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German Democratic Republic - GDR Deutsche Demokratische Republik - DDR

Informally called East Germany


Mark der DDR (M) until 30 June 1990,

named: 1948–64 Deutsche Mark (DM)

1964–67 Mark der Deutschen Notenbank (MDN)

Deutsche Mark (DM) as of 1 July 1990


"Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt Euch!"

("Workers of all Nations, Unite!")

Capital - East Berlin


Government - Socialist Republic Communist state


"Auferstanden aus Ruinen"

("Risen from Ruins")

Chairman of the Council of State

 - 1949–60 Wilhelm Pieck (President)

 - 1960–73 Walter Ulbricht

 - 1973–76 Willi Stoph

 - 1976–89 Erich Honecker

 - 1989 Egon Krenz

 - 1989–90 Manfred Gerlach

Chairman of the Council of Ministers

 - 1949–64 Otto Grotewohl

 - 1964–73 Willi Stoph

 - 1973–76 Horst Sindermann

 - 1976–89 Willi Stoph

 - 1989–90 Hans Modrow

 - 1990 Lothar de Maizière

Legislature - Volkskammer


Historical era Cold War

 - Established 7 October 1949

 - Final settlement 25 September 1990

 - German reunification 3 October 1990


 - 1990 108,333 km2 (41,828 sq mi)



 - 1990 est. 16,111,000 

     Density 148.7 /km2  (385.2 /sq mi)

The German Democratic Republic (GDR; German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR), informally called East Germany (German: Ost-Deutschland) by West Germany and other countries, was the officially Communist state established in 1949 in the Soviet zone of occupied Germany and in the East Berlin portion of the Allied-occupied capital city. The German Democratic Republic, which consisted geographically of post-WWII northeast Germany rather than all of eastern Germany, had an area of 107,771 km2 (41,610 mi2), bordering Czechoslovakia in the south, West Germany (officially: Federal Republic of Germany) in the south and west, the Baltic Sea to the north, and Poland in the east.

In 1989 a non-violent revolution overthrew the Communists. The Soviets refused to intervene, and the country soon reunited with West Germany and is now part of Germany.


At German reunification on October 3, 1990, new Länder (states) were formed within the area occupied by the former German Democratic Republic. Following historical borders of provinces that existed before 1952, new federal states (in German usually referred to as Die Neuen Bundesländer; Engl. new federal states) were formed and integrated into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Moreover, the German Democratic Republic was disestablished after the Communist government, of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), lost the general election on March 18, 1990, and thus its parliamentary majority in the Volkskammer (People’s Chamber); subsequently, on August 23, 1990, the Volkskammer re-established the five pre-war states — Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia (disestablished in 1952) — for the reunification of East Germany to West Germany.

Naming Conventions

The official name was Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic), usually abbreviated as DDR (GDR). Both terms were used in East Germany with an increasing emphasis on the abbreviated name, especially since East Germany considered West Germans and West Berliners to be foreigners following the promulgation of its second constitution in 1968.


Ostzone - Eastern Zone

(Eastern Zone) or Soviet Zone were two surrogate names for East Germany that were often used colloquially. The different names used to describe the German Democratic Republic reflected political positions during the Cold War conflict; for example, many Westerners doubted the political sovereignty and democratic constitution of East Germany. Surrogate name usage for East Germany could thus reveal the political leaning of a person or news source. So the media controlled by the East German government emphasized the use of the official name, DDR, while West Germans, western media and statesmen may have used other names such as Middle Germany, emphasizing the location of East Germany in the center of pre-1937 Germany.


The name, Sowjetische Besatzungszone (Soviet Occupation Zone, often abbreviated to SBZ) was used by those who wanted to indicate that East Germany lacked sovereignty, whereas others used Ostzone or der Osten (English: Eastern Zone or the East) to avoid the actual name of the state. The latter term, because it was based plainly on geographic location, was sometimes also used by East Germans. Some West German media referred to East Germany initially as the SBZ and later consistently named it the so-called "GDR" (sogenannte "DDR").


However, over time East Germany's abbreviation DDR became colloquial also among most West Germans and West German media. Ostdeutschland (an ambiguous term meaning simultaneously East or Eastern Germany) was not commonly used in East or West German common parlance to refer to the German Democratic Republic, because Ostdeutschland usually referred to the Former eastern territories of Germany.


The term Westdeutschland (West Germany) when used by West Germans was almost always a reference to the geographic region of Western Germany but not to the area within the boundaries of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, this usage was not always consistent, as, for example, West Berliners frequently applied the term Westdeutschland to denote the Federal Republic.

Q: Why do the People's Police go out on patrol in groups of three?

A: One can read, one can write, and the third is there to keep an eye on the two intellectuals.


Germany defeated: Per the Potsdam Conference, the Allies jointly occupied Germany west of the Oder-Neisse line. Explaining the internal impact of the DDR regime from the perspective of German history in the long-term, historian Gerhard A. Ritter (2002) has argued that the East German state was defined by two dominant forces – Soviet Communism on the one hand, and German traditions filtered through the interwar experiences of German Communists on the other. It always was constrained by the powerful example of the increasingly prosperous West, to which East Germans compared their nation. The changes wrought by the Communists were most apparent in ending capitalism and transforming industry, agriculture, in the militarization the society, and the political thrust of the educational system and the media. On the other hand, there was relatively little change made in the historically independent domains of the sciences, the engineering professions, the Protestant churches, and in many bourgeois life styles. Social policy, says Ritter, became a critical legitimization tool in the last decades and mixed Communist and traditional elements about equally.



At the Yalta Conference during World War II, the Allies (U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union) agreed on dividing a defeated Germany into occupation zones, and on dividing Berlin, the German capital, among the Allied powers as well. Initially this meant the construction of three zones of occupation, i.e. American, British, and Soviet. Later, a French zone was carved out of the American and British zones.


