German Democratic Republic (East Germany)

German Democratic Republic (East Germany)

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The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was established in 1949 from the area of Germany occupied by the Soviet Union. East Berlin became the capital of the new country. As West Berlin remained part of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) the capital was the cause of great conflict.

The main political figure in the German Democratic Republic was Walter Ulbricht who served as General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party (1946-1971) and Chairman of the Council of State (1960-1971).

On 7th June, 1953, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of East Germany in demonstrations which began as a protest against increased work quotas and spiralled into demands for free elections. Red Army tanks were brought in and the Soviet military commander declared a state of emergency. More than 50 people were killed. Of these, about 20 of were executed, while more than 1,000 were convicted in the East German courts of having taking part in an "attempted fascist coup".

In 1955 the government of East Germany signed the Warsaw Treaty of Friendship Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact was created in response to the decision to allow the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

In the fifteen years following the Second World War over 3 million people emigrated from the German Democratic Republic to Federal Republic of Germany. In August 1961 the Berlin Wall was built to stem this flow of refugees.

In 1966 Willy Brandt became Foreign Minister in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). He developed the policy of Ostpolitik (reconciliation between eastern and western Europe). In 1969 Brandt became Chancellor of West Germany. He continued with his policy of Ostpolitik and in 1970 negotiated an agreement with the Soviet Union accepting the frontiers of Berlin. He also signed the Basic Treaty with the German Democratic Republic.

In 1972 the German Democratic Republic was admitted to the United Nations. With the collapse of communism in 1989 the two German republics were united.

The street was full of people, saying 'come with us, do this with us'," she remembered. "At 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the street was black with people. The police said: 'All of you go home, and we will fulfil your demands.' But people shouted at the police and threw stones. Then the tanks came and people were killed.

'Have you a hobby, Herr Brandt?'

'Yes, I collect jokes that people tell about me,' says Brandt. 'And you?'

'Oh, I collect people who tell jokes about me,' says Ulbricht.

The Interior Minister telephones Walter Ulbricht.

'Thieves have broken into the Ministry this evening.'

'Have they stolen something?'

'Alas, yes. All the results of the next elections.'

A West German Communist was travelling on a train through the GDR. He got into conversation with an old lady.

'Back home in West Germany,' he told her, 'shirts cost forty marks each.'

'Shirts?' said the old lady ruefully. 'We had those here once.'

'Butter is terribly expensive in the West. We are forced to eat margarine,' he continued.

'Yes,' said the old lady, 'we had margarine here once, too.'

'Now look here!' shouted the West German, by now thoroughly exasperated, 'You don't have to tell me these fairy-stories, you know! I'm a Communist!'

'A Communist?' sighed the old lady. 'Yes, we had those here once, too.'

A German historian has accused the British of "betraying" an anti-communist uprising in the early years of the German Democratic Republic which was eventually put down by Soviet tanks. In a book published to coincide with today's 50th anniversary of the uprising, Hubertus Knabe claims that the western powers, in particular Britain led by Winston Churchill, declined to intervene because they feared a reunited Germany.

Churchill rebuked a British commander who protested about the execution of a west Berlin student caught in the east and praised the Russians for their restraint.

Mr Knabe, author of 17th June 1953: A German Uprising, said: "The demonstrators were bitterly disappointed, after the west's rhetoric about the liberation of Europe, and the encouragement of resistance, that when they went out on the streets, they received no support"

The anniversary has been trailed for weeks by political debates, television documentaries and theatre productions. In his book, the historian quotes Churchill expressing surprise that the British commander should have issued a complaint to the Russians without consulting London.

The then prime minister asked whether the Soviet Union should have allowed "the eastern zone to collapse into anarchy and revolt", according to a private message quoted by Mr Knabe, and went on: "I had the impression that the unrest was handled with remarkable restraint."

The west feared reunification. The foreign secretary, Selwyn Lloyd, told Churchill in a memo on June 22 that the allies felt "a divided Germany is safer at present. But none of us dare say so in public because of the impact on public opinion in Germany". The first East Germans to go out on the streets in 1953 were construction workers on Stalinallee, the Communist-era highway that slices through east Berlin.

After World War II, the four Allied Occupation Zones in Germany were 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. The French, American, and British parts of Germany formed West Germany (the Bundesrepublik). Part of the Soviet section became East Germany, and other parts became western Poland and small parts of other countries.

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. Many people were shot dead by East German soldiers when they tried to escape the GDR. According to the SED this was to make it hard for American spies to use West Berlin as a place to work from, but it also made it hard for normal people to move between east and west.

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 McDonalds and Nike. 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 use its army to suppress these demonstrations. The Soviet Union, with its own political and economical problems, refused and did not want to help Eastern Europe anymore. 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 was taken over by the West, 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. Fidel Castro had long ago renamed the small Cuban island of Cayo Blanco del Sur and one of its beaches in honor of the GDR, though it remained part of Cuba.

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.

After the reunification, many people became angry because the new government was from the west and didn't like East Germany. They closed down lots of the places people worked and tried to make it look like East Germany never existed. This made lots of people lose their jobs and become poor. Today lots of people who used to live in East Germany want it to come back. This is called "Ostalgie", which means "East nostalgia".

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"), their job was mostly to cooperate with the SED:

  • 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 secret police. It searched for people who were against the state, the SED and their politics. The MfS had many informants who told them when people said or did something against the state. There was a big MfS prison in the town of Bautzen.

East Germany was a member of the Warsaw Pact. The GDR was no longer protected by the USSR after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during his reforms in the late 1980s in what was known as the "Sinatra Doctrine".

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.

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.

The German Democratic Republic (East Germany)

In a recent post I put the word ‘democratic’ in this title between inverted commas, and a student has asked me why. Did I doubt, I was asked, that the GDR was democratic? Well yes I did. East Germany emerged in 1949 from the Soviet-occupied zone of recently defeated Germany. As an eastern European country it ceased to exist in October, 1990.

The Potsdam Conference had, among countless other disgraces, invented a country divided into four zones, each occupied by one of the victorious Allies. They were American, British, French and Russian, though why the French should have got a zone to themselves when they had hardly fired a shot in anger at the commencement of the Second World War is questionable. Three-fifths of France fell to the Nazis in 1940 but the French were permitted to govern the rest of the country as a ‘neutral’ state with its own government at Vichy. As Vichy collaborated with the Germans from day one the term ‘neutral’ is dubious. The Third Reich had by that time invaded the Polish Corridor, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, parts of Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands.

East Germany’s frontier with Poland was confirmed by the Treaty of Zgorzelec in 1950. Her capital was officially East Berlin but the status of West Berlin – an enclave of the Federal Republic of Germany was a complication: Berlin was a good 110/150 kilometres inside East Germany, but was recognised by the Soviets and its existence guaranteed by the Four-Power Agreement.

Under its new and rather ambitious name the German Democratic Republic had to pay reparations to the Soviet Union, mostly for damage done by the Red Army as it advanced through north eastern Germany after the Normandy Invasion. There was dissent and disorder, and more than once the Soviet Army had to put down rebellions using their customary gentle methods.

In 1954 the name GDR was officially recognised and the following year it became a founder member of the Warsaw Pact, in common with other Communist satellites. In 1956 it formed the National People’s Army which was instrumental in sealing borders in August of 1961, including the construction of the Berlin Wall (q.v.).

Walter Ulbricht (pictured above / was General-Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and Chairman of the Council of State. If he ruled democratically nobody bothered to tell him so. Industry ground to a halt and many people went hungry or simply died of boredom.

East Germany had to wait for the leadership of Erich Honeker in 1976 for the establishment of a stronger industrial base than most members of COMECON (an economic organisation of Soviet-bloc countries: Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Mongolian People’s Republic, Poland, Romania, Vietnam etc. Albania got expelled in 1961. Yugoslavia had associate status). A top-heavy bureaucracy, and centrally controlled disciplines rapidly atrophied, and corruption was widespread. There was an utterly ruthless secret police force – the Stasi. Citizens simply disappeared. In 1989 a series of hugely violent demonstrations daringly took place, and a new political group, New Forum, demanded real democratic reforms.


Generally, same tactics as for the USSR faction do apply, with the initial advancement in the meeting engagment phase being easier thanks to the more rapid access to air force support, the increased battlefield morale of soldiers and access to some more unique equipment that the Soviet Union does not posses in the Armored Brigade. The GDR can deploy specialized recon infantry with sniper rifle support and can employ the modernized T-55 model equipped with ERA armor and GLATGM capabilites.


The English word Germany derives from the Latin Germania, which came into use after Julius Caesar adopted it for the peoples east of the Rhine. [11] The German term Deutschland, originally diutisciu land ("the German lands") is derived from deutsch (cf. Dutch), descended from Old High German diutisc "of the people" (from diot or diota "people"), originally used to distinguish the language of the common people from Latin and its Romance descendants. This in turn descends from Proto-Germanic *þiudiskaz "of the people" (see also the Latinised form Theodiscus), derived from *þeudō, descended from Proto-Indo-European * tewtéh₂- "people", from which the word Teutons also originates. [12]

Ancient humans were present in Germany at least 600,000 years ago. [13] The first non-modern human fossil (the Neanderthal) was discovered in the Neander Valley. [14] Similarly dated evidence of modern humans has been found in the Swabian Jura, including 42,000-year-old flutes which are the oldest musical instruments ever found, [15] the 40,000-year-old Lion Man, [16] and the 35,000-year-old Venus of Hohle Fels. [17] The Nebra sky disk, created during the European Bronze Age, is attributed to a German site. [18]

Germanic tribes and Frankish Empire

The Germanic tribes are thought to date from the Nordic Bronze Age or the Pre-Roman Iron Age. [19] From southern Scandinavia and north Germany, they expanded south, east, and west, coming into contact with the Celtic, Iranian, Baltic, and Slavic tribes. [20]

Under Augustus, Rome began to invade Germania. In 9 AD, three Roman legions were defeated by Arminius. [21] By 100 AD, when Tacitus wrote Germania, Germanic tribes had settled along the Rhine and the Danube (the Limes Germanicus), occupying most of modern Germany. However, Baden Württemberg, southern Bavaria, southern Hesse and the western Rhineland had been incorporated into Roman provinces. [22] [23] [24] Around 260, Germanic peoples broke into Roman-controlled lands. [25] After the invasion of the Huns in 375, and with the decline of Rome from 395, Germanic tribes moved farther southwest: the Franks established the Frankish Kingdom and pushed east to subjugate Saxony and Bavaria, and areas of what is today eastern Germany were inhabited by Western Slavic tribes. [22]

