History of the German Democratic Republic

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Berlin, GDR foundation, 9th meeting of the People's Council in 1949

The history of the German Democratic Republic ( GDR ) deals with the history of the East German state that existed from 1949 to 1990.

The German Democratic Republic was a real socialist state in Central Europe that was governed by dictatorship until 1989 in the sense of the dictatorship of the proletariat . It was founded on October 7, 1949 on the territory of the Soviet Occupation Zone (SBZ), in the opinion of the GDR including the Soviet sector of Berlin as the capital, took place four years after the end of the Second World War . After the Federal Republic of Germany was founded with the support of the three Western Allies in the area of ​​their zones of occupation (" Trizone "), it became at the instigation of the Soviet Union established as the second German state. Overall, the Soviet occupation zone and the GDR paid more than 90 percent of all German reparations after the Second World War .

The initially tense relationship with the Federal Republic of Germany during the Cold War was relaxed by the New Ostpolitik from the 1970s onwards . After the peaceful revolution in 1989 , with reunification on October 3, 1990 , the GDR was incorporated into the Federal Republic under constitutional law .

Prehistory 1945–1949

Division of Germany

Occupation zones in Germany 1945–1949

Since the main Allies ( USA , UK and Soviet Union ) could not agree on a common policy with regard to Germany, they discussed already during the Second World War to the conferences of Tehran and Yalta a division of Germany . After the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces, the heads of government of the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the USA concretized at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 the decision of the Yalta Conference to divide Germany into four zones of occupation and Berlin into four sectors, but by a joint Allied Control Council to manage. Economic demilitarization (especially the dismantling of industrial plants) should be carried out autonomously in each zone.

In the course of time, the economic development between the western zones of occupation and the Soviet zone of occupation (SBZ) diverged more and more. International political differences also led to ever greater tensions between the Soviet Union and the USA, which ultimately led to the Cold War . This became clear in 1947 with the merger of the British and American occupation zones to form the bizone and the US Marshall Plan , which strengthened western Germany. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Zone, the Soviet Union continued dismantling for reparation purposes and prevented participation in the Marshall Plan, which would have meant incorporating the Soviet Zone into the Western economic system. As a counterpart to the organs of the bizone, she founded the German Economic Commission and united the central administrations for industry, finance, transport, trade and supply, labor and social welfare, agriculture and forestry, fuel industry and energy, interzonal and foreign trade as well as statistics.

The representative of the Soviet Union left the meetings of the Control Council on March 20, 1948 in protest against the decision of the Western Allies to found a West German separate state. On June 20, a currency reform restricted to the western occupation zones made the feared division of Germany a certainty. Three days later, the rulers of the Soviet occupation zone decided on their own currency reform. After the West German currency had also been introduced into the western sectors of Berlin against the will of the Soviet Commander-in-Chief , the Soviet Union tried to get all of Berlin into its hands by blocking Berlin. The Western Allies then decided to supply Berlin with an airlift . For a total of eleven months they supplied the West Berlin population with relief supplies until the Soviet Union ended the blockade on May 12, 1949.

Soviet policy on Germany

During the Second World War, the Soviet Union developed its own ideas for a post-war Germany : Josef Stalin envisioned an undivided, neutral and non-socialist state. He expected to receive numerous reparations , especially from the Ruhr area . In return, food was to be delivered from the Soviet occupation zone to the western zones. Since this did not happen, the Western Allies also stopped their deliveries.

So Stalin was unable to implement these plans. In order to keep all options open, he initially postponed the sovietization of his own occupation zone and avoided or hushed up an open communist development.

After the end of the war, the Soviet Union set up the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD) in the zone it occupied . This should steer the construction of a political system in the sense of the Soviet Union and administer the occupation zone. To this end, it controlled and regulated the entire political and social life and employed up to 50,000 people. It decreed the establishment of five countries within the Soviet zone of occupation and gave them legislative powers in October 1945.

Political construction

The Ulbricht group was important for the political development . It consisted of Walter Ulbricht and other members of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) who emigrated to the Soviet Union before or during the Second World War and were trained there, who were supposed to help the Red Army rebuild the administration. Even before the end of the war she was active in Germany and managed to get the Soviet commanders to assign numerous key positions within the local government to German communists. Ulbricht's motto was: "It has to look democratic, but we have to have everything in our hands."

To the surprise of the Western allies and German politicians, the SMAD enabled an at least formally pluralistic German party system as early as June 1945 and approved the re-activation of the KPD and SPD and the founding of the CDU and LDP . They founded an anti-fascist bloc , from which the National Front later developed. Within this body they wanted to organize denazification and reconstruction together. Although the SMAD massively preferred the KPD, it was unable to achieve its goal of becoming the largest and most decisive party in the Soviet occupation zone. On the contrary, in the course of 1945 it became more and more isolated among the population and the other parties. In the KPD and SPD in the Soviet occupation zone, after the experiences of the Nazi era and in the resistance, efforts were made to create a common workers' party. After the KPD had rejected a corresponding demand by the SPD in June 1945, with the declining popularity of the KPD, together with the SMAD and with the approval of Stalin, the (Eastern) SPD became the main competitor through massive pressure, bribery of its leaders and deception about the true goals of the KPD forced to unite to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) in 1946 . In the state elections in October 1946, however, the SED did not achieve the desired absolute majority with 47.5 percent.

In order to undermine the resistance of the (Eastern) CDU and LDP to further interventions in the party system, the SED brought a new instrument into play with the People's Congress movement in 1947/1948. At two meetings in 1947 and 1948, the German People's Congress decided to accept new block parties ( NDPD and DBD ) and mass organizations ( Kulturbund , Free German Trade Union Federation , Democratic Women's Federation of Germany ), which were largely communist-dominated, into the anti-fascist block.

Foundation of the GDR on October 7, 1949 in the DWK building on Leipziger Strasse in Berlin.

