The German Democratic Republic (GDR; Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR; commonly known in English as East Germany) was a socialist state created by the Soviet Union in the Soviet Zone of occupied Germany and the Soviet sector of occupied Berlin. East Germany existed from 7 October 1949 until 3 October 1990, when its re-established states acceded to the adjacent Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), thus producing the current form of the state of Germany.
Until 1952, the GDR consisted of the German states of Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, Saxony and the capital, East Berlin. These divisions roughly corresponded to prewar states (Länder) and provinces (Provinzen) in the area of Eastern Germany administered by the Soviet Union under the terms of the postwar Potsdam Agreement. Two small remnants of states annexed by Poland after the war (Pomerania and Lower Silesia) remained in the GDR and were attached to neighboring territories.
In the administrative reform of 1952, the states were abolished and replaced with 14 smaller districts. The districts were named after their capitals: Rostock, Neubrandenburg, Schwerin, Potsdam, Frankfurt (Oder), Magdeburg, Cottbus, Halle, Leipzig, Erfurt, Dresden, Karl-Marx-Stadt (named Chemnitz until 1953 and again after 1990), Gera, and Suhl. East Berlin was recognized as a district in 1961.
In 1955, the Soviet Union declared that the Republic was fully sovereign; however, Soviet troops remained in GDR territory, based on the four-power Potsdam agreement, while British, Canadian, French and American forces remained in the Federal Republic of Germany in the West. Berlin, completely surrounded by GDR territory, was similarly divided with British, French and U.S. garrisons in West Berlin and Soviet forces in East Berlin. Berlin in particular became the focal point of Cold War tensions. East Germany was a member of the Warsaw Pact and a close ally of the Soviet Union.
Following the initial opening of sections of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989, new elections were held on 18 March 1990, and the governing party, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, lost its majority in the Volkskammer (the East German parliament) soon after. On 23 August, the Volkskammer decided that the Republic would join the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990. As a result of the unification on that date, the German Democratic Republic ceased to exist.
See also History of Germany
Before the end of World War II, the region that later would be known as East Germany was actually situated in the center of the German state and therefore was known as "Mitteldeutschland" (Central or Middle Germany). To the east of the Oder and Neisse rivers were the extensive Prussian provinces of Pomerania, East Prussia, West Prussia, Posen, Upper Silesia and Lower Silesia, and the eastern Neumark of Brandenburg. During World War II, Allied leaders decided at the Yalta Conference that post-war Polish border would be moved westward to the Oder-Neisse line to compensate Poland for the loss of its eastern territories to the Soviet Union. As a result, Germany lost most of its eastern provinces, and the former "Middle Germany" was now the de facto eastern limit of the German nation.
Discussions at Yalta and Potsdam also outlined the planned occupation and administration of post-war Germany under a four-power Allied Control Council, or ACC, composed of the United States, United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union. At the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945, following the end of fighting in Europe, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union decided to divide Germany into four occupation zones. Each country would control a part of Germany until its sovereignty was restored.
The Länder (states) of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, fell in the Soviet Zone of Germany (in German: Sowjetische Besatzungszone, or SBZ). Soviet objections to economic and political changes in western (US, UK, and French) occupation zones led to Soviet withdrawal from the ACC in 1948 and subsequent evolution of the SBZ into East Germany, including the Soviet sector of Berlin. Concurrently, the Western occupation zones consolidated to form West Germany (or the Federal Republic of Germany, FRG).
Officially, both the western Allies and the Communists committed to maintaining a unified Germany after the war in the Potsdam Agreement, at least on paper. The 1952 Stalin Note proposed German reunification and superpower disengagement from Central Europe, but the United States and its allies rejected the offer. Stalin died in early 1953. Though powerful Soviet politician Lavrenty Beria briefly pursued the idea of German unification once more following Stalin's death, he was arrested and removed from office in a coup d'etat in mid-1953. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, firmly rejected the idea of handing eastern Germany over to be annexed, marking the end of any serious consideration of the unification idea until the collapse of the Communist East German government in late 1989.
