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East Germany, officially the German Democratic Republic (GDR; German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik[ˈdɔʏtʃə demoˈkʁaːtɪʃə ʁepuˈbliːk], DDR), was a country that existed from 1949 to 1990, the period when the eastern portion of Germany was part of the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Commonly described as a communist state in English usage, it described itself as a socialist "workers' and peasants' state".[7] It consisted of territory that was administered and occupied by Soviet forces following the end of World War II—the Soviet occupation zone of the Potsdam Agreement, bounded on the east by the Oder–Neisse line. The Soviet zone surrounded West Berlin but did not include it and West Berlin remained outside the jurisdiction of the GDR.

The GDR was established in the Soviet zone while the Federal Republic of Germany, commonly referred to as West Germany, was established in the three western zones. A satellite state of the Soviet Union,[8] Soviet occupation authorities began transferring administrative responsibility to German communist leaders in 1948 and the GDR began to function as a state on 7 October 1949. However, Soviet forces remained in the country throughout the Cold War. Until 1989, the GDR was governed by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), although other parties nominally participated in its alliance organisation, the National Front of the German Democratic Republic.[9] The SED made the teaching of Marxism–Leninism and the Russian language compulsory in schools.[10]

The economy was centrally planned and increasingly state-owned.[11] Prices of housing, basic goods and services were heavily subsidised and set by central government planners rather than rising and falling through supply and demand. Although the GDR had to pay substantial war reparations to the Soviets, it became the most successful economy in the Eastern Bloc. Emigration to the West was a significant problem as many of the emigrants were well-educated young people and weakened the state economically. The government fortified its western borders and built the Berlin Wall in 1961. Many people attempting to flee[12][13] were killed by border guards or booby traps such as landmines.[14] Those captured spent large amounts of time imprisoned for attempting to escape.[15][16]

In 1989, numerous social, economic and political forces in the GDR and abroad, one of the most notable ones being the peaceful protests starting in the city of Leipzig, led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the establishment of a government committed to liberalisation. The following year, a free and fair election was held[17] and international negotiations led to the signing of the Final Settlement treaty on the status and borders of Germany. The GDR dissolved itself and Germany was reunified on 3 October 1990, becoming a fully sovereign state in the reunified Federal Republic of Germany. Several of the GDR's leaders, notably its last communist leader Egon Krenz, were prosecuted by Federal Republic of Germany after reunification for alleged offenses committed during the Cold War.[18][19]

Geographically, the GDR bordered the Baltic Sea to the north, Poland to the east, Czechoslovakia to the southeast and West Germany to the southwest and west. Internally, the GDR also bordered the Soviet sector of Allied-occupied Berlin, known as East Berlin, which was also administered as the state's de facto capital. It also bordered the three sectors occupied by the United States, United Kingdom and France known collectively as West Berlin. The three sectors occupied by the Western nations were sealed off from the GDR by the Berlin Wall from its construction in 1961 until it was brought down in 1989.

Naming conventions

The official name was Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic), usually abbreviated to "DDR" (GDR). Both terms were used in East Germany, with increasing usage of the abbreviated form, especially since East Germany considered West Germans and West Berliners to be foreigners following the promulgation of its second constitution in 1968. West Germans, the western media and statesmen initially avoided the official name and its abbreviation, instead using terms like Ostzone (Eastern Zone),[20] Sowjetische Besatzungszone (Soviet Occupation Zone; often abbreviated to SBZ) and sogenannte DDR[21] or "so-called GDR".[22]

The centre of political power in East Berlin was referred to as Pankow (the seat of command of the Soviet forces in East Germany was referred to as Karlshorst).[20] Over time, however, the abbreviation "DDR" was also increasingly used colloquially by West Germans and West German media.[note 2]

When used by West Germans, Westdeutschland (West Germany) was a term almost always in reference to the geographic region of Western Germany and not to the area within the boundaries of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, this use was not always consistent and West Berliners frequently used the term Westdeutschland to denote the Federal Republic.[23] Before World War II, Ostdeutschland (eastern Germany) was used to describe all the territories east of the Elbe (East Elbia), as reflected in the works of sociologist Max Weber and political theorist Carl Schmitt.[24][25][26][27][28]

History

On the basis of the Potsdam Conference, the Allies jointly occupied Germany west of the Oder–Neisse line, later forming these occupied territories into two independent countries. Light grey: territories annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union; dark grey: West Germany (formed from the US, UK and French occupation zones, including West Berlin); red: East Germany (formed from the Soviet occupation zone, including East Berlin).

Explaining the internal impact of the GDR government from the perspective of German history in the long term, historian Gerhard A. Ritter (2002) has argued that the East German state was defined by two dominant forces – Soviet communism on the one hand, and German traditions filtered through the interwar experiences of German communists on the other.[29] The GDR always was constrained by the example of richer West, to which East Germans compared their nation. The changes implemented by the communists were most apparent in ending capitalism and in transforming industry and agriculture, in the militarization of society, and in the political thrust of the educational system and of the media. On the other hand, the new regime made relatively few changes in the historically independent domains of the sciences, the engineering professions, the Protestant churches, and in many bourgeois lifestyles[citation needed]. Social policy, says Ritter, became a critical legitimi

The GDR was established in the Soviet zone while the Federal Republic of Germany, commonly referred to as West Germany, was established in the three western zones. A satellite state of the Soviet Union,[8] Soviet occupation authorities began transferring administrative responsibility to German communist leaders in 1948 and the GDR began to function as a state on 7 October 1949. However, Soviet forces remained in the country throughout the Cold War. Until 1989, the GDR was governed by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), although other parties nominally participated in its alliance organisation, the National Front of the German Democratic Republic.[9] The SED made the teaching of Marxism–Leninism and the Russian language compulsory in schools.[10]