Furthermore, the 2nd People's Congress agreed to appoint a German People's Council , which was commissioned to work out a constitution for a German Democratic Republic for the whole of Germany . This began its work on March 19, 1948, chaired by Wilhelm Pieck (SED), Wilhelm Külz (LDP) and Otto Nuschke (CDU). Its committee for drafting a constitution was headed by Otto Grotewohl and drafted a constitution by October 22nd - based on a corresponding draft of the SED from 1946 - which was adopted by the 1st German People's Council on March 19 of the following year.

Founding of the state

In May 1949, the 3rd People's Congress was elected via unified lists. When on the evening of May 15, 1949, it became apparent during the first counts that an advocating majority would not be achieved, the crossed out and empty (i.e. invalid) ballot papers were unceremoniously rated as yes votes on the instructions of the German Administration of the Interior (DVdI). On the evening of May 16, 1949, it was officially announced that 66.1% of the voters had voted “Yes”. The 3rd People's Congress thus elected confirmed the constitution on May 30th and set up the 2nd German People's Council as a permanent organ. After the constitutional organs of the Federal Republic of Germany , which emerged on May 23, 1949, the 2nd German People's Council declared itself a Provisional People's Chamber on October 7, 1949 and put the constitution of the GDR into force, which established the German Democratic Republic.

Economic structure

The economy in the Soviet Zone was massively weakened by the Soviet dismantling . As part of the main dismantling, Stalin had over 1,000 companies dismantled by the end of 1946, mainly in mechanical engineering, almost the entire chemical and optical industry, and all multi-track railway lines except for one track, as well as the electrification of all railway lines. In a second stage, contrary to the Potsdam Treaty, reparations were withdrawn from ongoing production and around 200 important companies that already existed or were newly founded were transferred to the ownership of the Soviet Union as Soviet joint-stock companies (SAG). Around 460 Berlin companies fell victim to the first wave of dismantling between May and July 1945. This corresponds to around 75 percent of the capacities at that time. Overall, central Germany is estimated to have lost due to dismantling compared to 1936:

  • 82 percent of the rolling mills
  • 80 percent of iron production
  • 75 percent of hollow brick production
  • 45 percent of the cement industry
  • 45 percent of paper production
  • 35 percent of energy generation
  • 30 percent of the shoe industry
  • 25 percent of the textile industry
  • 25 percent of sugar production
  • 20 percent of lignite mining
  • 19 percent of the briquette factories

As a result, by the end of the dismantling in 1954, the GDR lost around 50 percent of the industrial capacities that had existed on its territory at the end of the war. The industrialization of these areas fell back to 1936. Officially, the reparations paid to the Soviet Union are estimated at around $ 4.3 billion. Other estimates put it at $ 15 to $ 18 billion. For the year 1949, for example, occupation costs of officially 2.2 billion marks were incurred.

Under the slogan “Junker land in peasant hands”, the SMAD and the KPD carried out a land reform in September 1945 . A third of the total commercial area (around 3.2 million hectares), of which around 2.5 million hectares were from the former large estates , were distributed. One million hectares were transferred to 532 state-owned estates (VEG). The number of private farms rose to more than 855,600 (1950) - more than in 1939. However, this item was almost completely liquidated by 1961.

Furthermore, war criminals, officials and representatives of the NSDAP as well as all landowners who owned properties with more than 100 hectares of land were expropriated without compensation. The SMAD distributed the land to so-called new farmers , mostly landless farmers, farm workers and refugees. They worked their five to ten hectares of land themselves. Since they mostly had no agricultural equipment, they were supported by the machine rental stations (MAS) created in 1949 .

Since Stalin did not want to give up the idea of ​​an undivided Germany, the actual socialist transformation of the East German economy did not begin until 1952.

Development phase 1949–1961

Political leadership

Wilhelm Pieck (left) and Otto Grotewohl

Wilhelm Pieck became the first president of the GDR in 1949 , and Otto Grotewohl became the first prime minister . Both had been chairmen of the SED since 1946. In 1950 they were confirmed in their party offices, Walter Ulbricht became General Secretary of the newly created Central Committee (ZK) of the SED. After the death of Wilhelm Pieck in 1960, the State Council of the GDR was formed instead of the previous office of president and Ulbricht was appointed its chairman.

In 1950, despite opposition from many members and some regional associations, all parties were united to form the "Unified List of the National Front". In the first elections to the People's Chamber, this unified list, which is dominated by the SED, received 99.3 percent of the votes according to official information, in 1954 it was 99.46 percent and in 1958 99.7 percent.

Foreign and Germany Policy

Very quickly after it was founded, the GDR concluded treaties with other states in the Eastern Bloc : in July 1950, it contractually established the Oder-Neisse line as the border with the People's Republic of Poland . In September of the same year, the GDR became a member of the Council for Mutual Economic Aid (Comecon).

In November 1950, Grotewohl proposed to Chancellor Konrad Adenauer the formation of an all-German constituent council in order to overcome the division. The Adenauer government was not ready to negotiate with the GDR government and insisted on free elections.

The GDR leadership sought diplomatic recognition from other states at an early stage. She also tried to use incidents such as the emergency landing of an American army helicopter in June 1958 to induce Western-oriented states to abandon their policy of non-recognition of the GDR through official contacts. However, such contacts were prevented by the Federal Republic of Germany : through the Hallstein Doctrine , it threatened other states with breaking off relations if they had recognized the GDR. For the US political elite, the GDR was a “blank spot on the political map”, a terra incognita (“unknown area”) or lost German territory (“lost German territory”).

On March 10, 1952, Stalin offered negotiations on the reunification and neutrality of Germany with the Stalin Notes . The Western powers considered this to be a diversionary maneuver intended to hinder the integration of West Germany into the West . The correspondence ended without result. Subsequently, the GDR pushed its "integration into the East" and the socialist transformation of the East German economy.

Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl signing the Warsaw Treaty in 1955.

After the Federal Republic of Germany became a member of the Western European Union in 1954 , the GDR joined the Warsaw Pact in 1955 .