DDR created in1949 - Satellite states People's Republic of Hungary · People's Republic of Poland · Czechoslovak Socialist Republic · Romanian People's Republic/Socialist Republic of Romania · East Germany · People's Republic of Albania (to 1961) · People's Republic of Bulgaria · Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (to 1948)

Revolts and Opposition

The Goryani Movement · Uprising in Plzeň (1953) · Uprising of 1953 in East Germany · 1956 Georgian demonstrations · Poznań 1956 protests · Hungarian Revolution of 1956 · Novocherkassk massacre · Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia · 1968 Red Square demonstration · Solidarity, Soviet reaction and Martial law · Reagan Doctrine · Jeltoqsan · Braşov Rebellion  · April 9 tragedy · Romanian Revolution of 1989 · Black January


Cold War Events

Marshall Plan · Berlin Blockade · Tito–Stalin split · Czechoslovak coup d'état of 1948 · Berlin Wall Crisis of 1961



Eastern Bloc emigration and defection · Eastern Bloc information dissemination · Eastern Bloc politics · Eastern Bloc economies · Telephone tapping in the Eastern Bloc · List of Eastern Bloc defectors



Revolutions of 1989 · Fall of the Berlin Wall  · Fall of communism in Albania · Singing Revolution · Collapse of the Soviet Union · Dissolution of Czechoslovakia · January 1991 events in Lithuania · January 1991 events in Latvia



Two Nations - Two Political Philosophies

The ruling Communist party, known as the "Socialist Unity Party" (SED), was formed in April 1946 out of the forced merger between the German Communist Party (KPD) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). As Walter Ulbricht noted, everything was made to look democratic while in reality Communists retained control in the background. They were totally loyal to Stalin, and realized their regime would collapse if it lost the backing of the Soviet army—as indeed happened in 1989. Historians debate whether the decision to form a separate country was initiated by Stalin or by the SED.


As West Germany was reorganized and gained independence from the occupation, Stalin established the German Democratic Republic in 1949. The creation of the two states made the 1945 division of Germany permanent.


In 1949 the Soviets turned control of East Germany over to the Communist Party, headed by Wilhelm Pieck (1876–1960), who became president of the GDR and remained officially 'Number One' until his death in 1960, while any real power allowed by the Soviets was assumed by SED General Secretary Walter Ulbricht. The old Socialist Party was taken over by the Communists, and Socialist leader Otto Grotewohl (1894–1964) became prime minister.


West Germany saw itself as the legal successor to the Third Reich, shouldering the burdens of legal responsibility for its crimes. By contrast, East Germany renounced ties to the Nazi past, styling itself the "anti-fascist rampart" and proclaiming itself the first socialist state on German soil. It refused to admit the existence of anti-semitism and refused to recognize Israel or reimburse victims of the Holocaust.

The leader of the DDR, Erich Honecker, wants to know what the people really think of him. So goes out among the people in disguise. He asks a man on the street: "Excuse me, but what do you think of Honecker?" The man leads him down a side street, makes sure that nobody hears him, and whispers into Erich's ear, "I support Honecker!"

Soviet Role

In 1955, the USSR declared the Soviet occupation zone — the historic middle portion of Germany — to be a sovereign state named the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic, established in 1949), while the Red Army and the Western Allies' occupation forces remained in place under the tripartite Potsdam Agreement (1945) which established the Allied Occupation of Germany.


The Communist German Democratic Republic was established in the historic "Mitteldeutschland" (Middle Germany). Former German territories east of the Oder and Neisse rivers, mainly the Prussian provinces of Pomerania, East Prussia, West Prussia, Upper Silesia, Lower Silesia, and the eastern Neumark of Brandenburg were thus detached from Germany. To compensate Poland for the USSR's annexation of its eastern provinces, the Allies provisionally established Poland's post-war western border at the Oder-Neisse line at the Yalta Conference (1945). As a result, most of Germany's central territories became the Sowjetische Besatzungszone (SBZ, Soviet Occupation Zone). All other lands east of the Oder–Neisse line were put under Polish administration, with the exception of historic northern East Prussia, which went to the USSR.


Zones of Occupation

In the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, the Allies established their joint military occupation and administration of Germany via the Allied Control Council (ACC), a four-power (US, UK, USSR, France) military government effective until the restoration of German sovereignty. In eastern Germany, the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ – Sowjetische Besatzungszone) comprised the five states (Länder) of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia. Disagreements over the policies to be followed in the occupied zones quickly led to a breakdown in cooperation between the four powers, and the Soviets administered their zone without regard to the policies implemented in the other zones. The Soviets withdrew from the ACC in 1948; subsequently as the other three zones were increasingly unified and granted self-government, the Soviet administration facilitated the development of a separate socialist government in its zone.

Germany 1949:

West Germany comprised the Western Allies' zones, excluding the Saarland; the Soviet zone, East Germany surrounded West Berlin. Yet, seven years after the Allies’ Potsdam Agreement to a unified Germany, the USSR via the Stalin Note (March 10, 1952) proposed German reunification and superpower disengagement from Central Europe, which the three Western Allies (US, France, UK) rejected. Months later, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, a communist proponent of reunification, was dead by March 1953. Following suit, Lavrenty Beria, the First Deputy Prime Minister of the USSR, pursued German reunification, but an internal (Party) coup d’étât deposed him from government in mid-1953, before he could act on the matter. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, rejected reunification as equivalent to returning East Germany for annexation to the West; hence reunification went unconsidered until the German Democratic Republic collapsed in 1989.



