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European Kingdoms

Central Europe


German Democratic Republic / East Germany
AD 1949 - 1990

Central Europe's kingdom of Prussia became a powerful player in European politics during the course of the eighteenth century. In 1871 it was able to formalise its surging dominance of the princely states of Germany by founding the German empire.

The First World War in Europe, though, left it collapsing from within. Kaiser William II was forced to abdicate on 9 November 1918, leaving the Weimar republic (barely) in control. The was unstable and under intense internal and external pressures, making it relatively easy to topple.

In 1933 it was replaced by a far-right Nazi government which proclaimed the creation of the 'Third Reich'. The Nazis then led the country inexorably into a devastating war which left much of its cities in ruins, especially Berlin where invading Soviet Union troops had to fight for each street corner and did so without mercy. The 'Allied Control Council' (ACC) was established in 1945 by the allied powers to take joint control of the defeated and chaotic country.

The Soviet denial of western access to Berlin in 1948 was intended to force the political integration of all four occupied zones under terms which it found favourable. Instead the 'Berlin Airlift' confounded its hopes and led directly to the western powers establishing their own unified - but western - Germany. In response, the USSR was left with its only option being to create a rival, East German state. The 'Federal Republic of Germany' ('Bundesrepublik Deutschland'), more commonly known as West Germany, came into being in May 1949.

When it became clear that the West German government would be established, the USSR held heavily-engineered elections for a 'People's Congress'. Instead of being able to select their preferred candidate, voters were allowed only the choice of approving or rejecting 'unity lists' of candidates who had been drawn from all parties, and those voters were probably being monitored as they voted. Reported voting levels were regularly engineered to record-breaking numbers, both in May 1949 and later.

The 'Deutsche Demokratische Republik' ('German Democratic Republic') was officially formed in October 1949 (apparently with no irony in the choice of 'democratic' in the title). Its capital was the Soviet sector of Berlin. It always lacked the manpower and resources of West Germany, and constantly struggled to maintain the appearance of a fully functional society. Decline set in during the 1970s, while reforms in the1980s made it very clear that East Germans would prefer to be West Germans.


(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Tom Horne, from The First World War, John Keegan (Vintage Books, 2000), from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from The Last Kaiser: William the Impetuous, Giles Macdonogh (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001), from Germany - The Tides of Power, Michael Balfour (Routledge, 2004), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia.com, and Cranach Digital Archive (in German and English), and Special Collections (University of Arizona), and Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911 Edition), and Royal Musings, and The road to World War Two (Reuters), and Romanian Royal Family, and Bundesministerium der Justiz.)

1949 - 1960

Wilhelm Pieck

First president of the GDR (from 11 Oct 1949). SED. Died.


The previous governmental organisation undergoes changes, with the second chamber of officials of the five 'Länder' of the Soviet zone being abolished in favour of a more centralised authority.

Post-war Berlin ruins
A divided Berlin of the 1950s still heavily featured great swathes of wartime damage, although West Berlin was quicker to recover as West Germany itself quickly modernised

The country displays an impressive rate of industrial growth, but living standards remain low and food supplies are constantly being disrupted as thousands of farmers flee to West Germany each year rather than suffer enforced collectivisation. Now East Germany seals its borders with West Germany, although East German citizens still manage to leave via Berlin and its remaining free movement permissions.


Dissatisfaction with the East German regime has increased to the point at which workers in East Berlin go on strike on 17 June 1953, protesting against increased production quotas. They are ignored until they take to the streets and spark a rebellion.

Soviet troops intervene, killing at least twenty-one and wounding many hundreds. A wave of retribution follows which sees around thirteen hundred people sentenced to prison for taking part in the uprising. The East German government portrays the event as a plot by West Germany and the United States.


The USSR forms the Warsaw Pact in direct response to the admission of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) into Nato whilst itself being barred from joining.

Warsaw Pact meeting
Russia, plus its seven Warsaw Pact allies, signed the treaty of establishment in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on 14 May 1955, with the location of signing giving the pact its name

Those states which are involved in the founding of this eastern alliance are Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany, which has only recently been raised to the status of a sovereign state - in 1954), Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia.