The SMAD was replaced by the Soviet Control Commission (SKK), which in turn was replaced in 1953 by the Soviet "High Commissioner". On March 25, 1954, the Soviet Union tried to upgrade the GDR internationally by means of a unilateral declaration of sovereignty. After the Council of Ministers of the USSR had once again confirmed the sovereignty of the GDR on September 20, 1955 , the two partners signed the "Treaty on Relations between the German Democratic Republic and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics" on the same day in Moscow. This “assistance pact” was signed by Nikolai Alexandrowitsch Bulganin and Otto Grotewohl . This also meant that all powers of the High Commissioner of the USSR ceased to exist.

On November 27, 1958, Nikita Khrushchev called for the Potsdam Agreement to be revised and threatened that the Soviet Union would transfer its control rights over Berlin to the GDR. This started the so-called Berlin crisis .

At the turn of the year 1958/1959, the Soviet Union had long-range nuclear missiles stationed outside its territory for the first time . The Soviet general staff stationed six missiles of the type SS-3 Shyster at Fuerstenberg / Havel and Vogelsang. The SS-3 could carry a nuclear weapon with an explosive force of 300 kilotons TNT up to 1,200 kilometers, e.g. B. to Bonn, Brussels, Paris or London.

Social policy

Far-reaching socio-political changes also took place in the GDR. With the passing of the law on mother and child protection and women's rights, women were systematically included in the development of socialism , childcare offers in the form of day nurseries for infants and toddlers , kindergartens for 4- to 6-year-olds and after-school care , the school children supervised up to the 4th grade, created and rebuilt the school system through the establishment of the Polytechnische Oberschule (POS). The law on the democratization of German schools has been decisive for the school system in the GDR since 1946 .

Economic policy

Politicians set great store by integrating academics into the development process, including those who had made a career under National Socialism. The 1st Culture Ordinance of the German Economic Commission of March 31, 1949 called for a "reshaping and re-education of the old groups of the bourgeois intelligentsia" instead of marginalizing them.

After there had already been a two-year plan, the GDR's economy followed the first five -year plan from 1951 . This marked the beginning of the planned economy . The state planning commission founded in 1950 was responsible for drawing up and monitoring the long-term plans as well as the central management of the economy . In 1958 the ration cards were finally abolished. In 1959 it became apparent that the current Second Five-Year Plan would fail; the planning commission therefore drew up a transitional seven-year plan. Numerous companies of the Soviet stock corporations (SAG) were bought back by the GDR and converted into state- owned companies (VEB).

For agriculture, the SED coined the motto “From I to We” in the 1950s. Under this motto, the rural population should be convinced of the alleged advantages of collectivized agriculture "on a voluntary basis". The aim was to found agricultural production cooperatives (LPG). “Model LPGs”, like “lighthouses in the country”, should carry the idea of ​​Sovietization into all villages. Since most of the farmers showed no interest in cooperative work, especially abandoned farms, so-called ÖLB ( local agricultural operations ) and economically barely viable small businesses were merged into LPGs. In 1952, almost 2,000 LPGs, initially mostly economically weak, were created in the GDR.

Small and medium-sized farmers were harassed with repression and high compulsory levies and were disadvantaged in the distribution of agricultural equipment by the MAS. Tens of thousands of farmers then moved to the west. As a result, on June 17, 1953 , the mood in the country also turned. Then collectivization was initially slowed down, but under pressure from the Soviet Union, the GDR leadership pushed collectivization again from 1958. Agitation troops sent by the SED were supposed to induce the farmers to "voluntarily" join an LPG through coercion or threats, while reluctant farmers were arrested by the MfS .

Televisions with the logo of the German TV broadcaster at the Leipzig Fair in 1968

In parallel to the development in West Germany, state television in the GDR began with trial broadcasts at the end of 1952 and began regular broadcasting in 1956. From 1960 the propaganda program The Black Channel by and with Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler was on the program once a week.

State security

In 1950 the Ministry for State Security (MfS) was founded to secure the power of the SED as the “shield and sword of the party”. Wilhelm Zaisser became the first Minister for State Security, Erich Mielke State Secretary. The MfS, together with the Central Party Control Commission, played an important role in the political cleansing that the SED underwent in the early 1950s. In 1950/51 150,000 members - most of the former Social Democrats who had converted to the SED after the forced unification of the SPD and KPD in 1946 - were excluded. In the course of the so-called Field Affair , action was taken against high-ranking communists: Reichsbahn general director Willi Kreikemeyer was accused of high treason - he died in Stasi custody in August 1950. Leo Bauer , the editor-in-chief of the German broadcaster , was sentenced to death in a show trial by a Soviet military court as a "US spy " and then pardoned to 25 years in a camp in Siberia . Paul Merker , State Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and a member of the Politburo, was arrested at the end of 1952 and sentenced to eight years in prison in 1955 as a " Zionist agent" . Similar to the Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia , these trials had anti-Semitic features. At the same time, New Germany published biting attacks against allegedly “demoralized bourgeois Jewish nationalists”. The background was anti-Semitic campaigns in the Soviet Union against “ rootless cosmopolitans ” and an alleged conspiracy by Jewish doctors against Stalin.

After the protests on June 17, the MfS in particular was accused of failure. It was transformed into a "State Secretariat for State Security (SfS)" and placed under the Ministry of the Interior . For this reason Wilhelm Zaisser was first expelled from the Central Committee of the SED and one year later from the SED. It was not until 1955 that the MfS regained ministerial rank and was assigned the foreign intelligence service called the Main Administration of Enlightenment .

Throughout the 1950s, in numerous “purges”, party members who had emigrated to western countries during the Nazi era were arrested, but other SED comrades were also victims of these actions.

"Unreliable" citizens living in the vicinity of the inner-German border were living, were in 1952 with the action vermin forcibly relocated inland. On its side of the inner-German border, the GDR established a five-kilometer-wide “ exclusion zone ”, a 500-meter-wide “protective strip” secured with barbed wire , and a ten-meter-wide “control strip”.

