East Germany

From RationalWiki
(Redirected from GDR)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
East Germany: It was right next to West Germany, who could've known that?
The flag of East Germany. No, it had nothing to do with the Freemasons.
Join the party!
Icon communism.svg
Opiates for the masses
From each
To each

East Germany (German: Ostdeutschland), officially the German Democratic Republic (GDR; German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR) was an authoritarian Communist country and 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 (Ossis, not to be confused with Australians or subjects of Oz) voted to reunite with West Germany to form the current German state.

Its longest-serving, and most famous, leader was Erich Honecker. The GDR was widely said to be the most prosperous and nicest of the Eastern Bloc states, but that is a bit like saying Molluscum contagiosumWikipedia is the best STD. The claim neatly glosses over the estimated 327 people who died trying to cross from East to West Germany - many shot by guards or killed by mines - as well as other human-rights abuses (catalogued below).[1]

Nevertheless, Comrade Honecker fell out with the Soviets and openly disobeyed Moscow, especially when that dubious Mikhail Gorbachev guy started to speak about a less authoritarian style of leadershipWikipedia. 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, Herr Honecker fled to Chile[note 2] and became the butt of numerous German jokes. The fact that Honecker hailed from the West German Saar area (bordering France) but still sounded like a stereotypical Easterner in his incredibly bland, hour-long speeches must have helped.


Like most communist countries, East Germany had a secret police, the Stasi[note 3] (short for Staatsicherheit—"State Security"). The Stasi had the stated aim "to know everything about everyone"; it has been estimated that one in eight East German citizens collaborated with the Stasi (in a country of 16 million people).[2] 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 the KGB) to set up "state security" organizations for other countries.[3] Other activities included supporting West German antisemitic groups,[4] surveilling video game clubs,[5] 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. Some of its members of the third generation got citzenship from the GDR and lived under a different name in the area of East Germany, which they even talked about in German TV. They were involved in the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg involuntarily, as the shooting Policeman was also an IM (infozieller Mitarbeiter) of the StaSi. [6]

They also used female prostitutes to extract information from Western visitors during 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[edit]

Much like most other Communist states, East Germany suffered poor economic performance throughout its existence. The 1950s comprised two Five-Year Plans, both of which failed miserably. The First Five-Year Plan was implemented in June 1950 and concentrated on widespread nationalisation of the economy. Both small- and large-scale businesses would be brought under centralised "People's Enterprises." Walter Ulbricht, the First Secretary of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED),[note 5] 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).[citation needed] Also, the BRD benefitted greatly from the Marshall Plan leading to the "Wirtschaftswunder", the economic miracle in the 1950s. Meanwhile the Soviet occupation zone and the following GDR were forced to rather "pay" reparations, in destructing railway systems and industrial productions in general until 1953. The GDR had in general a worse standing compared to the BRD in the beginning. Economic development 1945-1948 (German) Demontage and rebuilding of German Railway tracks after 1945 (German)

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[note 6] East German products collapsed, resulting in the region's economic collapse.[7] 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 (albeit cheap) death traps when compared to Western cars.[8]

Generally, poorer economies grow fasterWikipedia than richer economies, but East Germany always, or, at worst, almost always, had lower growth than West Germany until reunification.[9]

East German growth rates of GDP according to different series[9]
East Germany West Germany
Sleifer (2006) Merkel and Wahl (1991) Maddison (1995) ICOP
1950-1960 6.7 3.6 5.5 8.0
1960-1970 2.7 2.5 2.9 4.4
1970-1980 2.6 2.5 2.8 2.8
1980-1989 0.3 0.5 1.6 1.9
1950-1989 3.1 2.3 3.3 4.3

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 3 to 7 percent higher than West German GDP per capita in 1936, and East German GDP per person employed was 2 percent higher than the West German figure,[10] so that claim just isn't true. Moreover, the share of the gap between the GDP per capita (adjusted for 1990 international dollarsWikipedia) of West Germany and East Germany increased from 1950 to 1990, so East Germany couldn't keep up:

