In 1989, numerous social, economic and political forces in the GDR and abroad, one of the most notable ones being the peaceful protests starting in the city of Leipzig, led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the establishment of a government committed to liberalization. The following year, a free and fair election
and international negotiations led to the signing of the Final Settlement treaty
on the status and borders of Germany. The GDR dissolved itself and reunified
with West Germany on 3 October 1990, becoming a fully sovereign state in the reunified Federal Republic of Germany
. Several of the GDR's leaders, notably its last communist leader Egon Krenz
, were prosecuted by the Federal Republic after reunification for offenses committed during the Cold War.
Geographically, the GDR bordered the Baltic Sea
to the north, Poland
to the east, Czechoslovakia
to the southeast and West Germany
to the southwest and west. Internally, the GDR also bordered the Soviet sector of Allied-occupied Berlin
, known as East Berlin
, which was also administered as the state's de facto
capital. It also bordered the three sectors occupied by the United States
, United Kingdom
known collectively as West Berlin. The three sectors occupied by the Western nations were sealed off from the GDR by the Berlin Wall from its construction in 1961 until it was brought down in 1989.
The official name was Deutsche Demokratische Republik
(German Democratic Republic), usually abbreviated to DDR
(GDR). Both terms were used in East Germany, with increasing usage of the abbreviated form, especially since East Germany considered West Germans and West Berliners to be foreigners following the promulgation of its second constitution
in 1968. West Germans, the western media and statesmen initially avoided the official name and its abbreviation, instead using terms like Ostzone
(Eastern Zone), Sowjetische Besatzungszone
(Soviet Occupation Zone; often abbreviated to SBZ
) and sogenannte DDR
or "so-called GDR".
The centre of political power in East Berlin was referred to as Pankow
(the seat of command of the Soviet forces in East Germany was referred to as Karlshorst
Over time, however, the abbreviation "DDR" was also increasingly used colloquially by West Germans and West German media.[note 2]
When used by West Germans, Westdeutschland
) was a term almost always in reference to the geographic region of Western Germany
and not to the area within the boundaries of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, this use was not always consistent and West Berliners frequently used the term Westdeutschland
to denote the Federal Republic.
Before World War II, Ostdeutschland
(eastern Germany) was used to describe all the territories east of the Elbe
), as reflected in the works of sociologist Max Weber
and political theorist Carl Schmitt
On the basis of the Potsdam Conference
, the Allies jointly occupied Germany west of the Oder–Neisse line
, later forming these occupied territories into two independent countries. Light grey: territories annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union; dark grey: West Germany (formed from the US, UK and French occupation zones, including West Berlin
); red: East Germany (formed from the Soviet occupation zone, including East Berlin
Explaining the internal impact of the GDR government 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.
The GDR always was constrained by the example of richer West, to which East Germans compared their nation. The changes implemented by the communists were most apparent in ending capitalism and in transforming industry and agriculture, in the militarization of society, and in the political thrust of the educational system and of the media. On the other hand, the new regime made relatively few changes in the historically independent domains of the sciences, the engineering professions, the Protestant churches, and in many bourgeois lifestyles
. Social policy, says Ritter, became a critical legitimization tool in the last decades and mixed socialist and traditional elements about equally.
At the Yalta Conference
during World War II, the Allies
(the US, the UK, and the Soviet Union) agreed on dividing a defeated Nazi Germany
into occupation zones
and on dividing Berlin, the German capital, among the Allied powers as well. Initially, this meant the formation of three zones of occupation, i.e., American, British, and Soviet. Later, a French zone was carved out of the US and British zones.
The ruling communist party, known as the Socialist Unity Party of Germany
(SED), formed in April 1946 from the merger
between the Communist Party of Germany
(KPD) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany
The two former parties were notorious rivals when they were active before the Nazis consolidated all power and criminalised them, and official East German and Soviet histories portrayed this merger as a voluntary pooling of efforts by the socialist parties and symbolic of the new friendship of German socialists after defeating their common enemy; however, there is much evidence that the merger was more troubled than commonly portrayed, and that the Soviet occupation authorities applied great pressure on the SPD's eastern branch to merge with the KPD, and the communists, who held a majority, had virtually total control over policy.
The SED remained the ruling party for the entire duration of the East German state. It had close ties with the Soviets, which maintained military forces in East Germany
until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 (the Russian Federation
continued to maintain forces in the territory of the former East Germany until 1994), with the stated purpose of countering NATO
bases in West Germany.
As West Germany was reorganized and gained independence from its occupiers (1945-1949), the GDR was established in East Germany in October 1949. The emergence of the two sovereign states solidified the 1945 division of Germany.