From 1952 to June 17, 1953

Voluntary increase in norms
Average: 9%
Old norm Rest gently!

Political slogan on
May 1, 1953 in Leipzig

In 1952 the GDR leadership declared the "systematic construction of socialism " to be a fundamental task, pushed forward the process of "sovietization" of society and strengthened state power. In the administrative reform of 1952 , the five states were divided into 15 districts and 217 districts. She also questioned the remaining middle class: in particular, farmers and small commercial and industrial enterprises should be forced to give up their independence through increased taxes. The course towards the churches also tightened.

Larger private companies were expropriated and transferred to state-owned companies (VEBs), and state holdings in private companies were expanded. According to the motto: "To learn from the Soviet Union means to learn to win", heavy industry was given priority over the expansion of the consumer goods industry . Also in the Agriculture began the collectivization , the peasants, some only in the land reform had been given a few years before their country, have now been urged in Agricultural Production Cooperatives enter (LPGn).

The people's police march
past on the 6th anniversary of the GDR

On July 1, 1952, the GDR began to set up its own armed forces with the establishment of the barracked people's police .

On May 28, 1953, the Central Committee of the SED decided to raise labor standards by 10.3 percent. The Politburo of the CPSU then instructed the SED to soften its rigid and hard course in building socialism. The Central Committee of the SED resolved and announced on June 11th with the "New Course" numerous easements, especially for the middle class and the farmers, and withdrew a number of the measures taken in recent months. The increase in norms remained in place. On June 16, there were strikes on two major construction sites in Berlin, Block 40 in Stalinallee and the new hospital building in Berlin-Friedrichshain, and a joint protest march to the GDR seat of government, which was followed on June 17, 1953 by nationwide protests by the Soviets Troops were put down. According to current knowledge, around 50 demonstrators and 5 members of the People's Police were killed. The GDR leadership described the uprising as the work of "fascist agents of foreign powers".

In the Politburo, the uprising was blamed for the failed policy of Ulbricht, who on July 8, 1953, promised to resign. Since Stalin's death on March 5, 1953 and the ensuing de-Stalinization , the balance of power in the CPSU had changed. After the arrest of the head of the secret service Lavrenti Beria , Khrushchev became the new strong man in Moscow. He focused on stabilizing the situation and strengthened Ulbricht's back, who succeeded in connecting his internal party opponents Rudolf Herrnstadt and Wilhelm Zaisser with the machinations of the overthrown Beria. Another party purge was the result.


The Berlin Wall on Bethaniendamm

After well over a million people from the GDR had fled , a 1954 passport law passed that a leave East Germany without state approval as a " flight from the republic criminalized".

The number of emigrants continued to rise in 1960 - also because many farmers wanted to avoid being forced to join an LPG. For the month of September alone, West Berlin authorities reported 20,968 "SBZ" refugees. By 1961, almost three million people had left the GDR since it was founded. Since these were often well-educated people, this emigration threatened the economic strength of the GDR and ultimately the existence of the entire state. From August 13, 1961, the Berlin Wall was therefore built to stop further emigration.

Church politics

While the SMAD had made concessions to the churches , the GDR leadership began to take a tougher course in the spring of 1953, as they resisted being instrumentalized. She took action against the young community and student communities as well as their members with evictions from schools and individual arrests. With the "new course", the intensified church struggle was initially interrupted, and in 1955 a counterpart to church confirmation was created with the revival of the traditional youth consecrations that came from the labor movement .

See also: Christians and Churches in the GDR , Roman Catholic Church in Germany: The situation in divided Germany


Title page of the May 29, 1958 edition on the resolved wage increase and the abolition of ration cards

After Stalin's death in 1953, his successor Nikita Khrushchev headed the XX. CPSU party congress in 1956 initiated the de-Stalinization . This surprised and confused the GDR leadership: until before the party congress, they defended and praised Stalin and only noticed the change in policy late. Ulbricht recognized the explosiveness and adapted his welcoming speech to the new statements of the Soviet leaders. Immediately after the party congress, the SED leadership tried to convey the new "lessons" to its members. Ulbricht wrote in the central organ of the SED, the newspaper Neues Deutschland , that Stalin was no longer a “classic of Marxism-Leninism ” - after saying the opposite a month earlier. Even if the SED only marginally dealt with the question of de-Stalinization at its party congress, it shook the German communists' worldview. Ultimately, the GDR had never completely abandoned Stalinism - and after anti-Stalinist films and magazine articles were admitted in the Soviet Union in 1985, there was a break with the previous model.

In the course of the hesitant de-Stalinization, however, 25,000 prisoners, mainly political prisoners, were released and numerous politicians ( Franz Dahlem , Anton Ackermann , Hans Jendretzky and others) were rehabilitated.

Stabilization 1961–1970

Political leadership

Otto Grotewohl died on September 21, 1964, and Willi Stoph became his successor as Chairman of the Council of Ministers . On February 20, 1967, the People's Chamber passed a law on citizenship of the GDR , which replaced the German citizenship that had previously been in force . In April 1968, 94.5 percent of the electorate voted for a new constitution , which defined the GDR as a “socialist state of the German nation” and established the leading role of the SED in the constitution.

Germany policy

The Central Committee of the SED had already sent several open letters to the SPD and the trade unions in the Federal Republic to resolve the German question . In February 1966, the SED proposed in an open letter to the SPD that an all-German body be created for open discussion. The SPD was open to talks, but made it a prerequisite that a discussion of all parties in both parts of Germany would be initiated ("speaker exchange"). Since the SED was surprised and shocked by this reaction and the discussions in the GDR, it canceled the talks it had initially proposed. After the formation of the grand coalition in the Federal Republic of Germany ( Cabinet Kiesinger from 1 December 1966 Willy Brandt became foreign minister) changed the SED leadership its conception in Germany question altogether and went against the more mobile Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt on the defensive. She feared that an open dialogue with West Germany could spill over to the GDR population, as happened on the fringes of the Erfurt summit in 1970. According to the Hallstein Doctrine of West Germany, it was now the GDR leadership who tried to prevent other (socialist) states from recognizing the Federal Republic of Germany.