Just as Germany was divided after the war, Berlin, the former capital of Germany, was divided into four sectors. East Germany and the rest of the Eastern bloc considered East Berlin to be the capital of East Germany, although the legality of this was disputed by the western Allies, as the entire city was formally considered an occupied territory governed by martial law through the Allied Control Council. In practice, the Allied Control Council quickly became moot as the Cold War intensified, and the eastern government ignored the technical legal restrictions on how East Berlin could be used.
Conflict over the status of West Berlin led to the Berlin Blockade, when the Soviet government prohibited overland transit between the western zones of Germany and West Berlin, prompting the massive Berlin Airlift.
The first leader of East Germany was Wilhelm Pieck, the first (and as it turned out, only) President of the Republic. However, after 1950 the real power rested with Walter Ulbricht, first secretary of the Socialist Unity Party, the ruling Communist party.
On 16 June 1953, following a production quota increase of 10 percent for workers building East Berlin's new boulevard the Stalinallee, (today's Karl-Marx-Allee), demonstrations by disgruntled workers broke out in East Berlin. The next day the protests spread across East Germany with more than a million on strike and demonstrations in 700 communities. Fearing revolution the government requested the aid of Soviet occupation troops and on the morning of the 18th tanks and soldiers were dispatched who dealt harshly with protesters. The result was some fifty deaths and a wave of arrests and jail sentences numbering over 10,000. Transit between West and East Berlin was relatively free at the time, meaning that the protests and the harsh Soviet reaction unfolded in full view of many western observers. See Uprising of 1953 in East Germany.
During the early stages of the occupation, the Red Army seized a great deal of industrial equipment from eastern Germany to be shipped back to the Soviet Union as war reparations, crippling the East German economy for years. The increasing economic prosperity of West Germany led large numbers of East Germans to flee to the West. Since the 1940s, East Germans had been leaving the Soviet zone of Germany to emigrate to the west. The ongoing emigration of East Germans further strained the East German economy. Although the border between the two German states was largely closed by the mid-1950s (see Inner German border), the sector borders in Berlin were relatively easy to cross. Due to the lure of higher salaries in the West and political oppression in the East, many skilled workers (such as doctors) crossed into the West, causing a 'brain drain' in the East. However, on the night of 13 August 1961, East German troops sealed the border between West and East Berlin and started to build the Berlin Wall, literally and physically enclosing West Berlin. Travel was greatly restricted into, and out of, East Germany. A highly effective security force called the Stasi monitored the lives of East German citizens to suppress dissenters through its network of informants and agents.
In 1971, Ulbricht was forced out as head of state under Soviet pressure, and replaced by Erich Honecker. Ulbricht had experimented with a few reforms, but Honecker tightened the reins and imposed a new constitution that used the word "German" sparingly and defined the country as a "republic of workers and peasants." East Germany was generally regarded as the most economically advanced member of the Warsaw Pact.
Until the 1970s, West Germany regarded East Germany as an illegally constituted state, and under the Hallstein Doctrine refused to have diplomatic relations with any country (except the Soviet Union) that recognized East Germany as a separate country. In the early 1970s, Ostpolitik led by Willy Brandt led to a form of mutual recognition between East and West Germany. 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) helped to normalize relations between East and West Germany and led to both German states joining the United Nations.
Competition with the West was also conducted on a sporting level. East German athletes dominated several Olympic disciplines. Of special interest was the only football match ever to occur between West and East Germany, a first round match during the 1974 World Cup. Though West Germany was the host and the eventual champion, East beat West 1-0.
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. 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. The demonstrations eventually led Erich Honecker to resign in October, and he was replaced by a slightly more liberal Communist, Egon Krenz.
On 9 November 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. Soon, the governing party of East Germany resigned. Although there were some small attempts to create a permanent, democratic East Germany, these were soon overwhelmed by calls for unification with West Germany. After some negotiations (2+4 Talks, involving the two German states and the former Allied Powers United States, France, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union), conditions for German unification were agreed upon. East Germany recreated the original five states that had been abolished in 1952. On 3 October 1990, the five East German 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).
