Twenty years ago: GDR′s first freely elected parliament began work | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 04.04.2010
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Twenty years ago: GDR's first freely elected parliament began work

On April 5, 1990, 400 representatives entered the chamber of the Palace of the Republic in East Berlin. They were the first parliamentarians to have come to power in free and fair elections.

The People's Chamber

The CDU won the first free elections in the GDR

On March 18, 1990, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) emerged as the strongest party after elections to the East German parliament, the People's Chamber. The CDU laid claim to the offices of prime minister and parliamentary president.

Until this time, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl had worked as a lung disease specialist in East Berlin. Since 1981, she'd been a member of the East German CDU and rose up the party hierarchy.

After the March elections, Bergmann-Pohl became not only the president of the People's Chamber, but also head of the East German state following a constitutional amendment.

Mission: Reunification

The election campaign in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) had been dominated by a single theme: reunification with the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). In West Germany, CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl had also made this a main focus of his campaign. The Social Democrats, and their leader Willy Brandt, had misinterpreted the mood and expected the process of consolidation between the two German states to take much longer.

The majority of East German parliamentarians now began working towards implementing what most citizens of the GDR expected of them. But, as Sabine Bergmann-Pohl recalled, the parties differed widely over how to achieve this.

Sabine Bergmann-Pohl

Bergmann-Pohl was both President of the People's Chamber and head of state

"The civil liberties campaigners from Alliance '90/The Greens wanted a reformed GDR, while the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) wanted to cement the old standards," said Bergmann-Pohl. "The other parties, the CDU, SPD, the German Social Union, the Liberals and the Association of Democrats, wanted the dissolution of the GDR and reunification with the FRG."

Big tasks, big coalition

The election outcome had made a coalition between the CDU and the Liberals possible. But the tasks ahead were so big that Prime Minister Lothar de Maiziere also incorporated the second most powerful party, the Social Democrats, into the government.

The proceedings of the first democratically elected People's Chamber were often chaotic. Bergmann-Pohl put this down to the fact that almost two-thirds of the representatives, herself included, had no parliamentary experience.

"It was a very spontaneous parliament, we had no solid rules of procedure like our West German counterparts," said Bergmann-Pohl. "The few rules that the representatives were able to agree on were constantly changing. Nevertheless, we were an exceptionally busy and conscientious parliament."

This was certainly necessary since, despite their inexperience, the parliamentarians had to make decisions on very weighty matters. Since the future of all Germans was on the agenda, the West German government also became involved.

Teams of advisers from the Federal Republic poured in to make sure that the legal process did not only comply with both German constitutions, but also took account of the wish of most GDR citizens for reunification with West Germany to happen as quickly as possible. De Maiziere also saw this as his primary obligation.

In a government declaration, he summed up the sentiments felt in the GDR.

"The people of the GDR are part of one people, a part of one German people, that should grow together again," said de Maiziere.

Prime Minister Lothar de Maziere

De Maziere wanted to salvage the better aspects of the GDR

"We are one people!"

This became the main thrust of his government program. The prime minister devoted himself to this cause and, in the next few months, also tried to save the positive aspects of the GDR for the new era of a reunified Germany.

He spoke of incorporating East Germans' "sense of social justice, solidarity and tolerance" into the process of consolidation. However, his words met with little response in the FRG, as Helmut Kohl's government was already busy organizing the reunification of Germany, and these plans left little room for input from the soon-to-be-defunct GDR.

Unexpected help

In addition to West German advisors, de Maziere's government also received help from an unexpected quarter. The leader of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the old East German Party of Socialist Unity (SED), was Gregor Gysi. The PDS was fundamentally against reunification, but nonetheless Gysi played a constructive part in formulating numerous constitutional amendments.

de Maiziere and other parliamentarians in the People's Chamber

The work of the People's Chamber ended on October 3, 1990

The work of the first freely-elected People's Chamber ended on October 3, 1990, the day East and West Germany were reunited. The parliamentarians in East Berlin had fulfilled the wishes of the GDR's citizens. They laid the groundwork for the call "We are one people!" to become reality.

45 years after the end of the Second World War, which resulted in the division of Germany and Europe, Germans could once again live in a single country.

Author: Matthias von Hellfeld (mk)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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