Stunde Null

For the film, see Zero Hour (film).

Stunde Null is the German language equivalent of "zero hour", a term taken from military planning that indicates the beginning of some operation or event. In Germany, Stunde Null has a particular reference: midnight on May 8, 1945, when the capitulation of the Nazi forces' high command came into effect, marking the end of World War II in Europe. The period immediately thereafter became known as the Nachkriegszeit ("time after the war").


When the Soviets (who were the first occupying power) arrived in Berlin, they saw a city devastated by the air raids and street fighting. It was described as a Geisterstadt ("ghost town").

Extent of the devastation

Das Aufräumen ("The clean-up")

The job of cleaning up the city fell to the Soviets, as they were first (the Western Allies arrived on July 4, 1945) to enter the city. According to them, the clean-up operation would last 12 years.

On May 29, all women aged between 15 and 65 were conscripted as Trümmerfrauen (rubble women). In all, 60,000 women worked to rebuild Berlin.

Rations and starvation

The biggest problem that the Berliners had to face was the threat of starvation. German war-time ration cards were no longer valid. Any remaining rations were either used to feed Russian troops or stolen by hungry Germans.

On May 15, the Russians introduced a new five-tier ration-card system: The highest tier was reserved for intellectuals and artists; rubble women and Schwerarbeiter (manual workers) received the second-tier card, which was more valuable to them than the 12 Reichsmark they received for cleaning up a thousand bricks; the lowest card, nicknamed the Friedhofskarte (cemetery ticket) was issued to housewives and the elderly.

During this period, the average Berliner was around 6 to 9 kg (13 to 20 lb) underweight.

Alternative sources of food

Due to the meagre rations, the black market thrived, and thousands traded on it daily. Payment was either in cigarettes or by bartering. There were even rumours of cannibalism and the trading of human flesh.

Two new words entered the German vocabulary during 1945:*

Literally, "to hamster". This meant to travel into the countryside, in order to exchange possessions for food. Anything from watches and jewelry to blankets and rugs were exchanged for very small amounts of food.
* NOTE: This dating is incorrect, as the term is mentioned in Chapter 14 of the post World War I (1919) book, "Vagabonding Through Changing Germany", by Harry Alverson Franck
This meant to steal to survive. This word is etymologically based on the surname of Cardinal Josef Frings, a senior figure in the Catholic Church of Cologne, who (in accordance with long-standing Catholic tradition[1]) famously gave his blessing to those who had to steal in order to feed their family.

Der Elendswinter ("The miserable winter", 1945–46)

The winter of 1945–46 was one of the coldest in living memory. Temperatures plummeted to −30 °C (−22 °F) and there was no protection from the biting cold in the bombed-out houses. About 40,000 people suffered from hypothermia and 1,000 died as a result. The Berlin Magistrat (municipal authority) created official Wärmeräume (warm rooms) for people to warm themselves in.


In 1946, Berlin was a haven of crime. There were an average of 240 robberies and five murders a day, and most criminals were the destitute and homeless. In the areas east of the future Oder-Neisse line, Red Army soldiers committed cruelties against the German population, including countless rapes. Allied soldiers sometimes harassed German civilians too. Problems with law and order occurred in the areas that had still been controlled by the Wehrmacht on May 8, 1945 (e.g. western Austria, Bavaria, South Tyrol (Italy), East Frisia and Schleswig-Holstein), the date of the final German surrender.


In 1985, Richard von Weizsäcker, the President of West Germany at that time, stated "There was no "Stunde Null" but we had the chance for a new beginning" ("Es gab keine Stunde Null, aber wir hatten die Chance zu einem Neubeginn."[2]), implying that a true and total restart never occurred in postwar Germany. The term Stunde null implies that the past is over and nothing from former times continues to exist past the Stunde null. Experts in German culture find that this term is divisive and is a barrier to the collective German psyche and their ability to deal with the recent past. The concept of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coping with the past) is what experts allude to and Stunde null conflicts directly with this idea, necessitating its judicious use.

Use in music

See also


External links

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