The past teaches us how to cook in times of energy crisis

During the Berlin Blockade, the Soviets shut off power to West Berlin. In the winter of 1948/49 there was no heating at all, there was a cooking box for cooking.

Women prepare meals at a table in 1948. dpa/Georg Goebel

A few years ago, an elderly neighbor in our apartment building in Neukölln told me about the cooking box she used to finish cooking the meal during the Berlin blockade. It sounded like a story from a dark, long-ago past. Just like my mother’s stories, which were about how, as a child, she and the whole family were looking for beechnuts in the forest to get oil from them, and about the only heated room in the house: the kitchen. They were stories that sent a shiver down your spine when you thought about how small beechnuts are and how pleasant the heated apartment and stove that was always on.

I have to think about the cooking box again these days, yes I am considering buying one in the energy crisis. The crate is a heat-insulating container in which you place a pot with already heated food so that it can cook to the end without any energy input. The neighbor said that she always put her crate in bed under a duvet.

Electricity for private households in West Berlin was only available for four hours a day

During the Berlin Blockade, West Berlin lacked energy. During the night of June 23/24, 1948, the Soviets shut down the Golpa-Zschornewitz power plant in Poland. It was about 140 kilometers southwest of Berlin and had supplied the city with electricity. Little or no electricity was supplied from other power plants under Soviet control. The blockade of the access routes to West Berlin from June 24 also prevented the supply of coal, so that neither the power plants in the western sectors of Berlin nor the population could be adequately supplied.

This winter, practically nobody in Berlin could heat, electricity was only available for private households between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. during the day and between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. at night. You had to use this period to heat up your food so that it could then finish cooking in the cooking box. The two or three hours a day that Berlin’s Mayor Franziska Giffey believes it is possible to turn off the electricity seem bearable in view of this.

You can never rely on the fact that the past is gone – even if today the cooking box is called Thermobox and is made of polystyrene – and not a wooden box lined with straw.

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