Post-war occupied Germany: The British, Soviet, American, and French occupation zones. East Germany and the Eastern Bloc diplomatically recognised East Berlin as the capital city of the German Democratic Republic, but the Western Allies disputed said recognition, considering the entire city of Berlin an occupied territory governed by the martial law of the Allied Control Council. In practice, the ACC’s authority was rendered moot by the Cold War, and the East German government ignored the legal restrictions on integration of East Berlin into the GDR.


Abetted by ACC’s weakness, Cold War political conflicts among the Allies over the status of West Berlin provoked the Berlin Blockade (June 24, 1948 – May 12, 1949), in which the Soviet army stopped all Allied rail, road, and water traffic to and from West Berlin. The Allies countered the Soviets with the Berlin Airlift (1948–49) of food, fuel, and supplies to keep West Berlin alive.

Partition History of Germany


In 1946, the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands — KPD) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands — SPD) merged to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED — Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands) (April 21, 1945), which then won the elections of 1946, held under the oversight of the Soviet army. Being a Marxist-Leninist political party, the SED's government nationalized infrastructure and industrial plants.

GDR leaders: President Wilhelm Pieck and Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl, 1949In 1948, the German Economic Commission (Deutsche Wirtschaftskomission—DWK) under its chairman Heinrich Rau assumed administrative authority in the Soviet occupation zone, thus becoming the predecessor of an East German government.


On October 7, 1949, the SED established the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic — GDR), based on a socialist political constitution establishing its control of the anti-fascist National Front of the German Democratic Republic (NF — Nationale Front der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik), an omnibus alliance of every party and mass organisation in East Germany. The NF was established to stand for election to the Volkskammer ("People's Chamber"), the East German parliament. The first (and only) President of the German Democratic Republic was Wilhelm Pieck. However, after 1950, the true ruler of East Germany was Walter Ulbricht, the First Secretary of the SED.



SED First Secretary, Walter Ulbricht, 1950On June 16, 1953, workers constructing the new Stalinallee Boulevard in East Berlin rioted against a 10% production quota increase. Initially a labor protest, it soon included the general populace, who added their anti-Soviet discontent to the workers' civil disobedience, and on June 17 similar protests occurred throughout the GDR, with more than a million people striking in some 700 cities and towns. Fearing anti-communist counter-revolution on June 18, 1953, the government of the GDR enlisted the Soviet Occupation Forces to aid the Volkspolizei ("People's Police") in suppressing the rioters; some fifty people were killed and some 10,000 were jailed.


The German war reparations owed to the USSR impoverished the Soviet Zone of Occupation and severely weakened the East German economy. In the 1945–46 period, the Soviets confiscated and transported to the USSR approximately 33% of the industrial plant and by the early 1950s had extracted some 10 billion dollars in reparations in agricultural and industrial products.


The poverty of East Germany induced by reparations provoked the Republikflucht ("flight from the republic") to West Germany, aggravating the emigration, continual since the 1940s, from the Soviet zone of Germany to the Western Allied zones, further weakening the GDR's economy. Western economic opportunities and lack of political freedom in East Germany induced a brain drain. In response, the GDR closed the Inner German Border, and on the night of August 12–13, 1961, East German soldiers began erecting the Berlin Wall which prevented anyone from escaping.

Head of State: Erich Honecker (1971–89)In 1971, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had Ulbricht removed; Erich Honecker replaced him. While the Ulbricht government had experimented with liberal reform, the Honecker government increased controls upon the populace of the GDR. The new government introduced a new East German Constitution which defined the German Democratic Republic as a "republic of workers and peasants" and hardly mentioned the word "German".


Initially, East Germany maintained that it was the only lawful government of Germany. However, from the 1960s onward, East Germany held itself out as a separate country from West Germany, and shared the legacy of the united German state of 1871–1945. West Germany, in contrast, claimed an exclusive mandate for all of Germany. From 1949 to the early 1970s, West Germany maintained that East Germany was an illegally constituted state. It argued that the GDR was a Soviet puppet regime and thus illegitimate. According to the Hallstein Doctrine (1955), it also did not diplomatically recognize any country — except the USSR — that recognized East German sovereignty.


But in the early 1970s, the Ostpolitik ("Eastern Policy") of "Change Through Rapprochement" of the pragmatic government of FRG Chancellor Willy Brandt, established normal diplomatic relations with the East Bloc states and the GDR. In the event, the Treaty of Moscow (August 1970), the Treaty of Warsaw (December 1970), the Four Power Agreement on Berlin (September 1971), the Transit Agreement (May 1972), and the Basic Treaty (December 1972) established normal relations between the Germanys, later allowing their integration to the United Nations.


During this time, West Germany adopted the line of "two German states in one German nation". While it respected East Germany's independence, it formally maintained that the GDR was merely a de facto government within a single German nation of which the FRG was the sole representative. For instance, it refused to treat East Germans as foreigners.


In 1989, following widespread public anger over the results of local government elections that spring, many citizens applied for exit visas or left the country illegally. In August 1989 Hungary removed its border restrictions and unsealed its border, and more than 13,000 people left East Germany by crossing the "green" border via Czechoslovakia into Hungary and then on to Austria and West Germany.[17] Many others demonstrated against the ruling party, especially in the city of Leipzig. Kurt Masur, the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, led local negotiations with the government and held town meetings in the concert hall.[18] The demonstrations eventually led Erich Honecker to resign in October, and he was replaced by a slightly more moderate communist, Egon Krenz.


On November 9, 1989, a few sections of the Berlin Wall were opened, resulting in thousands of East Germans crossing into West Berlin and West Germany for the first time. Krenz resigned a few days later, and the SED abandoned power shortly afterward. Although there were some limited attempts to create a permanent democratic East Germany, these were soon overwhelmed by calls for unification with West Germany.