On 10 March 1952, (in what would become known as the "Stalin Note
") the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
, Joseph Stalin
, issued a proposal to reunify Germany with a policy of neutrality, with no conditions on economic policies and with guarantees for "the rights of man and basic freedoms, including freedom of speech, press, religious persuasion, political conviction, and assembly" and free activity of democratic parties and organizations.
The West demurred; reunification was not then a priority for the leadership
of West Germany, and the NATO powers declined the proposal, asserting that Germany should be able to join NATO
and that such a negotiation with the Soviet Union would be seen as a capitulation. There have been several debates about whether Germany missed a real chance for reunification in 1952.
The government of East Germany denounced West German failures in accomplishing denazification
and renounced ties to the Nazi
past, imprisoning many former Nazis and preventing them from holding government positions. The SED set a primary goal of ridding East Germany of all traces of Nazism
It is estimated that[when?]
between 180,000 and 250,000 people were sentenced to imprisonment on political grounds.
Zones of occupation
In the Yalta and Potsdam conferences of 1945, 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
, 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 instituted a separate socialist government in its zone
West Germany (blue) comprised the Western Allies' zones, excluding the Saarland
(purple); the Soviet zone, East Germany (red) surrounded West Berlin (yellow).
Yet, seven years after the Allies' 1945 Potsdam Agreement
on common German policies, the USSR via the Stalin Note
(10 March 1952) proposed German reunification
and superpower disengagement
from Central Europe, which the three Western Allies (the United States
, the United Kingdom
) rejected. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin
, a Communist proponent of reunification, died in early March 1953. Similarly, Lavrenty Beria
, the First Deputy Prime Minister of the USSR, pursued German reunification, but he was removed from power that same year 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 1989.
East Germany regarded East Berlin as its capital, and the Soviet Union and the rest of the Eastern Bloc
diplomatically recognized East Berlin as the capital. However, the Western Allies disputed this recognition, considering the entire city of Berlin to be occupied territory
governed by the Allied Control Council
. According to Margarete Feinstein, East Berlin's status as the capital was largely unrecognized by the West and by most Third World countries.
In practice, the ACC's authority was rendered moot by the Cold War
, and East Berlin's status as occupied territory largely became a legal fiction
, the Soviet sector of Berlin became fully integrated into the GDR.
The deepening Cold War conflict between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union over the unresolved status of West Berlin led to the Berlin Blockade
(24 June 1948 – 12 May 1949). The Soviet army initiated the blockade by halting 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 West Berlin.
In March 1948 the German Economic Commission
—DWK) under its chairman Heinrich Rau
assumed administrative authority in the Soviet occupation zone, thus becoming the predecessor of an East German government.
On 7 October 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
), the East German parliament. The first and only president of the German Democratic Republic was Wilhelm Pieck
. However, after 1950, political power in East Germany was held by the First Secretary of the SED, Walter Ulbricht
The German war reparations
owed to the Soviets 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 US$10 billion in reparations in agricultural and industrial products.
The poverty of East Germany, induced or deepened by reparations, provoked the Republikflucht
("desertion from the republic") to West Germany, further weakening the GDR's economy. Western economic opportunities induced a brain drain
. In response, the GDR closed the Inner German Border
, and on the night of 12 August 1961, East German soldiers began erecting the Berlin Wall
In 1971 the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev
had Ulbricht removed; Erich Honecker
replaced him. While the Ulbricht government had experimented with liberal reforms, the Honecker government reversed them. The new government introduced a new East German Constitution
which defined the German Democratic Republic as a "republic of workers and peasants".
Initially, East Germany claimed an exclusive mandate
for all of Germany, a claim supported by most of the Communist bloc. It claimed that West Germany was an illegally-constituted puppet state
of NATO. However, from the 1960s onward, East Germany began recognizing itself as a separate country from West Germany and shared the legacy of the united German state of 1871–1945
. This was formalized in 1974 when the reunification clause was removed from the revised East German constitution. West Germany, in contrast, maintained that it was the only legitimate government 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-state, and frequently referred to it as the "Soviet occupation zone". West Germany's allies shared this position until 1973. East Germany was recognized primarily by Communist countries and by the Arab bloc
, along with some "scattered sympathizers".
According to the Hallstein Doctrine
(1955), West Germany did not establish (formal) diplomatic ties with any country—except the Soviets—that recognized East German sovereignty.
In the early 1970s, the Ostpolitik
("Eastern Policy") of "Change Through Rapprochement" of the pragmatic government of FRG ChancellorWilly Brandt
, established normal diplomatic relations with the East Bloc
states. This policy saw 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), which relinquished any separate claims to an exclusive mandate
over Germany as a whole and established normal relations between the two Germanies. Both countries were admitted into the United Nations on 18 September 1973. This also increased the number of countries recognizing East Germany to 55, including the US, UK and France, though these three still refused to recognize East Berlin as the capital, and insisted on a specific provision in the UN resolution accepting the two Germanies into the UN to that effect.
