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Useful Notes: East Germany

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers' Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
Bertold Brecht, Die Lösung, written after the East German government and Soviet forces massacred 513 workers demonstrating for better conditions.

The Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) was what was created when the Soviet zone of occupied Germany became its own country. Accordingly, it was Commie Land.

Under considerable Soviet influence (and with a huge Soviet military presence, the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany), East Germany is best known for the massive amount of surveillance carried out on its citizens by its Secret Police, the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security), known as "Stasi". Its police force, the Volkspolizei (People's Police, known as "Vopos" for short) were also fairly notorious. It built the Berlin Wall and heavily fortified the Iron Curtain to stop its people from fleeing to the West (officially, it was to prevent Western spies going East — it probably did that, too note ).

It allowed churches to operate freely, provided they didn't get political.

The leaders of the freshly founded GDR were Walter Ulbricht ("the guy with the Lenin beard"), Wilhelm Pieck ("the guy with the potbelly") and Otto Grotewohl ("the guy with the glasses" - not this one, obviously). As early as 1953, shortly after Stalin's death, the state had its first big crisis when workers rose against the government on June 17th. It didn't end too well. Even Communist author Bertolt Brecht criticized the government in his poem The Situation: "Would it not be be simpler then for the government, To dissolve the people and elect another?"

There were elections, and other parties than the Socialist SED, but they were far from democratic. East Germans called this voting "Falten gehen" (going to fold), because anybody who did anything but fold their ballot (like crossing out candidates, or even staying at home) and put it in the urn immediately became suspicious. As the East Germans said, the only way to vote was "by foot", i.e. leaving the GDR for West Germany. Well, until 1961 that is, afterwards this was less of an option.

During its early years, the conservative government of West Germany did everything they could to not acknowledge East Germany's existence; breaking off diplomatic relations with every state (other than the USSR, which was too big to ignore) that acknowledged the GDR, calling it derogatory names like "Ostzone" (east zone), "Sowjetische Besatzungszone" (Soviet-occupied Zone), "so-called GDR" and "Undeutsche Undemokratische Diktatur" (Un-German Undemocratic Dictatorship), and generally claiming that western Germany was the only legitimate German state. The GDR rulers did the same, just the other way round. Later, under Social Democrat Willy Brandt, diplomatic relations between the Germanies improved (the so-called Neue Ostpolitik, "New Eastern Policy") and relations with the Eastern Bloc were established.

East Germany was one of the economic success stories of Commie Land, with a decent agricultural system and enough manufacturing to put consumer goods within reach of many; their flag reflects this with its hammer and pair of compasses instead of the ubiquitous sickle. They achieved this despite the fact that, like the rest of Commie Land, the government invested far more than was necessary into the military and heavy industry. In fact, while the 1989 protesters had popular support for doing away with the oppressive regime, many East Germans were proud of their state and were not happy with the way that East Germany "became part of the effective area of the Basic Law of Germany" quite so summarily. note  At least not after realising that reunification did not bring them an instant paradise, and that the now-ruling Western leaders weren't shy about handing out pink slips.note 

The Eastern side did have a pretty good military, getting the full Soviet versions of military tech rather than the weaker export versions. Planned the one or other raid on West Germany too, but the unification stopped the plan before it could be executed. Their uniforms, though... Due to Germany still being, in many regards, an occupied country couple of countries country with two separate and independent governments, the Western powers (US, UK, France) had Military Liaison Missions in the GDR, allowing them to observe Soviet forces in action.

East Germany also did quite well in sporting events... largely because many of its athletes were doped up to the eyeballs with the latest performance-enhancing drugs, in an effort to make the Communist regime look like it was working on the international stage. Most would suffer serious health problems as a result. In American TV of the seventies and eighties look for many jokes about East German sportswomen not really being women. Less amusingly, some female athletes were so badly messed up by the doping regimen (which in some cases started at the age of ten) that they had to undergo a full sex change operation, while others found themselves unable to properly bear children.