East Germany held its first (and last) legitimate elections in March 1990. The winner was a coalition headed by the East German branch of West Germany's Christian Democratic Union, which advocated speedy reunification. After some negotiations (2+4 Talks) were held involving the two German states and the former Allied Powers which led to agreement on the conditions for German unification. The five original East German states that had been abolished in 1952 were recreated. On 3 October 1990, the five states officially joined the Federal Republic of Germany, while East and West Berlin united as a third city-state (in the same manner as Bremen and Hamburg). The great economic and socio-political inequalities between the former Germanys required government subsidy for the full integration of East Germany to the Federal German Republic.


There were four periods in East German political history. These included: 1949–1961, which saw the building of socialism; 1961–1970 after the Berlin Wall closed off escape was a period of stability and consolidation; 1971–1985 was termed the Honecker Era, and saw closer ties with West Germany; and 1985–1989 saw the decline and extinction of East Germany.



The ruling political party in East Germany was the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Socialist Unity Party of Germany, SED). It was created in 1946 through the Soviet-directed merger of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in the Soviet controlled zone.


The Potsdam Agreement committed the Soviets to supporting a democratic form of government in Germany, and unlike in most Warsaw Pact countries, other non-communist political parties were allowed. Nevertheless, every political party in the GDR had to register with the National Front of Democratic Germany, an alliance of parties and mass political organizations, including:


Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands (Christian Democratic Union of Germany, CDU), merged with the West-German CDU after reunification

Demokratische Bauernpartei Deutschlands (Democratic Farmers' Party of Germany, DBD). This party was of special importance because of farmers' role in the economy. The party merged with the West German CDU after reunification.


Liberal-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands (Liberal Democratic Party of Germany, LDPD), merged with the West German FDP after reunification.

Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party of Germany, NDPD), merged with the West German FDP after reunification.

Elections took place at the Volkskammer but were effectively controlled by the SED/state hierarchy, as Hans Modrow has noted. Elections were held in less-than-secret conditions, with voters given the choice of approving or rejecting "unity lists" put forward by the National Front and predetermining the distribution of seats given to the different parties and mass organizations. As was the case in most communist countries, approval rates of 90% or more were routine.


Voting in East Germany was relatively simple. To vote yes, a voter simply took the ballot paper, which contained only one name--that of the approved candidate--and dropped it into the voting box. A voter could vote against the candidate by crossing out his or her name, but had to do so in a separate voting booth without any secrecy. The consequences for such an act of defiance were severe--loss of one's job or expulsion from school, and close surveillance by the Stasi.

Palast der Republik, the seat of the VolkskammerThe Volkskammer also included representatives from the mass organisations like the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend or FDJ), or the Free German Trade Union Federation. In an attempt to include women in the political life of East Germany, there was a Democratic Women's Federation of Germany, with seats in the Volkskammer.


Important non-parliamentary mass organisations in East German society included the German Gymnastics and Sports Association (Deutscher Turn- und Sportbund or DTSB), and People's Solidarity (Volkssolidarität, an organisation for the elderly). Another society of note was the Society for German-Soviet Friendship.


Following German reunification, the SED was renamed the "Party of Democratic Socialism" (PDS) which subsequently merged with the West German WASG to form the Left Party (Die Linke). The Left Party continues to be a political force in many parts of Germany, albeit drastically less powerful than the SED.

East German Military:

Because of East Germany's proximity to the West during the Soviet–American Cold War (1945–91), its four-branch military, the Nationale Volksarmee (National People's Army, NVA) was among the most advanced of the Warsaw Pact; its branches were:


1.Army (Landstreitkräfte)


2.Navy (Volksmarine – People's Navy)


3.Air Force–Air Defence (Luftstreitkräfte/Luftverteidigung)


4.GDR Border Troops (Grenztruppen der DDR)


Every man served eighteen months of compulsory military service; for the medically unqualified and the conscientious objector, there were the Baueinheiten construction units, established in 1964 in response to political pressure by the national Protestant Church upon the GDR’s government. The armed forces of the GDR also possessed paramilitary reserve forces, such as the Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse (Combat Groups of the Working Class), and from the Stasi, the Ministry for State Security (Mfs —Ministerium für Staatssicherheit), the “Schild und Schwert der Partei” (Shield and Sword of the Party).

Two Grenzers are patrolling the Wall, looking westward: "What are you thinking of when you see the enemy state of our homeland?" "The same as you are." "Then, unfortunately, I must arrest you!"

Administrative divisions of East Germany

Until 1952, the GDR comprised the East Berlin capital city and the five German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (in 1947 renamed: Mecklenburg), Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Saxony, their post-war territorial demarcations approximating the pre-war German demarcations of the Middle German Länder (states) and Provinzen (provinces of Prussia). Moreover, the western parts of two provinces, Pomerania and Lower Silesia, although prevailingly annexed by Poland, remained politically integral to the GDR.


The East German Administrative Reform of 1952 disestablished the five states and established 14 Bezirke (districts), named per their capital cities: (i) Rostock, (ii) Neubrandenburg, (iii) Schwerin, (iv) Potsdam, (v) Frankfurt (Oder), (vi) Magdeburg, (vii) Cottbus, (viii) Halle, (ix) Leipzig, (x) Erfurt, (xi) Dresden, (xii) Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz until 1953 and again in 1990), (xiii) Gera, and (xiv) Suhl; East Berlin was denominated a Bezirk (district) in 1961.


The disestablished Länder (states), demarcated as Bezirke (districts), were renamed so: the northern Land (state) Mecklenburg was divided among the Bezirke Rostock, Schwerin, and Neubrandenburg; Brandenburg (containing Berlin) was divided into the Potsdam, Frankfurt (Oder), and Cottbus districts; Saxony-Anhalt was divided into the Halle and Magdeburg districts; the south-western state of Thuringia was divided into the Erfurt, Gera, and Suhl districts; and the south-eastern state of Saxony was divided among the Leipzig, Dresden, and Karl-Marx-Stadt districts.