Border security

State shield of the GDR

After the wall was built, the use of firearms against refugees was ordered ( shooting order ). In the next few months there were minor exchanges of fire between the West and East German border police after the GDR border troops shot the first refugees at the border. From 1961 the GDR mined its side of the inner-German border .

Defense policy

On January 24, 1962, the GDR introduced compulsory military service in order to better cover the personnel requirements of the 85,000-strong National People's Army (NVA), which was founded in 1956 . The pressure from the churches caused the GDR to introduce military service without a weapon as a construction soldier in 1964 .

Over the territory of the GDR and especially in the air corridors to West Berlin , there were often minor conflicts between Western and Soviet fighter planes. In 1962, Soviet fighter planes harassed military transports of the Western Allies, in which the British ambassador , among others, was sitting. In 1964 a US machine was shot down over Thuringia .

On 20./21. On August 1st, 1968, NVA troops provided logistical support to the troops of the Soviet Union in suppressing the Prague Spring , but did not themselves march into Czechoslovakia.

Economic policy

Coffee can "first class finest highland coffee", Intershop special filling, VEB coffee and nutrient works Halle / Saale.

In the 1960s, an economic crisis and discussions in the Soviet Union forced the SED to change its economic policy. The “ New Economic System of Planning and Management of the National Economy ” (NÖSPL) was introduced. It enabled the associations of the people's own enterprises (VVB) - comparable to the later combines - a greater self-administration and granted the workers a "worker co-responsibility" in order to increase performance reserves and arouse initiatives. She wanted to make the system more flexible through the independence of the individual state- owned enterprises (VEB) in material and credit procurement, in activities in foreign and domestic trade and greater powers in pricing and sales. The standard of living rose as a result, the distance to the Federal Republic remained.

In 1966 the Rheinsberg nuclear power plant (70 MW) was the first nuclear power plant in the GDR to go online.

When the first shortage of foreign currency from the " Non-Socialist Economic Area " (NSW) became noticeable, the Intershop trading organization was founded in 1962 . In these shops only foreigners could pay with foreign currency, but they could buy products that were not available for the official currency mark of the GDR or were only available in poor quality. Overall, the items were significantly cheaper than comparable products in West Germany.

As the shortage of foreign currency continued to increase, Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski built up the “ Commercial Coordination ” (KoKo) department within the Ministry of Foreign Trade from 1964, which was supposed to procure additional foreign currency with all legal and often illegal methods and bypass existing embargoes against the GDR.

Stability and Crisis 1971–1980

End of the Ulbricht era

After disputes with parts of the party leadership in the field of economic and foreign policy in 1970 Ulbricht was forced to resign from almost all offices “for health reasons”. The Ulbricht era ended on May 3, 1971, and Erich Honecker was elected First Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED as his successor. The change at the top meant a deep turning point in the development of the GDR.

After Ulbricht's resignation, the Ulbricht period was systematically ousted from official historiography and all changes after his departure were strongly emphasized. His name rarely appeared in public.

The political goal of the reunification of Germany (to a socialist Germany as a whole) was finally abandoned, all references to it were deleted from the constitution and the designation "Germany" was replaced by "GDR" in many organizations and institutions. For example, German TV broadcasting was renamed TV of the GDR and the license plate number was “GDR” instead of “D” (for Germany). In order to take into account the psychological and emotional ties to German culture, Honecker coined the formula: "Citizenship: GDR, nationality: German".

Unity of economic and social policy

Honecker's term of office was marked by a resolution of the SED, which determined the "unity of economic and social policy" as the new main task. Under Ulbricht, the establishment and further development of the economic basis , taking into account system-theoretical and technological innovations and economic requirements, had been in the foreground of economic policy until 1971 . After the resolutions of the 8th party congress of the SED, a political paradigm shift took place in 1971. By means of a forced increase in the standard of living and purchasing power, the satisfaction of the population should be increased and, ultimately, labor productivity increased. A key element of this idea was a housing construction program that was supposed to solve the urgent housing problem by 1990 and, above all, led to the emergence of large new building areas with apartments that were comfortable for the time in many cities in the GDR. Between 700,000 and 800,000 apartments were built or modernized by 1980 and, according to official information, a total of 3 million apartments were built using prefabricated panels by 1990 . Later it turned out, however, that the GDR government had heavily embellished these numbers and actually only 1.92 million prefabricated housing units had been built. The associated decay and demolition of old buildings, the renovation of which was too expensive for the GDR, led to the desolation of the inner cities.

Another focus of Honecker's economic policy was the procurement of western production facilities for export and consumer goods . These investments were financed by loans from Western banks and were planned to pay off by the late 1970s.

This change in economic policy caused high foreign debts to the non-socialist economic area for the first time, which, according to some authors, was the "beginning of the end" of the GDR.

The main source of energy in the GDR was domestic brown coal , which was used to heat apartments and to generate electricity. Soviet crude oil was too precious for that because it had to be paid for dearly and, as a refined end product, was the most important source of foreign currency. When the temperature fell by 20 degrees within a short period of time on New Year's Eve 1978, this dependency became weak: The cold spell associated with a lot of snowfall stopped the lignite mining. Since there were hardly any supplies, this meant that a large part of the economy came to a standstill for 14 days.

Cultural policy

The SED leadership wanted to bridge the gap between the population and the leadership by adopting a more liberal attitude towards artists and intellectuals . This changed abruptly in 1976 with the expatriation of Wolf Biermann . This process sparked energetic protests and led to the collection of signatures from well-known artists and writers - a monstrous act for the SED. Numerous prominent signatories were then put under pressure and thus driven to leave Germany, some even arrested. In 1979 the dispute escalated and led to the exclusion of numerous famous members such as Stefan Heym from the German Writers' Association .

