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East Germany (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR; in English: German Democratic Republic or GDR) was a satellite state of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 East Germany became genuinely democratic and a year later, at the end of the Cold War, the East German people voted to reunite with West Germany.
Its longest serving, and most famous, leader was Erich Honecker. It was widely said to be the most prosperous and nicest of the Eastern Bloc states, but that is a bit like saying Molluscum contagiosum is the best STD. Nevertheless, Herr Honecker had a falling out with the Russians and openly disobeyed Moscow, especially when that dubious Mikhail Gorbachev guy started to speak about a less authoritarian style of leadership. However, Honecker still failed to bring any major improvements to East Germany, and he was finally ousted just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.[note 1] After falling from power, Honecker escaped to Chile[note 2] and became the butt of numerous German jokes (yes, such things exist). The fact that Honecker was from the West German Saar area (bordering France) but still sounded like a stereotypical Easterner in his hour-long incredibly bland speeches certainly helped.
Like most communist countries, East Germany had a secret police, the Stasi.[note 3] Like most countries, East Germany had a security organization, called in this case the Stasi (short for Staatsicherheit - "State Security"). The Stasi had the stated aim "to know everything about everyone"; it has been estimated that 1 in 63 East German citizens collaborated with the Stasi (in a country of 16M people). Other subsequent estimates indicate that the Stasi maintained a greater degree of surveillance over their population than any other domestic-intelligence force in history. Off the back of this, the Stasi counted as one of the world's most effective secret-police forces;[note 4] they even helped (à la KGB) to set up "state security" organizations for other countries. Other activities included supporting West German anti-Semitic groups and running a brothel to entrap homosexuals. There is speculation about how closely the Stasi were involved with the Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof gang) and West German terrorism, but they definitely had some links. They also used female prostitutes to extract information from Western visitors during the trade-fairs in Leipzig, as well as a "project Romeo" where Stasi agents were to cultivate relationships with people who had access to classified information (so they knew occasionally in the biblical sense in order to know in the literal sense).
Economic failures of East Germany
In a way not dissimilar to other Communist states, East Germany continued to suffer poor economic performance throughout its existence. The 1950's comprised of two Five Year Plans, both failing miserably. The First Five Year Plan was implemented in June 1950 and would concentrate on widespread nationalisation of the economy. Both small and large scale businesses would be brought under centralised 'People's Enterprises' and Ulbricht announced plans for expansion of heavy industry, despite low productivity and access to technology. There subsequently emerged widespread social dissatisfaction at the long working hours and continual underinvestment in consumer goods - as regional managers would push for higher productivity without wage increases. The First Five Year Plan would struggle to rival the economy of West Germany, leading the SED to adopt the Second Five Year Plan (1956-1959).
Not dissimilarly to North Korea, the DDR was one of the strongest economies in the Eastern Bloc because of its exports to other communist countries. However, when the Warsaw Pact collapsed, demand for inferior East German products collapsed, resulting in the region's economic collapse. East German cars such as the Trabant and Wartburg were highly desirable to those in the East who faced 15 year waiting lists, but laughable deathtraps when compared to western cars (albeit cheap deathtraps).
Generally, poorer economies grow faster than richer economies, but East Germany has always had lower growth than West Germany until reunification.
Many tankies bring up how East Germany was always poorer than West Germany to explain the poverty of East Germany throughout its communist period, but estimates suggest that East German GDP per capita was 103 to 107 percent of what West German GDP per capita was in 1936, and the share of the gap between the GDP per capita (adjusted for 1990 international dollars) of West Germany and East Germany increased from 1950 to 1990, so East German wasn't able to keep up. In 1950, the East German GDP was $51,412 million and the population was 18.4 million, so the GDP per capita was $2,794. The same year, the West German GDP was $213,942 million and the population was 50 million, so the GDP per capita was $4,279. The share of the difference between the two figures is 42.8%. In 1990, the East German GDP was $82,177 million and in 1989[note 5] their population was 16.4 million,, so their GDP per capita was roughly $5,011. In 1990, the West German GDP was $1,182,261 million and in 1989 the population was 62.1 million, so their GDP per capita was roughly $19,038. The share of the difference between those two numbers is 116.6%. However, the CIA counts West Germany's GDP per capita in 1990 as $15,300 and East Germany's as $9,679. Regardless, the share of the difference between those two is 45%, so it still increased.
After unification, life got much better for East Germans and many gaps in various indicators between East Germany and West Germany decreased.
Good things it did
Well those traffic lights look kinda retro...
In 1972, Fidel Castro's Cuba renamed the island of Cayo Blanco del Sur after German communist politician Ernst Thälmann [note 6]. Ernst Thälmann Island was gifted to East Germany, although the Cuban government claims this was symbolic and it's really still part of Cuba. The micronation of Molossia, located in the vicinity of the US state of Nevada, formerly affected to be at war with East Germany, and having outlived the DDR, Molossia now claims to be at war with Ernst Thälmann Island.
- Talk of too little, too late.
- (West) Germany sought his extradition to be prosecuted for his crimes as head of the DDR, but dropped these proceedings as Honecker was already dying from cancer of the liver (he died in Chile in 1994).
- A colloquial abbreviation of "Ministerium für Staatssicherheit" or "MfS", meaning "Ministry for State Security"
- German efficiency!
- Sure, the measure isn't year for year, but it's still going to give us a rough GDP per capita figure between 1989 and 1990.
- Thälmann was the leader of the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, or KPD in German) during the late 1920s and early 1930s; he was one of the first politicians arrested by Adolf Hitler after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. Thälmann spent 11 years in solitary confinement until he was shipped off to a concentration camp and shot.
- Like Ethiopia.
- E. Germany Ran Antisemitic Campaign in West in ’60s by Marc Fisher, Washington Post, February 28, 1993. From the website of Paul Bogdanor.
- The Stasi–Meinhof Complex?, David Vielhaber, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Volume 36, 2013 - Issue 7, published online 14 June 2017, https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2013.793637
- Trabant and Wartburg – cars that evolved behind the Berlin Wall, The Daily Telegraph, 6 Feb 2018
- Sleifer, Jaap (2006). "Chapter 3: East German GDP". Planning Ahead and Falling Behind: The East German Economy in Comparison with West Germany 1936-2002. p. 66
- Sleifer, Jaap (2006). "Chapter 3: East German GDP". Planning Ahead and Falling Behind: The East German Economy in Comparison with West Germany 1936-2002. p. 50
- Maddison, Angus (2006). "Development Centre Studies The World Economy Volume 1: A Millennial Perspective". MIT Press. p. 406
- CIA 1990 GDP per capita list. CIA World Factbook
- Bundesbalances - Eastern and Western German fortunes since reunification. The Economist.
- See the Wikipedia article on Ernst Thälmann Island.
- See the Wikipedia article on Republic of Molossia.