Following the Ostpolitik, the West German view was that East Germany was a de facto
government within a single German nation and a de jure
state organisation of parts of Germany outside the Federal Republic. The Federal Republic continued to maintain that it could not within its own structures recognize the GDR de jure
as a sovereign state under international law; but it fully acknowledged that, within the structures of international law, the GDR was an independent sovereign state. By distinction, West Germany then viewed itself as being within its own boundaries, not only the de facto
and de jure
government, but also the sole de jure
legitimate representative of a dormant "Germany as whole".
The two Germanies each relinquished any claim to represent the other internationally; which they acknowledged as necessarily implying a mutual recognition of each other as both capable of representing their own populations de jure
in participating in international bodies and agreements, such as the United Nations
and the Helsinki Final Act
the German Democratic Republic is in the international-law sense a State and as such a subject of international law. This finding is independent of recognition in international law of the German Democratic Republic by the Federal Republic of Germany. Such recognition has not only never been formally pronounced by the Federal Republic of Germany but on the contrary repeatedly explicitly rejected. If the conduct of the Federal Republic of Germany towards the German Democratic Republic is assessed in the light of its détente policy, in particular the conclusion of the Treaty as de facto recognition, then it can only be understood as de facto recognition of a special kind. The special feature of this Treaty is that while it is a bilateral Treaty between two States, to which the rules of international law apply and which like any other international treaty possesses validity, it is between two States that are parts of a still existing, albeit incapable of action as not being reorganized, comprehensive State of the Whole of Germany with a single body politic.
Travel between the GDR and Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary became visa-free from 1972.
From the beginning, the newly formed GDR tried to establish its own separate identity.
Because of the imperial and military legacy of Prussia
, the SED repudiated continuity between Prussia and the GDR. The SED destroyed a number of symbolic relics of the former Prussian aristocracy
manor-houses were torn down, the Berliner Stadtschloß
was razed, and the equestrian statue of Frederick the Great
was removed from East Berlin. Instead, the SED focused on the progressive heritage of German history, including Thomas Müntzer
's role in the German Peasants' War
of 1524-1525 and the role played by the heroes of the class struggle during Prussia's industrialization.
In May 1989, following widespread public anger over the faking of results of local government elections, many GDR citizens applied for exit visas or left the country
contrary to GDR laws. The impetus for this exodus of East Germans was the removal of the electrified fence along Hungary
's border with Austria
on 2 May 1989. Although formally the Hungarian frontier was still closed, many East Germans took the opportunity to enter Hungary via Czechoslovakia
, and then make the illegal crossing from Hungary to Austria and to West Germany beyond.
By July, 25,000 East Germans had crossed into Hungary;
most of them did not attempt the risky crossing into Austria but remained instead in Hungary or claimed asylum in West German embassies in Prague
The opening of a border gate between Austria and Hungary at the Pan-European Picnic
on 19 August 1989 then set in motion a chain reaction leading to the end of the GDR and disintegration of the Eastern Bloc. It was the largest mass escape from East Germany since the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The idea of opening the border at a ceremony came from Otto von Habsburg
, who proposed it to Miklós Németh
, then Hungarian Prime Minister, who promoted the idea.
The patrons of the picnic, Habsburg and Hungarian Minister of State Imre Pozsgay
, who did not attend the event, saw the planned event as an opportunity to test Mikhail Gorbachev
's reaction to an opening of the border on the Iron Curtain
. In particular, it tested whether Moscow would give the Soviet troops stationed in Hungary the command to intervene. Extensive advertising for the planned picnic was made by the Paneuropean Union through posters and flyers among the GDR holidaymakers in Hungary. The Austrian branch of the Paneuropean Union
, which was then headed by Karl von Habsburg
, distributed thousands of brochures inviting GDR citizens to a picnic near the border at Sopron (near Hungary's border with Austria).
The local Sopron organizers knew nothing of possible GDR refugees, but envisaged a local party with Austrian and Hungarian participation.
But with the mass exodus at the Pan-European Picnic, the subsequent hesitant behavior of the Socialist Unity Party of East Germany and the non-intervention of the Soviet Union broke the dams. Thus the barrier of the Eastern Bloc was broken. The reaction to this from Erich Honecker in the "Daily Mirror" of 19 August 1989 was too late and showed the present loss of power: "Habsburg distributed leaflets far into Poland, on which the East German holidaymakers were invited to a picnic. When they came to the picnic, they were given gifts, food and Deutsche Mark, and then they were persuaded to come to the West."
Tens of thousands of East Germans, alerted by the media, made their way to Hungary, which was no longer ready to keep its borders completely closed or force its border troops to open fire on escapees. The GDR leadership in East Berlin did not dare to completely lock down their own country's borders.
