My pair of mocha cups (see below) were the gift of a friend whose father, a native Berliner who always kept a suitcase in the city, as the song goes (lyrics in English here). Where he got them from, I’m not sure, but they apparently appeared on the scene in the early 1990s and were likely from the Palace’s Espresso und Moccabar.
The ‘Coffee Crisis’ of 1977 and the Palace of the Republic
East Germans loved their coffee. By the 1970s, they were spending the equivalent of 3.3 billion East German marks a year on it, almost as much as they spent on furniture and more than double that used for shoes. The GDR acquired approximately 20% its coffee on the world market using some of its limited hard currency to do so. When Brazil’s coffee harvest failed in 1976, it caused the price of beans to skyrocket and forced East German authorities to spend almost 700 mil. DDR marks, or almost five times the budgeted amount, on this staple. Coupled with the increased price of oil, another product the GDR had to acquire using hard currency, the strain on the East German economy was considerable.
The regime reacted in several ways. First, it addressed some of the need by agreeing to trading ‘bullets for beans’ with coffee producing allies, chiefly Vietnam but also Anglola and Ethiopia. Although Vietnamese beans were of inferior quality to the Brazilian product, this move did help address some of pressures on the coffee front. Second, ‘Kosta‘, the cheapest line of coffee available in the GDR, was pulled from store shelves. Third, restaurants were instructed to remove or restrict the sale of coffee. However, the most notorious measure was the introduction of ‘Kaffee-Mix‘ (also known colloquially as ‘Muckefuck‘ – pron. mookah-fook), a blend of approximately half coffee and half pea meal, chicory, rye and sugar beet (‘Economy of the German Democratic Republic’, Wikipedia). To say it was not well received would be an understatement. The collective memory of Ersatzkaffee from the lean war years would have been very much present in 1970s East Germany and the introduction of ‘Muckefuck‘, along with the other measures, was seen by many as a failure of the socialist system to provide its charges with the necessities of life.
Despite occupying a place of privilege in the supply chain, the Palace’s restaurants and cafés were not exempted from the restrictions placed on the serving of coffee which were implemented throughout the GDR in 1977. (Though it’s hard to imagine ‘Muckefuck‘ sullying the surface of my mocha cups !) Thankfully for all concerned, the crisis largely passed by 1978 with the return of the world coffee market to a more normal price structure. (Moritz Holfelder: Palast der Republik: Aufstieg und Fall einer symbolischen Gebäudes, Ch. Links, Berlin, 2008. pg. 62)
After the fall of the Wall and the opening of East German files, the scale citizen protests over the country’s coffee troubles was revealed to be considerable and a cause of genuine concern for GDR authorities. Party files on the matter were found to be full of “Eingaben‘ (petitions), the only way East German citizens, lacking as they were any genuinely accountable, democratic representation, could express their concerns to their political masters. These petitions took the form of private letters to authorities and served as a means for the venting of frustrations out of the public eye. Sometimes, such complaints led to the problems being addressed, but more often they served the Party as a window into the public’s mood.