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East Germany

For the historical eastern German provinces, see Historical Eastern Germany

East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic (GDR), German Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR), was a socialist country that existed from 1949 to 1990. East Germany was created in East Berlin on October 7, 1949. It was declared fully sovereign in 1954, but Soviet troops remained on grounds of the four-power Potsdam agreement, largely to counteract the American presence in West Germany during the Cold War. East Germany was a member of the Warsaw Pact. Following elections, it merged with West Germany to form a united Germany in 1990.

Deutsche Demokratische Republik
(Flag of East Germany) (East German Coat of Arms)
National motto: none
Official language German
Capital East Berlin
Area 108,333 km²
 - Total (1989)
 - Density

Constitution October 7, 1949
Currency 1 Mark (Ostmark) =
100 Pfennig
Time zone
 - in summer
National anthem Auferstanden aus Ruinen
(Risen from ruins)
Calling Code +37 (obsolete)
ISO 3166-1 DD (obsolete)
ISO 3166-3 DDDE
Internet TLD .dd (obsolete)


Main articles: History of East Germany, History of Germany

At the end of World War II, at the Potsdam Conference in 1945, the victorious countries France, the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union decided to divide Germany into four zones of occupation. Each country would control a part of Germany until its sovereignty was restored.

The territories of East Germany were initially settled by Slavic Wends and conquered by Germany in Middle Ages. The newly acquired land was organised in margravates, German feudal states on the land of Slavs. Consequent waves of German settlements, later also Jewish and French Hugenots, gradually advert ethnic composition of land, except the small community of Sorbs in Lusatia. Most of East Germany became later part of Kingdom of Prussia.

In Imperial Germany and Weimar Republic territory that would become East Germany was situated in the center of the state. This territory was known as "Mitteldeutschland" (Middle Germany), while "East" was reserved for provinces such as eastern Pomerania, eastern Brandenburg, Silesia and East and West Prussia. During WWII, Allied leaders decided at the Yalta Conference that post-war borders of Poland would be moved westward to the Oder-Neisse line, just as Soviet borders were also moved westward into formerly Polish territory.

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). The Länder (states) of Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and the eastern sector of Greater Berlin fell in the Soviet Sector of Germany, or SBZ. Soviet objections to economic and political reforms 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. Concurrently, the western occupation zones consolidated to form West Germany (or the Federal Republic of Germany, FRG).

East Germany adopted a socialist republic and became part of the Warsaw Pact, while West Germany became a liberal parliamentary republic and part of NATO.

The first leader of East Germany was Walter Ulbricht. The East German Constitution defined the country as "a Republic of Workers and Peasants."

On June 17, 1953, following a production quota increase of 10 percent for workers building East Berlin's new showcase boulevard, the Stalinallee, demonstrations broke out in East Berlin and other industrial centers. Instructions for these demonstrations were broadcast from US-run radio stations in West Berlin. Later that day, Soviet troops and tanks suppressed the demonstrations killing at least 125. See Straße des 17. Juni and Workers' Uprising of 1953 in East Germany.

Just as Germany was divided after the war, Berlin, the former capital, of Germany was divided into four sectors. Since Berlin was entirely enclosed in the Soviet part of Germany, the areas of Berlin being held under the control of the three western countries soon became known as West Berlin.

Conflict over the status of West Berlin led to the Berlin Airlift. The increasing prosperity of West Germany and growing political oppression in the East led large numbers of East Germans to flee to the West.

Competition with the West was carried also on the sport level. East German athletes were sure winners in several Olympic disciplines. Of special interest was the only football match ever 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.

Since the 1940s, refugees had been leaving the Soviet zone of Germany to start a new life in the west. Although the inter-German border was largely closed by the mid-1950s (see GDR border system), the sector borders in Berlin were relatively easy to cross. In the night of August 13 1961, East German troops sealed the border between West and East Berlin, and started to build the Berlin Wall, literally physically enclosing West Berlin. Travel was greatly restricted into, and out of, East Germany. The Stasi spied extensively on the citizens to suppress dissenters through its network of 175,000 informants and 90,000 agents.