East Francia and Holy Roman Empire

Charlemagne founded the Carolingian Empire in 800 it was divided in 843 [26] and the Holy Roman Empire emerged from the eastern portion. The territory initially known as East Francia stretched from the Rhine in the west to the Elbe River in the east and from the North Sea to the Alps. [26] The Ottonian rulers (919–1024) consolidated several major duchies. [27] In 996 Gregory V became the first German Pope, appointed by his cousin Otto III, whom he shortly after crowned Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire absorbed northern Italy and Burgundy under the Salian emperors (1024–1125), although the emperors lost power through the Investiture controversy. [28]

Under the Hohenstaufen emperors (1138–1254), German princes encouraged German settlement to the south and east (Ostsiedlung). Members of the Hanseatic League, mostly north German towns, prospered in the expansion of trade. [29] Population declined starting with the Great Famine in 1315, followed by the Black Death of 1348–50. [30] The Golden Bull issued in 1356 provided the constitutional structure of the Empire and codified the election of the emperor by seven prince-electors. [31]

Johannes Gutenberg introduced moveable-type printing to Europe, laying the basis for the democratization of knowledge. [32] In 1517, Martin Luther incited the Protestant Reformation the 1555 Peace of Augsburg tolerated the "Evangelical" faith (Lutheranism), but also decreed that the faith of the prince was to be the faith of his subjects (cuius regio, eius religio). [33] From the Cologne War through the Thirty Years' Wars (1618–1648), religious conflict devastated German lands and significantly reduced the population. [34] [35]

The Peace of Westphalia ended religious warfare among the Imperial Estates [34] their mostly German-speaking rulers were able to choose Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, or the Reformed faith as their official religion. [36] The legal system initiated by a series of Imperial Reforms (approximately 1495–1555) provided for considerable local autonomy and a stronger Imperial Diet. [37] The House of Habsburg held the imperial crown from 1438 until the death of Charles VI in 1740. Following the War of Austrian Succession and the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, Charles VI's daughter Maria Theresa ruled as Empress Consort when her husband, Francis I, became Emperor. [38] [39]

From 1740, dualism between the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy and the Kingdom of Prussia dominated German history. In 1772, 1793, and 1795, Prussia and Austria, along with the Russian Empire, agreed to the Partitions of Poland. [40] [41] During the period of the French Revolutionary Wars, the Napoleonic era and the subsequent final meeting of the Imperial Diet, most of the Free Imperial Cities were annexed by dynastic territories the ecclesiastical territories were secularised and annexed. In 1806 the Imperium was dissolved France, Russia, Prussia and the Habsburgs (Austria) competed for hegemony in the German states during the Napoleonic Wars. [42]

German Confederation and Empire

Following the fall of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna founded the German Confederation, a loose league of 39 sovereign states. The appointment of the Emperor of Austria as the permanent president reflected the Congress's rejection of Prussia's rising influence. Disagreement within restoration politics partly led to the rise of liberal movements, followed by new measures of repression by Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich. [43] [44] The Zollverein, a tariff union, furthered economic unity. [45] In light of revolutionary movements in Europe, intellectuals and commoners started the revolutions of 1848 in the German states, raising the German Question. King Frederick William IV of Prussia was offered the title of Emperor, but with a loss of power he rejected the crown and the proposed constitution, a temporary setback for the movement. [46]

King William I appointed Otto von Bismarck as the Minister President of Prussia in 1862. Bismarck successfully concluded the war with Denmark in 1864 the subsequent decisive Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 enabled him to create the North German Confederation which excluded Austria. After the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, the German princes proclaimed the founding of the German Empire in 1871. Prussia was the dominant constituent state of the new empire the King of Prussia ruled as its Kaiser, and Berlin became its capital. [47] [48]

In the Gründerzeit period following the unification of Germany, Bismarck's foreign policy as Chancellor of Germany secured Germany's position as a great nation by forging alliances and avoiding war. [48] However, under Wilhelm II, Germany took an imperialistic course, leading to friction with neighbouring countries. [49] A dual alliance was created with the multinational realm of Austria-Hungary the Triple Alliance of 1882 included Italy. Britain, France and Russia also concluded alliances to protect against Habsburg interference with Russian interests in the Balkans or German interference against France. [50] At the Berlin Conference in 1884, Germany claimed several colonies including German East Africa, German South West Africa, Togoland, and Kamerun. [51] Later, Germany further expanded its colonial empire to include holdings in the Pacific and China. [52] The colonial government in South West Africa (present-day Namibia), from 1904 to 1907, carried out the annihilation of the local Herero and Namaqua peoples as punishment for an uprising [53] [54] this was the 20th century's first genocide. [54]

The assassination of Austria's crown prince on 28 June 1914 provided the pretext for Austria-Hungary to attack Serbia and trigger World War I. After four years of warfare, in which approximately two million German soldiers were killed, [55] a general armistice ended the fighting. In the German Revolution (November 1918), Emperor Wilhelm II and the ruling princes abdicated their positions, and Germany was declared a federal republic. Germany's new leadership signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, accepting defeat by the Allies. Germans perceived the treaty as humiliating, which was seen by historians as influential in the rise of Adolf Hitler. [56] Germany lost around 13% of its European territory and ceded all of its colonial possessions in Africa and the South Sea. [57]

Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany

On 11 August 1919, President Friedrich Ebert signed the democratic Weimar Constitution. [58] In the subsequent struggle for power, communists seized power in Bavaria, but conservative elements elsewhere attempted to overthrow the Republic in the Kapp Putsch. Street fighting in the major industrial centres, the occupation of the Ruhr by Belgian and French troops, and a period of hyperinflation followed. A debt restructuring plan and the creation of a new currency in 1924 ushered in the Golden Twenties, an era of artistic innovation and liberal cultural life. [59] [60] [61]

The worldwide Great Depression hit Germany in 1929. Chancellor Heinrich Brüning's government pursued a policy of fiscal austerity and deflation which caused unemployment of nearly 30% by 1932. [62] The Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler won a special election in 1932 and Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. [63] After the Reichstag fire, a decree abrogated basic civil rights and the first Nazi concentration camp opened. [64] [65] The Enabling Act gave Hitler unrestricted legislative power, overriding the constitution [66] his government established a centralised totalitarian state, withdrew from the League of Nations, and dramatically increased the country's rearmament. [67] A government-sponsored programme for economic renewal focused on public works, the most famous of which was the autobahn. [68]

In 1935, the regime withdrew from the Treaty of Versailles and introduced the Nuremberg Laws which targeted Jews and other minorities. [69] Germany also reacquired control of the Saarland in 1935, [70] remilitarised the Rhineland in 1936, annexed Austria in 1938, annexed the Sudetenland in 1938 with the Munich Agreement, and in violation of the agreement occupied Czechoslovakia in March 1939. [71] Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) saw the burning of synagogues, the destruction of Jewish businesses, and mass arrests of Jewish people. [72]

In August 1939, Hitler's government negotiated the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact that divided Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. [73] On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, beginning World War II in Europe [74] Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. [75] In the spring of 1940, Germany conquered Denmark and Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, forcing the French government to sign an armistice. The British repelled German air attacks in the Battle of Britain in the same year. In 1941, German troops invaded Yugoslavia, Greece and the Soviet Union. By 1942, Germany and her allies controlled most of continental Europe and North Africa, but following the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, the allies' reconquest of North Africa and invasion of Italy in 1943, German forces suffered repeated military defeats. In 1944, the Soviets pushed into Eastern Europe the Western allies landed in France and entered Germany despite a final German counteroffensive. Following Hitler's suicide during the Battle of Berlin, Germany surrendered on 8 May 1945, ending World War II in Europe. [74] [76] Following the end of the war, surviving Nazi officials were tried for war crimes at the Nuremberg trials. [77] [78]

In what later became known as the Holocaust, the German government persecuted minorities, including interning them in concentration and death camps across Europe. In total 17 million people were systematically murdered, including 6 million Jews, at least 130,000 Romani, 275,000 persons with disabilities, thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses, thousands of homosexuals, and hundreds of thousands of political and religious opponents. [79] Nazi policies in German-occupied countries resulted in the deaths of an estimated 2.7 million Poles, [80] 1.3 million Ukrainians, 1 million Belarusians and 3.5 million Soviet prisoners of war. [81] [77] German military casualties have been estimated at 5.3 million, [82] and around 900,000 German civilians died. [83] Around 12 million ethnic Germans were expelled from across Eastern Europe, and Germany lost roughly one-quarter of its pre-war territory. [84]

East and West Germany

After Nazi Germany surrendered, the Allies partitioned Berlin and Germany's remaining territory into four occupation zones. The western sectors, controlled by France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, were merged on 23 May 1949 to form the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland) on 7 October 1949, the Soviet Zone became the German Democratic Republic (German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik DDR). They were informally known as West Germany and East Germany. [86] East Germany selected East Berlin as its capital, while West Germany chose Bonn as a provisional capital, to emphasise its stance that the two-state solution was temporary. [87]

West Germany was established as a federal parliamentary republic with a "social market economy". Starting in 1948 West Germany became a major recipient of reconstruction aid under the Marshall Plan. [88] Konrad Adenauer was elected the first Federal Chancellor of Germany in 1949. The country enjoyed prolonged economic growth (Wirtschaftswunder) beginning in the early 1950s. [89] West Germany joined NATO in 1955 and was a founding member of the European Economic Community. [90]

East Germany was an Eastern Bloc state under political and military control by the USSR via occupation forces and the Warsaw Pact. Although East Germany claimed to be a democracy, political power was exercised solely by leading members (Politbüro) of the communist-controlled Socialist Unity Party of Germany, supported by the Stasi, an immense secret service. [91] While East German propaganda was based on the benefits of the GDR's social programmes and the alleged threat of a West German invasion, many of its citizens looked to the West for freedom and prosperity. [92] The Berlin Wall, built in 1961, prevented East German citizens from escaping to West Germany, becoming a symbol of the Cold War. [93]

Tensions between East and West Germany were reduced in the late 1960s by Chancellor Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik. [94] In 1989, Hungary decided to dismantle the Iron Curtain and open its border with Austria, causing the emigration of thousands of East Germans to West Germany via Hungary and Austria. This had devastating effects on the GDR, where regular mass demonstrations received increasing support. In an effort to help retain East Germany as a state, the East German authorities eased border restrictions, but this actually led to an acceleration of the Wende reform process culminating in the Two Plus Four Treaty under which Germany regained full sovereignty. This permitted German reunification on 3 October 1990, with the accession of the five re-established states of the former GDR. [95] The fall of the Wall in 1989 became a symbol of the Fall of Communism, the Dissolution of the Soviet Union, German Reunification and Die Wende. [96]

Reunified Germany and the European Union

United Germany was considered the enlarged continuation of West Germany so it retained its memberships in international organisations. [97] Based on the Berlin/Bonn Act (1994), Berlin again became the capital of Germany, while Bonn obtained the unique status of a Bundesstadt (federal city) retaining some federal ministries. [98] The relocation of the government was completed in 1999, and modernisation of the east German economy was scheduled to last until 2019. [99] [100]

Since reunification, Germany has taken a more active role in the European Union, signing the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2007, [101] and co-founding the Eurozone. [102] Germany sent a peacekeeping force to secure stability in the Balkans and sent German troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO effort to provide security in that country after the ousting of the Taliban. [103] [104]

In the 2005 elections, Angela Merkel became the first female chancellor. In 2009 the German government approved a €50 billion stimulus plan. [105] Among the major German political projects of the early 21st century are the advancement of European integration, the energy transition (Energiewende) for a sustainable energy supply, the "Debt Brake" for balanced budgets, measures to increase the fertility rate (pronatalism), and high-tech strategies for the transition of the German economy, summarised as Industry 4.0. [106] Germany was affected by the European migrant crisis in 2015: the country took in over a million migrants and developed a quota system which redistributed migrants around its states. [107]

Germany is the seventh-largest country in Europe [4] bordering Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria to the southeast, and Switzerland to the south-southwest. France, Luxembourg and Belgium are situated to the west, with the Netherlands to the northwest. Germany is also bordered by the North Sea and, at the north-northeast, by the Baltic Sea. German territory covers 357,022 km 2 (137,847 sq mi), consisting of 348,672 km 2 (134,623 sq mi) of land and 8,350 km 2 (3,224 sq mi) of water.

Elevation ranges from the mountains of the Alps (highest point: the Zugspitze at 2,963 metres or 9,721 feet) in the south to the shores of the North Sea (Nordsee) in the northwest and the Baltic Sea (Ostsee) in the northeast. The forested uplands of central Germany and the lowlands of northern Germany (lowest point: in the municipality Neuendorf-Sachsenbande, Wilstermarsch at 3.54 metres or 11.6 feet below sea level [108] ) are traversed by such major rivers as the Rhine, Danube and Elbe. Significant natural resources include iron ore, coal, potash, timber, lignite, uranium, copper, natural gas, salt, and nickel. [4]


Most of Germany has a temperate climate, ranging from oceanic in the north to continental in the east and southeast. Winters range from the cold in the Southern Alps to mild and are generally overcast with limited precipitation, while summers can vary from hot and dry to cool and rainy. The northern regions have prevailing westerly winds that bring in moist air from the North Sea, moderating the temperature and increasing precipitation. Conversely, the southeast regions have more extreme temperatures. [109]

From February 2019 – 2020, average monthly temperatures in Germany ranged from a low of 3.3 °C (37.9 °F) in January 2020 to a high of 19.8 °C (67.6 °F) in June 2019. [110] Average monthly precipitation ranged from 30 litres per square metre in February and April 2019 to 125 litres per square metre in February 2020. [111] Average monthly hours of sunshine ranged from 45 in November 2019 to 300 in June 2019. [112] The highest temperature ever recorded in Germany was 42.6 °C on 25 July 2019 in Lingen and the lowest was −37.8 °C on 12 February 1929 in Wolnzach. [113] [114]


The territory of Germany can be divided into five terrestrial ecoregions: Atlantic mixed forests, Baltic mixed forests, Central European mixed forests, Western European broadleaf forests, and Alps conifer and mixed forests. [115] As of 2016 [update] 51% of Germany's land area is devoted to agriculture, while 30% is forested and 14% is covered by settlements or infrastructure. [116]

Plants and animals include those generally common to Central Europe. According to the National Forest Inventory, beeches, oaks, and other deciduous trees constitute just over 40% of the forests roughly 60% are conifers, particularly spruce and pine. [117] There are many species of ferns, flowers, fungi, and mosses. Wild animals include roe deer, wild boar, mouflon (a subspecies of wild sheep), fox, badger, hare, and small numbers of the Eurasian beaver. [118] The blue cornflower was once a German national symbol. [119]

Germany is a federal, parliamentary, representative democratic republic. Federal legislative power is vested in the parliament consisting of the Bundestag (Federal Diet) and Bundesrat (Federal Council), which together form the legislative body. The Bundestag is elected through direct elections using the mixed-member proportional representation system. The members of the Bundesrat represent and are appointed by the governments of the sixteen federated states. [4] The German political system operates under a framework laid out in the 1949 constitution known as the Grundgesetz (Basic Law). Amendments generally require a two-thirds majority of both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat the fundamental principles of the constitution, as expressed in the articles guaranteeing human dignity, the separation of powers, the federal structure, and the rule of law, are valid in perpetuity. [125]

The president, currently Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is the head of state and invested primarily with representative responsibilities and powers. He is elected by the Bundesversammlung (federal convention), an institution consisting of the members of the Bundestag and an equal number of state delegates. [4] The second-highest official in the German order of precedence is the Bundestagspräsident (president of the Bundestag), who is elected by the Bundestag and responsible for overseeing the daily sessions of the body. [126] The third-highest official and the head of government is the chancellor, who is appointed by the Bundespräsident after being elected by the party or coalition with the most seats in the Bundestag. [4] The chancellor, currently Angela Merkel, is the head of government and exercises executive power through their Cabinet. [4]

Since 1949, the party system has been dominated by the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party of Germany. So far every chancellor has been a member of one of these parties. However, the smaller liberal Free Democratic Party and the Alliance '90/The Greens have also been junior partners in coalition governments. Since 2007, the left-wing populist party The Left has been a staple in the German Bundestag, though they have never been part of the federal government. In the 2017 German federal election, the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany gained enough votes to attain representation in the parliament for the first time. [127] [128]

Constituent states

Germany is a federal state and comprises sixteen constituent states which are collectively referred to as Länder. [129] Each state has its own constitution, [130] and is largely autonomous in regard to its internal organisation. [129] As of 2017 [update] Germany is divided into 401 districts (Kreise) at a municipal level these consist of 294 rural districts and 107 urban districts. [131]

Germany has a civil law system based on Roman law with some references to Germanic law. [135] The Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Constitutional Court) is the German Supreme Court responsible for constitutional matters, with power of judicial review. [136] Germany's supreme court system is specialised: for civil and criminal cases, the highest court of appeal is the inquisitorial Federal Court of Justice, and for other affairs the courts are the Federal Labour Court, the Federal Social Court, the Federal Finance Court and the Federal Administrative Court. [137]

Criminal and private laws are codified on the national level in the Strafgesetzbuch and the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch respectively. The German penal system seeks the rehabilitation of the criminal and the protection of the public. [138] Except for petty crimes, which are tried before a single professional judge, and serious political crimes, all charges are tried before mixed tribunals on which lay judges (Schöffen) sit side by side with professional judges. [139] [140]

Germany has a low murder rate with 1.18 murders per 100,000 as of 2016 [update] . [141] In 2018, the overall crime rate fell to its lowest since 1992. [142]

Foreign relations

Germany has a network of 227 diplomatic missions abroad [144] and maintains relations with more than 190 countries. [145] Germany is a member of NATO, the OECD, the G8, the G20, the World Bank and the IMF. It has played an influential role in the European Union since its inception and has maintained a strong alliance with France and all neighbouring countries since 1990. Germany promotes the creation of a more unified European political, economic and security apparatus. [146] [147] [148] The governments of Germany and the United States are close political allies. [149] Cultural ties and economic interests have crafted a bond between the two countries resulting in Atlanticism. [150]

The development policy of Germany is an independent area of foreign policy. It is formulated by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and carried out by the implementing organisations. The German government sees development policy as a joint responsibility of the international community. [151] It was the world's second-biggest aid donor in 2019 after the United States. [152]


Germany's military, the Bundeswehr, is organised into the Heer (Army and special forces KSK), Marine (Navy), Luftwaffe (Air Force), Zentraler Sanitätsdienst der Bundeswehr (Joint Medical Service) and Streitkräftebasis (Joint Support Service) branches. In absolute terms, German military expenditure is the 8th highest in the world. [153] In 2018, military spending was at $49.5 billion, about 1.2% of the country's GDP, well below the NATO target of 2%. [154] [155]

As of January 2020 [update] , the Bundeswehr has a strength of 184,001 active soldiers and 80,947 civilians. [156] Reservists are available to the armed forces and participate in defence exercises and deployments abroad. [157] Until 2011, military service was compulsory for men at age 18, but this has been officially suspended and replaced with a voluntary service. [158] [159] Since 2001 women may serve in all functions of service without restriction. [160] According to SIPRI, Germany was the fourth largest exporter of major arms in the world from 2014 to 2018. [161]

In peacetime, the Bundeswehr is commanded by the Minister of Defence. In state of defence, the Chancellor would become commander-in-chief of the Bundeswehr. [162] The role of the Bundeswehr is described in the Constitution of Germany as defensive only. But after a ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court in 1994 the term "defence" has been defined to not only include protection of the borders of Germany, but also crisis reaction and conflict prevention, or more broadly as guarding the security of Germany anywhere in the world. As of 2017 [update] , the German military has about 3,600 troops stationed in foreign countries as part of international peacekeeping forces, including about 1,200 supporting operations against Daesh, 980 in the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, and 800 in Kosovo. [163] [164]

Germany has a social market economy with a highly skilled labour force, a low level of corruption, and a high level of innovation. [4] [166] [167] It is the world's third largest exporter and third largest importer of goods, [4] and has the largest economy in Europe, which is also the world's fourth-largest economy by nominal GDP, [168] and the fifth-largest by PPP. [169] Its GDP per capita measured in purchasing power standards amounts to 121% of the EU27 average (100%). [170] The service sector contributes approximately 69% of the total GDP, industry 31%, and agriculture 1% as of 2017 [update] . [4] The unemployment rate published by Eurostat amounts to 3.2% as of January 2020 [update] , which is the fourth-lowest in the EU. [171]

