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Overview History of DDR Medals and Decorations

Follow up to



Compiled and edited by Joe Rivers a.k.a. Major Kulow


         The issuing of East German awards officially began on 2 October 1958, when the Council of Ministers passed a decree formally establishing a system of state awards for the DDR to include orders, medals, prizes and honor titles, even though several awards preexisted this by a number of years. The “Medal for Loyal Service in the Garrisoned (or Barracked”) People’s Police” (Medaille fur Treue Dienste in der Kasernierten Volkspolizei) the “Proficiency Badge of the Garrisoned Peoples Police” (Leistungsabzeichen der Kasernierten Volkspolizei) and the Proficiency Badge of the German Border Police” (Leistungsabzeichen der Deutschen Grenzpolizei) were all created on 28 May 1954. These had the character of non-state awards, which meant that only members of the Garrisoned People’s Police or German Border Police could earn them. State awards as established in October 1958 on the other hand, would be available to any qualified person (for example, a member of the Army serving with the Grenztruppen would be eligible for the “Medal for Exemplary Border Service’ (Medaille fur vorbildlichen Grenzdienst) which, although an award one would normally associate with the Grenztruppen, was a State award and therefore available to any person performing border duty and fulfilling the award criteria.


         Eventually, the East German government became very prolific in decorating its people with awards. To quote Herr Bartel in his foreword to the DDR-Spezialkatalog Band I, the collapse of the former DDR left behind “. . . an outrageous quantity and variety of awards”, In fact, the DDR had close to 300 State level orders, decorations, and medals covering every field of endeavor imaginable including agriculture, the arts, construction, economics, fisheries, forestry, population planning, science, sport and transportation, to name just a few. This number does not include non-State awards, awards bestowed by Party and Social organizations, and general sports awards


         State and non-State distinctions of other Socialist or friendly countries that have been conferred upon citizens of the DDR for service in the struggle against fascism, for peace and for the building of socialism could also be worn on DDR uniforms. They are then put in order according to their significance after the distinctions of the DDR. In contrast to the Federal German Government, the government of the DDR forbade the wear of Third Reich awards by those of its citizens and soldiers who had earned them during their service with the Wehrmacht; but any Soviet decorations earned fighting against Germany during World War II could be worn.



         The award criteria for most East German orders, decorations, and medals were rather vague and subjective compared with those of Western nations; and phrases like “Outstanding Achievement”, “Excellent Performance”, and “Exemplary Border Service” abound. One is naturally curious as to what specific sorts or levels of deeds, achievements, performances or service constituted “Outstanding Achievement” or “Excellent Performance. There were a few exceptions to this, for which the award criteria are specific and easily understood: the title “Aviator or Flier-Cosmonaut of the DDR” (Flieger-Kosmonaut der DDR)  was awarded for participation in manned spaceflight; the “Rescue Medal”  (Rettungsmedaille) was awarded for lifesaving; the “The National People’s Army Medal for Loyal Service” (Medaille fur Treue Dienste der NVA) was awarded for long service and good conduct, in the four grades of bronze, silver, gold, or enameled gold corresponding to 5, 10, 15, and 20 years of service - the ribbon having either a white or yellow central stripe in the case of the silver and gold grades, or none in the case of the bronze grade. The award criterion for Loyal Service medals of the Grenztruppen, the MdI, the VCPO, the Kampfgruppen and the Zivil Verteidigung, et cetera, were basically the same. And, in the case of enlisted personnel in the NVA, LSK/LV, Volksmarine, and Grenztruppen, etc., the seventh fulfillment of the criteria for the title “Best Soldier” resulted in the award of the “Verdienstmedaille der NVA” in bronze, silver for the ninth, and gold for the twelfth. The award criterion for Merit medals of the other defense and security organs were similar.



