Understanding Contemporary Germany

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Political culture—Germany. Title DD P38 End of Second World War. Germany comes under Allied occupation. Soviet authorities allow resumption of political activity in their zone of occupation. Start of Potsdam conference, at which the wartime Allies lay down principles for the future of Germany. The Oder-Neisse Line is made the eastern frontier of Germany until a final peace treaty and the German population east of these rivers is to be expelled.

Political activity resumes in the western zones. Byrnes makes a speech in Stuttgart in which he announces American support for the restoration of Germany within the international community. State elections take place in Berlin where the SED receives only Marshall announces the European Recovery Programme. When German unity is not put on top of the agenda, the representatives from the Soviet Zone leave. It is followed four days later by the start of the Berlin Blockade. A parliamentary council Parlamentarischer Rat made up of representatives from Landtage is charged with creating a constitution and an electoral law for the western zones.

The Grundgesetz is agreed by the Parlamentarischer Rat. End of the Berlin Blockade. First elections to Bundestag. Creation of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. The Federal Republic becomes a member of the Council of Europe. A treaty to form the European Coal and Steel Community is agreed. An agreement on trade between the two German states is signed. The Federal government agrees to make restitution to Israel. The idea is subsequently rejected by the French parliament.

Anti-government uprising in Berlin and other parts of the GDR is suppressed with the aid of Soviet troops. In the same month the GDR is given sovereignty. The first units of the Bundeswehr assemble. This ambition is never realised. With its Godesberg Programme, the SPD moves away from left-wing economic positions and accepts membership of the western alliances. In this way, the party hopes to become more attractive to middleclass voters. Construction of Berlin Wall and other measures make unauthorised flight from the GDR almost impossible. A raid on the premises of the news magazine Der Spiegel and the arrest of its editor Rudolf Augstein lead to the Spiegel Affair.

The Franco-German Treaty on greater co-operation between the two states sets the seal on the official reconciliation between the two peoples. Adenauer resigns as Bundeskanzler and is replaced by Ludwig Erhard. Diplomatic relations are established between the Federal Republic and Israel. Faced with an economic recession, Erhard resigns as Bundeskanzler.

The student leader Rudi Dutschke is shot and wounded in West Berlin.

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This prompts demonstrations, particularly against the anti-student Springer press group, the publisher of the mass circulation Bild-Zeitung. The extreme right-wing NPD gains 9. The federal election allows the formation of a coalition government between the SPD and FDP with a nominal majority of twelve. Willy Brandt becomes Bundeskanzler. Four Power Agreement on Berlin is signed by the four former occupying powers. Overland access to West Berlin is made easier by the provisions of the treaty. The two states have official diplomatic relations for the first time.

Both German states are admitted to the United Nations. He is replaced as Bundeskanzler by Helmut Schmidt. As part of the same action a Lufthansa jet is hijacked and lands at Mogadishu where it is stormed by elite commandos from the Federal Republic. After the failure of the hijack and the murder of Schleyer, the three terrorists, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe, whose release was sought, commit suicide. Increased security and anti-terrorist legislation cause this time to be called der deutsche Herbst the German autumn.

Federal elections confirm the Kohl government in power. Mikhail Gorbachev becomes leader of the Soviet Communist Party. In response to public concern a ministry for the environment is created at federal level.

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Erich Honecker makes an official visit to the Federal Republic. This marks the zenith of his career and appears to confirm the status of the GDR. About people are arrested in East Berlin during a demonstration to commemorate the murder of Rosa Luxemburg. This leads to large numbers of discontented GDR citizens travelling to Hungary with the hope of reaching the West. The blatant rigging of the GDR local elections—the published results claim Hungary ceases all measures to stop GDR citizens crossing to Austria.

GDR insistence that all must cross the territory of the GDR on land in order to be officially expelled leads to disturbances in Dresden 5 October , through which the train from Prague has to pass. Despite deployment of troops, the established Monday anti-government demonstration in Leipzig on 9 October passes without violence. It appears the GDR hierarchy is unable or unwilling to maintain its position.

The Berlin Wall is opened on 9 November when crowds gather following ambiguous statements from the GDR leadership about the relaxation of travel restrictions. Egon Krenz resigns. Gregor Gysi becomes party leader. As a first step towards unification, monetary, economic and social union comes into force on 1 July. The Two plus Four talks involving the two German states and the four wartime Allies who have residual responsibility in Germany are successfully concluded. United Germany is to be a fully sovereign state.

