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I was working on my book at a café-bakery the other day and eavesdropped on a short conversation.

A man who looked to be in his late 70s had just paid for a loaf of bread. The cashier asked him if he had a Brotkarte (bread card). The old man seemed confused. “That’s all over with.”


“We haven’t had bread cards since after the war.” The man left with his bread.

The cashier, who was maybe my age, noticed me, and rolled her eyes as if to say, “What was that old fogey going on about?” A modern bread card is just a credit card-sized paper that gets stamped every time you buy a loaf of bread at a certain bakery. After 10 stamps, you get a free loaf. This is good. Germans bake some of the best bread I’ve ever had.

The cashier didn’t know, or didn’t care to remember, that a bread card used to be the ration stamps families were forced to use during and after World War 2. Depending on how old the man really was, he spent part or all of his childhood hungry. A bread card was immensely important to his survival. If ration cards were lost, they couldn’t be replaced.

No wonder when he heard the word Brotkarte, he thought of something that hasn’t existed in Germany in almost 70 years.