German Democratic Republic

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German Democratic Republic
Deutsche Demokratische Republik

Flag Coat of arms
"Auferstanden aus Ruinen"
Capital East Berlin
Language(s) German
Government Marxist-Leninist Single Party Socialist State
Head of State
 - 1949 – 1960 Wilhelm Pieck
 - 1960 – 1973 Walter Ulbricht
 - 1976 – 1989 Erich Honecker
 - 1989 Egon Krenz
 - 1989 – 1990 Manfred Gerlach
 - 1990 Sabine Bergmann-Pohl
Head of Government
 - 1949 – 1964 Otto Grotewohl
 - 1964 – 1973 Willi Stoph
 - 1973 – 1976 Horst Sindermann
 - 1976 – 1989 Willi Stoph
 - 1989 – 1990 Hans Modrow
 - 1990 Lothar de Maizière
Legislature Volkskammer
Historical era Cold War
 - Established October 7, 1949
 - Peace Treaty September 25 1990
 - German reunification October 3, 1990
 - 1990 108,333 km2 (41,828 sq mi)
 - 1990 est. 16,111,000 
     Density 148.7 /km2  (385.2 /sq mi)
Currency East German mark (M)

The German Democratic Republic (GDR) (German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR)), commonly called East Germany (German: Ostdeutschland), was founded on October 7,1949, after World War II. It was formed from the parts of Germany occupied by the USSR, including part of the city of Berlin. It is no longer a nation by itself since the two parts of Germany, East Germany and West Germany, got back together in 1990.

The GDR was ruled by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Most people say that it was a dictatorship.

History[change | change source]

After World War II, Germany was divided into four sections, each controlled by a different country. The countries that controlled these parts of Germany were France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Then, the French, American, and British parts of Germany formed West Germany (the Bundesrepublik) and the Soviet section was East Germany.

Walter Ulbricht, the head of the SED, also had a lot of power. Pieck died in 1960, and Ulbricht became "Chairman of the State Council". Now he was really the head of state.

On 13 August 1961, the Berlin Wall was built. The people in the GDR were not allowed to go to Western countries any more, including West Germany. Many people died when they wanted to cross the Wall, and more than 100 were shot dead by East German soldiers. The SED told the East German people that the wall's purpose was to keep 'Western Capitalists' out; when in fact it was to keep them (East Germans) inside.

After Mikhail Gorbachev had started glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union, many people in the GDR wanted reforms, too. In 1989, there were lots of demonstrations against the SED and for democracy and human rights. In the city of Leipzig, people met every Monday and demonstrated, and so these demonstrations are called Montagsdemonstrationen ("Monday Demonstrations"). Erich Honecker wished that the Soviets would intervene and suppress these demonstrations but the Soviet Union, with its own political and economical problems, refused and deemed its control over Eastern-Europe to be impractical. Honecker was eventually forced to resign on October 18, 1989.

Egon Krenz was elected by the politburo to be Honecker's successor. Krenz tried to show that he was looking for change within the GDR but the citizens did not trust him. On November 9, 1989, the SED announced that East Germans would be able to travel to West Berlin the next day. The spokesman who announced the new travel law incorrectly said that it would take effect immediately, implying the Berlin Wall would open that night. People began to gather at border checkpoints at the wall hoping to be let through, but the guards told them that they had no orders to let citizens through. As the number of people grew, the guards became alarmed and tried to contact their superiors but had no responses. Unwilling to use force, the chief guard at the checkpoint relented at 10:54pm and ordered the gate to be opened. Thousands of East-Germans swarmed into West Berlin and the purpose of the wall was deemed now obsolete. The fall of the wall destroyed the SED politically as well as the career of its leader, Egon Krenz. On December 1, 1989, the GDR government revoked the law that guaranteed the SED the right to rule the East German political system, effectively ending communist rule in the GDR.

On 18 March 1990, there were free elections in the GDR. The "Alliance for Germany", a group of political parties who wanted to unify the GDR with West Germany, won that election. This process, when East Germany became a democracy, is known also the Wende in Germany.

In the German reunification, the GDR joined West Germany by approving its constitution in 1990. The East German districts were reorganised into the Länder (Berlin, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen) and joined West Germany, after which the GDR ceased to exist.

Even though the western and the eastern part joined back together in 1990, people from former West Germany still call people from East Germany "Ossi". This comes from the German word "Osten" which means "East". Ossi is not always meant kindly.

Politics[change | change source]

The leading role of the SED was written down in the constitution of the GDR. There were other parties in the GDR, which were called the Blockparteien ("block parties"), but their job was mostly to do what the SED said:

  • CDU (Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands; in English "Christian Democratic Union of Germany") – when Germany was reunified in 1990, this party merged with the West German party of the same name, CDU.
  • LDPD (Liberal-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands; in English "Liberal Democratic Party of Germany") – in 1990, it was merged with the West German FDP
  • NDPD (National-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands; in English "National Democratic Party of Germany") – it was merged with the FDP, too, and has nothing to do with the NPD
  • DBD (Demokratische Bauernpartei Deutschland; in English "Democratic Farmer's Party of Germany") – it was merged with the CDU some months before the German reunification

The Ministry for State Security (in German: Ministerium für Staatssicherheit; often called "MfS" or "Stasi") was the East German homeland security service. It searched for people who were against the state, the SED and their politics. The MfS had many informants who told them when some people said or did something against the state. There was a big MfS prison in the town of Bautzen.

Foreign policy[change | change source]

East Germany was a member of the Warsaw Pact. In retrospect, the GDR was a puppet state of the Soviet Union until democratic reforms. The GDR was released from Soviet control by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during his reforms in the late 1980s in what was known as the "Sinatra Doctrine".

Economy[change | change source]

In the GDR, there was a planned economy. All big factories and companies were in property of the state (officially Volkseigentum, "people's property"). Only some small companies and shops were private property.

A famous relic of the GDR is the low-powered automobile "Trabant" or Trabi.

Sports[change | change source]

Until 1964, East and West Germany took part in the Olympic Games with only one team for both states. Since 1968, East and West Germany had their own team each.

East German sportspeople were very successful, for example in athletics, cycling, boxing or some winter sports. Famous sportspeople from East Germany were Täve Schur (cycling), Waldemar Cierpinski (athletics), Heike Drechsler (athletics), Olaf Ludwig (cycling), Katarina Witt (ice skating) or Jens Weißflog (ski jumping).

A famous cycling race was the Peace Race (in German: Friedensfahrt).

The East German national football team was not so successful. They were only in one FIFA World Cup. This was the 1974 FIFA World Cup, which took place in West Germany. On 22 June 1974, East Germany played against West Germany. Jürgen Sparwasser shot a goal and East Germany won 1-0.


Holidays[change | change source]

Date English Name German Name Remarks
1 January New Year's Day Neujahr  
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 after 1967.
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