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German unity is completed on 3 October. The GDR ceases to exist. The Bundestag votes to transfer the seat of government to Berlin. Following pressure from the Federal Republic, the EC states decide to recognise the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Slovenia as independent states.

Anti-foreigner riots take place in the ex-GDR city of Rostock. The police response is half-hearted. Article 16 of the Grundgesetz is amended to stem the numbers of those seeking political asylum. Each case must, however, be voted on by the Bundestag. The ruling coalition scrapes home in the federal election. Israeli President Ezer Weizman visits the Federal Republic and in a parliamentary address speaks of his inability to forgive the Holocaust. The University of Sunderland and the Nuffield Foundation who provided financial support for visits to Germany; my friend and colleague Dr Ian King who read drafts of the manuscript and provided invaluable advice.

The newly enlarged Federal Republic of Germany represented the ideal of a nation state within fixed, accepted boundaries more closely than any previous German state. The idea of Germany as a geographical entity existed long before the creation of a single German state in The English word Germany originates from the Latin: the area and its people were the subject of a work by the Roman historian Tacitus with the title De origine et situ Germanorum, usually referred to as the Germania. However, just as there was no single German state prior to , ideas about which area constituted Germany varied over the centuries, particularly as there were no natural geographical boundaries, especially in the east.

Accordingly, it remains a matter of dispute to this day whether the astronomer Copernicus should be regarded as a German or a Pole. As part of the Potsdam Agreement between the victorious Allies in it was decided that the frontier between Germany and Poland should be along the Rivers Oder and Neisse, at least until a final peace treaty was signed.

After a certain degree of prevarication, this frontier was finally accepted by Chancellor Kohl at the time of unification as the eastern boundary of the new German state. In an Agreement of Friendship and Cooperation between Poland and Germany was signed, the aim of which was to overcome centuries of emnity between the two peoples. What is significant in this context is that Germany had accepted its own borders which were also the internationally recognised ones. What is more, these borders were not a major issue for the vast majority of the German people.

It is true that an initially powerful lobby claiming to represent those Germans who had been expelled from their former homes to the east of the Oder-Neisse line as part of the Potsdam Agreement continued to fight against recognition of postwar realities. However, with the passage of time it had lost its ability to influence events and undoubtedly could have been safely defied earlier. This would have been welcome in the light of previous difficult German-Polish relations, especially as international opinion required a clear statement from the German government. Despite all these difficulties, the Federal Republic of Germany now exists within clear frontiers.

The age-old problems of uncertain boundaries and of division have gone. Despite this title, as a, if not the, major force in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and later, it ruled a population that always consisted of more than Germans. Even as the HRE increasingly lost power prior to its demise in , its subjects still included, among others, Czechs, Hungarians and Poles. The Empire was ruled from Vienna, a German-speaking city, which raises the question of the relationship of Austria to the German nation. For a long time there was no question about it: Austria regarded itself as part of Germany and the plans of the revolutionaries for a united Germany included Austria.

It was, however, the other powerful German state, Prussia, that through the policies of its Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, forged German unity in and excluded its rival from the new German Reich. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the successor to the Holy Roman Empire, was broken up in as part of the peace process that ended the First World War, the position of Austria, now reduced to an almost exclusively German-speaking area, became acute once more with many Austrians wanting to join the German state.

Indeed, following the proclamation of an Austrian republic in , the Austrian parliament voted to become part of the German Reich. However, under the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles, any merger between Germany and Austria was ruled out and Austria became—in geographical and political terms—the state it is today.

Austrians no longer felt part of the German nation and, with the exception of a few nationalist extremists, Germans too accepted the existence of an Austrian nation and state. Another problem of history has been resolved. A German nation, albeit one with varied historical and cultural traditions, as will be made clear in Part 3, exists largely within a single state. What can be said is that there are no longer any groups in the countries bordering Germany, with the possible exception of a small minority in Poland, who claim to be German and would prefer to be part of a German state.

Just as there are few if any grounds for animosity or tension based on ethnic and frontier questions between Germany and its neighbours, there is an overwhelming consensus within Germany about the nature of its state organisation. The words federal and republic meet with as good as universal approval. German federalism reflects the traditions of a country in which, given the lateness of unity, regional traditions are strong.

