GDR Berlin: The City’s Hidden Past

The Iron Curtain fell with the fall of the Berlin Wall
The Iron Curtain fell with the fall of the Berlin Wall | © imageBROKER / Shutterstock
Amna Ashraf

Facing many transformations– for better or worse – over the years, Berlin is the official and cultural capital city of present-day Germany. However, after World War II, East Berlin was the de-facto capital of East Germany, while Bonn once served as the capital of West Germany.

As per the agreement in the conferences of Yalta and Potsdam – controlled by the United States, France, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union – Germany was divided into four zones after World War II, with the German Democratic Republic (GDR) controlling East Berlin for almost 40 years.

Berlin’s Alexanderplatz is a major transport junction

Origins and administrative area

Under the control of the Soviet Union, the GDR, known as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) in German, was formed after World War II and existed from 1949 until 1990. The current German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Berlin (only East Berlin), Saxony, Thüringen and Saxony-Anhalt were part of the GDR – according to the Yalta Conference – an area commonly known as East Germany or Ostdeutschland.

The fall of the Berlin Wall took place on 9 November 1989

Phases and politicians of the GDR

The political history of the GDR can be divided into four phases. The first phase marked the start of socialism from 1949 to 1961. The second phase came as the consolidation after the construction of the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1970. The third phase, known as the Honecker Era, bred closer ties to West Germany from 1971 to 1985. Meanwhile, the final phase saw the decline and reunification of Germany from 1985 to 1989. The heads of state during the 40 years of GDR rule included Wilhelm Pieck, Walter Ulbricht, Erich Honecker, Egon Krenz, Manfred Gerlach and Sabine Bergmann-Pohl.

Walter Ulbricht was a German communist politician

The GDR at a glance

East Germany was a member of the Warsaw Pact, but the GDR was under the influence of the Soviet Union. Under the Soviet rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, democratic reforms known as the ‘Sinatra Doctrine’ were introduced in the late 1980s. The Stasi was the Ministry for State Security in the GDR, and its former headquarters now house a museum. The East German Mark was the currency used in East Germany, and the GDR had a state-controlled economy, which meant that all big factories and companies were state property called Volkseigentum (the people’s property). The Trabant automobile, or Trabi, is the most famous artefact of the GDR, and there is also a Trabi Museum in Berlin near Checkpoint Charlie.

East and West Germany took part in the Olympic Games as one team until 1964; East German athletes excelled in cycling, boxing, athletics and winter sports. Television and radio were state-owned, and the Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA) – which had further local divisions – regulated the cinema in East Germany, which became popular for its productions, especially children’s films. In a nutshell, every aspect of life was affected by the Soviet Union’s norms and traditions.

The Trabant is the most famous artefact of the GDR
landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article