East Germany founded 60 years ago | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.10.2009
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East Germany founded 60 years ago

On October 7, 1949, delegates of the so-called people's council enthusiastically created communist East Germany. It took 40 years before the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunited.

GRD flag and symbol

It would be East Germany's 60th birthday - had the regime not collapsed in 1989

Sixty years ago, delegates gathered in the grand hall of the former aviation ministry in Berlin as Germans across the Soviet occupied zone followed the events on the radio. The reporter announced the events as "a piece of German history unfolding."

A short time later Wilhelm Pieck declared the birth of the first "workers and peasants state on German soil." Pieck became the first president of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), as East Germany was officially known.

"Based on the new constitution, the German Democratic Republic has been founded unanimously by all parties and organizations present in the German people's council," Pieck said.

Wilhelm Pieck

Wilhelm Pieck became the first president of East Germany

Less than one month earlier, on September 15, 1949, Konrad Adenauer had been elected as first chancellor of West Germany. In the eyes of the communists in East Germany and Moscow, Adenauer was the "chancellor of western Imperialism," portrayed as the enemy of the people. One day later, the Soviet leadership in Moscow sent a delegation of German communist exiles to Berlin to implement a socialist alternative to the West.

A division of Europe unfolds

The creation of two separate German states confirmed what many had expected in the aftermath of World War II. The border between East and West Germany was not yet fortified with barbed wire – but already it marked the division not only of Germany but of Europe as a whole. The two states on both sides of the new border became satellites of their respective allied occupiers.

The Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had a clear agenda in mind. With the creation of East Germany, he pushed the political and military influence of the Soviet Union well into the heart of Europe.

Stalin described the new communist state as "the creation of a peace loving, democratic Germany alongside the peaceful Soviet Union." According to Stalin, the new state would prevent both new wars and the "enslavement of European countries by the western Imperialists."

The "better" German state

In West Germany, economic progress and political stability soon helped people to get over the woes of the post-war hardship. But East German leaders wanted more than just material prosperity. They wanted a fresh ideological start after the catastrophe of Nazi Germany.

Parade in Berlin with banners

The birth of East Germany was celebrated with parades in Berlin

Many of the citizens' of the new eastern state agreed with that concept. For them, socialism seemed like the proper answer to fascism, war and the Holocaust. Walter Ulbricht, who became a top communist party official, said the crucial issue was "the struggle against fascist ideology and against other reactionary ideologies that work against the interests of the working class and against progress and development in Germany."

Ulbricht later said that "there will be a day when the SED (East Germany's Communist Party) will be the leading party of all of Germany – because the majority of Germans will want it that way."

But as enthusiastic as the first reactions were – the dramatic loss of faith in the political leadership installed by Moscow came very soon.

An experiment gone wrong

The GDR seemed doomed from the very beginning. The vision that one day its party would lead all of Germany was soon turned to be on its head. In 1989, peaceful revolution toppled the communist regime. In the end it was the people of the GDR that wanted the political system of the West and not vice versa.

The political leaders of the GRD in front of the GDR flag

When the 40th anniversary was celebrated in 1989, the end of the regime was only weeks away

Yet in October 1989 the communist leadership seemed to be in denial that the end was near. They staged an elaborate celebration to mark the then 40th anniversary of East Germany. Yet at that time East Germans were already out on the streets demonstrating for change – and thousands had already fled the "workers' and peasants' paradise" via Hungary to West Germany. In a few weeks from then, on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down to dramatically mark the collapse of East Germany.

After 40 years of GDR, the dream of the allegedly "better" version of Germany burst with a momentum so powerful that the citizens of the communist East had lost all faith and interest to change their state and have it survive into a new era.

Author: Mattias von Hellfeld / ai
Editor: Trinity Hartman

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