Federalism is also seen as an antidote to the centralism of non-democratic rule; both the Nazis and the GDR regime abolished any vestiges of regional authority. As for the fact that Germany is a republic, there is no noticeable opposition to this, as there was in the first German republic, the Weimar Republic of to , when certain conservative forces could not come to terms with the abdication of the emperor.

The current black, red and gold flag, which has its origins in the movement for democracy and unity in the first part of the nineteenth century, was first adopted by the Weimar Republic but was replaced in with a flag incorporating Nazi symbols and the imperial colours of black, white and red. Moreover, the historical roots of the postwar German Question, the open questions of German history, referred to above have largely disappeared.

The post Federal Republic of Germany is an internationally recognised sovereign state within fixed boundaries whose state organisation is almost universally accepted by its citizens. With many countries this might all be taken for granted. It does not follow from these optimistic statements that all must be well in contemporary Germany. No mention has yet been made of democracy, although the terms federal and republic might be said to imply a democratic system of government.

Long before , however, most observers saw the Federal Republic as a healthy democratic state and a reliable partner in international affairs. This book seeks to examine and explain the current situation in Germany, six years after the reunification process and fifty years after the end of the Second World War. In particular, it addresses the question of whether the promise of is being fulfilled.

Since post-unification Germany cannot be understood without some discussion of the two states that existed before , the first two chapters look at the GDR and the pre Federal Republic. The GDR may have passed into history but its former citizens, with their distinct biographies and aspirations, represent about a fifth of the approximately 80 million people living in the new Germany. The unified state is in organisational terms essentially a continuation of the old Federal Republic within expanded boundaries.

Part 2 turns to issues relating to post-unification Germany, although many have their origins in the earlier period. The third part turns to questions of identity and culture. This is essential because events are influenced not simply by day-to-day material issues but also by ideas and their interpretation. It is hard to believe, for instance, that Hitler could have come to power without there having been intellectual and cultural traditions in Germany to which he could appeal and which he could appropriate, or rather misappropriate.

My only claim is that the battle of ideas can influence the future of German democracy, as well as overtly political factors. Ideas also help to forge the identity of a nation. There is another major point to consider in the German context. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to speak of a distinct German identity rooted in unbroken and accepted traditions of the kind that exist within other nations. Given the discontinuities in the development of Germany, the establishment of such an identity has proved elusive.

This becomes clear if the German situation is compared to that of its major allies, the United States, Great Britain and France. British people can, for instance, identify with the monarchy and the long parliamentary tradition; the French with the values of liberty, equality and fraternity, as expressed in the Revolution; and Americans with the democratic ideals of the founding fathers as expressed in the constitution.

In Germany there have been few such factors that might contribute to a settled identity. This can be illustrated by reference to the calendar. Whereas the 4 July in the USA and the 14 July in France stand for the start of positive national traditions, there is no comparable date in Germany.

This was illustrated at the time of unification when not only an appropriate event to celebrate but also a date for a national day were sought. It was a relief when a date for unification and in consequence a national day—3 October—could be found that was free from similar opprobrium. With unification this day had lost its significance. One reason for the uncertainties of German identity lies in the course of German history. Accordingly, Chapter 7 deals with the legacy of that history. The next chapter traces some of the difficulties Germans, especially writers and intellectuals, have had with conceptions of Germany and the Germans.

The third chapter in this part Chapter 9 is concerned with intellectual disputes since unification. The point at issue throughout is which events and ideas have influenced or might in the future influence an identity that, given historical events, not least those of recent years, is inevitably fluid.

Finally, I would like to point out that this book is written out of a concern and interest in Germany which goes beyond academic objectivity. Accordingly, I hope that readers will find the subject-matter rewarding, even if they are reading Understanding Contemporary Germany as part of an examined course of study primarily for the facts and arguments it contains, and that those who look at it purely out of interest will both maintain that interest and gain more knowledge and understanding of what is the pivotal country within the new, thankfully no longer divided, Europe.

Its existence was based on the wish and the ability of a foreign power, namely the Soviet Union, to sustain it. As soon as that power was willing to relinquish control it was no longer able to survive. Although it might be possible to dismiss the forty-year existence of the German Democratic Republic with those few words and immediately confine it to the dustbin of history, it would be wrong to do so. The creation of a new, largely unwanted state did not necessarily mean that such a state was condemned to failure.