The next major turning point in the exodus came on 10 September 1989, when Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn
announced that his country would no longer restrict movement from Hungary into Austria. Within two days, 22,000 East Germans crossed into Austria; tens of thousands more did so in the following weeks.
Many other GDR citizens demonstrated against the ruling party
, especially in the city of Leipzig
. The Leipzig demonstrations became a weekly occurrence, with a turnout of 10,000 people at the first demonstration on 2 October, peaking at an estimated 300,000 by the end of the month.
The protests were surpassed in East Berlin, where half a million demonstrators turned out against the regime on 4 November. Kurt Masur
, conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
, led local negotiations with the government and held town meetings in the concert hall.
The demonstrations eventually led Erich Honecker to resign in October; he was replaced by a slightly more moderate communist, Egon Krenz
The massive demonstration in East Berlin on 4 November coincided with Czechoslovakia formally opening its border to West Germany.
With the West more accessible than ever before, 30,000 East Germans made the crossing via Czechoslovakia in the first two days alone. To try to stem the outward flow of the population, the SED proposed a law loosening travel restrictions. When the Volkskammer
rejected it on 5 November, the Cabinet and Politburo
of the GDR resigned.
This left only one avenue open for Krenz and the SED: completely abolishing travel restrictions between East and West.
On 9 November 1989, a few sections of the Berlin Wall were opened, resulting in thousands of East Germans crossing freely into West Berlin and West Germany for the first time in nearly 30 years. Krenz resigned a month later, and the SED opened negotiations with the leaders of the incipient Democratic movement, Neues Forum
, to schedule free elections and begin the process of democratization. As part of this process, the SED eliminated the clause in the East German constitution guaranteeing the Communists leadership of the state. The change was approved in the Volkskammer
on 1 December 1989 by a vote of 420 to 0.
East Germany held its last election 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. Negotiations (2+4
Talks) were held involving the two German states and the former Allies
, which led to agreement on the conditions for German unification. By a two-thirds vote in the Volkskammer
on 23 August 1990, the German Democratic Republic declared its accession to the Federal Republic of Germany. The five original East German states
that had been abolished in the 1952 redistricting were restored.
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
). On 1 July, a currency union preceded the political union: the "Ostmark" was abolished, and the Western German "Deutsche Mark" became the common currency.
Although the Volkskammer's declaration of accession to the Federal Republic had initiated the process of reunification; the act of reunification itself (with its many specific terms, conditions and qualifications; some of which involved amendments to the West German Basic Law) was achieved constitutionally by the subsequent Unification Treaty of 31 August 1990; that is, through a binding agreement between the former Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic now recognising each other as separate sovereign states in international law.
The treaty was then voted into effect prior to the agreed date for Unification by both the Volkskammer and the Bundestag
by the constitutionally required two-thirds majorities; effecting on the one hand, the extinction of the GDR, and on the other, the agreed amendments to the Basic Law of the Federal Republic.
The great economic and socio-political inequalities between the former Germanies required government subsidies for the full integration of the German Democratic Republic into the Federal Republic of Germany. Because of the resulting deindustrialization
in the former East Germany, the causes of the failure of this integration continue to be debated. Some western commentators claim that the depressed eastern economy is a natural aftereffect of a demonstrably inefficient command economy
. But many East German critics contend that the shock-therapy
style of privatization
, the artificially high rate of exchange
offered for the Ostmark
, and the speed with which the entire process was implemented did not leave room for East German enterprises to adapt.
GDR flag at the United Nations headquarters, New York City, 1973
There were four periods in East German political history.
These included: 1949–61, which saw the building of socialism; 1961–1970 after the Berlin Wall closed off escape was a period of stability and consolidation; 1971–85 was termed the Honecker
Era, and saw closer ties with West Germany; and 1985–90 saw the decline and extinction of East Germany.
The Potsdam Agreement committed the Soviets to support a democratic form of government in Germany, though the Soviets' understanding of democracy was radically different from that of the West. As in other Soviet-bloc countries, non-communist political parties
were allowed. Nevertheless, every political party in the GDR was forced to join the National Front of Democratic Germany
, a broad coalition of parties and mass political organisations, including:
Poster with the inscription "Berlin - Hauptstadt der DDR", 1967
The member parties were almost completely subservient to the SED and had to accept its "leading role
" as a condition of their existence. However, the parties did have representation in the Volkskammer and received some posts in the government.
Important non-parliamentary mass organisations in East German society included the German Gymnastics and Sports Association (Deutscher Turn- und Sportbund
), and People's Solidarity
), an organisation for the elderly. Another society of note was the Society for German-Soviet Friendship
After the fall of Communism, the SED was renamed the "Party of Democratic Socialism
" (PDS) which continued for a decade after reunification before merging with the West German WASG
to form the Left Party
). The Left Party continues to be a political force in many parts of Germany, albeit drastically less powerful than the SED.