To this day, there remain vast differences between the former East Germany and West Germany (for example, in lifestyle, wealth, political beliefs and other matters) and thus it is still common to speak of eastern and western Germany distinctly. The Eastern German economy has struggled since unification, and large subsidies are still transferred from west to east.
All parties operating in East Germany were obliged to join the "National Front of Democratic Germany", ostensibly a united coalition of anti-fascist political parties. It was completely controlled by the SED. Members included:
Elections took place to a parliament called 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. As was the case in most Communist countries, approval rates of 90 percent or more were routine.
The 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 (and very popular during the late 1980s) was the Society for German-Soviet Friendship.
A highly effective secret police force called the Stasi infiltrated and reported on most private activity in East Germany, limiting opportunity for non-sanctioned political organisation. All formal organisations except for churches were directly controlled by the East German government. Churches were permitted to operate more or less free from government control, as long as they abstained from political activity.
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.
In addition, the GDR possessed various paramilitary forces in reserve in case war broke out, such as the "Combat Groups of the Working Class" (Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse) and in some cases, the Stasi.
All young East German men had to join the NVA. Attendance was compulsory for 18 months, except for serious medical reasons. As an alternative to military service for conscientious objectors, the so-called Baueinheiten (construction units) were created in 1964 under pressure from the national Protestant church. However, service in the Baueinheiten was strongly discouraged; these soldiers were subjected to various forms of harassment during their service, and there were also consequences after their term of service was complete - e.g., denial or difficulty in obtaining admission to higher education, etc.
In 1952, as part of the reforms designed to centralize power in the hands of the SED's Politbüro, the five Länder of East Germany were abolished, and East Germany was divided into fifteen Bezirke (districts), each named after the largest city: the northern Land Mecklenburg-Vorpommern was divided between the Bezirke Rostock, Schwerin and Neubrandenburg; Brandenburg (surrounding Berlin) was reorganized into the Bezirke of Potsdam, Frankfurt (Oder) and Cottbus; Saxony-Anhalt split into the Bezirke of Halle and Magdeburg; the south-western Land Thuringia became the Bezirke of Erfurt, Gera and Suhl; finally, the south-eastern Land Saxony was divided between Leipzig, Dresden and Karl-Marx-Stadt (formerly and following the GDR's collapse again known as Chemnitz). The GDR capital, East Berlin formed the 15th Bezirk, though it retained a special legal status in the GDR until 1968, when East Berliners voted with the rest of the GDR to approve the draft of the new constitution. From this point onwards, irrespective of the Four Power Status and the western allies' objections that East Berlin was merely the Soviet occupied sector of the German capital, East Berlin was treated as a Bezirk like any other.
East Germany's economy had a poor start in the aftermath of World War II's devastation. The Soviet Union demanded heavy reparation payments, and Lower Silesia, which contained coal mines, and Stettin, a prominent natural port, were given to Poland. Like other East European socialist states, East Germany had a centrally planned economy (CPE), similar to the one in the former Soviet Union, in contrast to the market economies or mixed economies of most Western states. The GDR became a member of the COMECON trading block in 1950. The state established production targets and prices and allocated resources, codifying these decisions in a comprehensive plan or set of plans. The means of production were almost entirely state owned. In 1985, for example, state-owned enterprises or collectives earned 96.7 percent of total net national income. To secure constant prices for inhabitants, the state bore 80% of costs of basic supplies, from bread to housing. The per capita income in 1989 was an estimated $27,100, though the currency conversion used to create this figure is difficult to conduct. In 1976 average annual GDP growth was roughly 5.9%.
To the East German consumer, there were always shortages. Waiting for a new Wartburg amounted to 13 years in 1989. East Germans with friends or relatives in the West, or other access to hard currency, could buy Western products and East German products only intended for export, at the Intershop. Other ways of accessing rare consumer goods was through the Danish company Jauerfood.
The ultimate directing force in the economy, as in every aspect of the society, was the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED), particularly its top leadership. The party exercised its leadership role formally during the party congress, when it accepted the report of the general secretary, and when it adopted the draft plan for the upcoming five-year period.