The alter ego of the GDR, the Federal Republic of Germany, as constituted in , was, in geographical terms, equally artificial and its frontiers could certainly not have been regarded at the beginning as corresponding to the aspirations of its inhabitants. Forty years later, that had changed. As the next chapter will show, there are good reasons for believing that many citizens of the Federal Republic would have been happy with a continuation of the status quo and embraced the new post unified Germany with less than wholehearted enthusiasm.

Equally, as was pointed out in the Introduction, the state of Austria, in the form in which it was created at the end of the First World War, was not in accordance with the wishes of the many who wished to be part of a greater German-speaking state, but threequarters of a century later there is no question of Austria becoming part of Germany. Moreover, such a search isnot just a raking over of the embers of the past; as will be seen throughout this book, the forty years of the GDR have had a major influence on the new united Germany and will continue to do so for the forseeable future.

As long as the inhabitants of the GDR saw themselves as part of a German nation, the greater part of whose people lived in the Federal Republic, and desired to maintain this link, the GDR as a state lacked legitimacy in national terms. Such a claim does not invalidate what has already been said about the existence of other forms of identity, older regional ones dating back centuries or even some degree of acceptance of a GDR identity.

It can also be argued that Germany could not have been divided without some measure of acquiescence on the part of the inhabitants, who, with the defeat of and the moral opprobrium heaped on them as the truth about the Nazi regime surfaced, were happy to withdraw or at least conceal their identification with Germany as a whole. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that the vast majority of GDR citizens continued to regard themselves as Germans and that this factor made acceptance of their state more difficult.

It was also a factor that the GDR leadership had to bear in mind. It was possible to advance plausible arguments for this claim given that a single German currency had been abandoned with the introduction of the D-Mark in the western zones in and that the Federal Republic predated the GDR. Moreover, unification was always presented as an urgent political priority. Six years later, Honecker amended this constitution to remove all such references; it was now claimed that a new socialist nation had grown up that was distinct from the old capitalist nation in the west.

The attempts made to proclaim some kind of national legitimacy for the GDR did not consist solely of a denial of links with the Federal Republic but included attempts to create some kind of national identity. The GDR always saw itself as the inheritor of progressive forces in German history, making great play, for instance, of the Peasants Revolt of —5 and the revolutionary activities at the end of the First World War. Even the spirit of the music of Beethoven was seen as being realised in the GDR when the th anniversary of his birth was celebrated in Later, in the Honecker era, the search for historical legitimacy went far beyond those with whom some form of ideological identification could be sought.

It is small wonder that GDR intellectuals with genuine left-wing beliefs were irritated by this or that GDR cabaretists dressed up as Luther and Frederick playfully asked what the regime was intending. The ultimate answer has to be that ideological inconsistencies were no longer taboo in pursuit of the establishment of the GDR in the public consciousness as something more than a state without historical roots foisted on its reluctant citizens from outside. Such attempts had to overcome any sense that the GDR lacked sovereignty and was controlled from the outside by the Soviet Union—an early somewhat unsubtle political joke referred to the telephone between Moscow and Berlin having an earpiece but no mouthpiece at the German end.

This doctrine stated that the socialist countries could intervene in the internal affairs of one of their partners if the political system there was endangered. Given the ideological affinities, at least until the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev in , the GDR leadership accepted the dominance of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, praise of the Soviet Union as the model to be followed in all cases and the establishment of the GDR as an accepted sovereign state at home and abroad was a difficult circle to square.

In fact, the events of —90 quickly confirmed that the GDR had failed to achieve the legitimacy required to survive without the support of the Soviet Union. The national ties that had existed before , together with the political lure of the Federal Republic and its self-evident greater prosperity, prevailed. With the Federal Republic, the starting-point was also favourable.

It was not hampered, as the GDR was, by a lack of national legitimacy since, as the larger German state, it could claim to be the successor to the all-German states that had existed previously. Nevertheless, other factors were important for its success too. Without economic prosperity and accepted political institutions it would not have become the state with which so many were happy to be identified despite the exclusion of so many fellow Germans.

It is to these areas of economics and politics that one must also look to find reasons for the failure of the GDR to overcome its legitimacy deficits. Neither its political system nor its economic performance provided enough to counterbalance the sense that this was an artificial creation under the tutelage of a foreign power. It is the political sphere that merits most attention because political considerations were always paramount in the GDR.