Foreign policy

First meeting between the German Chancellor ( Willy Brandt , left) and the Chairman of the Council of
Ministers of the GDR ( Willi Stoph ), Erfurt 1970

Under Erich Honecker, both the leadership role of the Soviet Union and the Soviet model were again viewed as binding by the SED. Relations between the GDR and the Soviet Union improved as a result. In 1975, the two states signed a new friendship and assistance treaty that made the GDR even more legally dependent on the Soviet Union.

After the four powers ( France , Great Britain, Soviet Union and USA) signed the Berlin Agreement in September 1971, the GDR signed numerous treaties with the Federal Republic of Germany. The transit agreement was signed in December to make it easier for West Germans to travel to and from West Berlin . A year later, the Basic Treaty was signed , which recognized the sovereignty and the borders of the GDR. Since the Federal Republic of Germany with its new Ostpolitik gave up its resistance to an international appreciation of the GDR, the foreign policy situation in the GDR changed fundamentally. As early as December 1972, 20 states had exchanged diplomats with the GDR (including Iran , Sweden , Switzerland , Austria ). Diplomatic relations could also be agreed with the USA. By 1978 a total of 123 governments around the world had recognized the GDR under international law, and that marked the successful conclusion of the most important phase of their foreign policy.

In September 1973 the GDR entered the UN at the same time as the Federal Republic of Germany and in the same year took part in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). In doing so, she committed herself to respecting human rights . More and more citizens demanded compliance with the promises and made applications to leave the Federal Republic.

State security

In 1973 the GDR accredited correspondents from ARD , ZDF as well as newspapers and magazines from the Federal Republic of Germany for the first time . They were allowed to move freely within certain limits, but were monitored by the MfS . Many reports and interviews were staged by the MfS .

In the course of improving relations, the release of prisoners was also regulated in an increasingly organized manner. The Federal Republic of the GDR paid a certain amount of foreign currency or goods in return to buy political prisoners who were then expatriated to the Federal Republic.

In 1971 the GDR had the exclusion zones on the inner-German border dissolved or reduced in size, but at the same time built self-firing systems that were aimed at their border strip.

Crisis and late 1981–1990

Stamp block 40 years GDR from 1989

Financial crisis

The economic situation in the Soviet Union became increasingly critical in 1981, particularly due to the high costs of the arms race . It was forced to raise the price of crude oil and cut shipments from 19 million tons to 17 million tons. As a result, one of the most important sources of foreign currency in the GDR literally collapsed. This led to the fact that in 1982 it was only able to repay loans and interest payments due for the first time with new loans for the most part, and problems arose with Western credit institutions . In 1983 there were negotiations between the Federal Republic and the GDR with the result that the Federal Government took over the guarantee for a total of two loans brokered by the Bavarian Prime Minister Franz Josef Strauss ( CSU ) for one billion Deutschmarks each for the GDR Maintain stability. In return, the GDR dismantled the self-firing systems on the inner-German border and made it easier for West Germans to travel to the GDR.

Towards the end of the 1980s, the economic decline of the GDR economy became increasingly visible. For a long time it had only been drawing on its substance because it could no longer finance new investments or repairs. In particular, the high costs of microelectronics (there were still trade restrictions on the part of the western states) and the housing construction program as well as the remaining social spending ultimately led to a critical economic situation in 1989. Reform proposals by Gerhard Schürer , the head of the planning commission, were rejected by Erich Honecker and Günter Mittag , and ultimately the destabilization of the regime could no longer be stopped, mainly due to the economic crisis. The GDR leadership was forced to intensify negotiations with the Federal Republic, which were increasingly one-sided in favor of it.

Right-wing extremism

The GDR declared in Article 6 of its constitution in 1968 that it had "exterminated German militarism and Nazism on its territory". Up until the beginning of the 1980s there was no open right-wing extremist scene in the GDR. The first skinheads were only poorly organized among themselves. That changed around 1983 when right-wing groups of young people regularly mixed up football matches. In addition to the openly brutal skinheads, an outwardly inconspicuous, much better organized group of “fascists” formed who transported the actual neo-fascist ideology in the GDR. Both forms derived their identity from the principle of violence and a superior master race, rejected the GDR and the Federal Republic, spread hateful slogans against leftists, foreigners and Jews and publicly defamed them. There were connections to the right-wing scene and to the NPD in the Federal Republic. The GDR leadership was not prepared for the new right and labeled larger excesses as the work of the “capitalist West”. The judiciary only rarely used Section 220 of the Criminal Code (“public degradation of the state”), which applies to many right-wing crimes. Many sympathizers with right-wing ideas were found in the FDJ regulatory groups responsible for socialist training for young people. In addition, the support of the population grew. During the fall of the Wall and the years after that, the violence came to light even more openly; there were murders of foreigners, the riots in Hoyerswerda were the prelude to a whole series of racially motivated crimes, and right-wing groups controlled entire districts in some places. The 2014 report of the investigative committee on NSU terror saw the failure of the GDR's right-wing extremism to come to terms with the failure of the Thuringian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution in these series of murders.

Glasnost and Perestroika in the Soviet Union

Michail Gorbatschow and Erich Honecker on the XI. SED party congress in April 1986

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union . As the de facto ruler of the Soviet Union, he tried to stop the decline of communism by introducing glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). In 1988, he announced the repeal of the Brezhnev Doctrine , thereby allowing the Eastern European states to develop democracy independently of the Soviet Union.

The GDR rejected this policy and distanced itself from the Soviet Union. In 1987, when a speech by Gorbachev was printed in New Germany, the sections with his sharp criticism of his predecessors in office were missing . In the same year Kurt Hager , a member of the SED Politburo, commented on the reforms in the Soviet Union in an interview with the West German news magazine Stern with the words: “Would you, incidentally, make an undertaking if your neighbor were to repackage his apartment? feel like repackaging your apartment as well? ”. Numerous Soviet newspapers and films were banned in the GDR, including the monthly “ Sputnik ”, individual issues of “Neue Zeit” and five anti-Stalinist films.

