imported food from overseas. It also imported nitrates from Chile to fertilise its land. Neither of these are accessible now, so the land is less productive and the shortfall cannot be replaced by American wheat.

The authorities in both countries are attempting to ensure that people have enough to eat, but their efforts are not always successful. In Austria-Hungary, problems are compounded by the reluctance of Tisza’s Hungarian government to supply Austria with food. Thriving black markets have arisen as those with the means to do so try to circumvent rationing rules. Rations have shrunk and black market prices have climbed to levels unaffordable to many.

In Hamburg, potatoes have been only intermittently available for most of the summer. Now tensions boil over as angry crowds (mostly women, youths and children) in working class districts smash their way into bakeries and loot the contents. The civil authorities have to call in the army to restore order, declaring a nightly curfew for unaccompanied minors.

Order returns to Hamburg, but the incident is a worrying sign of how social order and solidarity are breaking down under the pressures of war.

image source:

Queuing for bread in Vienna (Wien im Ersten Weltkrieg)

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