What made the First World War so unforgettable

The home front


With the beginning of the war, food prices rose immediately. At the same time, the pay of the drafted soldiers was low. Many families were immediately in need - especially because there were almost no kindergartens for small children, so that the mothers were often unable to go to work.

The food supply became increasingly difficult for most of the people during the war. The hunger spread. It reached its peak in the so-called "turnip winter" of 1916/17, in which many people almost exclusively had to feed on turnips, which have little nutritional value.

In addition, this winter was extremely cold, with an absolutely inadequate supply of heating materials such as coal and wood. For weeks the temperatures were far below zero, down to minus 20 degrees were measured. Food was soon collected by the authorities and only given out on grocery cards.

An example of a daily ration: five slices of bread, five grams of butter, 20 grams of sugar and a bite of meat. The rations fluctuated constantly, but they were never enough. 700,000 people died of starvation in Germany during the First World War.

At the same time, however, there was also a flourishing black market where the wealthy could stock up. Many people viewed this as a great injustice and failure of the state, the credibility of which was therefore rapidly declining.

Confidence in the state was not strengthened by the nutritional advice of the authorities or the official war cookbooks. Much advice seemed like mockery, for example that one should chew every bite dozen of times in order to better utilize the food; also war cookbook recommendations to cook with butter or veal, which in reality were practically impossible to obtain.

The situation was particularly dramatic for people in German sanatoriums and nursing homes. Thousands there were viewed as "useless eaters" and starved to death.


Industrial production, especially armaments production that was "vital to the war effort" could not be sustained in the course of the war without mobilizing all forces at home. In Germany, the "Aid Law" was passed at the end of 1916.

According to this, all men between the ages of 17 and 60 were obliged to work in the armaments industry or in another war-important company. Men who were employed in agriculture were an exception.

The work of women was particularly important for the functioning of the homeland during the war. They were used more and more for work that had previously been firmly in the hands of men: as conductors, road workers, drivers.

But they were most heavily obliged by the armaments industry: for example in ammunition factories, where they worked up to 13 hours a day under very dangerous and unhealthy conditions. For the same work they usually received far less money than the men because they supposedly did less.

Physical and emotional injuries

The longer the war lasted, the more disabled men came back home. They remained a living memory of the horrors of war for many years. Men with no arms or legs, men with missing parts of their faces. In the time of shortage, it was extremely difficult for them to get prostheses. That only improved after the war.

Mental injuries were also widespread, with estimates suggesting more than two million mentally ill soldiers. It can be assumed that many suffered from the so-called post-traumatic stress syndrome, as it often occurs today with soldiers after missions. At that time, however, there was no therapy for the sick.

At best, those treated were those in whom what was then called a "nerve shock" had been triggered, for example by the close detonation of a grenade, and who sometimes trembled uncontrollably all over their bodies. But they were treated like guinea pigs, treated with electric shocks and other convulsive methods, and often set up as simulants.

The declared goal of their doctors and psychiatrists was to make the treatment more uncomfortable for them than the deployment at the front and to induce them to go back to the front rather than stay sick.

The neurologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud called these doctors "machine guns behind the front lines". Because the men, who could no longer control their bodies, were not simulators, they were victims of the war, and they often fell into the hands of torturers in doctor's coats at home.


The powered airplane was invented a few years before the beginning of the war. Now it quickly became an important weapon of war: it was used to observe and bomb enemy lines. It also bombed factories behind the front, for example the BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen was attacked by French aircraft.

But civilians were also targeted by the Luftwaffe, especially in southwest Germany, which was partly within range of the Entente aircraft. The civilian population was afraid of these new, unpredictable attacks from which there was no protection.

Dozens of people died, especially in Freiburg. The windows had to be darkened at night, violating this was a criminal offense. The First World War was the first bomb war in history.

War bonds and collections

The war lasted longer and longer and became more and more expensive. The population in Germany was supposed to make a financial contribution beyond tax payments and was asked to do so in countless newspaper advertisements and on posters.

It meant "drawing war bonds", lending the state money for the war. Many people did that, and for them the defeat in the war meant the loss of their money.

There were repeated calls to donate items that were important for the war. Above all, metal was in great demand, which was needed in enormous quantities for weapons and ammunition. So people brought pots, irons, bicycles and much more to the collection points.