East Berlin, the capital city of the German Democratic Republic, formed the Bezirk Berlin, the country’s fifteenth district, retaining special legal status until 1968, when the residents voted in approving the new (draft) constitution. Regardless of the city's four-occupying-power-status, the ACC, and diplomatic objections of the Allied governments, the GDR administered the Bezirk Berlin as sovereign territory.


Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR (English: Berlin, Capital of the GDR) (1,200,000)

Leipzig* (556,000)

Dresden* (520,000)

Karl-Marx-Stadt* (317,000) (Name now reverted to Chemnitz)

Magdeburg* (290,000)

Rostock* (250,000)

Halle (Saale)* (236,000)

Erfurt* (215,000)

Potsdam* (140,000)

Gera* (131,000)

Schwerin* (130,000)

Cottbus* (125,000)

Zwickau (120,000)

Jena (107,000)

Dessau (105,000)

* "Bezirksstadt" (center of district)

Judge Schnauz walks into the cafeteria of the Erfurt district court bent over with laughter. Other judges and lawyers ask him why he is so amused. "Oh, genossen, I've just heard the latest political joke!" "Tell it to us!" "Unfortunately, I can't do that. I've just sentenced a barber to two years of prison for it!"


The East German population declined by three million people throughout its forty-one year history, from 19 million in 1948 to 16 million in 1990; of the 1948 population, some 4 million were deported from the lands east of the Oder-Neisse line. This was primarily a result of emigration — about one quarter of East Germans left the country before the Berlin Wall was completed in 1961, and after that time, East Germany had very low birth rates. But in the years before reunification the birth rate in East Germany was much higher than in West Germany, and in general the birth rate per woman was never much lower than in West Germany. This compares starkly with Poland, which increased during that time from 24 million in 1950 (a little more than East Germany) to 38 million (more than twice East Germany's population).

"A new Trabi has been launched with two exhaust pipes -- so you can use it as a wheelbarrow."

Q: When does a Trabi reach its top speed? A: When it is towed away.


Q: How do you measure the acceleration of a Trabi? A: With a diary.


Q: Why do some Trabis have heated rear windows? A: To keep your hands warm while pushing!

East German Economy

Communist economic staple: The Trabant automobile was a profitable product made in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).The East German economy began poorly because of the devastation caused by the war, the loss of so many young soldiers, the disruption of business and transportation, the presence of so many refugees, and finally reparations owed to the USSR. The Red Army dismantled and transported to Russia the infrastructure and industrial plants of the Soviet Zone of Occupation. By the early 1950s, the reparations were paid in agricultural and industrial products; and Lower Silesia, with its coal mines and Szczecin, an important natural port, were given to Poland by the decision of Stalin.


The socialist centrally planned economy of the German Democratic Republic was like that of the USSR. In 1950, the GDR joined the COMECON trade bloc. In 1985, collective (state) enterprises earned 96.7% of the net national income. To ensure stable prices for goods and service, the state paid 80% of basic supply costs. The estimated 1984 per capita income was $9,800 ($21,000 in 2008 dollars). In 1976, the average annual growth of the GDP was approximately five percent.


Notable East German exports were photographic cameras, under the Praktica brand; automobiles under the Trabant, Wartburg, and the IFA brands; hunting rifles, sextants, and wristwatches.


Until the 1960s, East Germans endured shortages of basic foodstuffs such as sugar and coffee. East Germans with friends or relatives in the West (or any access to a hard currency) and the necessary Staatsbank foreign currency account, could afford Western products and export-quality East German products via Intershop. Consumer goods also were available, by post, from the Danish Jauerfood, and Genex companies.


The government used money and prices as political devices, providing highly subsidised prices for a wide range of basic goods and services, in what was known as "the second pay packet". The economic results were highly negative, and created an increasing differential with the prosperity in West Germany. At the production level, artificial prices made for an inefficient, backward system of semi-barter and resource-hoarding. For the consumer, it led to the substitution of GDR money with time, barter, and hard-currencies. Ironically, the socialist economy became steadily more dependent on financial infusions from hard-currency loans from West Germany. East Germans, meanwhile, came to see their soft-currency as worthless relative to the Deutsche Mark (DM).

Hans, a rural farmer, has decided that might be safer not keeping his money under the mattress. So he takes his horse and cart and goes off to the nearest town to talk to the bank.

"Right," says Hans, "I want to make sure my 50 DDR Marks are safe. Like, what happens if someone robs you and takes everything in your vault?"


"Oh, don't worry about that!" says the smooth bank manager. "The main branch in the city would cover you!"


"Okay," says Hans. "But suppose the whole bank went bust? I know these things happen."


"Well," says the bank manager. "People have a right to be worried, of course. So that you can feel completely secure, the Polish Central Bank still guarantees your savings."


"But suppose the DDR’s Central Bank ran out of money?" asks Hans. "What would happen then?"


"This is very hypothetical," says the bank manager. "But if it ever happened, we have a treaty with the Soviet Union. They would still make sure you weren't out of pocket."


"But what if the Soviet Union went bust?" asks Hans stubbornly.


The bank manager sighs. "Look," he says. "Wouldn't that be worth 50 Marks?"

Consumption and Jobs

The existence of two German states created questions of legitimacy for both states, particularly in the 1950s when the outcome of the Cold War and the future of Germany remained much in doubt. Both German states used consumerism to promote their unique visions of Germanness (Deutschtum). For West Germany, the resumption of prewar patterns of consumption would signify a return to normality. This meant not only an end to the difficult shortages of the "hungry years," but also the curtailing of female employment outside the home.


