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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

East Germany: 1949-90

It seems, with the benefit of hindsight, very strange to western eyes that in the Eastern half of Germany at the end of The Second World War one authoritarian regime, Nazism, should be replaced by another, Marxism. But such was the case, and under the leadership of Walter Ulbricht (1950-71) and Erich Honecker (1971-89) it remained an independent German state for four decades. 'Independent' is perhaps not the correct description to use in the case of East Germany, as it was the classic example of a Russian satellite state. It depended on its survival, even from its own internal dissent, by the threat and actual use of armed force readily available from Russia, as occurred in 1953.

To the average person in the street mention of East Germany brings pictures of Trabants, The Stasi, The Berlin Wall readily to mind. Katja Hoyer in her recently published book, 'Beyond the Wall', seeks to paint a more nuanced picture by pointing out positives such as sport for all, education standards, and even holidays for the workers. Hoyer writes in the Preface of her book, 'The citizens of the GDR lived, loved, worked and grew old. They went on holidays, made jokes about their politicians and raised their children. Their story deserves a place in the German narrative'. In some ways coming to terms with the East German State has proved more difficult than coming to terms with the shared Nazi past.

East Germany fell because its citizens finally rebelled, wanting some of the good things in life from washing machines to television programmes enjoyed in West Germany; and of course Freedom itself. Abandoned by a Russia where Gorbachev was not prepared to support Russia's satellite states, East Germany found itself hung out to dry. The end came swiftly when it did, but problems continue a quarter of a century on.

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