The influence of politics was all-pervasive, dominating all areas of society, including the economy, education and culture. At the same time, it could not escape the influence and attention of the state, while nevertheless retaining enough independence to become the institutional focus of the protest movement that gathered force in the s and contributed to the sweeping away of the old system in To speak of the all-pervasive influence of politics does not mean that everything that happened was totally controlled.

There were spheres into which the individual could retreat, not least those of the family and West German television, some of whose programmes could be picked up in most parts of the GDR. It should be remembered that not everything functioned as the state would have wished.

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Even without allowing for the frailty of all human endeavour, it was impossible to control everything up to and including television preferences without a system of total surveillance of Orwellian proportions. Moreover, western television reported the social problems of the Federal Republic, and thus appeared to act as a brake on the desire to leave the GDR.

Although there were Social Democrats who wanted a merger of the two left-wing parties whose division had contributed to the rise of Hitler during the Weimar Republic, what happened has to be seen as an enforced marriage brought about under the auspices of the Soviet Union. Indeed, some Social Democrats who opposed the merger found themselves imprisoned in the former Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald which continued to function as a prison until The subsequent course of events certainly did not conform to the traditions of the SPD. The task of the ordinary party member was not to seek to influence the way that power was used, but to represent the views the leadership of the party expressed on any given issue.

From the adoption of the constitution, and de facto from the foundation of the state in , the supreme power of the SED was enshrined in the political system of the GDR. Other parties continued to exist but did not challenge the leading role of the SED. They certainly did not compete with it or with each other in elections in the way that political parties do in other countries. They were happy or forced to accept the number of seats allocated to them by the SED in the various representative bodies that existed and to act as transmission belts to the constituencies they purported to represent.

As for the ordinary voters, elections consisted of their affirming the approved list of candidates or drawing attention to themselves by crossing out particular names. Given that citizens were under immense pressure to vote, the result was the 99 per cent plus approval rate common throughout the communist states. When, due to the rising tide of unrest, such results could not be obtained in the local elections of May , the true figures were simply falsified in order that the same level of approval could be claimed.

There were no institutions that might challenge the role of the SED. Equally significant was that the Volkskammer met only occasionally and then almost exclusively to rubber-stamp legislation. The executive, in the form of the Council of Ministers Ministerrat , was equally subservient to the SED, even though not all its members belonged to that party. Similarly, there was no question of an independent judicial system; judges had to advance party policy in their particular sphere. If one adds the mass media to the list of controlled organisations, then it becomes obvious that the system of government in the GDR bore no resemblance to the ideal of the pluralistic democratic society as propounded and practised with various degrees of im perfection in the western world.

It is not difficult to show that the SED exercised supreme power in the GDR or even embodied the GDR; it did not conceal this fact itself, even if it presented itself as the party of the working class and the guardian of its interests. What is clear, is that by the majority of the people saw things differently.

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It is therefore necessary to ask what was the true nature of SED power. Two points should be made initially. In a sense this axiom remained true to the end, although on the surface Gorbachev no longer sought to intervene in the internal affairs of his nominal allies. The second point has to do with the corruptive nature of power, and especially absolute power, as formulated by Lord Acton. This corruption was undoubtedly most visible in the role played within GDR society by the State Security Service Staatssicherheitsdienst.

Beside this the individual corruption of leading party figures, in particular their life of relative luxury away from the gaze of the people in the enclosed compound at Wandlitz north of Berlin, pales into insignificance. To this end, no effort was spared. Anyone who was perceived of as a potential enemy of the system was subject to surveillance at the very least. Even when arbitrary arrest followed by stringent punishment including the death penalty became much more a thing of the past in the s the death penalty was in fact abolished , intimidation did not cease.

Although there may have been limits to Stasi power, in that it would have been impossible to take steps against everyone under surveillance, and the plodding diligence revealed in its files may, with hindsight, seem pathetic, it still remains totally impossible to see the exercise of power by the Stasi as anything other than coercive.

Since German unification, it has become clear that the system could not have functioned without the co-operation of large numbers of GDR citizens, put at , in the s, who were willing to act as unofficial informants Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter Weidenfeld and Korte Quite simply, they were unable to exercise civil rights, as these are generally understood. As already stated, voting was a charade, freedom of speech certainly did not extend to the right to criticise the government or party although apparently criticism of immediate superiors generally brought few repercussions and freedom of assembly outside the confines of the church was non-existent.