         There were two main types of medal suspension; the first type, used mainly but not exclusively with military awards, consisted of a Soviet-style pentagonal, metal reinforced ribbon, which was in most cases about two thirds the length of a Soviet ribbon. There were exceptions, the “Karl Marx Order”, “Banner of Labor” and “Scharnhorst Order” for example, the ribbons of which were about the same length as Soviet ones. The other type, which is generally but, again, not exclusively associated with civilian or dual-purpose awards, consisted of a smaller, rectangular cloth or metal ribbon bar or “Interimsspange”, which in many cases was detachable from the medal, for wear on the service uniform as a standard ribbon bar. The order “Star of the Friendship between Peoples” (Stern der Volkerfreundschaft) is the only East German award in the form of a breast star. This is a gold or silver star (awards up to 1972 were gold-plated silver or silver; later examples were gold or silver plated bronze) with an enameled state crest on the obverse center; there are rays and “oak leaves” between the points, and there is a dove superimposed in the middle of the top point of the star. As with western orders, the ”Great Star“ (Grosser Sternor) grand cross grade of the order was accompanied by a sash in the black-red-gold national colors, from which is suspended a smaller but less ornate star in gold, lacking the rays, “oak leaves” and dove.



         As a general rule, East German awards were not marked, and only the higher level orders, medals and decorations carried award numbers, mint marks and/or silver or gold content numbers. Nor were they named to the recipient, as is common practice elsewhere, particularly in English speaking countries - this is not a common German practice anyway. From around the mid-70’s very few awards carried any markings whatsoever. Only those awards that were so marked at one time or another are described here:


  1. The “Hero of the DDR” and “Hero of Labor” medals (“Held der DDR” and “Held der Arbeit”) bear the gold or silver content number 900, the award number, the year of award, and the mint mark “MB” for Munze Berlin (Berlin Mint), in various combinations depending upon the period of the award. The “Hero of Labor” medal also bears the inscription “Held der Arbeit” (Hero of Labor) in a circular pattern on the reverse. “Hero of Labor” medals awarded post-1977 carries no numbers or mint marks. These star-shaped medals were initially of gold or gold plated silver, the later issues of each being gold plated bronze (the “Hero of Labor” was initially, 1950-52, a round medal on a ribbon or “spange”, with the silver content number 835 on the reverse). In keeping with the time honored German practice, the “Hero of the DDR” medal was awarded with or without diamonds. The medals are mounted Soviet style on a small rectangular red Interimsspange. The award of either title also carried with it the simultaneous award of the “Karl Marx Order”, an award document, and a monetary prize of 15,000 East German Marks, which was increased in 1978 to 25,000 Marks. The title “Hero of the German Democratic Republic” was awarded only seventeen times between its establishment in 1975 and the end of the DDR, but there were several multiple awards, from which it may be deduced that it was awarded at a rate of little more than one per year, and is therefore next only to the “Flieger-Kosmonaut” medal in terms of rarity. General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev was the only three time recipient; three other individuals having received the title twice each. There were many more recipients of the “Hero of Labor”, as it was awarded up to a maximum of fifty times per year for “particularly outstanding, ground-breaking achievements in the field of the People’s economy”. The list on the next page is all known recipients of the “Hero of the DDR” medal.


Recipients of the “Hero of the DDR” Medal

  • Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party - 3 awards

  • Erich Honeker, General Secretary of the East German Communist Party - 2 awards

  • Armee General Heinz Hoffman, Defense Minister - 2 awards

  • General Oberst Friederich Dickel, Interior Minister and Chief of the VOPO - 2 awards

  • General Cberst Erich Mielke, Minister for State Security (Stasi) - 2 awards

  • Valery Bykovski, Soviet Cosmonaut

  • Alexander lvanchenko, Soviet Cosmonaut

  • Oberstleutnant Sigmund Jahn, East German Cosmonaut

  • Vladimir Kovalyonok, Soviet Cosmonaut

  • Willi Stoph, Chairman of the Council of Ministers

  • Nikolai Tikhonov, Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers


  1. The “Karl Marx Order” (Karl-Marx-Orden), a red enameled five-pointed gold star, with “oak leaves” between the points, and a gold bust of Karl Marx on round gold plaque on the obverse center. It has either the gold content number 900 or the award number on the reverse, or the gold content number 333 only, in the case of awards made after 1972. The appearance of this order is similar to that of the “Soviet Order of the October Revolution”, with a bust of Karl Marx taking the place of the cruiser “Aurora”. This order is mounted on a plain red ribbon, of the standard east bloc pentagonal pattern. The Interimsspange being red with a horizontal gold “oak leaf” mounted centrally. It was conferred on individuals (including foreigners), as well as collectives, for “outstanding service in the fields of the arts and culture, science, and the People’s economy in the struggle for an eternal, independent, and peace loving Germany”.