GDP, Population, and GDP per capita comparison between East and West Germany
East Germany West Germany
GDP (1990 Int$, millions)[11] Population (thousands)[12] GDP per capita ($) GDP (1990 Int$, millions)[11] Population (thousands)[12] GDP per capita ($) East as a % of West
1950 51,412 18,400 2,794 213,942 50,000 4,279 65
1990/1989[note 7] 82,177 16,400 5,011 1,182,261 62,100 19,038 26
Angus Maddison Data[13]
1936 74,652 15,614 4,781.09 192,911 42,208 4,570.48 105
1950 51,412 18,388 2,795.95 213,942 49,983 4,280.30 65
1973 129,969 16,890 7,695.03 814,786 61,976 13,146.80 59
1990 82,177 16,111 5,100.68 1,182,281 63,254 18,690.69 27
1991 85,961 15,910 5,402.95 1,242,096 63,889 19,441.47 28
CIA Figures[14]
1990 159,500 16,307 9,679 945,700 62,168 15,300 63

After unification, life got much better for East Germans and many gaps in various indicators between East Germany and West Germany decreased.[15] Around nine in ten Germans living in both the West and East say that German unification was a good thing for Germany.[16] Life satisfaction in East Germany has skyrocketed since 1991 and now is closing in on opinions in the West. In 1991, 15% of those living in former East Germany said their life was a 7, 8, 9, or 10 on a 0-10 scale, but in 2019 that ballooned to 59%. Meanwhile, life satisfaction in the West has also increased since 1991, from 52% to 64% today.[16] 83% of people in East Germany approve of the transition to a market economy that occurred in 1989, and only 13% disapprove of it.[16]

Despite this, East Germany is still the poorest region of Germany to this day, and many East Germans long for the time of guaranteed economic security under the DDR.[17]

Good things it did[edit]

Sorta cute.

Well, those traffic lightsWikipedia look kinda retro...

Abortions were legal since 1972,[18] and available since 1950s, in stark contrast to the BRD. Which were also one of those highly discussed.[citation needed] Child care and child support was heavily supported and controlled by the state. As women were "encouraged" to get back into work as early as possible after giving birth, early child care was common and widely available as normal child care (nursery and Kindergarten).[18] As marriages were supported by a interest free credit which could be payed off by having children, and also getting a flat when you're married only (living space was sparse, and most of the flats in old buildings were molding away...), early marriages were supported (even a bit forced), but divorces were not shunned upon generally by the state. Household days (Haushaltstage) were paid days for working women once a month for household chores. Still one should consider while East Germany had the highest employment rate for women (they represented 48 percent of the total workforce by 1970[18]) and was quite emancipated in many areas, there were mostly political reasons for that. And the higher the status or wage, the less women that worked there.[18] Margot Honecker was one of the very few women (or the only woman) in government position.

In general, the GDR had much more progressive views towards homosexuality,[18][19] other non-conforming sexualities, and transgender people.[20] Historian Samuel Clowes Huneke argued in the Boston Review that: "The complex relations between a state and its citizens, and the specific ways in which states function, are what determine gay liberation's path more than raw ideology. Gay activists in East Germany knew their government's pressure points better than did those in West Germany, and they were better able to leverage that knowledge."[21]

As well, the country was much more open about sex education than its western counterpart, leading to the stereotype that East Germans had much better sex. This appears to have been statistically confirmed.[22] A Gewis-Institut survey, which received widespread media attention in 1990,[note 8] found that 80 percent of East German women "always experienced orgasm", compared with 63 percent of West German women.[23] Similar findings were reported in two East German studies from the 1980s.[18] Strangely, this led to the perception in the West that East German women were simply "more easily satisfied" in some intrinsic way than West German women were. But in fact, it has been instead attributed to the sexually-equal social policies of East Germany and a resultant self-confidence among women.[24][18][23] Sexologist Kurt Starke, who attributed the higher orgasm rate to that, stated: "Ninety percent work outside the home and feel equal to men in any situation. If they want to, they'll seduce their partner and won't wait around for him to make the first move." Even East Germany's more progressive stance on abortion was tied to this, with some in the media commenting that West German women may experience more sexual pleasure if the state were more permissive of abortions.[23] The 2006 German-language documentary film Do Communists Have Better Sex? attributed it to broader cultural differences as well, such as the West's more "Church-driven morality" and its "greater influence of traditional gender roles".[25]

For as small a country as it was in population it did extremely well in the Olympic Games. It invested heavily in athletic training but also in shady "performance-enhancing substances".