The economy was centrally planned and increasingly state-owned.[11] Prices of housing, basic goods and services were heavily subsidised and set by central government planners rather than rising and falling through supply and demand. Although the GDR had to pay substantial war reparations to the Soviets, it became the most successful economy in the Eastern Bloc. Emigration to the West was a significant problem as many of the emigrants were well-educated young people and weakened the state economically. The government fortified its western borders and built the Berlin Wall in 1961. Many people attempting to flee[12][13] were killed by border guards or booby traps such as landmines.[14] Those captured spent large amounts of time imprisoned for attempting to escape.[15][16]

In 1989, numerous social, economic and political forces in the GDR and abroad, one of the most notable ones being the peaceful protests starting in the city of Leipzig, led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the establishment of a government committed to liberalisation. The following year, a free and fair election was held[17] and international negotiations led to the signing of the Final Settlement treaty on the status and borders of Germany. The GDR dissolved itself and Germany was reunified on 3 October 1990, becoming a fully sovereign state in the reunified Federal Republic of Germany. Several of the GDR's leaders, notably its last communist leader Egon Krenz, were prosecuted by Federal Republic of Germany after reunification for alleged offenses committed during the Cold War.[18][19]

Geographically, the GDR bordered the Baltic Sea to the north, Poland to the east, Czechoslovakia to the southeast and West Germany to the southwest and west. Internally, the GDR also bordered the Soviet sector of Allied-occupied Berlin, known as East Berlin, which was also administered as the state's de facto capital. It also bordered the three sectors occupied by the United States, United Kingdom and France known collectively as West Berlin. The three sectors occupied by the Western nations were sealed off from the GDR by the Berlin Wall from its construction in 1961 until it was brought down in 1989.

The official name was Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic), usually abbreviated to "DDR" (GDR). Both terms were used in East Germany, with increasing usage of the abbreviated form, especially since East Germany considered West Germans and West Berliners to be foreigners following the promulgation of its second constitution in 1968. West Germans, the western media and statesmen initially avoided the official name and its abbreviation, instead using terms like Ostzone (Eastern Zone),[20] Sowjetische Besatzungszone (Soviet Occupation Zone; often abbreviated to SBZ) and sogenannte DDR[21] or "so-called GDR".[22]

The centre of political power in East Berlin was referred to as Pankow (the seat of command of the Soviet forces in East Germany was referred to as Karlshorst).[20] Over time, however, the abbreviation "DDR" was also increasingly used colloquially by West Germans and West German media.[note 2]

When used by West Germans, Westdeutschland (West Germany) was a term almost always in reference to the geographic region of Western Germany and not to the area within the boundaries of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, this use was not always consistent and West Berliners frequently used the term Westdeutschland to denote the Federal Republic.[23] Before World War II, Ostdeutschland (eastern Germany) was used to describe all the territories east of the Elbe (East Elbia), as reflected in the works of sociologist Max Weber and political theorist Carl Schmitt.[24][25][26][27][28]

History

On the basis of the Potsdam Conference, the Allies jointly occupied Germany west of the Oder–Neisse line, later forming these occupied territories into two independent countries. Light grey: territories annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union; dark grey: West Germany (formed from the US, UK and French occupation zones, including West Berlin); red: East Germany (formed from the Soviet occupation zone, including East Berlin).

Explaining the internal impact of the GDR government from the perspective of German history in the long term, historian Gerhard A. Ritter (2002) has argued that the East German state was defined by two dominant forces – Soviet communism on the one hand, and German traditions filtered through the interwar experiences of German communists on the other.[29] The GDR always was constrained by the example of richer West, to which East Germans compared their nation. The changes implemented by the communists were most apparent in ending capitalism and in transforming industry and agriculture, in the militarization of society, and in the political thrust of the educational system and of the media. On the other hand, the new regime made relatively few changes in the historically independent domains of the sciences, the engineering professions, the Protestant churches, and in many bourgeois lifestyles[citation needed]. Social policy, says Ritter, became a critical legitimization tool in the last decades and mixed socialist and traditional elements about equally.[30]

Origins

At the Yalta Conference during World War II, the Allies (the US, the UK, and the Soviet Union) agreed on dividing a defeated Nazi Germany into occupation zones,[31] and on dividing Berlin, the German capital, among the Allied powers as well. Initially this meant the formation of three zones of occupation, i.e., American, British, and Soviet. Later, a French zone was carved out of the US and British zones.

1949 establishment

German Democratic Republic

Deutsche Demokratische Republik
1949–1990
Flag of East Germany
Flag
(1959–1990)
National emblem (1955–1990) of East Germany
National emblem (1955–1990)
Motto: Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt Euch!
("Workers of the world, unite!")
Anthem: Auferstanden aus Ruinen
("Risen from Ruins")
The territory of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from its creation on 7 October 1949 until its dissolution on 3 October 1990
The territory of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from its creation on 7 October 1949 until its dissolution on 3 October 1990
StatusMember of the Warsaw Pact (1955–1989)
Satellite state of the Soviet Union (1949–1989)
Capital
and largest city
East Berlin[1] (de facto)
Berlin (de jure)
Official languagesGerman
Sorbian (in parts of Bezirk Dresden and Bezirk Cottbus)
Religion
See Religion in East Germany
Demonym(s)East German
GovernmentFederal Marxist–Leninist one-party socialist republic
(1949–1952)
Unitary Marxist–Leninist one-party socialist republic
(1952–1989)
Unitary parliamentary republic
(1989–1990)
General Secretary 
• 1949–1950
Wilhelm Pieck
• 1950–1971
Walter Ulbricht
• 1971–1989
Erich Honecker
• 1989[note 1]
Egon Krenz
Head of State