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Lack of toilet paper in socialism: two meters a year must be enough

Again no toilet paper in the shop? What scares the Germans, the Poles have experience with that. And they knew how to help each other.

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Why the Germans are hoarding toilet paper in the Corona era is a matter of concern to many people. Explaining it with an alleged national character is not very convincing, as every other people feels the same natural needs. It is clear that the first physical conflicts from supermarkets have already been reported. At least 600 toilet paper rolls have recently been stolen from a – currently closed – Nuremberg primary school. As a rare luxury item, this profane product has long stood out from any oat milk, however popular.

Toilet paper for waste paper

This experience is new for the West German population, the East Germans could tell their fellow citizens a lot – and so could the people from the former socialist brother countries. A Polish woman who is very well known to us, still young but old enough to have experienced the lack of economy in her home country in the early eighties, remembers how she appeared as a primary school student with the waste paper collected at home, with a little luck and the equivalent kilogram in exchange to receive a roll of toilet paper.

There were other ways to stock up on it, but they were tedious. As for other scarce goods such as meat, coffee or washing powder, the Poles had to stand in a queue, the first of which was lined up at night. Family members replaced each other, some citizens, especially the older ones, earned extra income as queues men. Fatigue and frustration sometimes led to jostling and worse, especially when you ended up going empty-handed despite the waiting.

Envy and laughter

However, if you had achieved your goal, you were given a wreath. In the literal sense. It was not made from laurel, however, but from the toilet paper itself – lined up roll by roll on a string that was hung around the neck and shoulder so that one could go home without loss. The sight of these lucky ones provoked laughter like fervent envy. On closer inspection, there was little left of the fascination of the object that was obtained: the toilet paper of the People’s Republic of Poland was unsightly gray, uneven, thick sheets with jagged edges; Contemporary witnesses report a consistency reminiscent of sandpaper.

Still, everyone wanted it, you just needed it. The Super Express newspaper reports that a February 1988 issue of the television news said that seven rolls of toilet paper were produced annually per inhabitant. However, the production is distributed extremely differently regionally: For the unfortunate city of Radom, only 0.07 rolls per inhabitant remained per year. This corresponds to a length of two meters. It is a wonder that the Polish revolution started from Gdansk and not from Radom.

Advantage newspaper subscription

Those who had used up their own, scarce supply had to help themselves. The “Super Express” also provides information on how this can be done: You bought a newspaper, crumpled up one page at a time, unfolded it again, crumpled it up – and at some point had a makeshift product that was no less uncomfortable to use than the emery paper, that officially served the same purpose. Apart from the annoying ink. Should we actually have to experience conditions in this country like in socialist Poland, then those who have a subscription to a newspaper have an additional advantage.

But it is not yet that far, and the Germans are not yet strolling through the streets with cloaked toilet chains. In Poland, by the way, there are also empty shelves in some drugstores. However, the young Polish woman already mentioned is not worried about her compatriots: the Poles, she is convinced, would be well prepared for a toilet paper crisis.

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