Germany is part of the European single market which represents more than 450 million consumers. [172] In 2017, the country accounted for 28% of the Eurozone economy according to the International Monetary Fund. [173] Germany introduced the common European currency, the Euro, in 2002. [174] Its monetary policy is set by the European Central Bank, which is headquartered in Frankfurt. [175] [165]

Being home to the modern car, the automotive industry in Germany is regarded as one of the most competitive and innovative in the world, [176] and is the fourth largest by production. [177] The top 10 exports of Germany are vehicles, machinery, chemical goods, electronic products, electrical equipments, pharmaceuticals, transport equipments, basic metals, food products, and rubber and plastics. [178] Germany is one of the largest exporters globally. [179]

Of the world's 500 largest stock-market-listed companies measured by revenue in 2019, the Fortune Global 500, 29 are headquartered in Germany. [180] 30 major Germany-based companies are included in the DAX, the German stock market index which is operated by Frankfurt Stock Exchange. [181] Well-known international brands include Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Siemens, Allianz, Adidas, Porsche, Bosch and Deutsche Telekom. [182] Berlin is a hub for startup companies and has become the leading location for venture capital funded firms in the European Union. [183] Germany is recognised for its large portion of specialised small and medium enterprises, known as the Mittelstand model. [184] These companies represent 48% global market leaders in their segments, labelled Hidden Champions. [185]

Research and development efforts form an integral part of the German economy. [186] In 2018 Germany ranked fourth globally in terms of number of science and engineering research papers published. [187] Research institutions in Germany include the Max Planck Society, the Helmholtz Association, and the Fraunhofer Society and the Leibniz Association. [188] Germany is the largest contributor to the European Space Agency. [189]


With its central position in Europe, Germany is a transport hub for the continent. [190] Its road network is among the densest in Europe. [191] The motorway (Autobahn) is widely known for having no federally mandated speed limit for some classes of vehicles. [192] The InterCityExpress or ICE train network serves major German cities as well as destinations in neighbouring countries with speeds up to 300 km/h (190 mph). [193] The largest German airports are Frankfurt Airport and Munich Airport. [194] The Port of Hamburg is one of the top twenty largest container ports in the world. [195]

In 2015 [update] , Germany was the world's seventh-largest consumer of energy. [196] The government and the nuclear power industry agreed to phase out all nuclear power plants by 2021. [197] It meets the country's power demands using 40% renewable sources. [198] Germany is committed to the Paris Agreement and several other treaties promoting biodiversity, low emission standards, and water management. [199] [200] [201] The country's household recycling rate is among the highest in the world—at around 65%. [202] The country's greenhouse gas emissions per capita were the ninth highest in the EU in 2018 [update] . [203] The German energy transition (Energiewende) is the recognised move to a sustainable economy by means of energy efficiency and renewable energy. [204]


Germany is the ninth most visited country in the world as of 2017 [update] , with 37.4 million visits. [205] Berlin has become the third most visited city destination in Europe. [206] Domestic and international travel and tourism combined directly contribute over €105.3 billion to German GDP. Including indirect and induced impacts, the industry supports 4.2 million jobs. [207]

Germany's most visited and popular landmarks include Cologne Cathedral, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Dresden Frauenkirche, Neuschwanstein Castle, Heidelberg Castle, the Wartburg, and Sanssouci Palace. [208] The Europa-Park near Freiburg is Europe's second most popular theme park resort. [209]

With a population of 80.2 million according to the 2011 census, [210] rising to 83.1 million as of 2019 [update] , [6] Germany is the most populous country in the European Union, the second-most populous country in Europe after Russia, and the nineteenth-most populous country in the world. Its population density stands at 227 inhabitants per square kilometre (588 per square mile). The overall life expectancy in Germany at birth is 80.19 years (77.93 years for males and 82.58 years for females). [4] The fertility rate of 1.41 children born per woman (2011 estimates) is below the replacement rate of 2.1 and is one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. [4] Since the 1970s, Germany's death rate has exceeded its birth rate. However, Germany is witnessing increased birth rates and migration rates since the beginning of the 2010s, particularly a rise in the number of well-educated migrants. Germany has the third oldest population in the world, with an average age of 47.4 years. [4]

Four sizeable groups of people are referred to as "national minorities" because their ancestors have lived in their respective regions for centuries: [211] There is a Danish minority in the northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein [211] the Sorbs, a Slavic population, are in the Lusatia region of Saxony and Brandenburg the Roma and Sinti live throughout the country and the Frisians are concentrated in Schleswig-Holstein's western coast and in the north-western part of Lower Saxony. [211]

After the United States, Germany is the second most popular immigration destination in the world. The majority of migrants live in western Germany, in particular in urban areas. Of the country's residents, 18.6 million people (22.5%) were of immigrant or partially immigrant descent in 2016 (including persons descending or partially descending from ethnic German repatriates). [212] In 2015, the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs listed Germany as host to the second-highest number of international migrants worldwide, about 5% or 12 million of all 244 million migrants. [213] As of 2018 [update] , Germany ranks fifth amongst EU countries in terms of the percentage of migrants in the country's population, at 12.9%. [214]

Germany has a number of large cities. There are 11 officially recognised metropolitan regions. The country's largest city is Berlin, while its largest urban area is the Ruhr. [215]


The 2011 German Census showed Christianity as the largest religion in Germany, with 66.8% identified themselves as Christian, with 3.8% of those not being church members. [216] 31.7% declared themselves as Protestants, including members of the Evangelical Church in Germany (which encompasses Lutheran, Reformed and administrative or confessional unions of both traditions) and the free churches (German: Evangelische Freikirchen) 31.2% declared themselves as Roman Catholics, and Orthodox believers constituted 1.3%. According to data from 2016, the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church claimed 28.5% and 27.5%, respectively, of the population. [217] [218] Islam is the second largest religion in the country. [219] In the 2011 census, 1.9% of the census population (1.52 million people) gave their religion as Islam, but this figure is deemed unreliable because a disproportionate number of adherents of this religion (and other religions, such as Judaism) are likely to have made use of their right not to answer the question. [220] Most of the Muslims are Sunnis and Alevites from Turkey, but there are a small number of Shi'ites, Ahmadiyyas and other denominations. Other religions comprise less than one percent of Germany's population. [219]

A study in 2018 estimated that 38% of the population are not members of any religious organization or denomination, [221] though up to a third may still consider themselves religious. Irreligion in Germany is strongest in the former East Germany, which used to be predominantly Protestant before the enforcement of state atheism, and in major metropolitan areas. [222] [223]


German is the official and predominant spoken language in Germany. [224] It is one of 24 official and working languages of the European Union, and one of the three procedural languages of the European Commission. [225] German is the most widely spoken first language in the European Union, with around 100 million native speakers. [226]

Recognised native minority languages in Germany are Danish, Low German, Low Rhenish, Sorbian, Romany, North Frisian and Saterland Frisian they are officially protected by the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The most used immigrant languages are Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, Polish, the Balkan languages and Russian. Germans are typically multilingual: 67% of German citizens claim to be able to communicate in at least one foreign language and 27% in at least two. [224]


Responsibility for educational supervision in Germany is primarily organised within the individual states. Optional kindergarten education is provided for all children between three and six years old, after which school attendance is compulsory for at least nine years. Primary education usually lasts for four to six years. [227] Secondary schooling is divided into tracks based on whether students pursue academic or vocational education. [228] A system of apprenticeship called Duale Ausbildung leads to a skilled qualification which is almost comparable to an academic degree. It allows students in vocational training to learn in a company as well as in a state-run trade school. [227] This model is well regarded and reproduced all around the world. [229]

Most of the German universities are public institutions, and students traditionally study without fee payment. [230] The general requirement for university is the Abitur. According to an OECD report in 2014, Germany is the world's third leading destination for international study. [231] The established universities in Germany include some of the oldest in the world, with Heidelberg University (established in 1386) being the oldest. [232] The Humboldt University of Berlin, founded in 1810 by the liberal educational reformer Wilhelm von Humboldt, became the academic model for many Western universities. [233] [234] In the contemporary era Germany has developed eleven Universities of Excellence.


Germany's system of hospitals, called Krankenhäuser, dates from medieval times, and today, Germany has the world's oldest universal health care system, dating from Bismarck's social legislation of the 1880s. [236] Since the 1880s, reforms and provisions have ensured a balanced health care system. The population is covered by a health insurance plan provided by statute, with criteria allowing some groups to opt for a private health insurance contract. According to the World Health Organization, Germany's health care system was 77% government-funded and 23% privately funded as of 2013 [update] . [237] In 2014, Germany spent 11.3% of its GDP on health care. [238]

Germany ranked 20th in the world in 2013 in life expectancy with 77 years for men and 82 years for women, and it had a very low infant mortality rate (4 per 1,000 live births). In 2019 [update] , the principal cause of death was cardiovascular disease, at 37%. [239] Obesity in Germany has been increasingly cited as a major health issue. A 2014 study showed that 52 percent of the adult German population was overweight or obese. [240]

Culture in German states has been shaped by major intellectual and popular currents in Europe, both religious and secular. Historically, Germany has been called Das Land der Dichter und Denker ("the land of poets and thinkers"), [241] because of the major role its writers and philosophers have played in the development of Western thought. [242] A global opinion poll for the BBC revealed that Germany is recognised for having the most positive influence in the world in 2013 and 2014. [243] [244]

Germany is well known for such folk festival traditions as Oktoberfest and Christmas customs, which include Advent wreaths, Christmas pageants, Christmas trees, Stollen cakes, and other practices. [245] [246] As of 2016 [update] UNESCO inscribed 41 properties in Germany on the World Heritage List. [247] There are a number of public holidays in Germany determined by each state 3 October has been a national day of Germany since 1990, celebrated as the Tag der Deutschen Einheit (German Unity Day). [248]


German classical music includes works by some of the world's most well-known composers. Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Friedrich Händel were influential composers of the Baroque period. Ludwig van Beethoven was a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras. Carl Maria von Weber, Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms were significant Romantic composers. Richard Wagner was known for his operas. Richard Strauss was a leading composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. Karlheinz Stockhausen and Wolfgang Rihm are important composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. [249]

As of 2013, Germany was the second largest music market in Europe, and fourth largest in the world. [250] German popular music of the 20th and 21st centuries includes the movements of Neue Deutsche Welle, pop, Ostrock, heavy metal/rock, punk, pop rock, indie, Volksmusik (folk music), schlager pop and German hip hop. German electronic music gained global influence, with Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream pioneering in this genre. [251] DJs and artists of the techno and house music scenes of Germany have become well known (e.g. Paul van Dyk, Felix Jaehn, Paul Kalkbrenner, Robin Schulz and Scooter). [252]

