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").
Extent of the devastation
- 48,000 of the 245,000 buildings in Berlin were destroyed.
- 1/3 of all private apartments were totally destroyed.
- 23% of industrial capacity was obliterated and the rest was dismantled for transportation by the Russians in the demontage (disassembly).
- There were 75 million tons of rubble, which equated to 1/7 of all the rubble in Germany.
- All electricity, gas and water supplies were destroyed:
- It was forbidden to wash one's whole body.
- The transport network was badly destroyed:
- The underground stations had been flooded and over 90 of them had been bombed.
- The first buses resumed service on May 19.
- 78,000 deaths:
- 50,000 victims of the air raids.
- 977 suicides.
- A further 4,000 died daily in August 1945, because of the cholera and diphtheria epidemics.
- The population shrank and the demographics were significantly altered:
- 4.3 million lived in Berlin before the war, but only 2.8 million afterwards.
- 1/4 of the population were over 60.
- 1 in 10 was under 30.
- 16 women to every 10 men.
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 German war-time ration cards were no longer valid.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 underweight.
Alternative sources of food
Due to the meagre rations, the black market came into its own, 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.
- 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) 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 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 already Red Army soldiers committed cruelties against the German population. Allied soldiers sometimes harassed German civilians too. Panic and huge uncertainty instantly created much damage in the areas still controlled by the Nazi German Wehrmacht on May 8, 1945 (e.g. western Austria, Bavaria, South Tyrol (Italy), East Frisia and Schleswig-Holstein).
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."), 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
- An EP released in 1995 by German techno artist Cosmic Baby was entitled Stunde Null.
- The English band British Sea Power entitled the fourth track "Stunde Null" from their 2011 LP Valhalla Dancehall.
- The German Gothic-Metal-Band Eisheilig released a track named "Die Stunde Null" on their 2009 album Imperium.
- see e. g. St. Thomas Aquinas, S. th. II/II 66 VII
- Dokument: Rede: Zum 40. Jahrestag der Beendigung des Krieges in Europa und der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft. Ansprache des Bundespräsidenten Richard von Weizsäcker am 8. Mai 1985 in der Gedenkstunde im Plenarsaal des Deutschen Bundestages