East Germany, formally the German Democratic Republic or GDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), was an Eastern Bloc state during the Cold War period. From 1949 to 1990, it administered the region of Germany that was occupied by Soviet forces at the end of World War II — the Soviet Occupation Zone of the Potsdam Agreement, bounded on the east by the Oder–Neisse line. The Soviet zone surrounded West Berlin, but did not include it; as a result, West Berlin remained outside the jurisdiction of the GDR. The German Democratic Republic was established in the Soviet Zone, while the Federal Republic was established in the three western zones. East Germany was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. Soviet occupation authorities began transferring administrative responsibility to German communist leaders in 1948, and the GDR began to function as a state on October 7, 1949. Soviet forces, however, remained in the country throughout the Cold War. Until 1989, the GDR was governed by the Socialist Unity Party (SED), though other parties nominally participated in its alliance organization, the National Front of Democratic Germany.
At the Yalta Conference during World War II, the Allies agreed on dividing a defeated Nazi Germany into occupation zones, and on dividing Berlin, the German capital, among the Allied powers as well. Initially this meant the construction of three zones of occupation, i.e., American, British, and Soviet. Later, a French zone was carved out of the American and British zones.
The communist German Democratic Republic was established in the historic “Mitteldeutschland” (Middle Germany). Former German territories east of the Oder and Neisse rivers, mainly the Prussian provinces of Pomerania, East Prussia, West Prussia, Upper Silesia, Lower Silesia, the eastern Neumark of Brandenburg, and a small piece of Saxony were thus detached from Germany. To compensate Poland for the USSR’s annexation of its eastern provinces, the Allies provisionally established Poland’s post-war western border at the Oder–Neisse line at the Yalta Conference (1945). As a result, most of Germany’s central territories became the Sowjetische Besatzungszone (SBZ, Soviet Occupation Zone). All other lands east of the Oder–Neisse line were put under Polish administration, with the exception of historic northern East Prussia, which went to the USSR.
East Germany considered East Berlin to be its capital, and the Soviet Union and the rest of the Eastern Bloc diplomatically recognized East Berlin as the capital. However, the Western Allies disputed this recognition, considering the entire city of Berlin to be occupied territory governed by the Allied Control Council. According to Margarete Feinstein, East Berlin’s status as the capital was largely unrecognized by the West and most Third World countries. In practice, the ACC’s authority was rendered moot by the Cold War, and East Berlin’s status as occupied territory largely became a legal fiction, and the former Soviet sector became fully integrated into the GDR.
On April 21, 1946, the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands – KPD) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands – SPD) merged to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED – Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands), which then won the elections of 1946, held under the oversight of the Soviet army. Being a Marxist–Leninist political party, the SED’s government nationalised infrastructure and industrial plants. In 1948, the German Economic Commission (Deutsche Wirtschaftskomission —DWK) under its chairman Heinrich Rau assumed administrative authority in the Soviet occupation zone, thus becoming the predecessor of an East German government.
On October 7, 1949, the SED established the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic – GDR), based on a socialist political constitution establishing its control of the anti-fascist National Front of the German Democratic Republic (NF, Nationale Front der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik), an omnibus alliance of every party and mass organization in East Germany. The NF was established to stand for election to the Volkskammer (People’s Chamber), the East German parliament. The first and only President of the German Democratic Republic was Wilhelm Pieck. However, after 1950, political power in East Germany was held by the First Secretary of the SED, Walter Ulbricht.
On June 16, 1953, workers constructing the new Stalinallee boulevard in East Berlin, according to The Sixteen Principles of Urban Design, rioted against a 10% production quota increase. Initially a labour protest, it soon included the general populace, and on June 17 similar protests occurred throughout the GDR, with more than a million people striking in some 700 cities and towns. Fearing anti-communist counter-revolution on June 18, 1953, the government of the GDR enlisted the Soviet Occupation Forces to aid the police in ending the riot; some fifty people were killed and 10,000 were jailed.
The German war reparations owed to the USSR impoverished the Soviet Zone of Occupation and severely weakened the East German economy. In the 1945–46 period, the Soviets confiscated and transported to the USSR approximately 33% of the industrial plant and by the early 1950s had extracted some US$10 billion in reparations in agricultural and industrial products. The poverty of East Germany induced by reparations provoked the Republikflucht (“desertion from the republic”) to West Germany, further weakening the GDR’s economy. Western economic opportunities induced a brain drain. In response, the GDR closed the Inner German Border, and on the night of August 12, 1961, East German soldiers began erecting the Berlin Wall.
In 1971, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had Ulbricht removed; Erich Honecker replaced him. While the Ulbricht government had experimented with liberal reforms, the Honecker government reversed them. The new government introduced a new East German Constitution which defined the German Democratic Republic as a “republic of workers and peasants”.