In 1971, Erich Honecker replaced Ulbricht in a technical coup with Soviet blessing. East Germany was generally regarded as the most economically advanced member of the Warsaw Pact. Before the 1970s, the official position of West Germany was that of the Hallstein Doctrine which involved non-recognition of East Germany. In the early 1970s, Ostpolitik led by Willy Brandt led to a form of mutual recognition between East and West Germany.

In August 1989 Hungary removed its border restrictions and several thousand people fled East Germany by crossing the "green" border into Hungary and then on to Austria and West Germany. Many others peacefully demonstrated against the ruling party. These demonstrations eventually forced the resignation of Honecker; in October he was replaced, albeit briefly, by Egon Krenz.

On November 9 1989 the Berlin Wall opened, resulting in emotional scenes as hundreds of thousands of East Germans crossed into West Berlin (and West Germany) for the first time. Soon the whole socialist system of East Germany fell away. Although there were some small attempts to create a permanent non-socialist East Germany, these were soon overwhelmed by calls for reunification with West Germany. After some negotiations (2+4 Talks, involving the two Germanies and the victory powers United States, France, Britain, and the Soviet Union), conditions for German reunification were agreed on. Thus, on October 3 1990 the East German population was the first from the Eastern Bloc to join the European Union as a part of the reunified Federal Republic of Germany. The East German territory was reorganized into what is now the city of Berlin and five states, reconstituting political entities that had been abolished in 1950.

To this day, there remain many differences between the former East Germany and West Germany (e.g. 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 German re-unification, and large subsidies are still transferred from west to east.


Main article: Politics of East Germany

The equivalent of the Communist Party in East Germany was the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (Socialist Unity Party of Germany, SED), which along with other parties, was part of the National Front of Democratic Germany. It was created in 1946 through the merger of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in the Soviet controlled zone. Following reunification, the SED was renamed the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS).

The other political parties ran under the joint slate of the National Front, controlled by the SED, for elections to the Volkskammer, the East German Parliament. In West Germany, the Communist Party was banned.

  1. Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands (Christian Democratic Union of Germany, CDU), merged with the West-German CDU after reunification
  2. Demokratische Bauernpartei Deutschlands (Democratic Farmers' Party of Germany, DBD), merged with the West-German CDU after reunification
  3. Liberal-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands (Liberal Democratic Party of Germany, LDPD), merged with the West-German FDP after reunification
  4. Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party of Germany, NDPD), merged with the West-German FDP after reunification

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 in East Germany, there was even a Democratic Women's Federation of Germany with seats in the Volksammer.

Non-parliamentary mass organisations which nevertheless played a key role 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.

Politicians of note in East Germany

Leaders - see also Leaders of East Germany



Main article: Subdivisions of East Germany

In 1952, the Länder of East Germany were abolished, and East Germany was divided into fifteen Bezirke (districts), each named after the largest city: Rostock; Schwerin; Neubrandenburg; Magdeburg; Potsdam; Berlin; Frankfurt (Oder); Cottbus; Halle; Erfurt; Leipzig; Dresden; Karl-Marx-Stadt (now again Chemnitz); Gera; Suhl


Like other East European communist states, East Germany had a centrally planned economy (CPE), similar to the one in the former Soviet Union, in contrast to the more familiar market economies or mixed economies of most Western states. 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.

Advocates of CPEs considered this organizational form to have important advantages. First, the government could harness the economy to serve the political and economic objectives of the leadership. Consumer demand, for example, could be restrained in favor of greater investment in basic industry or channeled into desired patterns, such as reliance on public transportation rather than on private automobiles.

Second, CPEs could maximize the continuous utilization of all available resources. Under CPEs, neither unemployment nor idle plants should have existed beyond minimal levels, and the economy should have developed in a stable manner, unimpeded by inflation or recession. Third, CPEs could serve social rather than individual ends; under such a system, the leadership could distribute rewards, whether wages or perquisites , according to the social value of the service performed, not according to the vagaries of supply and demand on an open market.