Most of East Germany could pick up West German TV networks, which helped undermine the regime. The channels couldn't be jammed since it would also jam West Germany and that would be bad diplomatically. The Dresden and Rügen areas couldn't, so were dubbed "The Valley of the Clueless". This was done a) because GDR television was full of propaganda and b) it appears not to have been that good. The only programmes that The Other Wiki discusses in its English version are:
  • Der schwarze Kanal ("The Black Channel"- derived from a German plumbing term for sewer): Think of a Communist MSTing of West German television news, only without the humour. Or the popularity. May fall under So Bad, It's Good, though.
  • Aktuelle Kamera- the East German TV news broadcast, which was pretty much Propaganda.
  • Ein Kessel Buntes ("A Kettle of Colour")- A Variety Show, shown six times a year. Hollywood production standards and (usually past their prime) Western celebrities. Continued into the Berlin Republic and still turns up in re-runs.
  • Das Spielhaus ("The Playhouse"): a popular puppet thing.
  • Sandmaennchen

East Germany's most famous consumer products were the Exacta and Praktica cameras (the Praktica brand still exists; it was part of the Kombinat Volks Eigener Betrieb Zeiss Jena (how's that for a company name, eh?) that invented the prism SLR design which is still the standard for cameras today - one of the few communist inventions to have an impact in the west), MZ motorcycles (whose engine technology gave Suzuki quite a boost in the early '60's) and the Trabant car, which was, by Western standards, obsolete before the '60s were over but gave many a Worker and his family the opportunity to move themselves about a bit, trailing a blue two-stroke smoke cloud. It pretty much disappeared from the East German streets as soon as the Wall opening brought other choices, but it's now considered a classic car. Some drivers have succeeded in making their Trabants capable of passing the MoT, Britain's strict government-mandated roadworthiness test; divine intervention is suspected. However the Trabant, suitably renovated, is making a bit of a comeback today among enthusiasts, who rebuild them into customized hotrods or simply restore them to better-than-new conditions.

The GDR was also famous for its bureaucratic nomenclature. Coffins for example were named Erdmöbel (literally: ground furniture), or the term Sättigungsbeilage (literally: Well it is difficult to translate, really. It would be something like "a filling side dish", and means stuff like potatoes, dumplings or rice as a supplement to a proper mealnote ). Even more hilarious were the words they invented for religious stuff, like Frühjahrsschokoladenhohlkörper (hollow chocolate article of spring - a chocolate Easter Bunny) and Jahresendflügelpuppe (winged doll of the year's end - a Christmas angel for the Christmas tree and the like). The reason: Religion wasn't verboten in the GDR, but the ruling people didn't like it too much either.

The East Germans had their own state airline. They originally called it Deutsche Lufthansa, but the West Germans complained and got awarded that trademark, so it adopted the name of a separate charter airline- Interflug.

On the other hand, the East German rail network retained the pre-1945 name of Deutsche Reichsbahn ("German Imperial Railways"), while the West Germans renamed theirs Deutsche Bundesbahn ("German Federal Railways"). This may have been done since several treaties dating to the end of World War II mentioned special privileges—particularly relating to trackage rights in West Berlin, including the right to run the S-Bahn there—given by name to Deutsche Reichsbahn that might not have transferred automatically to VEB Bahn der DDR or some such, so it was best not to risk it.

The GDR was allocated an ISO 3166-1 code, but it never got a full domain code. Had it survived to get one, it would have been .dd. It had the international calling code +37, now divided up among some former Soviet states.

There is a degree of "Ostalgie" ("Eastalgia") in The Berlin Republic, including GDR-themed parties.

The German abbreviation for "German Democratic Republic" is "DDR", but has nothing to do with Dance Dance Revolution.

In a curious note, the DDR also "owns" does not own an island off the coast of Cuba as a gift from Castro, although some incredibly funny people like to twist facts to make it look that way.

Since approximately 1990 "Ossi" is the German slang term for a former East German, "Wessi" being the West Germany counterpart. Until then, "Zoni"note  was used for people from the GDR, "Wessi" was used by the people in West Berlin for those from West Germany and "Ossi" was used in jokes about people from East Frisia.