In East Germany, people who were disgruntled resorted to nasty jokes at the expense of the oppressive regime; their names were recorded, and too many jokes would land a man in prison.


Throughout its history the main criterion for getting a good job was unblinking loyalty to the Communist party bosses. Even in the electronics industry, a relatively modern and competitive sector of the GDR's economy, the criteria of professionalism were secondary to political criteria in personnel recruitment and development. Dubious loyalty meant exclusion from the university and from good jobs.


With a very low birth rate and a high rate of exodus, East Germany was losing workers. The solution was to import low-skilled workers from other Communist countries. Beginning in 1963 with a series of secret international agreements, East Germany recruited workers from Poland, Hungary, Cuba, Albania, Mozambique, Angola and (North) Vietnam. They numbered more than 100,000 by 1989. Their working conditions were bleak, and although they were officially equal to their German counterparts, the foreign workers remained at the bottom of the social ladder with almost no rights.


Religion was contested ground in the GDR, with the Communists promoting atheism, although some people were loyal to Christian communities.



At the beginning, the Communist party had asserted the compatibility of Christianity and Marxism and sought Christian participation in the building of socialism. At first the question of atheism received little official attention. In the mid-1950s, as the Cold War heated up, atheism became suddenly a topic of major interest for the regime for propaganda purposes, both domestic and foreign. University chairs and departments devoted to the study of 'scientific atheism' were founded and much literature (scholarly and popular) on the subject was produced. Then this activity rather quickly subsided in the late 1960s amid perceptions that atheistic propaganda was becoming counterproductive; but official and scholarly attention to atheism was renewed beginning in 1973, though this time there was more emphasis on scholarship and the training of cadre than propaganda. Throughout, attention paid to atheism in East Germany always reflected politics and was never intended to jeopardize the cooperation that was desired from those East Germans who were religious.



East Germany historically was about 90% Protestant. Between 1956 and 1971 the leadership of the East German Lutheran Church changed its relations with the state from hostility to cooperation.[31] From the founding of the GDR in 1949, the Communist Party tried to weaken the influence of the church on the rising generation. The church therefore adopted an attitude of confrontation and distance regarding the Communist authorities. Around 1956 this firm stand against the regime began to wither in favor of a more neutral stance and conditional loyalty. The regime was no longer regarded as illegitimate; instead, the church leaders started viewing the authorities as installed by God and, therefore, deserving of obedience by Christians. But on matters where the state demanded something which was not in accordance with the will of God, the church reserved its right to say no. There were both structural and intentional causes behind this development. Structural causes included the hardening of Cold War tensions in Europe in the mid-1950s, which took away the temporary character of the East German state. The loss of church members and discrimination against young Christians also made it clear to the leaders of the church that they had to come into some kind of dialogue with the authorities. The intentions behind the change of attitude varied from a traditional Lutheran acceptance of secular power to a positive attitude toward socialist ideas. There was also a will to cooperate in order to have the ability to criticize from within a position of loyalty.


Manfred Stolpe (b. 1936) became a lawyer for the Protestant church in 1959 before taking up a position at church headquarters in Berlin. In 1969 he helped found the Bund der Evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR, where he negotiated with the Communist government while at the same time working within the truly democratic system of the church's institutions. The international outlook he gained through the church's ecumenical activities helped him in his new job after winning the regional elections for the state of Brandenburg at the head of the SPD list in 1990. Despite accusations of having colluded with the Communist government, Stolpe, cleared of the charges, remained at the head of the Brandenburg government until he joined the federal government in 2002.



The smaller Roman Catholic Church had a fully functioning episcopal hierarchy that was in full accord with the Vatican. During the early postwar years, tensions were high. The Catholic Church as a whole and particularly the bishops were resistant to both the regime and Marxist ideology, and the state allowed the bishops to lodge protests, which they did on issues such as abortion. The bishops were, however, closely observed by the Stasi.


After 1945, the Church did fairly well in integrating Catholic exiles from lands to the east (which were given to Poland) and adjusting its institutional structures against the threats of an atheistic state. Within the Church, this meant an increasingly hierarchical structure, whereas in the area of religious education, press, and youth organizations, a system of temporary staff was developed, one that took into account the special situation of the Caritas, a charity organization. They were hardly affected by Communist attempts to force them into line. By 1950, therefore, there existed a Catholic sub society that was well adjusted to prevailing specific conditions and capable of maintaining Catholic identity.


With a generational change in the episcopacy taking place in the early 1980s, the state hoped for better relations with the new bishops, but the new bishops instead showed increasing independence from the state by holding unauthorized mass meetings, promoting international ties in discussions with theologians abroad, and hosting ecumenical conferences. The new bishops became less politically oriented and more involved in pastoral care and attention to spiritual concerns.


The end of the Cold War division of Germany and unification in 1990 inspired initial euphoria.


But for many East Germans, this joy quickly turned to dismay. West Germans often acted as if they had "won" and East Germans had "lost" in unification, leading many East Germans (Ossis) to resent West Germans (Wessis). Additionally, the dislocations associated with the end of Communism, the disappearance of East Germany and German unification were hardest for East Germany, where unemployment skyrocketed and many East German professionals quickly fled for better jobs in West Germany.


These and other effects of unification led many East Germans to begin to think of themselves more strongly as "East" Germans rather than as simply as "Germans". This produced in many former GDR citizens a longing for certain aspects of the former East Germany, such as full employment and other perceived benefits of the GDR state, termed "Ostalgie" (a blend of Ost "east" and Nostalgie "nostalgia") and depicted in the Wolfgang Becker film Goodbye Lenin!.


