The German Democratic Republic (GDR; German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik [ˈdɔʏtʃə demoˈkʀaːtɪʃə ʀepuˈbliːk] or DDR), informally known in English as East Germany, was a state within the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War period. From 1949 to 1990 it governed a region of Germany which was occupied by Soviet forces at the end of the Second World War—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; as a result, West Berlin remained outside the control of the GDR.
The German Democratic Republic has often been described as one of the satellite states of the Soviet Union. 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. Soviet forces however remained in East Germany throughout the Cold War, and in 1953 they helped the GDR police to suppress a popular uprising. Until 1989, political power in the GDR was monopolized by the Soviet-backed communist party, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Other parties could only function within the SED-dominated National Front of Democratic Germany. The Stasi security force was used to repress dissent.
The economy was centrally planned, and predominantly state owned. Its population declined from more than 18 million in 1950 to 16 million in 1990. A subsidy system was used to keep down the prices of a large range of basic goods and services. Although the GDR had to pay substantial war reparations to the USSR, it became the richest economy in the Eastern Bloc. Nonetheless it did not match the economic growth of West Germany. Emigration to the West was a significant problem — as many of the emigrants were young well-educated people, it further weakened the state economically. The government tried to stop people leaving by fortifying its western borders and in 1961 by establishing the Berlin Wall. Several hundred people were killed by border guards.
In 1989, a peaceful revolution in the GDR led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall and emergence of a government committed to liberalization. The following year, free elections were held, and international negotiations led to the signing of the Final Settlement treaty on the status and borders of Germany. The GDR was dissolved and Germany was reunited on 3 October 1990.
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Flags of East Germany
State flag (Staatsflagge) 1959–1990 Merchant flag (Handelsflagge) 1973–1990 Tricolour of black, red, and yellow (same as West German colours), but bears the coat of arms of East Germany, consisting of a compass and a hammer encircled with rye.
1949–1959 State flag (Staatsflagge).
1959–1973 Merchant flag (Handelsflagge).
1955–1990 Standard of the President.
1960–1990 Standard of President of State Council.
1960–1990 Flag of the National People’s Army (Nationale Volksarmee or NVA).
1960–1990 Regimental colours (Truppenfahne) of Nationale Volksarmee.
1960–1990 Naval ensign (Seekriegsflagge).
1962–1990 Flag of boats of border troops.
1955–1973 Flag of East German Post.
1975–1990 Flag of East German Post.
Maps and Information
The German Democratic Republic in 1990.
Post-war occupied Germany: The British (Green), Soviet (Red), American (Orange), and French (Blue) occupation zones.
Germany defeated: On the basis of the Potsdam Conference, the Allies jointly occupied Germany west of the Oder–Neisse line.
Germany 1949: West Germany (blue) comprised the Western Allies’ zones, excluding the Saarland (purple); the Soviet zone, East Germany (red) surrounded West Berlin (yellow).
Administrative map: The districts of German Democratic Republic in 1952.
The East German economy.
West and East Berlin with Berlin wall.
Black and White Photos
GDR leaders: President Wilhelm Pieck and Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl, 1949.
SED First Secretary, Walter Ulbricht, 1950.
Head of State: Erich Honecker (1971–89).
Bertolt Brecht; born About this sound Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht, 10 February 1898 – 14 August 1956) was a German poet, playwright, theatre director, and Marxist.
Stasi in 1960s.
Uni-Riese (University Giant) in 1982. Built in 1972, it was once part of the Karl-Marx-University and is Leipzig’s tallest building.
Communist economic staple: The Trabant automobile was a profitable product made in the German Democratic Republic (GDR).
East German authorities began patrolling the inner-German border in 1952. Until then it had been relatively easy to pass between the two. They sealed off West Berlin in 1961. Here, soldiers keep people from crossing as the Berlin Wall is built.
In 1961, communist East Germany was having trouble keeping its young, educated population from emigrating to the West. The Berlin Wall was erected almost to completion in a single night, without warning, on August 13.
This famous photo from September 1961 shows a woman trying to escape East Berlin through an apartment block where one side of the building faced the West. Some men try to pull her back inside while others wait underneath, hoping to aid in her escape.
East German Nationale Volksarmee changing-of-the-guard ceremony, East Berlin.
Police cadets of the East German Volkspolizei wait for the official opening of the Brandenburg Gate on 22 December 1989.
Palast der Republik, the seat of the Volkskammer.
GDR era Karl Marx monument in Chemnitz (renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt from 1953 to 1990).
Poster with inscription “Berlin – Hauptstadt der DDR”, 1967.
Happy 30th Birthday DDR
DDR flag at UN Headquarters, New York, 1973.
Amidst mounting internal and international pressure, a mistaken announcement by an East German official on November 9, 1989 led to the wall being opened. Germans on both sides of the border celebrated for days. New openings were made in the wall, like here at Potsdamer Platz two days later.
Assorted Gallery of Photos
“25 years of the GDR” is a 1974 postage stamp commemorating the 25th anniversary of East Germany’s establishment on 7 October 1949.
1989 USSR stamp: “40 years of the German Democratic Republic”.
SED logotype: The Communist–Social Democrat handshake of Wilhelm Pieck and Otto Grotewohl, establishing the SED in 1946.