Socialist Bananas And Limited Ice Cream

One summer, shortly after we arrived in East Berlin, my parents and we children were out and about walking and enjoying the day, when we ran across a stall, which had a long line of East Germans patiently queued for whatever it was being sold.

My father being always curious, decided to look at what the stall had to offer: bananas! Since the queue was rather long, I was sent to mind my younger brother while sitting on a nearby bench, while he and my mother got in line, telling us we’d have bananas for a snack. I remember my Dad being excited because they were very cheap, and smelled good despite starting to have brown spots on a number of them. Later, Mom told me what had happened, while they were there. The line moved along at a fairly steady rate, so it wasn’t long before they were at the front. A plastic bag was handed to my Dad, and he happily started filling his bag with bananas.

My mother started nudging him – first discreetly, then a little harder, then hissed at him in his native Romblomanon to have a quick look at the other people. Puzzled, he did, only to realise that the other people in the queue behind him were glaring daggers at his back, and the others who were selecting their bananas were only taking a few pieces – perhaps only enough for one each of their family members, or enough to cut in half and share if they were a larger family. Nobody was filling an entire bag full, like Dad was!

Shamefacedly, Dad carefully put the bananas back, and refused the stall-minder’s saying they surely could get one each! He and my mother walked back to us, saying we’ll get bananas next time. When we were far enough away, Dad explained that we could get bananas any time we liked from the groceries in West Berlin, as much as we wanted, while the East Berliners could only get these whenever a different socialist country – probably somewhere in South America – sent them something like that, which would then be distributed to sell to the locals in stalls across the city, and once they were gone, they were not likely to get any until the next shipment, which might not happen until the next year. So, it was nicer to let them have their special treat, since we could get nicer, larger bananas when we went across the border.

But for the East Germans, that’s all they’d get.

My parents had a way of explaining things so we would understand and not complain if we didn’t get a thing. (If anyone encounters me in real life, this is why I have issues understanding why children aren’t better disciplined in this day and age.)

I don’t really know where the bananas came from. Dad thought maybe Cuba, or Venezuela.

The other memory I have of such stalls and lines involves ice cream. It was pretty hot that day (a different day from the bananas one), so Dad lined up for ice cream one day. But by the time he got there, they no longer had any ice cream (there had been only two flavors – vanilla, and chocolate; chocolate had run out first, then the vanilla) and all that was left were the little shaped wafer dishes that had been used to serve out a single scoop of ice cream per person, which the stall-minder gave to him as an apology. I remember not minding not getting ice cream, because I liked the wafer; and Dad making an especial point of getting a supply of neopolitain ice cream from West Berlin that weekend.

Some time afterward, I remember Dad telling us not to line up for the things that were sold by street seller unless they were a regularly available thing, like bratwurst, and only to do so to treat our friends, because we could always eat the delicious treats the East Germans were lining up for anytime we wanted, while they might not get those things at all. If we were out by ourselves, we would not line up for those things. The government was in charge of all the things that they would get; and things that they weren’t able to grow or manufacture themselves, well, those were special treats, that the government was able to arrange for. The ordinary Germans could enjoy them – in limited quantity – and if they missed out, oh well.

Speaking of bratwurst, I really miss, to this day, the bratwursts we ate there. I remember them well – fat slightly greyish-mostly-brown sausages, boiling in the cart, put between a sliced piece of brotchen, their juices softening the hard bread, which may or may not have had a thin swipe of butter on them. The sausages, when bitten into crunched as you got through the sausage skin, and I remember hurriedly wiping my chin with the edges of my bread to catch the delicious meat juices. The sausages were slightly salty, and a single one was filling.

We always patronised the bratwurst sellers; they were common enough that Dad didn’t feel bad about buying from them nor did he feel that he was depriving someone else of a treat by getting some for us. I’m rather glad about this, because eating bratwurst, especially on a cold autumn, winter or spring day, was a wonderful feeling, and I remember the men selling them being so pleased that we children were really enjoying the food.

To this day, I can still remember how tasty those bratwursts were.

6 thoughts on “Socialist Bananas And Limited Ice Cream

  1. Hyperion

    You were so lucky to experience socialist bananas and icecream shortages. I wasn’t allowed in East Germany when I was there so I had to get by with excess and plentiful. Thankfully, my grandparents and parents were post and pre-Depression era kids and they knew all about wise miserly ways. They could make anything out of nothing and so they never used their money for anything but the bare necessities. Naturally, I had to go along for the ride. 🙂

    1. R.K. Modena Post author

      Dad was actually rather excited about the bureucratic hiccup that lead to our living in a building that was normally reserved for Stazi and military families, because he understood that this meant we were going to be able to see the real East Berlin.

      Both of my parents were children of people who’d survived World War 2. Grandpa (Dad’s dad) could’ve claimed American citizenship for fighting alongside the Americans I’m told; a courtesy extended to his immediate offspring. Like my father, Grandpa’s heart was in the Philippines. I’m rather sad actually that my younger children never got to meet their paternal grandfather.

      That said, a lot of the habits of their parents passed on through my parents to me. Some of the stuff Dad used to do I cannot implement (Australian weather is too hot and unforgiving for me to keep a stash of water, soda and canned fruit/dry food to feed to the children in the case of a car breakdown -which makes me antsy, honestly- and I have a tendency to overprovision for outings) but I make up for it with what friends call the ‘zombie apocalypse pantry.’

      1. Hyperion

        I do get that food storage thing. We never go anywhere without proper Korean eats aboard. Tiger Mom never buys one of anything. It’s a case at severely discounted price or nothing. She even tries to bargain aggressively with people that have never heard of such a thing. She doesn’t like it if I pay sticker price for anything.

        1. R.K. Modena Post author

          One of my favorite presents from my husband is a bottle of one of my favorite perfumes that he was able to get at a very significant discount even though it wasn’t a sale in the store because the only bottle they had then was ‘old stock of samples’ – a full sized bottle that normally retailed at 80+ AUD, and he got it for thirty, because it was going to be in a plain box.

          That’s it.

          And yes, he told me the price because he knew I’d get a huge kick out of it on top of having the gift.

          And the expensive perfumes keep for YEARS AND YEARS.

          1. Hyperion

            Alright! Rhys has absorbed some fine Asian characteristics. Tiger Mom insists it is my job to buy her perfume and she likes the classic Channels. They don’t seem to go on sale much either. Finally, my oldest got a job as a cosmetologist for an upscale store and She gets sizeable discounts so she is my connection for affordable perfumes, plus she gets small samples free and that just keeps the whole family smelling like a spring garden. I have five girls living with me, Tiger Mom, two daughters, and two grand daughters so I have a lot of girl things that need to be in regular supply.

      2. Cybrludite

        I have the same problem with keeping any sort of emergency food stash in my pickup in south Louisiana. I go with Datrex or S.O.S. lifeboat rations, and just bring the water or Gatorade with me.

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