  1. The “Order of Merit of the Fatherland” (“VaterIandischer Verdienstorden” or VVO) marked with gold (900) or silver (900 & 925) content numbers according to grade; the bronze grade of this award is unmarked, and further differs from the gold and silver grades in that the central medallion which depicts the state crest of the DDR is not enameled red as is the case with the top two grades. The decoration itself is an oddly asymmetrical looking ten pointed star which hangs from a small rectangular ribbon bar, on the bottom of which there is an unusual “oak leaf” arrangement. There are two varieties of mounting associated with this award, one being with detachable Interimsspange, and the other with a fixed suspension. The detachable variant is for wear with the “Ehrenspange zum VVO” (Honor Clasp to the VVO), which is a sort of “oak leaves” and diamonds device, but which presents the odd appearance of some sort of crustacean with protruding eyestalks. The Honor Clasp is either of gold (content 900) (1963-72), and set with two diamonds (at the ends of the eyestalks), or is gold plated and set with two synthetic gems or bits of glass (1973-89). The VVO was awarded to individuals, collectives, factories, institutions and social organizations for special services to state and society”.


  1. Examples of the “Order of the Banner of Labor” (Banner der Arbeit) which were awarded between 1954 and 1960 carried the award number on the reverse; awards post 1960 were not numbered. The East Germans seem to have lifted the design for this order from the Soviet Army Guards badge, because its shape mirrors that of the Guards badge, but with a standard pentagonal ribbon attached. One half of the ribbon is red, representing communism, and the other half is black/red/gold representing the national colors. The top edge of the ribbon is surmounted by a small horizontal gold device consisting of two horizontal oak leaves, pointing right and left, separated by the a roman numeral indicating the grade of the award, i.e. “I” for gold, “II” for silver, and “III” for bronze; this is apparently the only differentiation between the three classes, as the badge itself is gold colored regardless of class. The “Banner of Labor” was awarded to individuals, socialist concerns and institutions for “excellent results in socialist production”.


  1. Early examples of the Battle Order “For Service to People and Fatherland” (Kampforden “Fur Verdienste urn Volk und Vaterland”) in gold and silver were marked with the silver content number 900. Initially the first class of the order was of gold plated silver, the second class was of silver, and the third class was of bronze and unmarked. Later on, however, the top two classes of the order were also made of bronze, plated appropriately, and unmarked.


  1. The “Order of Bravery” (Tapferkeitsorden) was awarded in the three standard classes of gold, silver and bronze, and the top two classes bore the silver content number 900 on the reverse until 1973, after which date all three classes were made of bronze, the top two classes being plated gold or silver. This medal is unusual for an East German one, being more Prussian in appearance than communist (Fig. 6). It takes the shape of a modified Maltese cross with pointy arms, enameled white with gilt or silver edging and a gilt or silver cameo in the center surrounded by a circle of white enamel and a gilt or silver “oak leaf” wreath. The pentagonal ribbon is red, with three stripes, a yellow one at each edge and one in the middle in the color appropriate to the class of the award.


  1. Several of the State prizes of the DDR such as the “National Prize of the DDR”, the “Johannes R. Becher Prize”, and the “Art Prize” carries various combinations of inscriptions, dates, precious metal content numbers, award numbers, and the letters “DDR”. Examples of the National Prize awarded during 1949, for example, carry the following markings on the reverse: the gold content number 750, and the inscription “Deutscher Nationalpreis im Goethejahr 1949” (German National Prize in the year of Goethe 1949), whereas examples of this medal awarded between 1950 and 1961 carry the letters “DDR” on the obverse below Goethe’s portrait, the reverse carrying the inscription “Deutscher National-Preis” (German National Prize), and the date.


  1. The medal “The Badge of Honor of the German People’s Police” (Ehrenzeichen der Deutschen Volkspolizei) was numbered on the reverse until 1962, with #8000 being the highest recorded number. Awards from subsequent years are unmarked. This attractive medal initially took the form of a pin back badge, which was numbered on the reverse until 1962. In 1965, it was suspended from the military style pentagonal ribbon, green with a thin red stripe at each edge.