In 1988, Honecker officially declared his rejection of the Soviet reform policy.

Wave of emigration

In 1984 an unusually large number (40,900) people moved to the Federal Republic. A large number of those wishing to leave the country fled to the German embassy in Prague or the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic in East Berlin in order to force their exit applications to be processed more quickly, but returned after they had given the appropriate approval.

On May 2, 1989, the People's Republic of Hungary began to dismantle its border fortifications to Austria with media coverage. As a result, hundreds of GDR citizens tried in small groups to cross the still guarded Hungarian border into the west. On August 19, 1989, at the Pan-European Picnic near the Hungarian city of Sopron, between 600 and 700 GDR citizens took the opportunity to flee to Austria. Current Hungarian border organs did not intervene.

At the end of August 1989, preparations began in Bavaria to set up emergency reception centers. At the same time, many GDR citizens went to the embassies of the Federal Republic in Budapest , Prague and Warsaw and the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany to the GDR to get West German travel documents. Ultimately, the embassies had to be closed in August / September due to overcrowding. This led to the GDR also closing the borders with the ČSSR and Poland for the exit of GDR citizens . The refugees were allowed to leave the Federal Republic of Germany on August 23, 1989, and in Prague and Warsaw on September 30, 1989. At the beginning of October these were taken to the Federal Republic by special trains across GDR territory, where GDR papers were removed from them on the trains and they were officially expatriated. GDR citizens tried to jump on the trains while they were passing through locked train stations. At the main station Dresden demonstrators and security forces delivered violent clashes.

In September 1989, the then government of Hungary let around 30,000 people wishing to leave the country leave without consulting the GDR. Since November 3, 1989, GDR citizens were again allowed to leave the country via the ČSSR without any formalities; there was another wave of emigration.

Civil rights movement

"Swords to plowshares" instead of "hammer and compass"

The first peace groups emerged as early as the early 1970s and increasingly from the late 1970s. The conscientious objectors, who were often exposed to the repressive apparatus of the GDR, provided decisive impetus for this. Discussion circles were organized under the protective umbrella of the church to deal with human rights violations and demands for disarmament. The first peace circles took place in Koenigswalde and Meißen in 1972/1973. One of the most famous seminars of the civil rights movements, “Concrete for Peace”, started with 37 peace groups and 130 participants in Berlin and in 1988 represented over 250 groups from all over the GDR. These groups received popular attention over the years and were a driving force behind the emergence of the broad opposition base in the 1980s. Since 1980 the peace movement in the GDR used the symbol swords for plowshares , which combined a biblical quote from the Michabuch ( Mi 4,3  EU ) with a sculpture erected by the Soviet Union. In the spring of 1982 there were massive disputes between young people and the Protestant churches on the one hand and government agencies on the other.

On November 24, 1987 employees of the MfS stormed the rooms of the environmental library in the Zionsgemeinde in Berlin and arrested employees there who were busy with the production of a magazine, the "Umweltblätter". The printing of the IFM newspaper "Grenzfall" was expected, the production of which did not bear the imprint "Only for internal church service use".

At the increasing pressure of church parishioners and church grassroots groups since the mid-1980s, all churches and church communities in the GDR worked together in 1988 and 1989 as part of the “ Ecumenical Assembly for Justice, Peace and the Preservation of Creation ” to develop a catalog of necessary socio-political changes.

On January 17, 1988, protests took place at the memorial demonstration for Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht under the slogan of a quote from Rosa Luxemburg ("Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently"). The security forces arrested numerous demonstrators in front of television cameras from Western journalists ; In the days that followed, numerous GDR opposition activists were arrested. Solidarity events took place all over the GDR. The mood was further fueled by the quasi-ban of the Sputnik magazine.

While in the Soviet Union it was possible for the first time to choose between several candidates in the elections for the first Congress of People's Deputies , in the GDR in the local elections in May 1989 only the single list was still available. The official result was given as 98.85 percent. For the first time, numerous critics of the regime were able to prove that the results had been falsified. As a result, there were numerous demonstrations, which were broken up by the People's Police and the MfS. Gorbachev refused to allow Soviet troops to intervene against possible unrest. Honecker responded to these demonstrations in August 1989 with the slogan "Socialism in its course, does not stop either ox or donkey". Increasingly, the party leadership showed its inability to recognize the reality in the GDR and urgent problems or to react to them.


Celebrations on October 7, 1989 , the 40th anniversary of the GDR
Monday demonstration on January 8, 1990 in Leipzig

Since September 4, 1989, there have been weekly Monday demonstrations in Leipzig after the peace prayer . On the fringes of the celebrations for the 40th anniversary of the GDR on October 7, 1989, there were protests across the country. On October 9, 1989, at the Monday demonstration in Leipzig with 70,000 participants, the cry “We are the people” could be heard. At the meeting of the SED Politburo on October 17, 1989, Honecker was forced to resign from all offices; on October 18, Egon Krenz was appointed as his successor. On November 4, 1989, the largest demonstration in the history of the state took place on Alexanderplatz in Berlin with around one million participants; it was broadcast live on television.

In the autumn of 1989 a whole series of new opposition civil movements and parties were founded, demanding public discussion and a reform of society, the best known group was the New Forum . The importance of the opposition became clear on October 27, 1989 when Democracy Now called for a referendum on the leading role of the SED, which resulted in the call for a round table ( see also: Founding of initiatives and parties before and after the revolution ).

On November 7, 1989, the government and the Politburo resigned. On the evening of November 9, 1989, Günter Schabowski read in front of the television cameras that private trips abroad could be applied for immediately and without prerequisites such as travel reasons and family relationships. The permits should be granted at short notice. It was possible to leave the country via all border crossing points from the GDR to the Federal Republic. Thousands rushed to the borders. Without orders, the surprised border guards opened the crossings of the Berlin Wall and the border to the Federal Republic . The following day, millions of GDR citizens visited the border cities of the Federal Republic and West Berlin. There were exuberant scenes of joy; strangers hugged, sang, danced and cheered.