Danish historian Feiwel Kupferberg (2002) argues that the real difficulty in German reunification was the discrepancy in the ways the West Germans and East Germans have viewed their Nazi past. The West Germans grimly faced it, atoned for it, and transformed their half of the country into a prosperous, free democracy that valued both individual freedom and responsibility, by contrast, the East Germans absorbed the Soviet-made myth that East Germany was the "victor of history" that successfully resisted the fascists. They blamed their western compatriots for the Nazi atrocities because West Germany had a capitalist economy, which had created Hitler; without capitalism, East Germany was now pure. This attitude, Kupferberg argues, allowed middle classes that had supported Hitler to retain powerful roles in East Germany and there was no radical break with the Nazi regime.


  • Date English Name German Name Remarks

  • 1 January New Year's Day Neujahr 

  • Moveable feast Good Friday Karfreitag

  • Moveable feast Easter Sunday Ostersonntag  

  • Moveable feast Easter Monday Ostermontag Was not an official holiday after 1967.

  • 1 May May Day Tag der Arbeit International Workers' Day

  • 8 May Victory in Europe Day Tag der Befreiung The translation means "Day of Liberation"

  • Moveable feast Father's Day / Ascension Day Vatertag / Christi Himmelfahrt Thursday after the 5th Sunday after Easter. Was not an official holiday after 1967.

  • Moveable feast Whitmonday Pfingstmontag 50 days after Easter Sunday

  • 7 October Republic Day Tag der Republik National holiday

  • Moveable feast Day of Repentance and Prayer Buß- und Bettag Penultimate Wednesday before the fourth Sunday before December 25. Was not an official holiday after 1967.

  • 25 December First Day of Christmas 1. Weihnachtsfeiertag  

  • 26 December Second Day of Christmas 2. Weihnachtsfeiertag  

Culture of East Germany



The Puhdys and Karat were some of the most popular mainstream bands, managing to hint at critical thoughts in their lyrics without being explicit. Like most mainstream acts, they appeared in popular youth magazines such as Neues Leben and Magazin. Other popular rock bands were Wir, Dean Reed, City, Silly and Pankow. Most of these artists recorded on the state-owned AMIGA label.


Influences from the West were heard because West German TV and radio could be received in many parts of the East (an exception being Dresden with its geographical position in the Elbe valley, although limited reception of Western radio was still possible there). The Western influence led to the formation of more "underground" groups with a decisively western-oriented sound. A few of these bands were Die Skeptiker, Die Art and Feeling B. Additionally, hip hop culture reached the ears of the East German youth. With videos such as Beat Street and Wild Style, young East Germans were able to develop a hip hop culture of their own. East Germans accepted hip hop as more than just a music form. The entire street culture surrounding rap entered the region and became an outlet for oppressed youth.


Dissident singer/songwriter Wolf Biermann, although professing to be a dedicated Communist, was not permitted to perform in public, and was deprived of his East German citizenship in 1976, while visiting West Germany. He was not allowed to return to East Germany until 1989.


Singer Nina Hagen, who is the stepdaughter of Biermann, was exiled at the same time.


Governmental support of classical music maintained some fifty symphony orchestras, such as Gewandhausorchester and Thomanerchor in Leipzig; Sächsische Staatskapelle in Dresden; and Berliner Sinfonie Orchester and Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin.


The birth place of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), Eisenach, was rendered as a museum about him, featuring more than three hundred instruments, which, in 1980, received some 70,000 visitors. In Leipzig, the Bach archive contains his compositions and correspondence and recordings of his music.



Playwright Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956)East German theatre was originally dominated by Bertolt Brecht, who brought back many artists out of exile and reopened the Theater am Schiffbauerdamm with his Berliner Ensemble. Alternatively, other influences tried to establish a "Working Class Theatre", played for the working class by the working class.


After Brecht's death, conflicts began to arise between his family (around Helene Weigel) and other artists about Brecht's heritage. Heinz Kahlau, Slatan Dudow, Erwin Geschonneck, Erwin Strittmatter, Peter Hacks, Benno Besson, Peter Palitzsch and Ekkehard Schall were considered to be among Bertolt Brecht's scholars and followers.


In the 1950s the Swiss director Benno Besson with the Deutsches Theater successfully toured Europe and Asia including Japan with The Dragon by Jewgenij Schwarz. In the 1960s, he became the Intendant of the Volksbühne often working with Heiner Müller.


After 1975 many artists left the GDR because of increasing censorship. A parallel theatre scene sprung up, creating theatre "outside of Berlin" in which artists played at provincial theatres. For example Peter Sodann founded the Neues Theater in Halle/Saale and Frank Castorf at the theater Anklam.


Theatre and cabaret had high status in the GDR, which allowed it to be very pro-active. This often brought it into confrontation with the state. Benno Besson once said, "In contrast to artists in the west, they took us seriously, we had a bearing."



The prolific cinema of East Germany was headed by the DEFA, Deutsche Film AG, which was subdivided in different local groups, for example Gruppe Berlin, Gruppe Babelsberg or Gruppe Johannisthal, where the local teams shot and produced films. Besides folksy movies, the movie-industry became known worldwide for its productions, especially children's movies (Das kalte Herz, film versions of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales and modern productions such as Das Schulgespenst).


Frank Beyer's Jakob der Lügner (Jacob the Liar), about persecution of Jews in the Third Reich, and Fünf Patronenhülsen (Five Cartridges), about resistance against fascism, became internationally famous.


Films about quotidian life, such as Die Legende von Paul und Paula, by Heiner Carow, and Solo Sunny, directed by Konrad Wolf and Wolfgang Kohlhaase, were very popular.


