25 January 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 3

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English. In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week.

The following excerpt describes the theft of valuable metals. This sort of thing has already returned to my part of the world -- not long ago Toronto police reported that brass nameplates and flower urns were being removed from cemeteries and sold as scrap. I haven't seen any VIA Rail trousers yet, though...
During the inflation every little item, especially raw materials, took on an incredibly high value. In the regulated economy, the most basic foodstuffs were available for fractions of a cent. Currency depreciation had made rent nearly meaningless. Eventually it cost about as much to rent a two room apartment for a year as it used to for a week. But copper and bronze had great value. They had to be purchased from abroad at a high price. 
And now the doorhandles and brass rods that held down carpets were being stolen, and soon even the carpets themselves. In the end, thieves risked going after public monuments. Prudent municipalities had some statues locked away in warehouses. Thieves stooped so low as to rob graves. In Stahnsdorf they stole metal funerary urns, and a woman praying in the St Pauli cemetery on Berlin's Seestrasse saw them carry off a bronze monument weighing three hundred pounds. They stole grave fences and borders everywhere. Yes, even the manhole covers over the sewer system appealed to the metal thieves. The couplings and leather straps were stolen from railway cars, and the plush covers were cut away from the seats. Some people even went around wearing trousers that had the same pattern as railway upholstery.