Another restriction that was felt very keenly was the lack of opportunity to travel abroad beyond the frontiers of allied socialist states, and even here problems with the exchange of currency or, in the case of Poland for a time, fears that the ideas of Solidarity might prove infectious imposed limits. It is true that, apart from those who were willing to risk their lives by crossing the heavily guarded frontiers with West Berlin and the Federal Republic, some GDR citizens could reach the west, as visitors whose numbers increased following the signing of the Grundlagenvertrag with the Federal Republic in and as refugees.

The purchase of disaffected GDR citizens by West Germany became a regular if unwholesome feature of intra-German relations in the s and s, while the GDR itself increasingly saw the expulsion of dissidents, in particular writers and intellectuals, as a way of stemming discontent. Nevertheless, the restrictions on travel imposed on those under the age of retirement remained a major bone of contention for GDR citizens, many of whom claimed that they wanted to prove their loyalty by returning home after any stay in the west.

To sum up: the normal GDR citizen was excluded from political power. Even membership of the SED did not guarantee influence, given its undemocratic structure. The ordinary member might use membership to further his or her career but otherwise life in the party meant the duties of attending 11 DIVIDED GERMANY meetings and supporting the official political line, as expounded in the press and other media, all of which were subject to strict control.

On coming to power in , Erich Honecker implicitly proposed a kind of pact with the population: the reward for the loss of political rights would be a high material standard of living. That this never materialised, at least not on a comparable level to that attained by the majority in the Federal Republic, can be regarded as the major reason for the failure of the GDR. Before examining in more detail the reasons for the comparative failure of the GDR economy, it is worth pointing out what can only be regarded as an admission of defeat.

Certain items, in particular but not exclusively imports from the west, were frequently only available in a network of shops called Intershop which only accepted convertible western currencies. Since economic advantage lay with the first group, the lesson about the relative standing of the two economic systems practised in Germany could hardly be ignored.

That certain luxury goods were available for GDR marks at highly inflated prices in a chain of shops with the name Exquisit did little to sweeten the pill. It is possible to advance historical and political reasons for the relative failure of the GDR economy. The country lacked major ports until the facilities at Rostock were expanded; the overall infrastructure was based on a united Germany where lines of communication ran from east to west rather than, as the geography of the new state demanded, north to south. In terms of politics, the questions to be considered are whether the GDR economy was the victim of discriminatory policies applied towards it in the west and whether it was exploited by its major ally, the Soviet Union.

It is true that the west sought to prevent the sale of hi-tech goods to the Soviet Union and its allies by the Co-Com Co-ordinating Committee for Strategic Exports to the Communist World system which was based on a list of proscribed exports, efforts the GDR attempted to undermine by covert tactics including industrial espionage. On the other hand, the terms of intra-German trade were favourable to the GDR, which was able to obtain interest-free credit under a system known as Swing.

The arrangement mentioned above whereby the Federal Republic bought the release of GDR political prisoners, to whom were added criminals the GDR felt incapable of reforming, also provided the GDR with substantial funds, totalling DM 3. The population of what became the GDR had to witness the ruthless dismantling of industrial plant in the early postwar years by the Soviet authorities, who sought restitution for the immense damage inflicted on the Soviet Union during the war.

However, the Soviet Union helped to sustain its allies by, for instance, selling raw materials at less than world market prices. It was only with the explosion of oil and other raw material prices in that prices were linked to those on the world market. The above points show that the GDR did not enter the economic race with the Federal Republic on equal terms; how far this continued to be the case is hard to determine. What cannot be doubted is that the kind of economic policies pursued in the GDR did not help. Economic activity was controlled centrally, with production guided by the dictates of the Economic Plan, whose term was usually five years.

The problems of the planned economy are well known; they include the arbitrary fixing of prices, the inability to react quickly to customer demand and to changed economic circumstances that render the plan obsolete, along with the lack of criteria by which to judge economic performance. The first point can be illustrated by the way that bread was cheaper than grain in the GDR; accordingly it was frequently fed to poultry with all the waste of effort that involved. The question of criteria can be illustrated by reference to a phenomenon referred to as Tonnenideologie tonnage ideology.

There were many stories in the early years of the GDR of managers only thinking of the numbers of goods produced, as this was the yardstick by which success was measured within the planned economy.


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Accordingly it was better to make, for example, large numbers of small-sized shoes than a smaller number in a variety of sizes. The consequences for those with bigger feet are obvious. Even if such tales are partly apocryphal, they illustrate a major point: that the GDR was not able to give consumers what they wanted when they wanted it. The other point to stress is that the overall direction of the economic policies of the GDR was inappropriate.

In accordance with the Soviet model of the time, the initial concern was to develop heavy industry rather than produce consumer goods which only became more of a priority in the Honecker years. Although at various times consideration was given to allowing individual enterprises more freedom of action, particularly with the New Economic System announced in , nobody could escape the dictates of the central plan.

As in politics, control rather than trust was the order of the day. This was amply illustrated by the reversing in of the movement towards decentralisation that was part of the New Economic System. The economic system affected the citizens of the GDR in a variety of ways. The workplace was generally free from stress, as shortages of materials frequently limited the time that was productively occupied.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was reported that building workers who moved west were amazed that there could be deliveries of materials in the afternoon and that nearly all the working day was spent actually working. Those employed in the service industries often only carried out their tasks when they felt motivated to do so.

This anecdote implies the situation of the GDR citizen as consumer. It was accepted as normal that goods might not be available. Although the overall supply improved over the years, it is doubtful whether at any time it came close to matching demand. It certainly did not in the case of motor vehicles where a waiting period as long as fifteen years for a new car was possible.

It was not that consumers lacked money—the average amount of savings was high—it was rather that there were not enough goods to spend it on. This was the case, even though the price of most goods, with the exception of highly subsidised basic items and services the case of bread has already been alluded to was comparatively high, particularly when wages were taken into consideration.

Although western inflation— inflation did not exist, at least officially, in the GDR—may have eroded the gap over the next decade, it always remained significant. In many areas, too, the equivalent western product was of a higher standard; one needs only compare a Volkswagen with a Trabant, the noisy and polluting but robust vehicle that became known throughout Europe in as GDR citizens moved west.

There is one other area connected with the economy that should be mentioned as having a direct effect on many GDR citizens, namely the environmental consequences of the economic policies pursued. Whatever economic progress was achieved in the GDR was frequently at the cost of a hideously damaged environment. The chemical town of Bitterfeld, for example, was associated with some of the worst pollution in Europe. The GDR sought to present itself as a modern industrialised country, not least with the aid of falsified statistics. Their superiors were only too happy to receive good news and pass on the message that the plan was being fulfilled until it reached the top.

It would be wrong to say that in this case the emperor had no clothes; it would be more accurate to speak of limited low quality clothes. As a producer, the GDR citizen may not have suffered extreme exploitation, unless working in particularly unhealthy surroundings. However, as a consumer, he or she was likely to suffer extreme frustration, not least waiting to be served or even allowed to sit down in a less than busy restaurant where the staff had other priorities.

Some of these alleged achievements had to do directly with economic policy and have been hinted at above. The shortage of labour, occasioned in part by the loss of population in the war and the flow of refugees prior to the building of the Berlin Wall, together with the prevailing ideology meant that the GDR enjoyed full employment. Although this fact should not be overlooked, it did not mean, as has been shown, that all were sensibly occupied. Incidentally, those employed by the police, army and Stasi might also have come into the category of not being usefully employed. That cheap prices too had certain drawbacks has already been hinted at.

This was arguably most obvious in areas relating to housing. Heating, light and water were supplied so cheaply that energy conservation was not an issue—excessive heat in a building generally would be countered by opening a window rather than switching something off. As rents were kept at prewar levels in the case of older housing, there was no incentive nor possibility for owners to carry out improvements.

The result was all too often a depressingly run-down townscape that was as much a reminder of the problems of the system as the polluted environment. Ironically, given the nature of the political system, many properties remained in private hands, as the state had no interest in taking over items that would only cause it expense. In the case of new housing, a priority in the Honecker era, monotonous blocks constructed from prefabricated materials at the lowest possible cost predominated.

Even though, as is now known, some within the SED argued for increased rents in the interests of quality, the same rigid policies continued to be pursued in this as in so many areas. It goes without saying that the achievements of a country rest on more than economic performance. It is also necessary to consider other areas, such as social, educational and cultural policy. In all these the GDR claimed major successes. In the sphere of social policy there is no doubt that a welfare state existed so that, for instance, nobody was faced with economic ruin as a result of illness.

On the other hand, the level of provision was sometimes low, not least in the case of old-age pensions, the basic level of which were just about sufficient for basic survival. Health care showed a mixed pattern. Here there were undoubtedly major achievements, such as low infant mortality, while the system of out-patient care at Poliklinken functioned reasonably well; on the other hand, many hospitals were ill-equipped by modern standards. Education was one area in which the GDR received a great deal of recognition. As in the case of social welfare, the GDR did provide a blanket state system for all: the unified socialist system of education Einheitliches sozialistisches Bildungssystem.

Provision started with creches for the very young, something that allowed women to return to work relatively quickly, through kindergartens to a basic ten-year school system, after which the majority went into vocational training and a minority continued at school to prepare themselves for higher education. This system had both strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, all were catered for so that qualifications were almost universally achieved; on the other hand, the system was entirely attuned to perceived economic needs with the inevitable consequence of rigidity.

This meant personal hardship for those individuals who were unable to pursue their preferred educational path, something which was particularly visible at the level of higher education. Since it was felt that only a certain number of graduates were required in any given area, selection tended to be rigorous and based on more than academic criteria. Indeed the increasing militarisation of the whole education system, indicted by the author Reiner Kunze in his book Die wunderbaren Jahre The Wonderful Years ,6 led to protests by the church following the introduction of a school subject entitled military education Wehrerziehung.

This example underlines the major problem of the GDR education system—the way it was permeated by ideology.

Bibliographic Information

Clearly, this was most noticeable in such areas as history and literature, but the central control of syllabuses and textbooks was felt in all areas. At the same time he hedged his bets by saying that art had to remain socialist. In fact, from the late s onwards, starting with the celebrated case of the poet and singer Wolf Biermann, the expulsion of dissident artists to the west, many of whom left reluctantly because their ideal was reform of the GDR from within, became a feature of GDR cultural life.

In that it did not lack talented artists, the GDR can be said to have achieved its cultural aims; however, the most creative ones tended to have the most difficulties with the authorities. It must also be borne in mind that everything printed in the GDR, even the labels on consumer goods, had to go through the censorship process. What this said about the works of writers such as Christa Wolf, Christoph Hein and Volker Braun became a major subject of controversy following the collapse of the GDR, a topic that will be dealt with in Chapter 9.

At this point, it is sufficient to draw attention to the parameters imposed on artistic activities. Finally, in this section I will examine the position of women in the GDR, specifically the claim that in the GDR women enjoyed equality and emancipation. It is undoubtedly true that the workplace was as open to women as to men and that women were to some extent represented in areas that might still be seen in many countries as male preserves.

However, women continued to dominate the traditional areas of female employment such as retailing and service industries generally. Equally, female participation in political and other areas of public life was a policy priority. However positive these developments were, it is necessary to ask whether women achieved true positions of power in society and whether they suffered from the dual burden of having to work and look after a home. In the case of the upper echelons of political power, the answer is not particularly positive, with one of the few women to achieve power at the highest level being Margot Honecker, the wife of the party leader and an extremely dogmatic minister for education.

Women were better represented at other levels, achieving between 30 and 40 per cent of seats in the various local, regional and national parliaments in the s. The burdens placed on working women are common to all kinds of societies. Attempts to make GDR men share domestic duties more equitably do not seem to have been particularly successful; the ideal of a socialist marriage did not prevent divorce rates that compared with those in capitalist countries.

The lot of GDR women may have been harder because of the difficulties resulting from shortages that meant that more time was spent shopping. While professor-student relationships can be quite challenging at German universities or academies of art, the institutions there have a profoundly different structure and are therefore not really comparable with a liberal arts college in the US. How does teaching influence an artistic career? DKS: Working with students as a professor of art is not really separable from my work as an artist. The open curriculum at Hampshire College allows my research-heavy artistic work to inform my teaching.

Daniel Kojo Schrade, Griot I, Some of your best-known series include Afronaut , Brother Beethoven , and Made in Diaspora , which contain cultural references personal to you. How have your experiences in the US inspired your work and way of thinking since ? It helps me broaden my understanding of the complexity of diaspora. How does your painting practice fit into the US painting tradition? Daniel Kojo Schrade, professor of art, studied in Germany and Spain. He received an M. Magazine Broadening the Understanding of Diaspora.

By Will Furtado 2. August In Memorium David Koloane Thank you! You have already signed up. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you. This website uses cookies.