Food rations, which had been adequate during wartime, fell to an existential minimum in peacetime. Hungry, freezing, living in ruins and huts, the Germans had now become a nation of beggars and vagabonds, thieves and black marketeers: "foraging" in the fields, haggling on the black market, stealing from coal-trains, or smuggling at the borders.
The "Essener Tagblatt" newspaper of 31st May 1950 reported on children who had become organised as gangs of smugglers at the German-Dutch border during the early post-war period:
"But every customs officer encounters children almost every day, who have been sent on ahead of gangs and act as a kind of reconnaissance mission. An officer could let them [. . .] pass, in order to catch the actual smugglers. However, most often he doesn't, because it's quite usual and more than likely that the youths have become businessmen themselves. None the less, if they aren't carrying contraband, the gang following them has been warned and escapes arrest.
It can also happen that the children, laden with coffee, cocoa or cigarettes, take a threatening stance towards the officers, and more than once tough gangs of children have crossed the border before the eyes of the customs without let or hindrance. Because these children know exactly that they don't have to fear being shot, unlike adults engaged in the same activity. Young lads whose contraband has been confiscated meanwhile have come up with the idea of taking coffee from other children, so that they don't have to arrive home empty-handed. Gangs of children, which are made up of boys and girls, often conceal themselves for hours and nights in hiding places. Under-age mothers are often found at the border. And even when they are finally caught and are taken into custody, with proudly swelling lungs they sing the song of the young smuggling activists:
If you don't want to work, / but you want to earn some cash, / you have to go a smugglin'. / For a shavin' razor / you'll get a choc'late bar'; / if you get caught then, / that's tough luck for you.
The Allies tried to alleviate hunger and malnutrition among children with "Hoover school meals". Named after the 31st American President Herbert C. Hoover, who rendered outstanding service providing for children after the First and Second World Wars, these free school meals were to guarantee one warm meal daily for every school child. This could be milk-based food or stews with regional ingredients. The children brought table-ware, in the form of a metal container and a spoon, to school, where they were served.