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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] Their stated aim being "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 the East German population than any other domestic intelligence force in history. Off the back of this, the Stasi is considered to have been one of the world's most effective secret police forces; they even helped set up "state security" organizations for other countries. Other activities included supporting West German anti-Semitic groups and running a brothel to entrap homosexuals. They also used female prostitutes to extract information from Western visitors during the trade-fair 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.
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. 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"
- 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.
- See the Wikipedia article on Ernst Thälmann Island.
- See the Wikipedia article on Republic of Molossia.