The private sector of the economy was small but not entirely insignificant. In 1985 about 2.8 percent of the net national product came from private enterprises. The private sector included private farmers and gardeners; independent craftsmen, wholesalers, and retailers; and individuals employed in so-called free-lance activities (artists, writers, and others). Although self-employed, such individuals were strictly regulated; in some cases the tax rate exceeded 90%. In 1985, for the first time in many years, the number of individuals working in the private sector increased slightly. According to East German statistics, in 1985 there were about 176,800 private entrepreneurs, an increase of about 500 over 1984. Certain private sector activities were quite important to the system because those craftsmen provided rare, specially made spare parts.
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 everywhere, because TV and radio that came from the Klassenfeind (class enemy, meaning "enemy of the working class") could be received in many parts of the East, too (a notorious exception being Dresden, with its geographically disadvantageous position in the Elbe valley, giving it the nickname of “Valley of the Clueless”). 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, as well as 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.
Classical music was highly supported, so that there existed over 50 classical symphony orchestras in a country with a population about 16 million. See also:
Johann Sebastian Bach was born in East German territory and his birthplace in Eisenach was turned into a museum of his life, which, among other things, included more than 300 instruments from Bach's life. In 1980 this museum was receiving more than 70,000 visitors annually.
In Leipzig, an enormous archive with recordings of all of Bach's music was compiled, along with many historical documents and letters both to and from him.
Every other year, school children from across East Germany gathered for a Bach competition held in East Berlin. Every four years an international Bach competition for keyboard and strings was held.
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 due to increasing censorship. A parallel theatre scene grew 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 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, due to 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 of America in the 90s 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. See also Spaghetti Western and the West German Winnetou films (adaptations of novels of Karl May).
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 also certain western movies were shown, but the numbers 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.
Another factor for success was the furtherance-system for young people in GDR. When some children were aged around 6 until 10 years old (or older) sport-teachers at school were encouraged to look for certain talents in every pupil. 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.
Sports 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). Football (soccer) was the most popular sport after team handball. Club football sides like Dynamo Dresden, 1. FC Magdeburg, FC Carl Zeiss Jena, 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig and FC Hansa Rostock did have some success in European competition. Many East German players became integral parts of the reunified national football team, for example Matthias Sammer. Other sports enjoyed great popularity like figure skating, especially because of sportswomen like Katharina Witt.
East Germans patriotically supported their athletes to success in international competitions for similar reasons as those in other countries, and this no doubt played its part in the success that state enjoyed. However, as with other Soviet states, a widely held perception existed that international athletic success advertised their political and economic system to a worldwide audience. In the special case of East Germany, being the minority section of the divided Cold War era Germany, the particular success of that state was considered to foster international acceptance of the GDR as a state in its own right.
Communist States gave much importance to philately and the GDR was one of those which printed the most beautiful stamps. However, their philatelic value was sometimes questioned in the West since GDR stamps were usually part of a 3- or 4-stamp series and one of them would be very difficult to find and then would acquire an expensive value in the philatelic market. In the 1970s, as several States, such as the GDR, Paraguay, and later some Emirates, would print beautiful stamps that would not be in normal circulation but would rather be sold directly in the international market, philatelical associations began to disqualify some of these products.
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. This was due to the way the calls were routed over the trunk network. After reunification, 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 serve as a participant in the international telecommunications organization established by the Soviet government, Intersputnik.
|Date||English Name||German Name||Remarks|
|1 January||New Year's Day||Neujahr|
|8 March||Women's Day||Internationaler Frauentag||Was not a day off for women.|
|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 nor a day off, but still widely celebrated.|
|Moveable feast||Whitmonday||Pfingstmontag||50 days after Easter Sunday|
|7 October||Republic Day||Tag der Republik||National holiday|
|25 December||First Day of Christmas||1. Weihnachtsfeiertag|
|26 December||Second Day of Christmas||2. Weihnachtsfeiertag|
|before = Allied Occupation Zones in Germany||after = Federal Republic of Germany||years = 1949 – 1990 }}|