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Ersatz is a German word literally meaning substitute or replacement. Although it is used as an adjective in English, it is a noun in German. In German orthography noun phrases formed are usually represented as a single word, forming compound nouns such as Ersatzteile ("spare parts") or Ersatzspieler ("substitute player"). While the term used in English often implies that the substitution is of unsatisfactory or inferior quality compared with the "real thing", in German, similar connotations are not inherent and depend purely on the factual context; e.g. Ersatzteile ("spare parts") is a technical expression without any implication about quality, whereas in other cases it may mean things of poorer quality, e.g. Kaffeeersatz (a coffee substitute not made from coffee beans).
World War I
Another example of the word's usage in Germany exists in the German naval construction programs at the beginning of the 20th century. In this context, the phrasing "Ersatz (shipname)" indicates that a new, larger or more capable ship was a replacement for an ageing or lost vessel. Because German practice was not to reveal the name of a new ship until its launch, this meant that the ship was known by its "Ersatz (shipname)" throughout its construction. At the end of World War I, the last three ships of the planned Mackensen class of battlecruisers were redesigned and initially known simply as the Ersatz Yorck class, since the first ship was considered to be a replacement for the lost armored cruiser Yorck.
The Allied naval blockade of Germany throttled maritime commerce with Germany, forcing Germany and Austria-Hungary to develop substitutes for products such as chemical compounds and provisions. More than 11,000 ersatz products were sold in Germany during the war. Patents for ersatz products were granted for 6000 varieties of beer, wine and lemonade; 1000 kinds of soup cubes; 837 types of sausage and 511 assortments of coffee.
Ersatz products developed in Germany and Austria-Hungary during this time included:
- synthetic rubber (Kautschuk)(produced from petroleum)
- benzene for heating oil (coal gas)
- industrial lubricants made by extracting oils from coal tar and brown-coal slags
- synthetic camphor replaced imported natural camphor
- gun cotton was replaced by nitrate crepe paper made from cellulose
- glycerin was made from sugar rather than fats
- gypsum yielded sulphur
- pigeon guano were used to make fertilizer
- flowers and weeds were processed to make alcohol for ammunition
- rosins and gums were extracted from coal derivatives
- tea composed of roasted barley, grasses, wild flowers, ground raspberry leaves or catnip
- coffee substitute using roasted acorns, chicory and beechnuts (stretched with caramel-flavoured raw sugar and beet flower later in the war)
- butter was replaced by curdled milk, sugar and food colouring
- cooking oil was replaced by a mixture of beets, carrots, turnips and spices
- salad oil was 99 per cent mucilage
- eggs were replaced by yellow-coloured corn or potato flour
- ground European beetles (cockchafers) and linden wood replaced fats
- sausage was made of water, plant fibres, animal scraps and blood - (the infamous 'war sausage' which was equated to 'a mouthful of sawdust')
- bouillon cubes were made 70-90 per cent of cooking salt instead of meat extracts
- wheat flour was stretched by adding potato flour and powdered hay
- chocolates and cocoa were replaced by ground cocoa shells and mixed pure pepper*
- oil and sunflower 'cakes' replaced corn and oats as horse feed
- rapeseed, poppy and mustard 'cakes' replaced green feed for cattle
- paper, peat, reeds, bulrushes and free-growing stinging nettle fibres replaced cotton in textiles
- wood and paper were used for shoe soles
Germany also stretched its supply of gasoline with 'gasohol' (Benzolspiritus), which consisted of 75 parts petrol to 25 parts distilled alcohol.
World War II
In World War II, Ersatzbrot (substitute bread) made of potato starch, frequently stretched with extenders such as sawdust, was furnished to soldiers as Kommissbrot, a dark German bread baked from rye and other flours used for military rations, and also to prisoners of war. One recipe discovered in the Food Providing Ministry in Berlin, labeled "(Top Secret) Berlin 24.X1 1941," contained 50% bruised rye grain, 20% sliced sugar beets, 20% "tree flour" (sawdust), and 10% minced leaves and straw.
During the Siege of Leningrad, its citizens were given ersatz flour instead of actual wheat flour (of which there was an extremely limited supply of then) by the Soviet authorities. The lack of proper food with any nutrition meant that the city residents not only starved but became vulnerable to deadly illnesses and diseases (such as dysentery) owing to their weakened physical conditions. As a result, the word ersatz entered as a pejorative into Russian and other Slavic languages.
In Britain, this was additionally popularised as an adjective from the experiences of thousands of U.S., British, and other English-speaking combat personnel, primarily airmen, who were captured in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. These Allied prisoners of war were given ersatz goods such as Ersatzkaffee, an inferior Getreidekaffee or "grain coffee" as a coffee substitute by their German captors.
In the Eastern Bloc, many agricultural goods could not be produced domestically, such as tea, coffee, nuts, and citrus fruits. These were generally imported from abroad with scarce foreign currency reserves, or inferior substitutes were produced domestically. In 1977, the East German coffee crisis resulted in the introduction of many coffee substitutes, which were generally rejected by the population. Replacements for orangeat and succade were made from candied carrot and unripe tomatoes.
When people are asked to choose an ersatz good, they tend to prefer a substitute from the same category as the good they desire to a goal-derived substitute, one that meets the same goal. For instance, a person who desires a gourmet chocolate is more likely to choose another, less expensive chocolate as a substitute than a different kind of dessert or snack. Because such "within-category" substitutes are easier to compare to the desired good, however, those that are inferior are less effective than "cross-category" substitutes that fulfill the same goal. People are more able to notice their inferiority during consumption, which leads them to be less satisfying than goal-derived substitutes from different taxonomic categories.
During the First World War in Germany and Austria-Hungary, people succumbed to sickness from the consumption of ersatz goods.
In Austria, the term 'Vienna sickness' was coined after malnutrition from was linked to a cause of the tuberculosis epidemic (10,000 reported cases)
In Germany, Princess Blücher suffered from influenza in 1916, suggesting that she was suffering from "ersatz illness". She writes: "everyone is feeling ill from too many chemicals in the hotel food. I don't believe that Germany will ever be starved out, but she will be poisoned out first with these substitutes."
- Backstop resources
- Claytons, a word used in Australian and New Zealand English
- Giffen Good, a good for which there is no ersatz replacement, causing demand to rise with prices
- Mises, Ludwig von (1949). "War and Autarky". Human Action.
A substitute is a good which is either less suitable or more expensive or both less suitable and more expensive than the proper good which it is designed to replace.
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