German Language Blog

“Westpakete” Posted by on Oct 25, 2010 in Culture, Food, Traditions

I was born in the ehemaligen (former) German Democratic Republic. And although I was still very young at the time als die Berliner Mauer fiel (when the Berlin Wall came down) and Germany was reunited, I can still recall the Mangelversorgung (scanty supply) that occurred damals (in those days). For instance, I can remember that I once wanted to have an ordinary Malbuch (coloring book) with neat drawings, which catch the eye of a child easily. But this and other things, which are taken for granted nowadays, were simply not erhältlich (obtainable).

Don’t get me wrong. No one was von Hungersnot geplagt (affected by famine). The assortment of the GDR was generally mangelhaft (deficient). Aus diesem Grund (for this reason), Westdeutsche (West Germans) had begun to send sogenannte (so called) Westpakete (West Parcels) to their Familienangehörigen (family members) who lived in the Eastern part of Germany. At the times of the Eisernen Vorhang (Iron Curtain), the people who lived in West Germany and East Germany could hardly visit each other because of the Einreisebeschränkungen (entry restrictions).

Since I myself cannot remember unpacking a “Westpaket”, I got my memories mainly aus Erzählungen von Verwandten und Bekannten (from narrations from relatives and friends). Usually, the parcels contained everyday products like Süßigkeiten (sweets), coffee, shower gel, soap, tea, Backzutaten (baking ingredients), and even Kleidungsstücke (garments). People especially loved the Düfte (scents) of the parcels, which perfumed their houses because similar products of the GDR were usually more or less duftlos (scentless). People always report that soap smelled like soap and that chocolate tasted like chocolate.

Some parcels even had a doppelten Boden (double bottom) where the senders hid things, which were streng verboten (strictly forbidden), such as Zeitschriften (magazines) and Geld (money), D-Mark. The magazines very often out-dated editions but still an acceptable gift, as well as the money, which enabled people to shop in so called “Intershops” – special shops in the GDR where exclusively “West Products” were available.

Of course, it is impossible to give a detailed report about “Westpakete” in a single post since I am sure that every citizen of the former GDR can tell his own story about it. But I hope I could give you a brief look behind the curtain.


ehemalig – former
als die Berliner Mauer fiel – when the Berlin Wall came down
(die) Mangelversorgung – scanty supply
damals – in those days
(das) Malbuch – coloring book
erhältlich – obtainable
von Hungersnot geplagt sein – to be affected by famine
mangelhaft – deficient
aus diesem Grund – for this reason
(die) Westdeutsche [pl.] – West Germans
sogenannte – so called
(das) Paket – parcel
(die) Familienangehörigen [pl.] – family members
(die) Einreisebeschränkung [sgl.] – entry restriction
aus Erzählungen – from narrations
Verwandte und Bekannte – here: relatives and friends (lit. relatives and acquaintances)
(die) Süßigkeiten [usually used in the pl.] – sweets
(die) Backzutat – baking ingredient
(das) Kleidungsstück – garment
(der) Duft – scent
duftlos – scentless
(der) doppelte Boden – double bottom
streng verboten – strictly forbidden
(die) Zeitschrift – magazine
(das) Geld – money
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About the Author: Sandra Rösner

Hello everybody! I studied English and American Studies, Communication Science, and Political Science at the University of Greifswald. Since I have been learning English as a second language myself for almost 20 years now I know how difficult it is to learn a language other than your native one. Thus, I am always willing to keep my explanations about German grammar comprehensible and short. Further, I am inclined to encourage you to speak German in every situation. Regards, Sandra


  1. Heike:

    Thank you for sharing your story! I grew up in West Germany, so everything was fine there. My parents though were born what was formerly Schlesien and left during the second World War. I know from stories, many of there family members and friends didn’t make it to cross over in time. When the Wall finally came down there were able to reconnect with family and friends that they Haven’t seen since that time. That most have been very emotional for them. I left Germany in 1988, one year before the Wall came down. I am so sorry that I missed all the excitement!!!