Art and design

German painters have influenced western art. Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein the Younger, Matthias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder were important German artists of the Renaissance, Johann Baptist Zimmermann of the Baroque, Caspar David Friedrich and Carl Spitzweg of Romanticism, Max Liebermann of Impressionism and Max Ernst of Surrealism. Several German art groups formed in the 20th century Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) influenced the development of expressionism in Munich and Berlin. The New Objectivity arose in response to expressionism during the Weimar Republic. After World War II, broad trends in German art include neo-expressionism and the New Leipzig School. [253]

Architectural contributions from Germany include the Carolingian and Ottonian styles, which were precursors of Romanesque. Brick Gothic is a distinctive medieval style that evolved in Germany. Also in Renaissance and Baroque art, regional and typically German elements evolved (e.g. Weser Renaissance). [253] Vernacular architecture in Germany is often identified by its timber framing (Fachwerk) traditions and varies across regions, and among carpentry styles. [254] When industrialisation spread across Europe, Classicism and a distinctive style of historism developed in Germany, sometimes referred to as Gründerzeit style. Expressionist architecture developed in the 1910s in Germany and influenced Art Deco and other modern styles. Germany was particularly important in the early modernist movement: it is the home of Werkbund initiated by Hermann Muthesius (New Objectivity), and of the Bauhaus movement founded by Walter Gropius. [253] Ludwig Mies van der Rohe became one of the world's most renowned architects in the second half of the 20th century he conceived of the glass façade skyscraper. [255] Renowned contemporary architects and offices include Pritzker Prize winners Gottfried Böhm and Frei Otto. [256]

German designers became early leaders of modern product design. [257] The Berlin Fashion Week and the fashion trade fair Bread & Butter are held twice a year. [258]

Literature and philosophy

German literature can be traced back to the Middle Ages and the works of writers such as Walther von der Vogelweide and Wolfram von Eschenbach. Well-known German authors include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Theodor Fontane. The collections of folk tales published by the Brothers Grimm popularised German folklore on an international level. [259] The Grimms also gathered and codified regional variants of the German language, grounding their work in historical principles their Deutsches Wörterbuch, or German Dictionary, sometimes called the Grimm dictionary, was begun in 1838 and the first volumes published in 1854. [260]

Influential authors of the 20th century include Gerhart Hauptmann, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass. [261] The German book market is the third largest in the world, after the United States and China. [262] The Frankfurt Book Fair is the most important in the world for international deals and trading, with a tradition spanning over 500 years. [263] The Leipzig Book Fair also retains a major position in Europe. [264]

German philosophy is historically significant: Gottfried Leibniz's contributions to rationalism the enlightenment philosophy by Immanuel Kant the establishment of classical German idealism by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling Arthur Schopenhauer's composition of metaphysical pessimism the formulation of communist theory by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Friedrich Nietzsche's development of perspectivism Gottlob Frege's contributions to the dawn of analytic philosophy Martin Heidegger's works on Being Oswald Spengler's historical philosophy the development of the Frankfurt School has been particularly influential. [265]


The largest internationally operating media companies in Germany are the Bertelsmann enterprise, Axel Springer SE and ProSiebenSat.1 Media. Germany's television market is the largest in Europe, with some 38 million TV households. [266] Around 90% of German households have cable or satellite TV, with a variety of free-to-view public and commercial channels. [267] There are more than 300 public and private radio stations in Germany Germany's national radio network is the Deutschlandradio and the public Deutsche Welle is the main German radio and television broadcaster in foreign languages. [267] Germany's print market of newspapers and magazines is the largest in Europe. [267] The papers with the highest circulation are Bild, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt. [267] The largest magazines include ADAC Motorwelt and Der Spiegel. [267] Germany has a large video gaming market, with over 34 million players nationwide. [268]

German cinema has made major technical and artistic contributions to film. The first works of the Skladanowsky Brothers were shown to an audience in 1895. The renowned Babelsberg Studio in Potsdam was established in 1912, thus being the first large-scale film studio in the world. Early German cinema was particularly influential with German expressionists such as Robert Wiene and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau. Director Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927) is referred to as the first major science-fiction film. After 1945, many of the films of the immediate post-war period can be characterised as Trümmerfilm (rubble film). East German film was dominated by state-owned film studio DEFA, while the dominant genre in West Germany was the Heimatfilm ("homeland film"). [269] During the 1970s and 1980s, New German Cinema directors such as Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder brought West German auteur cinema to critical acclaim.

The Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film ("Oscar") went to the German production Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) in 1979, to Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa) in 2002, and to Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) in 2007. Various Germans won an Oscar for their performances in other films. The annual European Film Awards ceremony is held every other year in Berlin, home of the European Film Academy. The Berlin International Film Festival, known as "Berlinale", awarding the "Golden Bear" and held annually since 1951, is one of the world's leading film festivals. The "Lolas" are annually awarded in Berlin, at the German Film Awards. [270]


German cuisine varies from region to region and often neighbouring regions share some culinary similarities (e.g. the southern regions of Bavaria and Swabia share some traditions with Switzerland and Austria). International varieties such as pizza, sushi, Chinese food, Greek food, Indian cuisine and doner kebab are also popular.

Bread is a significant part of German cuisine and German bakeries produce about 600 main types of bread and 1,200 types of pastries and rolls (Brötchen). [271] German cheeses account for about 22% of all cheese produced in Europe. [272] In 2012 over 99% of all meat produced in Germany was either pork, chicken or beef. Germans produce their ubiquitous sausages in almost 1,500 varieties, including Bratwursts and Weisswursts. [273] The national alcoholic drink is beer. German beer consumption per person stands at 110 litres (24 imp gal 29 US gal) in 2013 and remains among the highest in the world. [274] German beer purity regulations date back to the 16th century. [275] Wine is becoming more popular in many parts of the country, especially close to German wine regions. [276] In 2019, Germany was the ninth largest wine producer in the world. [277]

The 2018 Michelin Guide awarded eleven restaurants in Germany three stars, giving the country a cumulative total of 300 stars. [278]


Football is the most popular sport in Germany. With more than 7 million official members, the German Football Association (Deutscher Fußball-Bund) is the largest single-sport organisation worldwide, [279] and the German top league, the Bundesliga, attracts the second highest average attendance of all professional sports leagues in the world. [280] The German men's national football team won the FIFA World Cup in 1954, 1974, 1990, and 2014, [281] the UEFA European Championship in 1972, 1980 and 1996, [282] and the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017. [283]

Germany is one of the leading motor sports countries in the world. Constructors like BMW and Mercedes are prominent manufacturers in motor sport. Porsche has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race 19 times, and Audi 13 times (as of 2017 [update] ). [284] The driver Michael Schumacher has set many motor sport records during his career, having won seven Formula One World Drivers' Championships. [285] Sebastian Vettel is also among the top five most successful Formula One drivers of all time. [286]

Historically, German athletes have been successful contenders in the Olympic Games, ranking third in an all-time Olympic Games medal count (when combining East and West German medals). Germany was the last country to host both the summer and winter games in the same year, in 1936: the Berlin Summer Games and the Winter Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. [287] Munich hosted the Summer Games of 1972. [288]

Political Education

From recent German history right on up to global social debates: the Political Education portal provides information from the central federal office and the state offices for political education at one internet address. The portal is operated by the German National Project Group for Political Education Online (BAG). Whether you are teaching, learning or just going through life with your eyes wide open, you’ll find a lot of food for thought, facts and download material on this portal. Use the common web catalog operated by the central offices to find specific information on topics that interest you, e.g. the “path to German unity”, the “global economy in crisis” or “energy and sustainability”. You’ll also find link tips, a program of events and information on current e-learning courses.

German History

The name Germany is used in three senses: first, it refers to the region in Central Europe commonly regarded as constituting Germany, even when there was no central German state, as was the case for most of Germany’s history second, it refers to the unified German state established in 1871 and existing until 1945 and third, since October 3, 1990, it refers to the united Germany, formed by the accession on this date of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany) to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, or West Germany). The name Federal Republic of Germany refers to West Germany from its founding on May 23, 1949, until German unification on October 3, 1990. After this date, it refers to united Germany. For the sake of brevity and variety, the Federal Republic of Germany is often called simply the Federal Republic.

The Federal Republic of Germany consists of sixteen states (Laender sing., Land ). Five of these Laender date from July 1990, when the territory of the German Democratic Republic was once again divided into Laender. For this reason, when discussing events since unification, Germans frequently refer to the territory of the former East Germany as the new or eastern Laender and call that of the former West Germany the old or western Laender. For the sake of convenience and variety, the text often follows this convention to distinguish eastern from western Germany.

Spellings of place-names used here are in most cases those approved by the United States Board on Geographic Names. Exceptions are the use of the conventional English names for a few important cities, rivers, and geographic regions.

Masterpost on the German Democratic Republic (East Germany)

Throughout its 41 year existence, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) found itself constantly at the center of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall, set up to divide East Berlin from FRG-controlled West Berlin, quickly became the most famous symbol of the conflict. Despite this, most people (including most socialists) know relatively little about this nation how its economy functioned, what kind of life did it give its people, etc. However, in light of recent events, such as studies finding that 57% of East Germans have a positive view of the GDR, many people have grown more curious about this particular country. As such, in this post we will go over various aspects of the GDR in detail.

All sources are listed at the bottom. I will indicate which source I am using whenever I quote from one.

Historical Background and Starting Conditions (WWII and Pre-War Era)

World War II left Germany a shadow of its former self. Cities had been leveled, and the economy had been utterly devastated. East Germany in particular was at a serious disadvantage in fact, the wealth disparity between East and West Germany was already in place long before the GDR was established. According to a study in the European Journal of Economic History:

The "Great Divergence" between East and West in industrial efficiency did not begin in 1948, when the institutional development of the two parts of the country took fundamentally different paths. The main factors contributing to this divergence were already present earlier.

Eastern Germany had always been far less industrialized than Western Germany, and as such, it had depended largely upon the West for its economic needs. According the US Federal Research Division's study of East Germany:

Before World War II, the area that later became East Germany was not well developed industrially. Because this area lacked raw materials, heavy industry was generally located in other parts of the German state. Compounding the problems for the newly created East German state in 1949 was the massive destruction during World War II of the industrial plant that had existed there and the subsequent Soviet dismantling and removal of factories and equipment that had survived the war. [. ] During the interwar years, the territory that is now East Germany was profoundly dependent on external economic ties. In the mid-1930's, it shipped almost half of its total production to the other parts of Germany. This domestic trade featured sales of agricultural products textiles products of light industry, such as cameras, typewriters, and optical equipment and purchases of industrial goods and equipment.

In other words, East Germany depended totally on the West for its heavy industrial needs, and paid for these needs by selling its agricultural and light industrial products. However, after the war, this balance between East and West was thrown off. According to the US Federal Research Division:

Major dislocations occurred after World War II, when Germany was divided into two sections, one part dominated by the Soviet Union, and the other by the Western Allies. Because it could no longer rely on its former system of internal and external trading, the Soviet Zone of Occupation had to be restructured and made more self-sufficient through the construction of basic industry.

This was no small feat for the fledgling GDR, especially seeing as it received virtually no large-scale economic aid from the USSR (which was too busy rebuilding itself after WWII to worry about pumping money into East Germany). In addition, the GDR had to pay heavy reparations to the USSR for the damage caused during WWII. This acted as a major obstacle to development. According to The East German Economy, 1945-2010, published by the German Historical Institute, direct and indirect reparations paid by East Germany between 1946 and 1953 amounted to $14 billion in 1938 prices. Another statement on this is found in the US Federal Research Division's study:

The reorientation and restructuring of the East German economy would have been difficult in any case. The substantial reparations costs that the Soviet Union imposed on its occupied zone, and later on East Germany, made the process even more difficult. Payments continued into the early 1950's, ending only with the death of Stalin. According to Western estimates, these payments amounted to about 25 percent of total East German production through 1953.

This is in direct contrast to the West, which received large aid investments from the United States as part of the Marshall Plan, as well as lucrative trade relationships with the developed nations.

Now, let us examine how the GDR developed in spite of these factors.

Economic Growth and Industrial Development

Despite all of the aforementioned significant disadvantages, the East German economy managed to overcome its difficulties and develop at an impressively rapid rate. While the FRG had an overall larger economy than the GDR, there is a real argument to be made that the GDR achieved a faster rate of growth. Perhaps the most extensive study on this topic was done by Gerhard Heske, published in the journal Historical Social Research in Germany however, seeing as this study is about three-hundred pages long, I'll quote a summary article from the University of Bremen:

From 1951 to 1989, the GDR achieved an average GDP growth rate of 4.5%, the FRG 4.3%. From 1961 to 1985, these growth rates were higher in the GDR than in the FRG.

Heavy industry grew especially rapidly. According to the US Federal Research Division:

During the 1950's, East Germany made significant economic progress, at least as indicated by the gross figures. By 1960 investment had grown by a factor of about 4.5, while gross industrial production had increased by a factor of about 2.9. Within that broad category of industrial production, the basic sectors, such as machinery and transport equipment, grew especially rapidly, while the consumer sectors such as textiles lagged behind.

Despite the priority given to heavy industry, consumption also increased steadily during this period:

Consumption grew significantly in the first years, although from a very low base, and showed respectable growth rates over the entire decade.

At the end of the 1950's, some analysts feared an economic crisis in the East, spurred by the "brain drain" from East to West however, this did not occur, and the East German economy continued to grow impressively in the 1960's. The US Federal Research Division reports:

As the 1950's ended, pessimism about the future seemed rather appropriate. Surprisingly, however, after the construction of the Berlin Wall and several years of consolidation and realignment, East Germany entered a period of impressive economic growth that produced clear benefits for the people. For the years 1966-1970, GDP and national income grew at average annual rates of 6.3 and 5.2 percent, respectively. Simultaneously, investment grew at an average annual rate of 10.7 percent, retail trade at 4.6 percent, and real per capita income at 4.2 percent.

This growth continued on through the next decade:

As of 1970, growth rates in the various sectors of the economy did not differ greatly from those of a decade earlier. Production reached about 140 to 150 percent of the levels of a decade earlier. The growth rates in production resulted in substantial increases in personal consumption. throughout the 1970's the East German economy as a whole enjoyed relatively strong and stable growth. In 1971, First Secretary Honecker declared the "raising of the material and cultural living standard" of the population to be a "principal task" of the economy private consumption grew at an average annual rate of 4.8 percent from 1971 to 1975 and 4.0 percent from 1976 to 1980. The 1976-1980 Five Year Plan achieved an average annual growth rate of 4.1 percent.

The 1980's saw some economic difficulties for the GDR as Western banks clamped down on credit for the East and the USSR reduced oil deliveries by ten percent. This led to a period of slow growth as the GDR rushed to step up exports despite this, the economy did manage to pull through and deliver impressive growth results during this period (though it did fall short of the plan). The US Federal Research Division reports:

The 1981-1985 plan period proved to be a difficult time for the East German economy. However, by the end of the period the economy had chalked up a respectable overall performance, with an average annual growth rate of 4.5 percent (the plan target had been 5.1 percent).

The overall impacts of the industrialization strategy of the GDR were extremely positive. As the US Federal Research Division reported in 1988:

Industry is the dominant sector of the East German economy, and is the principal basis for the relatively high standard of living. East Germany ranks among the world's top industrial nations, and in the Comecon it ranks second only to the Soviet Union.

A general summary of East German economic performance can also be found in the aforementioned report:

The economy of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) has developed impressively since its founding in 1949. By almost any indicator, it stands at the top of the socialist world in economic development and performance [. ] The condition of the economy is all the more remarkable when one considers the circumstances under which it has developed. The country was devastated during World War II. Subsequently Soviet occupation of East German territory placed heavy burdens on the population and resources. In addition, the partitioning of the German lands after the war seriously disrupted the economy. East Germany's heavy industry capacity was very low, and its raw material supplies, except for lignite (low-grade) coal and potash, were almost nonexistent. The fact that the country for many years lacked international recognition as a sovereign state certainly did not contribute to economic growth, and its population loss before construction of the Berlin Wall was a significant drain on labor resources.

Overall, the socialist system in the GDR managed to industrialize the nation at a rapid rate, enabling the country to sustain itself without constant infusions from the West. It did this despite numerous aforementioned disadvantages, a feat which should be celebrated.

Increases in Living Standards

The socialist system in the GDR did not only succeed in rapidly developing the nation it also provided a steadily increasing quality of life for the people. The US Federal Research Division reports:

The East German standard of living has improved greatly since 1949 [when the GDR was established]. Most observers, both East and West, agree that in the 1980's East Germans enjoyed the highest standard of living in Eastern Europe. Major improvements occurred, especially after 1971, when the Honecker regime announced its commitment to fulfilling the "principal task" of the economy, which was defined as the enhancement of the material and cultural well-being of all citizens.

This focus on increasing quality of life for all citizens, rather than providing profit for the capitalist class, is a unique feature of the socialist system, which provided steadily improving living standards. The US Federal Research Division states:

Since the inception of the regime, the monthly earned income of the average East German has increased steadily in terms of effective purchasing power. According to the 1986 East German statistical yearbook, the average monthly income for workers in the socialized sector of the economy increased from 311 GDR marks in 1950 to 555 GDR marks in 1960, 755 GDR marks in 1970, and 1,130 GDR marks in 1985. Because most consumer prices had been stable during this time, the 1985 figure represented a better-than-threefold increase over the past thirty-five years.

State subsidies meant that basic necessities (food, housing, etc.), public services (healthcare, education, etc.), and even small luxuries (restaurant meals, concerts, etc.) were all remarkably cheap, especially when compared to the capitalist West. The US Federal Research Division reports:

In East Germany, the GDR mark can purchase a great number of basic necessities because the state subsidies their production and distribution to the people. Thus housing, which consumes a considerable portion of the earnings of an average family in the West, constituted less than 3 percent of the expenditures of a typical worker family in 1984. Milk, potatoes, bread, and public transportation were also relatively cheap. Many services, such as medical care and education, continued to be available without cost to all but a very few. Even restaurant meals, concerts, and postage stamps were inexpensive by Western standards. In the mid-1980's, East Germans had no difficulty obtaining meat, butter, potatoes, bread, clothing, and most other essentials.

The housing situation was also greatly improved:

Beginning in the 1960's, the government initiated a major campaign to provide modern housing facilities it sought to eliminate the longstanding housing shortage, and modernize fully the existing stock by 1990. By the early 1980's, the program had provided nearly 2 million new or renovated units, and 2 million more were to be added by 1990. As of 1985, progress in this area appeared to be satisfactory, and plan targets were being met or exceeded.

The situation in terms of consumer goods was also improving the US Federal Research Division reports that as of 1985 in the GDR, 99 percent of households had a refrigerator, 92 percent had a washing machine, and 93 percent had a television. These numbers are comparable to the United States in 2016 (though washing machine ownership was higher, and TV ownership slightly lower, in the GDR).

Economists had often thought that the GDR mark was weaker in terms of purchasing power than the West German D-mark however, a study from the Institute for Economic Research in West Berlin (as reported by the US Federal Research Division) disproved this idea:

In 1983, the Institute for Economic Research in West Berlin undertook one of its periodic studies in which the purchasing power of the GDR mark was measured against that of the West German D-mark. The Institute concluded that, as a whole, the GDR mark should be considered to have 106 percent of the value of the D-mark in purchasing power, an impressive gain over the 76 percent estimated for 1960, 86 percent for 1969, and 100 percent for 1977. the analysis clearly invalidated the view commonly held in the West that the GDR mark had very little purchasing power.

Overall, the socialist system in the GDR managed to steadily and rapidly increase quality of life for the people, despite the numerous disadvantages facing the country.

Healthcare in East Germany

The GDR provided medical treatment free of charge to its people. This system allowed East Germany to keep up with West Germany in terms of healthcare conditions, despite the latter being wealthier (by virtue of its extensive trade relations with developed nations). A study published in the Health Care Financing Review (a US government-affiliated publication) reports:

In terms of real resources devoted to health services and in terms of health service activities, the two countries seem to have been fairly similar. The GDR was reported as having 2.3 physicians per thousand in 1985 (World Health Organization, 1987), compared with 2.6 in the FRG. In 1977, the GDR was reported as having 10.6 hospital beds per thousand, compared with 11.8 in the FRG, and both countries had similar levels of dentists and pharmacists per thousand. Hospital length of stay was reported as similar in the two countries. Given that hospital beds per thousand were similar, this suggests that admission rates were not very different. Finally, consultation rates with doctors seem to have been similar in the two countries at 9.0 per person in the GDR in 1976 and 10.9 per person in the FRG in 1975 (Health OECD: Facts and Trends, forthcoming).

The study confirms the much lower cost of healthcare in East Germany:

If the GDR enjoyed a similar volume of health services to the FRG but had much lower health expenditures per capita, then the prices of health services must have been much lower in the GDR.

The GDR maintained high healthcare standards, which improved steadily, and in some cases faster than those in the West (though starting at a lower level Eastern Germany had always been worse-off in terms of health than the West). The aforementioned study states:

Turning to health status, in 1987, the reported expectation of life at birth in eastern Germany, 69.9 years for males and 76.0 for females, was not far behind that of western Germany at 72.2 for males and 78.9 for females. The infant mortality rate, which had been 7.2 per 100 in 1950, had fallen to 0.92 in 1986. Although the infant mortality rate was above that of western Germany in 1986 (0.85), the fall since 1950 had been larger. If the official figures can be believed, the former GDR had respectable health statistics for a country with its standard of living. Improvements to health status in eastern Germany seem to have kept up, more or less, with those in western Germany.

Overall, healthcare standards in East German were highly respectable, especially when one remembers the disadvantages facing the GDR, as well as the fact that healthcare was provided free to all people, which cannot be said of the West.

Education and Childcare in East Germany

The educational system in the GDR was very solid. For one thing, there was widespread access to preschool and kindergarten services. According to the US Federal Research Division:

Attendance at kindergarten was not mandatory, but the majority of children from ages three to six attended. The state considered kindergartens an important element of the overall educational program. The schools focused on health and physical fitness, development of socialist values, and the teaching of rudimentary skills. The regime has experimented with combined schools of childcare centers and kindergartens, which introduce the child gradually into a more regimented program of activities and ease the pains of adjustment. In 1985 there were 13,148 preschools providing care for 788,095 children (about 91 percent of children eligible to attend).

After kindergarten, children entered the compulsory stage of education:

Compulsory education began at the age of six, when every child entered the ten-grade, coeducational general poly-technical school. The program was divided into three sections. The primary stage included grades one through three, where children were taught the basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics. The primary stage also introduced children to the fundamentals of good citizenship and, in accordance with the 1965 education law, provided them with their "first knowledge and understanding of nature, work, and socialist society." Instruction emphasized German language, literature, and art as a means of developing the child's expressive and linguistic skills about 60 percent of classroom time was devoted to this component. Mathematics instruction accounted for about 24 percent of the curriculum and included an introduction to fundamental mathematical laws and relations. Another 8 percent was devoted to physical education, which comprised exercises, games, and activities designed to develop coordination and physical skill. Poly-technical instruction was also begun at the primary level and consisted of gardening and crafts that gave the child a basic appreciation of technology, the economy, and the worker about 8 percent of classroom time was allotted to such instruction.

After completing mandatory education, students had several choices:

Upon completion of the compulsory ten-year education, the student had essentially three options. The most frequently chosen option was to begin a two-year period of vocational training. In 1985 about 86 percent of those who had completed their ten-year course of study began some kind of vocational training. During vocational training, the student became an apprentice, usually at a local or state enterprise. Students received eighteen months of training in selected vocations and specialized in the final six months. In 1985 approximately 6 percent of those who had completed their poly-technical education entered a three-year program of vocational training. This program led to the Abitur, or end-of-school examination. Passing the Abitur enabled the student to apply to a technical institute or university, although this route to higher education was considered very difficult. In 1985 East Germany had a total of 963 vocational schools 719 were connected with industries, and another 244 were municipal vocational schools. Vocational schools served 377,567 students.

Students were guaranteed a job upon completing the ten-year compulsory education:

The educational system's major goal was producing technically qualified personnel to fill the manpower needs of the economy. The government guaranteed employment to those who completed the mandatory ten-year program.

The university system was also of remarkably high-quality, and attendance was extremely inexpensive (though entrance requirements were very competitive):

In 1985 East Germany had 54 universities and colleges, with a total enrollment of 129,628 students. Women made up about 50 percent of the student population. Courses in engineering and technology headed the list of popular subjects. Medicine, economics, and education were also popular choices. There were 239 technical institutions, with a total student population of 162,221. About 61 percent of the students studied full time, while the remainder enrolled in correspondence study or took evening classes. The three most popular fields of study at the institutes were medicine and health, engineering and technology, and economics. Courses at the university and technical institutes consisted primarily of lectures and examinations. Completion of the program led to a diploma or license, depending on the field of study.

As of the mid-1980's, higher education was very inexpensive, and many of the textbooks were provided free of charge. Full or partial financial assistance in the form of scholarships was available for most students, and living expenses were generally minimal because most students continued to live at home during their courses of study. Germans have a high regard for education, and the regime has generally supported young people who have wanted to upgrade their level of skills through further training or education.

Overall, the educational system in the German Democratic Republic was high-quality and widely accessible to all.

Women's Rights in East Germany

The GDR had a remarkably strong record in protecting women's rights, far stronger than the capitalist West. According to the US Federal Research Division:

The East German record in the area of women's rights has been good. Women have been well-represented in the work force, comprising about half of the economically active population. As of 1984, approx. 80 percent of women of working age (between eighteen and sixty) were employed. The state has encouraged women to seek work and pursue careers and has provided aid to working mothers in the form of day-care centers generous maternity benefits.

Women's access to education was very strong in the GDR, again much stronger than in the capitalist West:

The state also has made a concerted effort to provide educational opportunities for women. The number of women with a university or technical school education has increased over the years. Of the students enrolled in universities and colleges in 1985, about 50 percent were women.

Birth control was widely-available and free of cost, and abortion was available upon the woman's request. The US Federal Research Division reports:

A liberal abortion law, promulgated in 1972 amid protests from religious circles, permits abortion upon request of the mother. As of the mid 1980's, information on contraceptive methods was available to the public, and women could obtain birth control pills at no cost.

In addition, the state sought to provide assistance to working mothers through a highly-developed child-care system:

An elaborate network of daycare centers provides care for the child while the mother is at work. In 1984 there were 6,605 year-round nurseries with room for 296,653 children. These nurseries provided care for 63 percent of eligible children.

Overall, the situation for women in East Germany was far better than it was in West Germany, and the GDR's women's rights record was quite impressive.

Buyer's Remorse - The Disaster of 1989

Most people in the West imagine the fall of the GDR as a time of widespread euphoria and freedom however, for millions of people in East Germany this was far from the case. One excellent account of this time was written by Bruni de la Motte, an East German woman who has since become a British trade union negotiator. In her article (published in the Guardian), she reports that widespread unemployment and misery occurred after the fall of communism:

Little is known here [the West] about what happened to the GDR economy when the wall fell. Once the border was open the government decided to set up a trusteeship to ensure that "publicly owned enterprises" (the majority of businesses) would be transferred to the citizens whoɽ created the wealth. However, a few months before unification, the then newly elected conservative government handed over the trusteeship to west German appointees, many representing big business interests. The idea of "publicly owned" assets being transferred to citizens was quietly dropped. Instead all assets were privatized at breakneck speed. More then 85% were bought by West Germans and many were closed soon after. In the countryside 1.7 million hectares of agricultural and forest land were sold off and 80% of agricultural workers lost their job.

Another article from the Guardian reports on the long-term impact this has had on the economy in Eastern Germany, noting that there has been virtually no advancement in the East-to-West productivity ratio since 1991:

Productivity in the former east was 70% of that in the west in 1991 and rose to just 73% in 2012, in part a legacy of the number of factories that were bought by West German industrialists and deliberately run into the ground to scotch competition. Experts say the fact that most of the large industry and production bases are in the west and that those in the east are far smaller – with most employers in agriculture or service industries like meat-processing and call centres – will have a long-term effect of increasingly holding back the economy in the east and ensuring that the wage discrepancy remains and likely worsens.

Bruni de la Motte notes that a mass-purging of academia and professional life took place after the fall of communism:

Large numbers of ordinary workers lost their jobs, but so too did thousands of research workers and academics. As a result of the purging of academia, research and scientific establishments in a process of political vetting, more than a million individuals with degrees lost their jobs. This constituted about 50% of that group, creating in East Germany the highest percentage of professional unemployment in the world all university chancellors and directors of state enterprises as well as 75,000 teachers lost their jobs and many were blacklisted. This process was in stark contrast to what happened in West Germany after the war, when few ex-Nazis were treated in this manner.

A housing crisis, as well as the mass seizure of workers' homes, also took place:

In the GDR everyone had a legally guaranteed security of tenure and ownership to the properties where they lived. After unification, 2.2m claims by non-GDR citizens were made on their homes. Many lost houses theyɽ lived in for decades a number committed suicide rather than give them up. Ironically, claims for restitution the other way around, by East Germans on properties in the West, were rejected as "out of time".

She remarks that since the fall of communism, many people have come to appreciate the benefits that socialism offered:

Since the demise of the GDR, many have come to recognize and regret that the genuine "social achievements" they enjoyed were dismantled: social and gender equality, full employment and lack of existential fears, as well as subsidized rents, public transport, culture and sports facilities. Unfortunately, the collapse of the GDR and "state socialism" came shortly before the collapse of the "free market" system in the west.

This is supported by the fact that (as mentioned above) 57% of former East Germans say that life was better under communism (see sources below). For further writing by Bruni de la Motte, I recommend her book Stasi Hell or Workers' Paradise? Socialism in the GDR - What Can We Learn From It? This book presents an honest appraisal of the successes and failures of the German Democratic Republic from the perspective of somebody who actually grew up, went to school, worked, and raised a family there. I will link it in the sources below.

The German Democratic Republic was not a perfect society, and it is unwise to pretend that is was however, it did provide a high standard of living to its people, coupled with strong economic and social security. Guaranteed employment, housing, healthcare, and education, as well as subsidies on basic necessities strong protections for the rights of women and children widely available and inexpensive cultural activities such as theaters and concerts these are benefits which many millions of people have come to sorely miss in the years since the GDR's fall.

Perhaps the best summation of this complex topic is given by Bruni de la Motte, in the conclusion to her book Stasi Hell or Workers' Paradise:

The GDR experience of socialism stands in marked contrast to the dismantling of the welfare state and the concomitant rampant privatization of every aspect of life now taking place in Western Europe, from culture to healthcare and other essential services, as well as to the denial of social values and the extreme individualization of life. We live in an atomized society, rapidly falling apart, with little social ethos and no long-term goals. Many today, especially young people, are living without hope or sense of a secure future. Socialism can still offer an antidote and an alternative. And the experience of socialist countries like the GDR can provide pointers for a way forward and help renew one's hope.