A woman and her husband, both medical students, and their triplets in East Germany in 1984. The GDR had state policies to encourage births among educated women.
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
, which made the home of millions of Germans part of Poland and the Soviet Union.
This was a stark contrast from Poland, which increased during that time; from 24 million in 1950 (a little more than East Germany) to 38 million (more than twice of East Germany's population). 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,
except for a recovery in the 1980s when the birth rate in East Germany was considerably higher than in West Germany.
- East Berlin (1,200,000)
- Leipzig (556,000)
- Dresden (520,000)
- Karl-Marx-Stadt (314,437) (Chemnitz until 1953, reverted to original name in 1990)
- Magdeburg (290,579)
- Rostock (253,990)
- Halle (Saale) (236,044)
- Erfurt (220,016)
- Potsdam (142,862)
- Gera (134,834)
- Schwerin (130,685)
- Cottbus (128,639)
- Zwickau (121,749)
- Jena (108,010)
- Dessau (103,867)
Districts of the German Democratic Republic in 1952
Until 1952, East Germany comprised the capital, East Berlin
(though legally it was not fully part of the GDR's territory), and the five German states
(in 1947 renamed Mecklenburg), Brandenburg
, and Saxony
, their post-war territorial demarcations approximating the pre-war German demarcations of the Middle German Länder
(states) and Provinzen
(provinces of Prussia
). The western parts of two provinces, Pomerania
and Lower Silesia
, the remainder of which were annexed by Poland, remained in the GDR and were attached to Mecklenburg and Saxony, respectively.
The East German Administrative Reform of 1952
established 14 Bezirke
(districts) and de facto
disestablished the five Länder
. The new Bezirke
, named after their district centres, were as follows: (i) Rostock
, (ii) Neubrandenburg
, and (iii) Schwerin
created from the Land
(state) of Mecklenburg; (iv) Potsdam
, (v) Frankfurt (Oder)
, and (vii) Cottbus
from Brandenburg; (vi) Magdeburg
and (viii) Halle
from Saxony-Anhalt; (ix) Leipzig
, (xi) Dresden
, and (xii) Karl-Marx-Stadt
(Chemnitz until 1953 and again from 1990) from Saxony; and (x) Erfurt
, (xiii) Gera
, and (xiv) Suhl
East Berlin was made the country's 15th Bezirk
in 1961 but retained special legal status until 1968, when the residents approved the new (draft) constitution. Despite the city as a whole being legally under the control of the Allied Control Council
, and diplomatic objections of the Allied governments, the GDR administered the Bezirk
of Berlin as part of its territory.
The government of East Germany had control over a large number of military and paramilitary organisations through various ministries. Chief among these was the Ministry of National Defence. Because of East Germany's proximity to the West during the Cold War
(1945–92), its military forces were among the most advanced of the Warsaw Pact
. Defining what was a military force and what was not is a matter of some dispute.
The Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) was the largest military organisation in East Germany. It was formed in 1956 from the Kasernierte Volkspolizei
(Barracked People's Police), the military units of the regular police (Volkspolizei
), when East Germany joined the Warsaw Pact. From its creation, it was controlled by the Ministry of National Defence (East Germany)
. It was an all-volunteer force until an eighteen-month conscription
period was introduced in 1962.
It was regarded by NATO officers as the best military in the Warsaw Pact.
The NVA consisted of the following branches:
The border troops of the Eastern sector were originally organised as a police force, the Deutsche Grenzpolizei, similar to the Bundesgrenzschutz
in West Germany. It was controlled by the Ministry of the Interior. Following the remilitarisation of East Germany in 1956, the Deutsche Grenzpolizei was transformed into a military force in 1961, modeled after the Soviet Border Troops
, and transferred to the Ministry of National Defense, as part of the National People's Army. In 1973, it was separated from the NVA, but it remained under the same ministry. At its peak, it numbered approximately 47,000 men.
After the NVA was separated from the Volkspolizei
in 1956, the Ministry of the Interior maintained its own public order barracked reserve, known as the Volkspolizei-Bereitschaften (VPB)
. These units were, like the Kasernierte Volkspolizei, equipped as motorised infantry, and they numbered between 12,000 and 15,000 men.
The Ministry of State Security (Stasi) included the Felix Dzerzhinsky Guards Regiment
, which was mainly involved with facilities security and plain clothes events security. They were the only part of the feared Stasi that was visible to the public, and so were very unpopular within the population. The Stasi numbered around 90,000 men, the Guards Regiment around 11,000-12,000 men.