  1. The “Rescue Medal” (Rettungsmedaille), one of only three DDR awards known to have a western style ribbon and ring suspension, which was changed in 1968 to a small Interimsspange type suspension. This medal is of silver, with the silver content number 900 on the reverse, and was numbered until 1968, the number also appearing on the reverse. Also in 1968, the shape of the planchet was changed from oval to round. From 1973 to 1990 it was made of silvered bronze. The obverse depicts a rescuer carrying an unconscious victim, this being surrounded by an “oak leaf” wreath with the words “Fur Lebensrettung” (For Lifesaving) at the top. On the reverse is the Hammer and Compass of the DDR, surrounded by boughs of wheat. The ribbon is of watered white silk.


  1. Until the mid-70’s, the gold and silver grades of the “Merit Medal of the National Peoples Army” (Verdienstmedaille der NVA) and the “Loyal Service Medal of the National Peoples Army” (Medaille fur Treue Dienste der NVA) were made of 900 silver and stamped with the silver content number 900 on the reverse, near the bottom edge. Later strikings were made of bronze and plated appropriately.



The higher national level awards were bestowed rather sparingly as is illustrated by the following table:


AWARD                                                 MAX. AWARDS PER YEAR

  • Karl Marx Order                                     1

  • Hero of the DDR                                                1

  • Hero of Labor                                         50

  • Star of the Friendship of Peoples            1 per grade

  • Order of Merit of the Fatherland             1 per grade x 5

  • Banner of Labor                                                 70 to individuals; 50 to factories and institutions

  • Excellent Scientist of the People                         6

  • Aviator-Cosmonaut of the DDR                           For spaceflight (unique)



         Regulation DV 01 0/0/005 required that all NVA members wear their bestowed distinctions on the parade, walking-out and social uniforms. Career soldiers were also to wear them on the service and staff service uniforms. The 1986 regulation limits the wearing method of the Interim’s bar to a maximum of four rows, totaling 16 distinctions. If the number of bestowed distinctions exceeded this amount, only the sixteen highest awards may be put on, unless the Minister for National Defense issued an exception. For the Great Social Outfit, only the four highest orders and medals on a band in one row were to be worn. The maximum numbers of medals for the parade uniform were determined by the regulation to be eight orders and medals on a band in two rows.

         On the shirt/smock, the Interim’s bar with the four highest bestowed distinctions in one row was worn above the flap of the left side breast pocket. Female NVA members did not put distinctions on the shirt/smock or uniform dress. In addition to the aforementioned distinctions, it was possible to wear the following awards above the ribbon bar on the left side of the uniform jacket:


  • Karl-Marx-Order

  • Medal “Golden Star” to the honorary title “Hero of the DDR”

  • Medal to the honorary title “Hero of Labor and the Service Orders of the Fatherland”



Underneath those three, the sixteen highest distinctions could be put in order, from right to left.


         The following outline for the “Order of Precedence” for East German military and other State awards is reproduced from Ministry for National Defense service regulation DV 010/0/005 of 1986 - strictly military awards are in bold type. (See Appendix 1 for the complete order of precedence for DDR state orders, decorations and medals and Appendix 2 for color plates of ribbons in order). This is not an exhaustive list of DDR awards; but it covers those awards that were likely to be seen on military uniforms. For this, the following ordering is provided:


“Order of Precedence” to be worn on the left side of the breast, in descending order:

  • Karl Marx Order

  • Gold Star Medal to the Honor Title “Hero of the DDR

  • Honor Title Hero of Labor’

  • Order of the “Star of the Friendship between Peoples’

  • Order of Merit of the Fatherland

  • Scharnhorst Order

  • Battle Order “For Meritorious Service to People and Fatherland”

  • Order “Banner of Labor”

  • Orders of other states

  • Medal for Participation in the Armed Struggle of the German Working Class in the years 1918 to 1923

  • Medal for the Fighters Against Fascism 1933 to 1945

  • Hans Beimler Medal

  • Clara Zetkin Medal

  • Merit Medal of the DDR

  • Honor Titles of the NVA, the Border Troops of the DDR, and the Civil Defense

  • Other Honor Titles of the DDR

  • Merit Medals of the NVA, the Border Troops of the DDR, and the Civil Defense

  • Badge of Honor “For Meritorious Service in Reserve Training”

  • Other Merit Medals of the DDR

  • Honor Title “Activist of Socialist Labor”

  • Honor Title ‘Collective of Socialist Labor”

  • Merit Medals of other states

  • Medal for Brotherhood in Arms of the NVA

  • Medals for Brotherhood in Arms, and military commemorative

  • medals of other states

  • Medal for Exemplary Border Service

  • Other medals of the DDR

  • Jubilee Medal “30 Years of the NVA”

  • Medal for Loyal Service in the NVA, the Border Troops of the DDR, and the Civil Defense

  • Medals for Loyal Service of other organizations


“Order of Precedence” to be worn on the right side of the breast, in descending order:

  • Honor Title “Aviator-Cosmonaut of the DDR”

  • Honor Title “Outstanding Scientist of the People”

  • National Prize of the DDR

  • Friederich Engels Prize

  • Theodor Korner Prize

  • Other prizes of the DDR


         Moreover, the possibility exists to wear the insignia to the honorary title “Flieger-Kosmonaut of the DDR” on the right side breast, above all other state distinctions; and beneath that, the “Outstanding Scientist of the People”, as well as the “National Prize of the DDR”, “Friedrich-Engels-Prize”, “Theordor-Korner-Prize” and other prizes of the DDR.

         Non-state distinctions are placed beneath the state distinctions on the light side of the uniform jacket. Above all distinctions, the graduation insignia of the highest learning institution is attached. To the right, next to, or under the aforementioned awards of the NVA, the superior insignia of the NVA, classification insignia, paratrooper insignia, Reservist insignia and other distinctions of the Parties and social organizations of the DDR are placed in order. If the NVA member possesses multiple classification insignia or an insignia in many levels, he is to wear only the highest level of insignia.

         Members of the FDJ are recognizable by the FDJ insignia, which are attached on the right breast pocket or at the same height on uniform jackets without breast pockets. The military sport Insignia or the sport insignia of the DDR is placed on the pleat of the right breast pocket.

         State and non-state distinctions of other socialist or friendly countries that have been conferred upon citizens of the DDR for service in the struggle against fascism, for peace and for the building of socialism may also be worn on the uniform. They are then put in order according to their significance after the distinctions of the DDR        





  1. “DDR-Spezialkatalog Band I”; Staatliche Auszeichnungen der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik 1949-1990; Bartel, Klaus; Berliner Auktionshaus fur Geschichte; Berlin, 1990/91

  2. “DV 01 0/0/005 Uniformarten und ihre Trageweise”; Ministerrat der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, Ministerium fur Nationale Verteidigung, 1986

  3. “Order of Precedence List for State Authorized Medals of the DDR”; Article by unknown author, Issue #3 Winter 1993 -  "Die Nationale Volksarmee" - The Journal for the Society of East German Militaria Collectors

  4. “Orders, Decorations and Medals of the DDR”; article by Mike Marunchak, Issue #4 Summer 1994 - "Die Nationale Volksarmee" - The Journal for the Society of East German Militaria Collectors

  5. “Brandenburg Historica” Catalog #96-4

  6. “The East German Army – The Second Power in the Warsaw Pact”; by Thomas M. Forster, 1980 edition

  7. “NVA – Nationale Volksarmee der DDR in Stichworten”; edited by Dr. Ullrich Ruhmland, 1983 edition

  8. “Militarische Abzeichen der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik”; Feder/Waoner/Swoboda: Militarverlag der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik; Berlin, 1988

  9. “Orders and Decorations of Europe in Color”; Hieronymussen, Paul; Blandford Press, 1967

  10. “Orden und Ehrenzeichen der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik”; Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden 1964

  11. “Uniformen der Nationalen Volksarmee der DDR 1956-1986”; Keubke und Kunze, Brandenburgisches Verlagshaus, Berlin 1990. (With the help of the Gowen Militaria translation)

  12. “Orders and Decorations of all Nations”; Robert Wehriich, Washington 1965

  13. “Rang und Ehrenabzeichen der Armeen seit 1945”; Guido Rosignoli; Munich 1975

  14. DDR ribbon images from

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