Tuesday 11 October 2011


"Bau Auf!  Bau Auf!  Bau Auf!  Bau Auf!" shouted the "trummerfrauen" in columns of 10 to 20 as they cleared the 400 million cubic tons of rubble from Berlin's streets, assembly-line style, with only picks, hand-winches and their bare hands.  In 1945, the Allies ordered all women between the ages of 15 and 50 to clear rubble from the streets of Germany's bombed out cities like Dresden, Hamburg, Cologne and above all, Berlin.  During the raids on the capital city, 78,000 citizens had died.  Furthermore, thousands of Berliners had been killed on the battlefiled or were imprisoned in POW camps in Russia.  

With a ratio of 16 women for every 10 men in Berlin, it fell to the "frauen", dressed in head scarves, aprons and old shoes, to rebuild their city.  Rain or shine, wind or snow, everyday the rubble women would collect old bricks, clean them and stack them to be used again for new buildings.   Out of the city's 265,000 buildings, 48,000 were obliterated including one-third of its apartments and one-quarter of its industrial buildings during World War II.  Berlin's streets overflowed with bricks up to the first story of each building; in fact 75 million tons of debris covered the capital city accounting for one-seventh of the nation's rubble.  The damage was not contained to the surface, but also went underground as 90 Unterbahn (subway) stations were bombed as well.

To add insult to injury, because of a low supply of food after the war, Berliners were on average 6 to 9 kilograms underweight leading to malnutrition and the spread of diseases:  4000 died from cholera in August of 1945.  Post-war Berlin's population plummeted to 2.8 million (formerly 4.3 million).  Even so, the trummerfrauen managed to rebuild their city.  It had been estimated that it would take the women 25 years to rebuild Berlin; however, one rubble woman remembers sorting her last bricks in 1959. 

Although the Allies commissioned some German stamps to be printed in honour of the trummerfrauen in 1945, some official memorials were not built until 60 years after the war.  Rather than seeing themselves as heroines, Berlin's rubble women simply did what had to be done, with very little fuss.  The trummerfrauen rebuilt their city, one brick at a time.

Photo courtesy http://art.members.sonic.net

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