Combat groups of the working class
The Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse
(combat groups of the working class) numbered around 400,000 for much of their existence, and were organised around factories. The KdA was the political-military instrument of the SED; it was essentially a "party Army". All KdA directives and decisions were made by the ZK's Politbüro
. They received their training from the Volkspolizei and the Ministry of the Interior. Membership was voluntary, but SED members were required to join as part of their membership obligation.
Every man was required to serve eighteen months of compulsory military service
; for the medically unqualified and conscientious objector
, there were the Baueinheiten
(construction units) or the Volkshygienedienst (people’s sanitation service) both established in 1964, two years after the introduction of conscription, in response to political pressure by the national Lutheran
Protestant Church upon the GDR's government. In the 1970s, East German leaders acknowledged that former construction soldiers
and sanitation service soldiers were at a disadvantage when they rejoined the civilian sphere.
Support of Third World socialist countries
After receiving wider international diplomatic recognition in 1972–73, the GDR began active cooperation with Third World socialist governments and national liberation movements
. While the USSR was in control of the overall strategy and Cuban armed forces were involved in the actual combat (mostly in the People's Republic of Angola
and socialist Ethiopia
), the GDR provided experts for military hardware maintenance and personnel training, and oversaw creation of secret security agencies based on its own Stasi model.
The first military agreement was signed in 1973 with the People's Republic of the Congo. In 1979 friendship treaties were signed with Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia.
It was estimated that altogether, 2,000–4,000 DDR military and security experts were dispatched to Africa. In addition, representatives from African and Arab countries and liberation movements underwent military training in the GDR.
East Germany and the Middle East conflict
East Germany pursued an anti-Zionist
policy; Jeffrey Herf
argues that East Germany was waging an undeclared war on Israel
According to Herf, "the Middle East was one of the crucial battlefields of the global Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West; it was also a region in which East Germany played a salient role in the Soviet bloc's antagonism toward Israel."
While East Germany saw itself as an "anti-fascist state", it regarded Israel
as a "fascist state"
and East Germany strongly supported the Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) in its armed struggle against Israel. In 1974, the GDR government recognized the PLO as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people".
The PLO declared the Palestinian state
on 15 November 1988 during the First Intifada
, and the GDR recognized the state prior to reunification.
After becoming a member of the UN, East Germany "made excellent use of the UN to wage political warfare against Israel [and was] an enthusiastic, high-profile, and vigorous member" of the anti-Israeli majority of the General Assembly.
Soviet military occupation
Map of the East German economy
automobile was a profitable product made in the German Democratic Republic.
The East German economy began poorly because of the devastation caused by the Second World War; the loss of so many young soldiers, the disruption of business and transportation, the allied bombing campaigns that decimated cities, and 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 and in accordance with Potsdam Agreement
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 services, the state paid 80% of basic supply costs. The estimated 1984 per capita income was $9,800 ($22,600 in 2015 dollars) (this is based on an unreal official exchange rate). In 1976, the average annual growth of the GDP was approximately five percent. This made the East German economy the richest in all of the Soviet Bloc
until reunification in 1990.
Until the 1960s, East Germans endured shortages of basic foodstuffs such as sugar
. East Germans with friends or relatives in the West (or with 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".
At the production level, artificial prices made for a system of semi-barter and resource hoarding. For the consumer, it led to the substitution of GDR money with time, barter, and hard currencies. 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).
Economic issues would also persist in the east of Germany after the reunification of the west and the east. According to the federal office of political education (23 June 2009) 'In 1991 alone, 153 billion Deutschmarks had to be transferred to eastern Germany to secure incomes, support businesses and improve infrastructure... by 1999 the total had amounted to 1.634 trillion Marks net... The sums were so large that public debt in Germany more than doubled.'
Consumption and jobs
Growth in GDP per capita in East and West Germany
Many western commentators have maintained that loyalty to the SED was a primary criterion for getting a good job, and that professionalism was secondary to political criteria in personnel recruitment and development.
Beginning in 1963 with a series of secret international agreements, East Germany recruited workers from Poland
and North Vietnam
. They numbered more than 100,000 by 1989. Many, such as future politician Zeca Schall (who emigrated from Angola in 1988 as a contract worker) stayed in Germany after the Wende.
Religion became contested ground in the GDR, with the governing Communists promoting state atheism
, although some people remained loyal to Christian communities.
In 1957 the State authorities established a State Secretariat for Church Affairs
to handle the government's contact with churches and with religious groups;
the SED remained officially atheist.
In 1950, 85% of the GDR citizens were Protestants
, while 10% were Catholics
. In 1961, the renowned philosophical theologian Paul Tillich
claimed that the Protestant population in East Germany had the most admirable Church in Protestantism, because the Communists there had not been able to win a spiritual victory over them.
