Prices on the postwar black market weren’t just a product of supply and demand. Demand for almost everything was high, supply low. There were price fluctuations for some products, especially fresh food or grain. Otherwise, prices staid surprisingly constant, even between different cities and their different black markets.
Professional black marketeers – called Schieber — grew powerful enough to set stable prices for many goods. These big racketeers ran organizations of small-time black marketeers who did the footwork. During the hunger protests in 1946 and 1947, Germans harangued against the Schieber for setting prices too high. “Hang the Schieber!” they wrote on their signs. The Schieber grew fat and wealthy on the backs of the common people.
Yet the black market was the only truly functioning economy. No one had a choice but to pay the market prices. I’ve gathered many examples from my research, which show just how horribly expensive the black market was.
First, keep in mind the average worker might earn about 150 marks a month in postwar Germany.
1 pound of meat = 3 bottles of wine OR 15 cigarettes OR 80 marks
1 pound of coffee = 500 marks
1 pound of butter = 250 marks
1 pound of bacon = 200 marks
1 pound sugar = 90 marks
1 pound flour = 30 marks
A 3 pound loaf of bread = 25 marks
A man’s suit = 1,000 marks
A ladies’ dress = 800 marks
1 bottle of schnapps = 200 marks
1 pair of nylons = 200 marks