East Germans and Bananas

“One of the things that everybody talks about… and right after the wall fell… everybody said that the East Germans were just so happy to finally be able to eat a banana and that was something that a lot of those older people there reiterated to us was that the one thing they really love about Germany no longer being under the East German socialist regime, is that now they have access to fresh bananas.”

The informant studied abroad in Germany around three years ago. For one of her German language classes that she took while in an area that was part of the former East Germany, the class went to an apartment complex where a lot of old people lived (not like nursing homes in America) for tea and coffee and to simply sit and talk with them. Most of the residents did not speak English because of it not being a priority over the German and the Russian they learned in light of the communist ties to the countries, so the informant spoke to the residents completely in German.

With the wall only falling in late 1989, most of these residents lived in East Germany during the socialist regime and were there when the wall finally came down. The informant was able to get a first hand telling of their experiences, their likes and dislikes about the wall, what had changed versus what was the same and more. For the informant, she saw this as a wonderful chance to get the firsthand account because most of that generation will be gone in fifty years, meaning that the stories about East Germany will not be able to be relayed in the same way.

The folklore comes from the idea that East Germans did not have access to a lot of fresh fruits because they only imported goods from communist countries or used what they were able to produce at home. However, Germany does not have the sort of climate that is amenable to a lot of basic fruits, like oranges and bananas, so having them became a rarity due to the lack of imports and their inability to produce them themselves. It also was relayed to the informant in response to the question “is there something that you miss or is there something that you wish was like it used to be?”

The informant relayed this story to me while driving us back to Los Angeles. This informant is a relative.

I think that the informant being able to get a firsthand account from many people who lived under the socialist regime was a great way of getting their folklore, even if it was not intentional. Being that many did not speak English also means that those who are able to glean the folklore from them is limited to those who speak the languages they understand. Her being able to speak German allowed someone who doesn’t speak it at all, like me, to learn some of their folklore and a little about what life was like under the socialist regime in Germany.