By 1989, membership in the Christian churches dropped significantly. Protestants constituted 25% of the population, Catholics 5%. The share of people who considered themselves non-religious rose from 5% in 1950 to 70% in 1989.
When it first came to power, the Communist party asserted the compatibility of Christianity and Marxism-Leninism and sought Christian participation in the building of socialism. At first, the promotion of Marxist-Leninist atheism
received little official attention. In the mid-1950s, as the Cold War heated up, atheism became a topic of major interest for the state, in both domestic and foreign contexts. University chairs and departments devoted to the study of scientific atheism were founded and much literature (scholarly and popular) on the subject was produced.[by whom?]
This activity subsided in the late 1960s amid perceptions that it had started to become counterproductive. Official and scholarly attention to atheism renewed beginning in 1973, though this time with more emphasis on scholarship and on the training of cadres than on propaganda. Throughout, the attention paid to atheism in East Germany was never intended to jeopardise the cooperation that was desired from those East Germans who were religious.
A 1980 meeting between representatives of the BEK and Erich Honecker
Between 1956 and 1971 the leadership
of the East German Lutheran churches gradually changed its relations with the state from hostility to cooperation.
From the founding of the GDR in 1949, the Socialist Unity Party sought to weaken the influence of the church on the rising generation. The church adopted an attitude of confrontation and distance toward the state. Around 1956 this began to develop into a more neutral stance accommodating conditional loyalty. The government 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 the churches felt was not in accordance with the will of God, the churches reserved their 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 made it clear that the East German state was not temporary. The loss of church members also made it clear to the leaders of the church that they had to come into some kind of dialogue with the state. The intentions behind the change of attitude varied from a traditional liberal Lutheran acceptance of secular power to a positive attitude toward socialist ideas.
became a lawyer for the Brandenburg 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
(BEK), where he negotiated with the government while at the same time working within the institutions of this Protestant body. He won the regional elections for the Brandenburg state assembly at the head of the SPD list in 1990. Stolpe remained in the Brandenburg government until he joined the federal government in 2002.
The smaller Catholic Church in eastern Germany had a fully functioning episcopal hierarchy in full accord with the Vatican. During the early postwar years, tensions were high. The Catholic Church as a whole (and particularly the bishops) resisted both the East German state and Marxist-Leninist ideology. The state allowed the bishops to lodge protests, which they did on issues such as abortion.
After 1945, the Church did fairly well in integrating Catholic exiles from lands to the east (which mostly became part of Poland) and in adjusting its institutional structures to meet the needs of a church within an officially atheist society. This meant an increasingly hierarchical church structure, whereas in the area of religious education, press, and youth organisations, a system of temporary staff was developed, one that took into account the special situation of Caritas
, a Catholic charity organisation. By 1950, therefore, there existed a Catholic subsociety that was well adjusted to prevailing specific conditions and capable of maintaining Catholic identity.[page needed]
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 began holding unauthorised 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 government responded by limiting international contacts for bishops.[need quotation to verify]
List of apostolic administrators:
East Germany's culture was strongly influenced by communist thought and was marked by an attempt to define itself in opposition to the west, particularly West Germany and the United States. Critics of the East German state[who?]
have claimed that the state's commitment to Communism was a hollow and cynical tool, Machiavellian
in nature, but this assertion has been challenged by studies[which?]
that have found that the East German leadership was genuinely committed to the advance of scientific knowledge, economic development, and social progress. However, Pence and Betts argue, the majority of East Germans over time increasingly regarded the state's ideals to be hollow, though there was also a substantial number of East Germans who regarded their culture as having a healthier, more authentic mentality than that of West Germany.
The Oktoberklub in 1967
were some of the most popular mainstream bands in East Germany. Like most mainstream acts, they were members of the SED, appeared in state-run popular youth magazines such as Neues Leben
. Other popular rock bands were Wir [de]
. Most of these artists recorded on the state-owned AMIGA
label. All were required to open live performances and albums with the East German national anthem. 
, which was very popular in the west, also gained a foothold early on in East Germany, and numerous musicians, such as Gerd Christian [de]
, Uwe Jensen [de]
, and Hartmut Schulze-Gerlach [de]
gained national fame. From 1962 to 1976, an international schlager festival was held in Rostock
, garnering participants from between 18 and 22 countries each year.
The city of Dresden
held a similar international festival for schlager musicians from 1971 until shortly before reunification.
There was a national schlager contest hosted yearly in Magdeburg from 1966 to 1971 as well.
West German television and radio could be received in many parts of the East. The Western influence led to the formation of more "underground" groups with a decisively western-oriented sound. A few of these bands – the so-called Die anderen Bands
("the other bands") – were Die Skeptiker
, Die Art [de]
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.