The film industry was remarkable for its production of Ostern, or Western-like movies. Indians in these films often took the role of displaced people who fight for their rights, in contrast to the American westerns of the time, where Indians were often either not mentioned at all or are portrayed as the villains. Yugoslavians were often cast as the Indians because of the small number of American Indians in eastern Europe. Gojko Mitić was well-known in these roles, often playing the righteous, kindhearted and charming chief (Die Söhne der großen Bärin directed by Josef Mach). He became an honorary Sioux chief when he visited the United States in the 1990s, and the television crew accompanying him showed the tribe one of his movies. American actor and singer Dean Reed, an expatriate who lived in East Germany, also starred in several films. These films were part of the phenomenon of Europe producing alternative films about the colonization of America.


Because of censorship a certain number of very remarkable movies were forbidden at this time and reissued after the Wende in 1990. Examples are Spur der Steine (directed by Frank Beyer) and Der geteilte Himmel (directed by Konrad Wolf).


Cinemas in the GDR also showed foreign films. Czechoslovak and Polish productions were more common, but certain western movies were shown, though the numbers of these were limited because it cost foreign exchange to buy the licences. Further, movies representing or glorifying capitalistic ideology were not bought. Comedies enjoyed great popularity, such as the Danish Olsen Gang or movies with the French comedian Louis de Funès.


Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, several movies depicting life in the GDR have been critically acclaimed. Some of the most notable were Good Bye Lenin! by Wolfgang Becker, Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (won the Academy Award for best Film in a Foreign Language) in 2006, Alles auf Zucker! (Go for Zucker) by Dani Levi. Each film is heavily infused with cultural nuances unique to life in the GDR.



East Germany was very successful in the sports of bicycling, weight-lifting, swimming, gymnastics, track and field, boxing, ice skating, and winter sports. The success is attributed to the leadership of Dr. Manfred Hoeppner which started in the late 1960s.


Another supporting reason was doping in East Germany, especially with anabolic steroids, the most detected doping substances in IOC-accredited laboratories for many years. The development and implementation of a state-supported sports doping program helped East Germany, with its small population, to become a world leader in sport during the 1970s and 1980s, winning a large number of Olympic and world gold medals and records.


Another factor for success was the furtherance-system for young people in GDR. Sport-teachers at school were encouraged to look for certain talents in children ages 6 to 10 years old. For older pupils it was possible to attend grammar-schools with a focus on sports (for example sailing, football and swimming). This policy was also used for talented pupils with regard to music or mathematics.

Karin JanzSports clubs were highly subsidized, especially sports in which it was possible to get international fame. For example, the major leagues for ice hockey and basketball just included each 2 teams (excluding the school and university sport), though a lack of popular interest in both ice hockey and basketball was and is common across the whole of Europe, whether communist or not. Football (soccer) was the most popular sport. Club football teams such as Dynamo Dresden, 1. FC Magdeburg, FC Carl Zeiss Jena, 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig and BFC Dynamo had successes in European competition. Many East German players such as Matthias Sammer and Ulf Kirsten became integral parts of the reunified national football team. Other sports enjoyed great popularity like figure skating, especially because of sportspeople like Katarina Witt.


Successful athletes

Waldemar Cierpinski, athlete

Ernst Degner, racing motorcyclist

Heike Drechsler, athlete

Maxi Gnauck, gymnast

Lutz Heßlich, track cyclist

Falk Hoffmann, diver

Jan Hoffmann, ice skater

Karin Janz, gymnast

Karin Kania, speed skater

Marita Koch, athlete

Christa Luding-Rothenburger, speed skater and track cyclist

Olaf Ludwig, road cyclist

Henry Maske, boxer

Heinz Melkus, auto racing driver

Peter Muecke, rally driver

Meinhard Nehmer, bobsledder

Frank-Peter Roetsch, biathlete

Gustav-Adolf Schur, road cyclist

Gaby Seyfert, ice skater

Jürgen Sparwasser, footballer

Jens Weißflog, ski jumper

Fred Williamowski, rallying motorcyclist

Track-suit diplomacy

The East and the West also competed via sport; GDR athletes dominated several Olympic sports. Of special interest was the only football match between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic, a first-round match during the 1974 FIFA World Cup, which the East won 1–0, although West Germany, the host, was the eventual champion.


“25 years of the GDR” is a 1974 postage stamp commemorating the 25th anniversary of East Germany’s establishment on 7 October 1949.

1989 USSR stamp: “40 years of the German Democratic Republic” Television and radioMain article: Broadcasting in East Germany

Television and radio in East Germany were state controlled; the Rundfunk der DDR was the official radio broadcasting organisation from 1952 until German reunification. The organization was based in the Funkhaus Nalepastraße in East Berlin. Deutscher Fernsehfunk (DFF), from 1972–1990 known as Fernsehen der DDR or DDR-FS, was the state television broadcaster from 1952. Reception of Western radio (and even television) broadcasts was widespread.



By the mid-1980s, East Germany possessed a well-developed communications system. There were approximately 3.6 million telephones in usage (21.8 for every 100 inhabitants), and 16,476 Telex stations. Both of these networks were run by the Deutsche Post der DDR (East German Post Office). East Germany was assigned telephone country code 37; in 1991, several months after reunification, East German telephone exchanges were incorporated into country code 49.


An unusual feature of the telephone network was that in most cases, direct dialing for long distance calls was not possible. Although area codes were assigned to all major towns and cities, they were only used for switching international calls. Instead, each location had its own list of dialing codes with shorter codes for local calls and longer codes for long distance calls. After reunification, the existing network was largely replaced, and area codes and dialing became standardized.


In 1976 East Germany inaugurated the operation of a ground-based radio station at Fürstenwalde for the purpose of relaying and receiving communications from Soviet satellites and to serve as a participant in the international telecommunications organization established by the Soviet government, Intersputnik.

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