In early December 1989, removed the leadership of the SED from the constitution and against former officials of the SED, including Erich Honecker, determined. Egon Krenz resigned from all offices, as successor State Council Chairman was Manfred Gerlach . On December 7, 1989, there were first round table talks with the former bloc parties and opposition groups. For the first time, non-elected GDR citizens were able to participate in the civil rights movements to discuss and determine political developments in the GDR. Two days later, Gregor Gysi became party chairman of the SED, which was renamed the SED-PDS on December 17, 1989 and the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) on February 4, 1990 .


After the local elections on May 6, 1990, Gregor Gysi (left) and Lothar de Maizière are waiting for the election studio in the
Palace of the Republic to begin

After the fall of the Berlin Wall , especially from January 1990, the direction of the Monday demonstrations, which were still taking place, gradually changed. After the protest against the old leadership and the claim to the sovereignty of the people, expressed by the slogan “ We are the people ”, the desire for reunification, expressed by the modified slogan “We are one people”, became more and more popular Demand of demonstrations. On January 15, 1990, demonstrators stormed the Stasi headquarters in East Berlin. In February 1990 Helmut Kohl , Michail Gorbatschow and Hans Modrow spoke about German unity . On March 18, 1990, the first Free People's Chamber was elected; The winner of the election was the “ Alliance for Germany ”. Lothar de Maizière became the new Prime Minister of the GDR on April 12, 1990, after Sabine Bergmann-Pohl became President of the People's Chamber on April 5, 1990 and (since the People's Chamber abolished the Council of State) became the last head of state. On July 1, 1990, the monetary, economic and social union between the Federal Republic and the GDR came into force. In mid-July 1990 the Treuhandanstalt for the winding up of the VEB started its work. On August 31, 1990, representatives of the two governments signed the Unification Treaty, which the People's Chamber ratified on September 20. The victorious powers agreed on September 12, 1990 in the " two-plus-four talks ". Germany has been reunited since October 3, 1990 ; With the entry into force according to the old version of Article 23 of the Basic Law, the existence of the GDR as a subject and state ceased to exist at the same time .

The administrative structures, on the other hand, were retained until new ones were created, corresponding to the standards of the Federal Republic. For example, GDR motor vehicle registrations were issued until the end of December, while German motor vehicle registrations only existed since January 2, 1991.

See also

Portal: DDR  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the topic of the DDR


Web links

Commons : History of the German Democratic Republic  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Klaus Schroeder: The SED state. Party, state and society. Munich / Vienna 1998, p. 79.
  2. ^ A b Gernot Schneider: Economic miracle GDR, claim and reality. 2nd edition, bund-Verlag, 1990, pp. 16-20.
  3. ^ Hans-Ulrich Wehler : German history of society. Vol. 4. From the beginning of the First World War to the founding of the two German states 1914–1949. CH Beck, Munich 2003, p. 948.
  4. "The federal government can only enter into discussions about German reunification with those who are willing to unreservedly recognize and guarantee a constitutional order, a free form of government, the protection of human rights and the preservation of peace." From: Declaration by Konrad Adenauer on January 15, 1951 .
  5. Quoted from Anjana Buckow: Between Propaganda and Realpolitik. The USA and the Soviet-occupied part of Germany 1945–1955. Franz Steiner, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-515-08261-1 , p. 9.
  6. ^ Declaration by the chairman of the Soviet Control Commission on the handover of administrative functions to German authorities from November 11, 1949. In: Ingo von Münch : Documents of divided Germany. P. 325 ff.
  7. ^ Declaration by the Soviet government on the granting of sovereignty to the GDR of March 25, 1954. ( Memento of June 11, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) In: Ingo von Münch: Documents of divided Germany. P. 329 ff.
  8. ^ Declaration by the government of the USSR on the granting of sovereignty to the German Democratic Republic
  9. Quoted from Christoph Führ, Carl-Ludwig Furck (Ed.): Handbuch der deutschen Bildungsgeschichte . Vol. VI: 1945 to the present. Second volume: German Democratic Republic and new federal states, Beck, Munich 1998, p. 206.
  10. Collection in the German Broadcasting Archive , p. 55 ( Memento from January 31, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 1.2 MB).
  11. Thomas Haury : Anti-Semitism from the left. Communist ideology, nationalism and anti-Zionism in the early GDR . Hamburger Edition, Hamburg 2002.
  12. New Germany. January 14, 1953, quoted from Wilfried Loth : Stalin's unloved child. Why Moscow didn't want the GDR. Rowohlt, Berlin 1994, p. 195.
  13. This was the slogan of the 3rd Congress of the Society for German-Soviet Friendship in 1951 .
  14. in the ND archive
  15. Federal Archives : The question of Germany and intra-German relations
  16. Federal Archives: The German Military System - German Democratic Republic 1949–1990. Part 8 of the permanent exhibition “German Military History 1867 to Today” in the Department of Military Archives
  17. Klaus Schröder: The SED state. History and structures of the GDR. Munich 1999.
  18. Landtag Thuringia: Report of the Committee of Inquiry 5/1 "Right-wing Terrorism and Authorities" from July 16, 2014; therein: Konrad Weiß: The new old danger. Young fascists of the GDR , context, spring 1989.
  19. See inter alia. Manfred Görtemaker: History of the Federal Republic of Germany. From the foundation to the present . 1999, p. 725.
  20. See e.g. B. Peter Lerche , in: Isensee / Kirchhof (ed.), Handbuch des Staatsrechts der Federal Republic of Germany , Vol. VIII, Heidelberg 1995, § 194 Rn. 45, 47; Hans Hugo Klein , in: Isensee / Kirchhof, HStR VIII, § 198 Rn. 3 .
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on January 15, 2006 .