Johannes Dieckmann

Acting president (7-12 Sep). LDPD.

1960 - 1973

Walter Ulbricht

Chairman of the state council (12 Sep-1 Aug). SED. Died.


The Berlin Crisis of 1961 begins when the USSR demands the withdrawal of all armed forces in the city. The desire is to remove all allied troops, but all it does is firm-up US resolve to defend West Berlin. The resultant political stalemate sees the East German government close off East Berlin on 13 August, the day after it begins building a physical dividing wall.


Former German eastern territories of the pre-war period, including Hinterpommern (eastern Pomeriana), do not officially become Polish territory until Chancellor Willi Brand's Social Democratic government of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) now recognises the loss (Willi Brand's 1970 Warsaw speech to the Polish people is available online).

Stettin in Pomerania
Stettin in Pomerania was for a brief time controlled by Poland during one of that state's many forays into Pomeranian lands in an attempt to control the pagan natives (and possibly also to block similar German incursions)

The Soviet-dominated East German government which is not recognised by the former western allies - United Kingdom, France, and the United States - has already recognised Poland's hegemony of Pommern (under duress in 1949 when the Soviet Union had first established the German Democratic Republic, better known as East Germany).

1971 - 1972

In 1971 the Soviet Union joins the United States, United Kingdom, and France in a 'Four Power Agreement' which normalises Berlin's status and opens the way for an easing of the lot of West Berliners. In the following year the Brandt-Scheel cabinet in West Germany and the East German authorities conclude the 'Basic Treaty' which normalises relations between the two German states.

This period, though, sees the East German authorities concentrate resources on the export market. Internal infrastructure is neglected, with railways, roads, and buildings gradually deteriorating while West Germans thrive.

Berlin of the 1970s
East Germany of the 1970s saw a period of gradual decline as the reality of a cash-strapped, Soviet-dominated governmental structure became apparent, while West Germans were doing very well


Friedrich Ebert Jr

Acting chairman of the state council (1 Aug-3 Oct). SED.

1973 - 1976

Willi Stoph

Chairman of the state council (3-29 Oct). SED.

1976 - 1989

Erich Honecker

Chairman of the state council (29 Oct-18 Oct). SED. Deposed.


Erich Honecker's government has been faced with mounting internal dissention, so the official visit by West German Chancellor Schmidt (the first such cross-border visit) makes it possible to ease conditions. Visits from east to west are made easier for the population, albeit with only one family member going at a time to ensure they return (most do).

In return West Germany guarantees several large western bank loans to East Germany. Nevertheless, East Germany's younger population continues to see the west as the true Germany. Pro-peace and ecology movements allow them a channel for barely-legitimate dissent.


Egon Krenz

Chairman of the state council (18 Oct-6 Dec). SED. Resigned.

1989 - 1990

Manfred Gerlach

Final chairman of the state council (6 Dec-5 Apr). LDPD.

1989 - 1990

Soviet influence over Eastern Europe collapses. Communism in Hungary is ended following the opening of the border with Austria to allow thousands of East Germans to escape to the west.

Fall of the Berlin Wall
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a popular move which was generally people-driven and spontaneous, following the general collapse of the Soviet empire which backed East Germany's police state

Amid increasing calls for reform in East Germany, the Berlin Wall is pulled down by the people of both halves of the divided city, in a move which is almost entirely spontaneous. The East German border guards take no action to stop them, probably being as relieved as anyone to see the wall gone.


Sabine Bergmann-Pohl

President of the people's chamber (5 Apr-12 Oct). CDU.


The allowing of the Berlin Wall to be opened up has proven fatal for East Germany. Demonstrations against the authorities are only increasing in size and a freeing-up of party elections has seen the previously-dominant SED trounced by the west-leaning CDU.

This has pledged to unite the two halves of Germany, with the only real block being the USSR and President Gorbachev. He relents, in return for substantial West German financial aid. With East Germany's governmental system being completely replaced by the West German political structure, the two Germanies are reunited on 3 October 1990.

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