The birthplace of Johann Sebastian Bach
, 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.
Theatre and cabaret
had high status in the GDR, which allowed it to be very proactive. 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."
is the last major building erected by the GDR, making it an exceptional architectural testimony to how Germany overcame its former division. Here, Berlin's great revue
tradition lives on, today bringing viewers state-of-the-art shows.
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. The East German 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
The film industry was remarkable for its production of Ostern
, or Western-like movies. Amerindians
in these films often took the role of displaced people who fight for their rights, in contrast to the North American westerns
of the time, where they were often either not mentioned at all or are portrayed as the villains. Yugoslavs
were often cast as Native Americans because of the small number of Native Americans in 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 the Americas.
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, films representing or glorifying what the state viewed as capitalist ideology were not bought. Comedies enjoyed great popularity, such as the Danish Olsen Gang
or movies with the French comedian Louis de Funès
East Germany was very successful in the sports of cycling
, swimming, gymnastics, track and field, boxing
, ice skating
, and winter sports. The success is largely attributed to doping
under the direction of Manfred Höppner
, a sports doctor, described as the architect of East Germany's state-sponsored drug program.
Anabolic steroids were 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 the GDR. Sports teachers at school were encouraged to look for certain talents in children of ages 6 to 10. 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.
Television and radio
Television and radio in East Germany were state-run industries; the Rundfunk der DDR
was the official radio broadcasting organisation from 1952 until unification. The organization was based in the Funkhaus Nalepastraße
in East Berlin. Deutscher Fernsehfunk
(DFF), from 1972 to 1990 known as Fernsehen der DDR
or DDR-FS, was the state television broadcaster from 1952. Reception of Western 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 distance 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 unification, the existing network was largely replaced, and area codes and dialing became standardised.
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
Official and public holidays
German historian Jürgen Kocka
in 2010 summarized the consensus of most recent scholarship:
Conceptualizing the GDR as a dictatorship has become widely accepted, while the meaning of the concept dictatorship varies. Massive evidence has been collected that proves the repressive, undemocratic, illiberal, nonpluralistic character of the GDR regime and its ruling party.
A booth selling East German and communist-themed memorabilia in Berlin
Many East Germans initially regarded the dissolution of the GDR positively,
but this reaction partly turned sour.
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
In 2004, Ascher Barnstone wrote, "East Germans resent the wealth possessed by West Germans; West Germans see the East Germans as lazy opportunists who want something for nothing. East Germans find 'Wessis' arrogant and pushy, West Germans think the 'Ossis' are lazy good-for-nothings."
In addition, many East German women found the west more appealing, and left the region never to return, leaving behind an underclass of poorly educated and jobless men.
As of 2014, the vast majority of residents in the former GDR prefer to live in a unified Germany. However, a feeling of nostalgia persists among some, termed "Ostalgie
" (a blend
"east" and Nostalgie
"nostalgia"). This was depicted in the Wolfgang Becker
film Goodbye Lenin!
. According to Klaus Schroeder
, a historian and political scientist at the Free University of Berlin
, some of the original residents of the GDR "still feel they don't belong or that they're strangers in unified Germany" as life in the GDR was "just more manageable". He warns German society should watch out in case Ostalgie results in a distortion and romanticization of the past.
The divide between the East and the West can be seen in contemporary German elections. The left-wing Die Linke
party (which has roots in the SED) continues to have a stronghold and often wins a plurality in the East, such as in the German State of Thuringia
where it remains the most popular party.
This is in stark distinction from the West where the more centrist parties such as the CDU/CSU
- ^ October–December
- ^ The use of the abbreviation BRD (FRG) for West Germany, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany), on the other hand, was never accepted in West Germany since it was considered a political statement. Thus BRD (FRG) was a term used by East Germans, or by West Germans who held a pro-East-German view. Colloquially, West Germans called West Germany simply Germany (reflecting West Germany's claim to represent the whole of Germany), or alternatively the Bundesrepublik or Bundesgebiet (Federal Republic or Federal Territory, respectively), referring to the country and Bundesbürger (Federal citizen) for its citizens, with the adjective bundesdeutsch (Federal German).
- ^ The Eastern churches were the Evangelical Church of Anhalt, Evangelical Church in Berlin, Brandenburg and Silesian Upper Lusatia#Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg (EKiBB, East Ambit, for East Berlin and Brandenburg), Evangelical Church of the Görlitz Ecclesiastical Region, Evangelical Church in Greifswald, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mecklenburg, Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony, Evangelical Church of the Church Province of Saxony (KPS), Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thuringia and Evangelical Church of the Union (East Region, for EKiBB-East Ambit, Görlitz, Greifswald and KPS, and since 1970 for Anhalt too).
- ^ Not recognised by the Three Powers: France, United Kingdom and the United States.
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