Media set in East Germany:

  • A couple of MacGyver episodes.
  • The 1984 comedy Top Secret! depicts it as Nazi Germany in order to spoof World War II espionage thrillers. Then again, the Volksarmee did spend a while Putting on the Reich...
  • The Lives of Others, 2006 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film.
  • The aforementioned Good Bye, Lenin!!, perhaps the most effective movie ever made about "Ostalgie" (nostalgia for East Germany).
  • Airwolf has an episode, "Fallen Angel", set in the GDR.
  • John le Carré used East Germany as a subject in his early novels, including Call for the Dead, The Looking-Glass War, and, most strikingly, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
  • The Singing Ringing Tree, a fairy tale filmed by the East German DEFA studio in 1957 and oft-repeated on British TV during the 1960s and 70s. Well enough known to have been spoofed by The Fast Show.
  • The manga Monster is set in post-unification Germany and revolves heavily around covered up events in the former GDR.
  • Night Crossing, a film about two families who escape from the DDR via a home-made hot air balloon.
  • The hilarious comedy One, Two, Three is set in both halves of Berlin, before the wall was built (which lead to Dude, Not Funny! and Too Soon when this happened shortly before the movie hit the theaters, even if it wasn't director Billy Wilder's fault).
  • The rogue fictional Eastern Block state of Pottsylvania in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, despite the thick Slavic accents of many of its citizens, had many elements making out to be a parody of East Germany, most notably the fact that there were Teutonic Iron Crosses everywhere (despite the East Germans not using the symbol) and the fact that Boris and Natasha's boss Fearless Leader closely reseambled a stereotypical SS officer (a nod to East Germany's Putting On The Reich uniforms.)
  • The appallingly dreadful film Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 involves a superpowered baby secret agent codenamed Kahuna (just go with it) whose jealous older brother seeks to spite him by defecting to East Germany and growing up to be a Stasi captain performing medical experiments on children(and later turned television producer) imprisoning his victims beneath the Berlin Wall, played by a painfully scenery-chewing John Voigt.
  • Wargame: European Escalation has East Germany as a playable Warsaw Pact faction.

East German characters:

East German agents were also common in Cold War fiction, partly because of their major role in the Warsaw Pact and partly (possibly) to what might be called the "German Commie Nazi" factor, which allowed writers to combine the worst stereotypes of Germans, Nazis and Communists.

Cool Runnings features a nasty East German. The East German Judge was a common element at international sporting events such as The Olympics, where they would invariably give ridiculously low scores to anyone not from Commie Land; the term has come to mean anyone who seems to grade harshly and give low scores, such as Kishi Asako on Iron Chef.

Other

  • A Trabant was featured in Michael Palin's New Europe giving Palin a tour of Nowa Huta in Poland. One particularly distressing feature is the tendency for a wheel to fall off. There's Trabant drivers who'll wait until doing 40 mph on the tour before revealing happens to them about once a month.
  • In Axis Powers Hetalia, it's strongly implied that Prussia takes up the East Germany role after World War II. There is still much Internet Backdraft about this, as other parts of the fandom believe Prussia is actually Kaliningrad. Some clues that support the "Prussia = East Germany" connections are:
    • Prussia nicknames his younger brother, Germany, "West".
    • A later profile has Prussia being described as brought under Russia's beck and call after the War, further strengthening the East German connection. Not only that, but it has also been stated that Prussia sometimes gets struck by the aforementioned "Ostalgie" — and when this happens, Russia shows up uninvited to his doorstep and tries to drag him away. See here
    • After the reunification, Prussia arrived at Germany's house in a "cardboard car" (an allusion to the Trabant).
  • The video game ''Poly Play'' was the only video game officially created in East Germany. Strictly speaking, it's a collection of eight different arcade games, including a Pac-Man clone. It is low resolution, uses a complete TV set as a screen, and is emulated in MAME, the ROM allegedly being freely available (which is probably not true, since someone must have inherited the East German copyrights - but apparently, no one can tell). It has an article on The Other Wiki.
  • Anna Funder's Stasiland gives an outsiders perspective to the end of East Germany and what came after.

Red ChinaHollywood HistoryArab-Israeli Conflict
West GermanyUsefulNotes/GermanyThe Stasi
Byzantine EmpireUsefulNotes/EuropeHanseatic League

alternative title(s): East Germany
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