Critics of CPEs identified several characteristic problems. First, given the complexities of economic processes, the plan must be a simplification of reality. Individuals and producing units can be given directives or targets, but in carrying out the plan they may select courses of action that conflict with the overall interests of society as determined by the planners. Such courses of action might include, for example, ignoring quality standards, producing an improper product mix, or using resources wastefully. Second, critics contended that CPEs have build-in obstacles to innovation and efficiency in production; managers of producing units, frequently having limited discretionary authority, see as their first priority a strict fulfillment of the plan targets rather than, for example, development of new techniques or diversification of products. Third, the system of allocating goods and services in CPEs was thought to be inefficient.

Most of the total mix of products was distributed according to the plan, with the aid of a rationing mechanism known as the System of Material Balances. But since no one could predict perfectly the actual needs of each producing unit, some units received too many goods and others too few. The managers with surpluses were hesitant to admit they had them, for CPEs were typically "taut," that is, they carried low inventories and reserves. Managers preferred to hoard whatever they had and then to make informal trades when they were in need and could find someone else whose requirements complemented their own.

Finally, detractors argued that in CPEs prices did not reflect the value of available resources, goods, or services. In market economies, prices, which are based on cost and utility considerations, permit the determination of value, even if imperfectly. In CPEs, prices were determined administratively, and the criteria the state used to establish them were sometimes unrelated to costs. Prices often varied significantly from the actual social or economic value of the products for which they had been set and were not a valid basis for comparing the relative value of two or more products to society.

East German economists and planners were well aware of the alleged strengths and weaknesses of their system of planned economy. They contended that Western critics overstated the disadvantages and that in any case these problems were not inherent in the system itself. They directed their efforts toward preserving the fundamental framework of the system while introducing modifications that could address the problems just noted.

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.

More important was the supervision of the SED's Politburo, which monitored and directed ongoing economic processes. That key group, however, could concern itself with no more than the general, fundamental, or extremely serious economic questions, for it also had the full range of other matters on its agenda.

At the head of the government organs responsible for formally adopting and carrying out policies elaborated by the party congress and Politburo was the Council of Ministers, which had more than forty members and was in turn headed by a Presidium of sixteen. The Council of Ministers supervised and coordinated the activities of all other central bodies responsible for the economy, and it played a direct and specific role in important cases.

The State Planning Commission (sometimes called the Economic General Staff of the Council of Ministers) advised the Council of Ministers on possible alternative economic strategies and their implications, translated the general targets set by the council into planning directives and more specific plan targets for each of the ministries beneath it, coordinated short-, medium-, and long-range planning, and mediated interministerial disagreements.

The individual ministries had major responsibility for the detailed direction of the different sectors of the economy. The ministries were responsible within their separate spheres for detailed planning, resource allocation, development, implementation of innovations, and generally for the efficient achievement of their individual plans.

Directly below the ministries were the centrally directed trusts, or Kombinate . Intended to be replacements for the Associations of Publicly Owned Enterprises--the largely administrative organizations that previously served as a link between the ministries and the individual enterprises--the Kombinate resulted from the merging of various industrial enterprises into large-scale entities in the late-1970s, based on interrelationships between their production activities.

The Kombinate included research enterprises, which the state incorporated into their structures to provide better focus for research efforts and speedier application of research results to production. A single, united management directed the entire production process in each Kombinat, from research to production and sales. The reform also attempted to foster closer ties between the activities of the Kombinate and the foreign trade enterprises by subordinating the latter to both the Ministry of Foreign Trade and the Kombinate. The goal of the Kombinat reform measure was to achieve greater efficiency and rationality by concentrating authority in the hands of midlevel leadership. The Kombinat management also provided significant input for the central planning process.

By the early 1980s, establishment of Kombinate for both centrally managed and district-managed enterprises was essentially complete. Particularly from 1982 to 1984, the government established various regulations and laws to define more precisely the parameters of these entities. These provisions tended to reinforce the primacy of central planning and to limit the autonomy of the Kombinate, apparently to a greater extent than originally planned. As of early 1986, there were 132 centrally managed Kombinate, with an average of 25,000 employees per Kombinat. District-managed Kombinate numbered 93, with an average of about 2,000 employees each.

