• The German Democratic Republic (GDR) was founded on October 7, 1949
  • The Socialist Unity Party (SED) set the course for eastern Germany
  • The Berlin Wall was built on August 13, 1961
  • The GDR lasted from 1949 to 1990

The German Democratic Republic (GDR) was founded on October 7, 1949, when the constitution of the GDR became law. The country evolved from the Soviet occupation zone, and the foundation can be seen as the answer to West Germany's foundation on May 23, 1949. Until October 1, 1959, the flag of the GDR didn't differ from the one of West Germany. On that day, a hammer, a compass, and a garland of corn were added. Giving its full support to the Government of the German Federal Republic, the U.S. refused to recognize the GDR until 1974 and stated that it was without any legal validity. Diplomatic relations with Russia started on October 15, 1949, and soon also other socialist nations acknowledged the GDR as a new country. These were Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and China. East Germany was rapidly transformed into a centrally planned economy. This transformation process was characterized by dispossessions and replacements with Loyalists who were in favor of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) line. Also, many German farmers were stripped of their land due to land reform. Their fields were given to Loyalists and party members. Concerning the redistribution of land and property and the repression of dissidents, left politics cannot be distinguished from the far-right policies in place during National Socialism. The democracy in name only turned quickly into a one-party dictatorship. However, radical reforms as implemented by the GDR were desirable to people who sought social mobility, thus, changing their social status. The National Front and the SED party played the most influential role in shaping the new nation. The first one was formed in 1950 and impacted the social life of the GDR's citizens. The National Front observed all political activities and worked closely with the SED. The Ministry of State Security (Staatssicherheitsdienst) was founded on February 8, 1950, and had a ramified monitoring system to keep the citizens in line. Besides full-time state officials, many unofficial informers spied on their colleagues, neighbors, family, and friends. Any disloyalty against the GDR and its system was punished harshly. 


The rearmament was achieved through the police that served as military formations, namely the "Barracked People's Police" (Kasernierte Volkspolizei). They were later renamed "National People's Army" (Nationale Volksarmee).


Any resistance was depressed, such as in the case of June 17, 1953, where the Soviet military was called to prohibit demonstrations against the system. An important date in German history is August 13, 1961, when the Berlin wall construction started. The wall was promoted as a protective barrier against West Germany's fascism. Still, it was used to suppress the citizens more radically, and it brought much sorrow for German citizens in the following years because of the shoot-to-kill order for illegal border crossing. The Basic Treaty with West Germany in 1972  led to diplomatic recognitions by more states. The United States started its diplomatic relations with the GDR on September 4, 1974.


East Germany's system followed different rules, and those who didn't walk the line were considered traitors to their country. The youth and education were at the center of social policies as a factor of socialization that the government could control. The goal was to form adolescents into good Marxist-Leninist citizens. The youth ceremony or Jugendweihe marked the beginning of the citizen's life under the banner of Socialism. The oath of allegiance to the Soviet Union and the obligation to defend Socialism against any imperialistic attack served as a lifelong pledge.


The GDR lasted from 1949 to 1990. Whereas it had been possible to travel back and forth between east and west until summer 1961, things dramatically changed in the years that followed. Any illegal border crossing was only possible under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Thus, rapidly reducing the numbers of East Germans who sought a new way of life. The inner German border and the Berlin Wall were the manifestation of the radical-left. The iron border represented a sorrowful time in German history, separating in an inhumane way families from each other.

CCO: Stacey, William E. Diagram of the architecture of the inner German border as of 1971. US Army Military  History Office, 1984.
CCO: Stacey, William E. Diagram of the architecture of the inner German border as of 1971. US Army Military History Office, 1984.

Sources / Quellenangabe:


Malycha, Andreas. "Der Ausbau des neuen Systems (1949 - 1961)." Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. 31 October 2011.


Malycha, Andreas. "Im Zeichen von Reform und Modernisierung (1961 - 1971.)" Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung. 31 October 2011.


Naumann, Günter. Deutsche Geschichte. Wiesbaden: marixverlag, 2018.