In our age of late capitalism, climate change, and resurgent fascism, this message is more relevant than ever before.

Early Days of the Trabant

In 1957, the Trabant started out as East Germany's answer to the VW Beetle as the people’s affordable car. It was a simple design that could easily be maintained and repaired by its owner using a few basic tools. Most owners carried a replacement belt and sparks plugs at all times.

The first Trabant, a P 50, was powered by a smoky two-stroke generator that maxed out at 18 hp the P stood for plastic and the 50 signified its 500cc engine that used only five moving parts. To conserve expensive metal, the Trabant body was manufactured using Duroplast, a form of plastic containing resin strengthened by recycled wool or cotton. Surprisingly, in crash tests, the Trabant actually proved to be superior to some modern small hatchbacks.

Refueling the Trabant required lifting the hood to fill the six-gallon gas tank and then adding two-stroke oil and shaking it back and forth to mix it. But that didn’t deter folks from enjoying the main selling points of the car including it had room for four adults and luggage, it was compact, fast, light and durable.

The lifespan of an average Trabant was 28 years, probably due to the fact that it could take over ten years for a one to be delivered from the time it was ordered and people who finally received theirs were very careful with it. Subsequently, used Trabants often fetched a higher price than new ones, as they were available immediately.

East German designers and engineers created a series of more sophisticated prototypes through the years that were intended to replace the original Trabant, however, each proposal for a new model was rejected by the GDR leadership for reasons of cost. Instead, subtle changes came in 1963 with the P 60 series including improved brakes and electrical systems.

The Trabant P 60 (600cc) still took 21 seconds to get from 0 to 60 with a top speed of 70mph while producing nine times the amount of hydrocarbons and five times the carbon monoxides of the average European car.

East Germany

East Germany was a socialist nation formed in 1949 after the division of post-war Germany. During the Cold War, East Germany was the most significant Soviet state in Europe after Russia – but its socialist policies led to economic stagnation, political oppression and widespread dissatisfaction among the people of East Germany.


East Germany was, in many respects, the first child of the Cold War. When Germany was invaded by the Allies and the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, they agreed to occupy different zones. At this point, there was no plan to partition Germany into separate states.

Amid the tensions and divisions of 1945-48, however, Germany’s post-war future became less certain. Events in Soviet-occupied eastern Germany placed it on a path of separate development. In April 1946, a pro-Soviet group led by Walter Ulbricht formed the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, or SED). With the backing of Soviet military authorities, Ulbricht and the SED came to dominate the political landscape in eastern Germany.

Events like the Berlin blockade of 1947-48 contributed to the widening gulf between the Allied and Soviet zones. These divisions culminated with the formation of an independent nation, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), on October 7th 1949. The Allies refused to recognise this new nation or its socialist government. The world, however, came to know it as East Germany.

A socialist state

East Germany had a population of just over 18 million people in 1949. Sandwiched between Allied-occupied West Germany and the Soviet bloc, the GDR became a focal point for Cold War tensions and intrigues.

As a newly created nation, built atop the ruins of the Nazi state, East Germany became a proving ground for socialist government and policies. Walter Ulbricht became the most significant figure in this transformation. A fanatical communist, Ulbricht wore a beard like that of Vladimir Lenin while his leadership style was modelled on Joseph Stalin.

Ulbricht’s power and profile grew steadily in the early 1950s. He served as deputy prime minister in the first months of the East German government, becoming general secretary of the SED in 1950 and the party’s first secretary in 1953. Stalin’s death in March 1953 raised questions about Moscow’s future policy on East Germany. Known to be a committed Stalinist, Ulbricht’s own position became uncertain.

The June Uprising

On June 16th 1953, construction workers in East Berlin went on strike in protest against increased work quotas and threatened pay cuts. The following day, they were joined by 40,000 Berliners, most angry about austere economic conditions and a lack of political freedoms.

The violence in East Berlin quickly spread to other parts of the country. East German police and soldiers, as well as Soviet troops, were deployed to halt the demonstrations and quash a potential uprising. This resulted in many deaths and injuries estimates of those killed range between 80 and more than 500.

The June Uprising, as it became known, convinced the Kremlin that a firm hand was needed in East Germany. Ulbricht was summoned to Moscow in July and given authority to purge the SED and crackdown on dissidents. East Germany’s notorious secret police agency, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or ‘Stasi‘, had its leadership replaced and powers expanded.

In addition to silencing troublemakers, Ulbricht also moved to placate the protestors. In the following months, he moved to alleviate food shortages, increase wages and pensions, and reduce the price of consumer goods and transportation.

Economic policy

East Germany remained economically backward in its first decade. There were several reasons for this.

After World War II eastern Germany’s industrial sector, manufactured goods and raw materials were raided and seized by the Soviet Union, which claimed them as war reparations. More than half the region’s industrial capacity passed into Soviet hands between 1945 and 1949, and most of what remained was nationalised.

Short of raw materials, East Germany’s remaining industries began to rely on expensive imports. After independence in 1949, East German exports could only be sold to Soviet bloc nations at fixed prices they were unable to access the larger, more lucrative markets in West Germany or western Europe.

In 1950, Ulbricht’s socialist government adopted a Stalinist economic policy that emphasised industrial production and collectivised agriculture. Workers were subject to rigorous work quotas and targets, while wages and prices were fixed by the state.

The Republikflucht

This emphasis on industrial production and infrastructure led to a shortage of housing and consumer goods. There was a significant decline in living standards, which contributed to the Republikflucht: an exodus of people from East Germany. An average of 175,000 emigrants left the Republic each year between 1949 and 1953. The dire working and living conditions also contributed to the June 1953 Uprising mentioned earlier.

In the mid-1950s, the East German government relaxed its economic policies. Its Stalinist Five Year Plan was replaced with a more moderate seven-year version, while greater emphasis was placed on producing consumer goods. These reforms were fairly superficial, however, and the East German economy showed only marginal signs of growth.

Desperate to match the economic successes of West Germany, Ulbricht responded by speeding up the transition to full socialism. In the late 1950s, his government ordered more collectivisation of agriculture and the nationalisation of industries still in private hands. East Berlin also intensified its campaign of communist indoctrination and propaganda.

These changes achieved little, except for another spike in the Republikflucht. In 1960 East Germany suffered its worst yearly exodus of citizens, losing almost 200,000 people across the border. By 1961, one in five East Germans had left the country. More than half this number were under the age of 30 many were well trained, educated or skilled workers. This ‘brain drain’ precipitated the 1961 Berlin crisis, the closure of East-West borders and the erection of the Berlin Wall.

Economic reforms and the Berlin Wall

In 1963, Ulbricht’s government announced the New Economic System (NES). The NES promised a mixed economy, combining decentralised economic management with elements of a market-based system. Price controls were relaxed and prices became more influenced by supply and demand.

Greater autonomy was given to factory managers, while worker syndicates were allowed to participate in decision making. Work units were rewarded with incentives for meeting goals, rather than punishments for failing to meet them.

The NES produced some short-term improvements – but again, these reforms proved too superficial to achieve lasting change. After almost two decades in power, Ulbricht had failed to fix the stagnating East German economy.

When Willy Brandt became chancellor of West Germany in 1969 he began to hint at opening relations with East Germany. Ulbricht showed little interest and maintained his belligerent rhetoric towards the West. The old Stalinist, it seemed, was yesterday’s man. In 1971 the SED, with Moscow’s backing, quietly pushed Ulbricht from power. He remained as East Germany’s head of state but exercised no control over policy.

East Germany under Honecker

Ulbricht was replaced as general secretary by Erich Honecker, whose more flexible leadership contributed to a decade of Ostpolitik (sometimes referred to as the ‘German Détente‘).

Honecker’s negotiations with Brandt led to the signing of the Basic Treaty (December 1972) and the restoration of diplomatic contact between East and West Germany. The East German border was opened for transit and tourism, while Honecker’s government negotiated trade deals with non-Soviet countries.

Honecker also spent heavily to improve living conditions, particularly housing (more than a million new homes and apartments were constructed during the 1970s). Economic planning was reoriented to produce greater volumes of consumer goods, especially electrical items and everyday items like toiletries.

In 1975, the government claimed that three-quarters of East German homes had a refrigerator, while two-thirds had a television and washing machine. East German living standards became the highest in the Soviet bloc. Yet despite these improvements, its citizens still lacked the diversity, choices and comforts available in West Germany.

A stagnant society

Despite Honecker’s economic reforms, East German society in the 1970s and 1980s was oppressive, stagnant and uninspiring.

East Germans continued to endure a dull routine of work, obedience and conformity. Most aspects of life were dominated by socialist values and expectations. Television, radio and the press were all state-owned. Cinema was popular but most movies were produced in the Soviet bloc.

Food staples were in sufficient supply but most foods were monotonous and bland. Involvement in religion waned, to the point where fewer than one in three East Germans identified as Christians. Workplaces, trade unions, cultural organisations, even sporting clubs were controlled or monitored by loyal socialists.

The gatekeepers of this rigid socialist existence were the feared Stasi, aided by a network of spies and informers. This security apparatus was swift to crack down on political threats, potential troublemakers and criticism of the government. Unapproved political groups, cultural movements or individualism were all quickly suppressed. Most East Germans endured this lack of freedom by withdrawing into their private lives.

A historian’s view:
“East German citizens [had] access to West German television, which showed them the freedom as well as the economic well-being of the West. The Honecker leadership initially did not take this cultural penetration very seriously. [But] constant exposure to the West German consumer culture had an insidious impact on East German society, encouraging East Germans to compare it to their own relatively run-down, deprived society.”
Minton F. Goldman

1. East Germany (the German Democratic Republic, or GDR) was an independent socialist state. It was formed in October 1949 from the Soviet occupation zone in Germany.

2. In its first two decades, East Germany was governed by the Socialist Unity Party (SED) and Walter Ulbricht, a communist who modelled himself on Lenin and Stalin.

3. Ulbricht’s government imposed socialist economic policies, suppressed dissent after the June 1953 uprising, closed its borders and erected the Berlin Wall.

4. In 1971 Ulbricht was replaced by Erich Honecker. He developed a working relationship with West Germany while moving to improve living standards in the GDR.

5. Despite Honecker’s economic reforms, East German society stagnated, with political freedoms and individualism suppressed by the Stasi and government spies and informers.

Watch the video: The German Democratic Republic: What It Was u0026 What It Can Teach the Contemporary Left


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