At the base of the entire economic structure were the producing units. Although these varied in size and responsibility, the government gradually reduced their number and increased their size. The number of industrial enterprises in 1985 was only slightly more than one-fifth that of 1960. Their independence decreased significantly as the Kombinate became fully functional.

In addition to the basic structure of the industrial sector, a supplementary hierarchy of government organs reached down from the Council of Ministers and the State Planning Commission to territorial rather than functional subunits. Regional and local planning commissions and economic councils, subordinate to the State Planning Commission and the Council of Ministers, respectively, extended down to the local level. They considered such matters as the proper or optimal placement of industry, environmental protection, and housing.

The agricultural sector of the economy had a somewhat different place in the system, although it too was thoroughly integrated. It was almost entirely collectivized except for private plots. The collective farms were formally self-governing. They were, however, subordinate to the Council of Ministers through the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Foodstuffs. A complex set of relationships also connected them with other cooperatives and related industries, such as food processing.

The fact that East Germany had a planned economy did not mean that a single, comprehensive plan was the basis of all economic activity. An interlocking web of plans having varying degrees of specificity, comprehensiveness, and duration was in operation at all times; any or all of these may have been modified during the continuous process of performance monitoring or as a result of new and unforeseen circumstances. The resultant system of plans was extremely complex, and maintaining internal consistency between the various plans was a considerable task.

Operationally, short-term planning was the most important for production and resource allocation. It covered one calendar year and encompassed the entire economy. The key targets set at the central level were overall rate of growth of the economy, volume and structure of the domestic product and its uses, utilization of raw materials and labor and their distribution by sector and region, and volume and structure of exports and imports. Beginning with the 1981 plan, the state added assessment of the ration of raw material use against value and quantity of output to promote more efficient use of scarce resources.

Medium-range (five-year) planning used the same indicators, although with less specificity. Although the five-year plan was duly enacted into law, it is more properly seen as a series of guidelines rather than as a set of direct orders. It was typically published several months after the start of the five-year period it covered, after the first one-year plan had been enacted into law. More general than a one-year plan, the five-year plan was nevertheless specific enough to integrate the yearly plans into a longer time frame. Thus it provided continuity and direction.

In the early 1970s, long-term, comprehensive planning began. It too provided general guidance, but over a longer period (fifteen or twenty years), long enough to link the five-year plans in a coherent manner.

In the first phase of planning, the centrally determined objectives were divided and assigned to appropriate subordinate units. After internal consideration and discussion had occurred at each level and suppliers and buyers had completed negotiations, the separate parts were reaggregated into draft plans. In the final stage, which follows the acceptance of the total package by the State Planning Commission and the Council of Ministers, the finished plan was redivided among the ministries, and the relevant responsibilities were distributed once more to the producing units.

The production plan was supplemented by other mechanisms that control supplies and establish monetary accountability. One such mechanism was the System of Material Balances, which allocated materials, equipment, and consumer goods. It acted as a rationing system, ensuring each element of the economy access to the basic goods it needed to fulfill its obligations. Since most of the goods produced by the economy were covered by this control mechanism, producing units had difficulty obtaining needed items over and above their allocated levels.

Another control mechanism was the assignment of prices for all goods and services. These prices served as a basis for calculating expenses and receipts. Enterprises had every incentive to use these prices as guidelines in decision making. Doing so made plan fulfillment possible and earned bonus funds of various sorts for the enterprise. These bonuses were not allocated indiscriminately for gross output but were awarded for such accomplishments as the introduction of innovations or reduction of labor costs.

The system functioned smoothly only when its component parts were staffed with individuals whose values coincided with those of the regime or at least complemented regime values. Such a sharing took place in part through the integrative force of the party organs whose members occupied leading positions in the economic structure. Efforts were also made to promote a common sense of purpose through mass participation of almost all workers and farmers in organized discussion of economic planning, tasks, and performance. An East German journal reported, for example, that during preliminary discussion concerning the 1986 annual plan, 2.2 million employees in various enterprises and work brigades of the country at large contributed 735,377 suggestions and comments. Ultimate decision making, however, came from above.

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 (artist, writers, and others). Although self-employed, such individuals were strictly regulated. 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. The SED leadership, for example, had been encouraging private initiative as part of the effort to upgrade consumer services.