It had an attractive national anthem that, although made for a Marxist-Leninist state, had largely-benign lyrics that paradoxically better fit the other Germany in achievements such as creating more prosperity, having more creativity in culture, and avoiding military entanglements. The DDR anthem was more undeniably German than the anthem of the German Federal Republic. Unlike territory of the old DDR and like its symbols and economic practices, it was not incorporated into the unified Germany.

Overseas colonies[edit]

In 1972, Fidel Castro's Cuba renamed the island of Cayo Blanco del Sur after German communist politician Ernst Thälmann.[note 9] Ernst Thälmann Island was gifted to East Germany, although the Cuban government claims this was symbolic and it's really still part of Cuba.[26] The micronation of Molossia, 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.[27]

External links[edit]


  1. Talk of too little, too late.
  2. (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).
  3. A colloquial abbreviation of "Ministerium für Staatssicherheit" or "MfS", meaning "Ministry for State Security"
  4. German efficiency!
  5. This was created in 1946 when Stalin ordered a merger of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties in the region of Germany that the Soviets controlled after the Nazis were defeated. Said region became the GDR.
  6. Except for the most awesome Makarov pistol[1]
  7. GDP data is from 1990 and population data is from 1989. 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.
  8. The Berlin Wall had just fallen, but everything is about sex. Right?
  9. 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.


  1. East German border claimed 327 lives, says Berlin study, BBC, 8 June 2017
  2. Steve Rosenberg, "Computers to solve Stasi puzzle", BBC News, 25 May 2007.
  3. Like Ethiopia.
  4. E. Germany Ran Antisemitic Campaign in West in ’60s by Marc Fisher,Wikipedia The Washington Post, February 28, 1993. From the website of Paul Bogdanor.
  5. Sharon Lin (October 21, 2019). "How A Secret Gaming Scene Emerged In Communist East Germany". Hackaday.
  6. The Stasi–Meinhof Complex?, David Vielhaber, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, Volume 36, Issue 7—2013, published online 14 June 2017, https://doi.org/10.1080/1057610X.2013.793637.
  7. Bruni de la Motte, "East Germans lost much in 1989", The Guardian, 8 November 2009.
  8. Paul Hudson, "Trabant and Wartburg – cars that evolved behind the Berlin Wall", The Daily Telegraph, 6 February 2018.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Sleifer, Jaap (2006). "Chapter 3: East German GDP". Planning Ahead and Falling Behind: The East German Economy in Comparison with West Germany 1936–2002, pp. 50 and 66.
  10. 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. 49
  11. 11.0 11.1 Maddison, Angus (2006). "Development Centre Studies The World Economy Volume 1: A Millennial Perspective". MIT Press. p. 406
  12. 12.0 12.1 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. 53
  13. Maddison, Angus (2006). The World Economy. Paris, France: Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). pp. 178. https://www.stat.berkeley.edu/~aldous/157/Papers/world_economy.pdf
  14. CIA 1990 GDP per capita list, CIA World Factbook.
  15. Bundesbalances—Eastern and Western German fortunes since reunification, The Economist.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "European Public Opinion Three Decades After the Fall of Communism", Pew Research Center.
  17. "Nostalgia for East Germany is not surprising" - The Irish Times
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 18.5 18.6 Samuel Clowes Huneke (April 3, 2019). "Was Socialism Sexy?". The Point.
  19. George de Stefano (July 11, 2022). "States of (Gay) Liberation in East Germany and West Germany". PopMatters.
  20. Lou Sullivan (June 1990). "Will German Reunification Hurt Transsexual Rights?" FTM Newsletter. Issue 12, page 3. Published by FTM International.
  21. Samuel Clowes Huneke (April 18, 2019). "Gay Liberation Behind the Iron Curtain". Boston Review.
  22. Sean Illing (December 12, 2018). "Why women have better sex under socialism, according to an anthropologist". Vox.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Sharp, Ingrid (2004). "The Sexual Unification of Germany". Journal of the History of Sexuality 13 (3): 348–365. ISSN 1043-4070. 
  24. Marc Abrahams (August 30, 2010). "Sex and the city of Berlin". The Guardian.
  25. See the Wikipedia article on Do Communists Have Better Sex?.
  26. See the Wikipedia article on Ernst Thälmann Island.
  27. See the Wikipedia article on Republic of Molossia.