After a large number of homes were destroyed in the war, how did the average German become a homeowner again?

I know about the Marshall Plan, but this question does not refer to how the economy in general was handled.

Take an average German urban family in late 1945 for example. They lived in a flat which is now a piece of rubble, with all their possessions gone, and so is the situation of most of the city. Nearly everyone is homeless. The city is almost completely destroyed. Their government has collapsed, and the country is under foreign military occupation. What do they do now?

How did such an average family become a homeowner again? What if they lost everything during the bombings, even all kind of personal identification? How was it handled? In less than a few decades almost everyone had a home, a job, and a good standard of living.

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    They built new homes. Note that Germany had housing shortages into the (IIRC) 60s and even today German home ownership is only ~53% or so, so it is certainly not true to say "in less than a few decades almost everyone had a home". TBH I'm not sure what the question is. Germany rebuilt and created a vibrant economy (Marshall Aid helped greatly, but it wasn't the be-all-and-end-all some portray it as). Ordinary Germans found new jobs, saved up, and worked their way out of poverty.
    – Semaphore
    Dec 23, 2014 at 18:33
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    @Semaphore : yes, but what can you begin with towns full of suddenly homeless people? Were millions of apartments built by the state and leased to the citizens before they had any money to buy them or pay rent?
    – vsz
    Dec 23, 2014 at 18:47
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    So I guess the crux of your question is how displaced Germans were housed after WW2? If that's correct, I suggest you edit the question to make that clear.
    – Semaphore
    Dec 23, 2014 at 19:00
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    @Semaphore. There is a difference between "having a home" and "home ownership". Germany today has very strict laws about price control in the housing market. That is why many well-off people choose to rent their homes.
    – fdb
    Dec 23, 2014 at 20:51
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    I was under the impression that most Germans did not lose their homes (not all cities were bombed, not all parts of the cities that were bombed were targeted, and given WWII precision and efficiency, not all bombs hit anything). Do you have information that indicates otherwise? Dec 24, 2014 at 9:39

2 Answers 2


They lived in shanty towns and makeshift shelters until the government built apartment blocks. In many cases families lived in shacks or even tents for years. When I was a young boy I was friends with two girls whose mother had come from Germany and had been a little girl during the war. Once they showed me a handful of photographs her mother had saved. One of the photographs was of her home, which was a corrugated tin shack in a railroad yard. The dimensions of the shack were about 8 feet by 8 feet by 6 feet tall. This was where she and her mother lived. Her father was killed in the war and her grandfather had been a surgeon, but also died by that time.

Many Germans and other refugees lived in concentration camps run by the allies which were called "displaced persons" camps or "DP camps". In some cases the DP camps were Nazi concentration camps that had simply been taken over and reused by the allies. For example, the notorious concentration camp at Dachau was used as a DP camp after the war. By 1946 there were over 2,000 camps in Germany housing refugees, all run by allied soldiers.

There were so many homeless people that those who could be housed in concentration camps were the lucky ones. Many, like my friend's mother, lived in shacks that they hid away wherever they could. Millions of the less fortunate who were captured in allied dragnets were at first kept in open fields called "Rheinwiesenlager". These were large grass fields of thousands of acres surrounded with berms and guarded by soldiers with machine guns. After a few months the allies opened these camps and released millions of completely destitute people to shift however they could, or be funnelled to DP camps.

People took shelter in basements, old military bunkers, pillboxes, and even just caves made out of rubble. The only regular food were bread rations given out by the US Army. In 1946, the ration was 1275 calories, and to get this you had to sign up, be interrogated and risk being arrested for "war crimes" or be put into a "de-nazification" prison.

There are very few photographs from occupied Germany because it was illegal for Germans to own cameras and similar regulations were enforced to prevent allied soldiers owning cameras or from taking pictures. It was also illegal to take aerial photographs of occupied Germany.

This situation only persisted until 1948. In 1949, with the founding of the Republic of Germany the new government began large, subsidized housing programs, which included both apartment blocks and single-family homes. Even with these programs Germany has a relatively low rate of home ownership today and most Germans rent their dwellings. Two photographs below show the progression. The first, circa 1949, shows Quonset huts in Hamburg. Notice the large rectangular bomb shelter in the center that survived the bombing. The second photo from the 1950s shows the same view after government-subsized housing had been constructed.

Hamburg circa 1949 Hamburg 1950s

Hamburg before and after government subsized housing program. Notice the gigantic square bomb shelter has remained throughout.

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    The DP camps mainly housed refugees from Eastern Europe, not "average Germans".
    – neubau
    Dec 24, 2014 at 8:18
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    +1. I also love the personal insight/encounter. First hand experience is to my mind clearly more valuable above learned text. BTW this is West Germany, right? So was it different in the east?
    – Rajib
    Dec 24, 2014 at 16:16
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    Do you have a source for this supposed prohibition of cameras post-1945? I'm researching that statement in the context of another question and can't find anything.
    – Marakai
    Apr 28, 2016 at 7:08
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    The entire answer makes not one mention of the famous Trümmerfrauen? Really?
    – Marakai
    Apr 28, 2016 at 11:39
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    @Tyler Durden: I suspect that your answer is a skilfully made piece of Nazi propaganda. Do you know who were the prisoners of Dachau at the time of allies occupation? Or who were the people held in the displacement camps? And why do you use quotation marks with de-nazification?
    – Alex
    Apr 30, 2016 at 23:36

I'd like to add this as "anecdotal" answer, not as definite but as additional data point:

In some cases entire new towns were created, especially for the "ethnically cleansed" as they're now called. Meaning the refugees and those driven from their original homes in Silesia and the Sudetenland, which fell to Poland and Czechia, respectively.

One such town is Waldkraiburg, east of Munich, mostly inhabited by Sudeten-German, such as my own grandparents, who originally came from Gablonz on the Neisse, now Jablonec na Nisou.

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