In addition to those East Germans who were self-employed full time, there were others who engaged in private economic activity on the side. The best known and most important examples were families on collective farms who also cultivated private plots (which can be as large as 5,000 m²). Their contribution was significant; according to official sources, in 1985 the farmers privately owned about 8.2 percent of the hogs, 14.7 percent of the sheep, 32.8 percent of the horses, and 30 percent of the laying hens in the country. Professionals such as commercial artists and doctors also worked privately in their free time, subject to separate tax and other regulations. Their impact on the economic system, however, was negligible.

More difficult to assess, because of its covert and informal nature, was the significance of that part of the private sector called the "second economy." As used here, the term includes all economic arrangements or activities that, owing to their informality or their illegality, took place beyond state control or surveillance. The subject has received considerable attention from Western economists, most of whom are convinced that it is important in CPEs. In the mid-1980s, however, evidence was difficult to obtain and tended to be anecdotal in nature.

One kind of informal economic activity included private arrangements to provide goods or services in return for payment. An elderly woman might have hired a neighbor boy to haul coal up to her apartment, or an employed woman might have paid a neighbour to do her washing. Closely related would be instances of hiring an acquaintance to repair a clock, tune up an automobile, or repair a toilet. Such arrangements take place in any society, and given the serious deficiencies in the East German service sector, they may have been more necessary than in the West. They were doubtlessly common, and because they were considered harmless, they were not the subject of any significant governmental concern.

There was another kind of private economic activity, however, that did concern the government: the stealing and selling of goods for profit by individuals who had ready access to them. For example, an individual might siphon gasoline from a public vehicle and sell it to a friend. No statistics are available on such practices. Surface impressions, however, suggest that they are not very common or significant, certainly not as significant as may be the case in other socialist states where they were reportedly quasi-institutionalized.

Another common activity that was troublesome if not disruptive was the practice of offering a sum of money beyond the selling price to individuals selling desirable goods, or giving something special as partial payment for products in short supply. Such ventures may have been no more than offering someone Trinkgeld (a tip), but they may have also involved Schmiergeld (money used to "grease" a transaction) or Beziehungen (special relationships). Opinions in East Germany varied as to how significant these practices were. But given the abundance of money in circulation and frequent shortages in luxury items and durable consumer goods, most people were perhaps occasionally tempted to provide a "sweetener," particularly for such things as automobile parts or furniture.

These irregularities did not appear to constitute a major economic problem. However, the East German press occasionally reported prosecutions of particularly egregious cases of illegal "second economy" activity, involving what are called "crimes against socialist property" and other activities that are in "conflict and contradiction with the interests and demands of society" (as one report described the situation).


Main article: Demographics of East Germany


GDR mainstream

Rock bands were expected to sing in German only. This seemed a logical constraint by Party leaders but it was somewhat unpopular amongst young people. Another problem for the authorities was having to check song texts very carefully for anti-socialist tendencies. The band Renft, for example, was prone to political misbehaviour, which eventually led to its breakdown.

The Puhdys and Karat were popular mainstream bands, managing to hint at anti-socialist thoughts in their lyrics without being explicit. Like most mainstream acts, they appeared in popular youth magazines such as Neues Leben and Magazin.

Influences from the West were heard everywhere, because TV and radio that came from the Klassenfeind (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 Skeptiker, as well as Feeling B.


On a more traditional level, the East German government celebrated the fact that Johann Sebastian Bach was born in East German territory, and spent a great deal of money converting his house in Eisenach 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.

Date English Name Local Name Remarks
January 1 New Year's Day Neujahr  
Moveable feast Good Friday Karfreitag Easter
Moveable feast Whitmonday Pfingstmontag 51 days after Easter
May 1 May Day Tag der Arbeit Labour Day
October 7 Republic Day Tag der Republik National holiday
December 25 Christmas Day 1. Weihnachtsfeiertag  
December 26 Boxing Day 2. Weihnachtsfeiertag  

Miscellaneous topics

Main article: List of German Democratic Republic-related topics

External links

Last updated: 10-12-2005 13:05:53
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