The Government of East Germany

In West Berlin, we crossed over to East Berlin, where we were reminded that we had to be out before 8 p.m. On the other side, I was shocked. There was no color, no ads and no supermarkets. The buildings were still damaged from the war with no restoration or care. Toilets were outside apartments and shared with neighbors. Everyone stood in long lines in front of the egg shop, the milk shop or the butcher shop.

Still there was plenty of fun and laughter that day, followed by a tearful goodbye. As we left East Berlin that evening, we had to get out of our car while guards unscrewed all seats and trunk panels searching for people or items we might be smuggling out. My father was quite angry.

Ute Lemper, "A German Performer's Cold War Childhood, The actress, singer and composer looks back at a divided family and her passion for the unusual," The Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2016, M7; concerning the trip of her family in 1975 to visit their relatives in East Germany.

German Democratic Republic,
Deutsche Demokratische Republik, DDR
Head of StateHead of
Communist Party
Head of Government
Walter Ulbricht
1953-1971Willi Stoph1964-1973
Willi Stoph1973-1976Erich
Willi Stoph1976-1989
Manfred Gerlach1989-1990Egon
1990vacantLothar de
Union with the Federal Republic, 1990

In 1949 the Cold War divided Germany. The Russians found Communist Quislings to run East Germany and institute a Stalinist police state. The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, "Ministry for State Security," the Stasi, became one of the most feared and effective secret police forces in the Soviet block, if not in the world. After the fall of the regime, the records of the Stasi revealed that 25% of all East Germans had been informers, at one time or another, for the government. Of course, many, if not most, would have done this under duress. A 2006 German movie, The Lives of Others, tells a story of Stasi surveillance.

Riots in Berlin in 1953 led to the Russians replacing the government, beginning the rule of the durable Walter Ulbricht. Formal independence was granted in 1954. At first, travel back and forth between the sectors of Berlin was possible, but when East Germans began fleeing to the West in large numbers, the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. Over a thousand Germans subsequently died trying to escape over the Wall, often simply shot down in the open by border guards. With the citizens locked in the workers' paradise, East Germany settled down to become the strongest economy in Eastern Europe. The level of success there led to it being called das kleine Wunder ("the little wonder") for many years. A "wonder" it may have been in Communist terms, but it was a miserable place indeed, with many buildings still showing the scars of World War II, and the prosperity of West Berlin visible right across the Wall.

In 1989 East Germany sprang a leak. East Germans had always been able to travel to other Soviet states for holiday, but Hungary had opened its borders. German vacationers could simply walk into Austria. When Gorbachev refused to use Russian forces to support the regime, it fell. The first non-Communist Head of State, Manfred Gerlach, belonged to the Liberal Democratic Party. The Communist Party tried to transforming into the "Party of Democratic Socialism" (under Hans Modrow), but it soon disappeared and the final executives of East Germany, before reunification, were both from the Christian Democratic Party of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

On Christman Day 1989, about a month after the destruction of the Berlin Wall, Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) conducted an East Berlin performance, with an international orchestra, of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Beethoven, of course, had used Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy," An die Freude, in the fourth movement of the symphony. Everyone knew in his day that the title had originally been An die Freiheit, with "freedom" instead of "joy." Schiller had toned it down to be less obviously political. Bernstein, however, performed the symphony with Freiheit instead of Freude. There was no more suitable a monument to the Fall of Communism. Bernstein, who had himself foolishly supported some absurdly radical causes in his day, sadly passed away within a year.

This table is based on the Regentenlisten und Stammtafeln zur Geschischte Europas, by Michael F. Feldkamp [Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 2002, pp.421-422]. Exit this page by closing its window. There are no off-page links here.

Copyright (c) 2007, 2016 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved