Saturday, July 11, 2020

East Germany

Old DDR postcards

While at the local flea market in Friedrichshagen I came across some old East German postcards.  Here's a little about East Germany.

Officially it was the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, the German Democratic Republic, or DDR for short.

Following WWII, the Soviet occupation zone in the east became eventually became a communist satellite state.  The DDR existed from 1949 until German reunification in 1990.

The DDR was bigger than Kentucky but a bit smaller than Tennessee.  It bordered the Baltic Sea, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.  East Berlin was the country's capital and the largest city followed by Leipzig and Dresden.  At the end, East Germany was home to over 16 million people. 

The DDR started out rough.  After the war, the Stalin demanded huge war reparations be paid from the occupation zone which further crippled the economy before it could even try to rebuild.  Over ⅓ of the area's industry was confiscated and sent back to the Soviet Union.  About $10 billion worth of agriculture and industrial products were paid out.

The communist government was ruled by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED).  The economy was centrally planned and everything was owned by the state.

The government heavily subsidised the price of housing, food, and other basic goods so things were affordable when you could get them.  There were often shortages of basic goods.  A Trabant cost a year's salary and you usually had to wait about 15 years.  The incredible thing was that East Germany had the strongest economy of the Iron Curtain countries.

Another challenge for the economy was the "brain drain" the country experienced as professionals and skilled workers fled to the west.  By 1961, about 20% of the population, some 3,5 million people, crossed over to West Germany.  This is why the government built the Berlin Wall, what they called the "Anti-Fascist Protection Wall" that split the city in two and preventing people from escaping. 

The Stasi was the secret police and they were ruthless.  Some 90.000 worked for the Stasi and roughly every one in seven people were informers.  After reunification people can see their Stasi file.  Claudia's dad never requested to see his file because he doesn't want to know which colleagues, friends or family members informed on him.  

  
©CNN

The DDR was a member of the Warsaw Pact.  There were 500 000 Soviet soldiers permanently stationed in the country.  Even after Germany reunified in 1990, the last Russian soldiers didn't leave until 1994 because there weren't enough facilities in Russia to house all of the returning troops.  So for the first part of the 90s, Germany had both NATO and Russian soldiers stationed there.

Sport was seen as a means of international legitimacy and validation of the communist system.  During the 70s and 80s the DDR was a powerhouse at European, world, and Olympic championships.  This was due in part to the state-sponsored doping programme that was later revealed.  Here's an interesting PBS programme that I found on YouTube that sheds light on what was going on.

©PBS

The Iron Curtain started to crack in 1989.  Hungary removed the electrified fence at the border with Austria so many East Germans went to Hungary in order to try to make their way on to West Germany.  Others went to the West German embassy in Prague in hopes of defecting to the west.

©JHEBox

The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989.  On 3 October 1990, the DDR was gone and it was reunified with Germany.  Berlin was reunified too and became the new capital.

Reunification hasn't always gone smoothly and there are still some challenges.  Eastern Germany is still the poorer part of the country.  Germans in the western part of the country are still paying a solidarity tax to the east.  

There does exist some Ostalgie which is nostalgia for the eastern times.  

©Berlin Project

At least the DDR gave us Ampelmännchen.  One of my favourite movies is the 2003 file Goodbye Lenin! which is a comedy about the fall of the DDR.

Here's a Deutsche Welle story on a Berlin restaurant that serves typical DDR food.  

©DW News

I definitely want to give it a shot the next time I'm back.  Hopefully for Christmas but I'll just have to wait to see what the COVID-19 situation will be like then.

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