Initially, East Germany claimed an exclusive mandate for all of Germany, a claim supported by most of the Communist bloc. It claimed that West Germany was an illegally constituted NATO puppet state. However, from the 1960s onward, East Germany began recognizing itself as a separate country from West Germany, and shared the legacy of the united German state of 1871–1945. This was formalized in 1974, when the reunification clause was removed from the revised East German constitution. West Germany, in contrast, maintained that it was the only legitimate government of Germany. From 1949 to the early 1970s, West Germany maintained that East Germany was an illegally constituted state. It argued that the GDR was a Soviet puppet state, and frequently referred to it as the “Soviet occupation zone”. This position was shared by West Germany’s allies as well until 1973. East Germany was recognized primarily by Communist countries and the Arab bloc, along with some “scattered sympathizers”. According to the Hallstein Doctrine (1955), West Germany also did not diplomatically recognize any country — except the USSR — that recognized East German sovereignty.
In the early 1970s, the Ostpolitik (“Eastern Policy”) of “Change Through Rapprochement” of the pragmatic government of FRG Chancellor Willy Brandt, established normal diplomatic relations with the East Bloc states. This policy saw the Treaty of Moscow (August 1970), the Treaty of Warsaw (December 1970), the Four Power Agreement on Berlin (September 1971), the Transit Agreement (May 1972), and the Basic Treaty (December 1972), which relinquished any claims to an exclusive mandate over Germany as a whole and established normal relations between the Germanys. Both countries were admitted into the United Nations on September 18, 1973. This also increased the number of countries recognizing East Germany to 55, including the U.S., U.K. and France, though these three still refused to recognize East Berlin as the capital, and insisted on a specific provision in the UN resolution accepting the two Germanies into the UN to that effect. Through this time, the West German view was that East Germany was a de facto government within a single German nation and a de jure state organization of parts of Germany outside the Federal Republic without being recognized de jure as a state under international law; whereas West Germany was, within its own boundaries, both a de facto government and de jure legitimately representing “Germany as whole”. The two Germanies relinquished any claim to represent the other internationally as part of the deal that saw them admitted to the UN.
In 1989, following widespread public anger over the faking of results of local government elections that spring, many citizens applied for exit visas or left the country contrary to GDR laws. In August 1989, Hungary removed its border restrictions and unsealed its border, and more than 13,000 people left East Germany by crossing the border via Czechoslovakia into Hungary and then on to Austria and West Germany. Many others demonstrated against the ruling party, especially in the city of Leipzig. Kurt Masur, the conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, led local negotiations with the government and held town meetings in the concert hall. The demonstrations eventually led Erich Honecker to resign in October, and he was replaced by a slightly more moderate communist, Egon Krenz.
On November 9, 1989, a few sections of the Berlin Wall were opened, resulting in thousands of East Germans crossing freely into West Berlin and West Germany for the first time in nearly 30 years. Krenz resigned a few days later, and the SED abandoned power shortly afterward. Although there were some limited attempts to create a permanent democratic East Germany, this did not come to pass.
East Germany held its last elections in March 1990. The winner was a coalition headed by the East German branch of West Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, which advocated speedy reunification. Negotiations (2+4 Talks) were held involving the two German states and the former Allied Powers which led to agreement on the conditions for German unification. By a two-thirds vote in the Volkskammer on August 23, 1990, the GDR declared its accession to the Federal Republic. The five original East German states that had been abolished in the 1952 redistricting were recreated. On October 3, 1990, the five states officially joined the Federal Republic of Germany, while East and West Berlin united as a third city-state (in the same manner as Bremen and Hamburg). On July 1, a currency union preceded the political union: the “Ostmark” was abolished, and the Western German “Deutsche Mark” became common currency.
The great economic and socio-political inequalities between the former Germanies required government subsidy for the full integration of East Germany to the Federal German Republic. Because of the resulting deindustrialization in the former East Germany, the causes of the failure of this integration continue to be debated. Some western commentators claim that the depressed eastern economy is a natural aftereffect of a demonstrably inefficient socialist economy. But many East German critics contend that the shock-therapy style of privatization, the artificially high rate of exchange offered for the Ostmark, and the speed with which the entire process was implemented did not leave room for East German enterprises to adapt.
With the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, the Allied Control Council succeeded the former Nazi regime in Germany; as part of this action, the Deutsche Reichspost (the postal service of the German Reich) was absorbed by the occupation authorities. Germany was divided into four occupation zones, and Berlin into four sectors; the territories east of the Oder-Neisse rivers were placed under Polish and Soviet authority. One of the first tasks of restoring civil government in Germany involved the restoration of postal and telecommunications services.
The German Central Administration for Communication Services (Deutsche Zentralverwaltung für das Nachrichtenwesen) began its work in the Soviet occupation zone under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany on July 27, 1945. The post office in the Soviet zone fell under its authority. Initially, the individual states (Länder) in the Soviet zone issued their own stamps, but by 1946, stamps bearing the inscription Deutsche Post, valid in all four occupation zones, were being issued.
When the negotiations about a general German currency reform broke down, the Western Allies proceeded with the currency reform in West Germany, and on June 21, 1948, the Deutsche Mark was introduced. In response, the Soviet Union announced its reform of the East German currency on June 24, 1948; the East German Mark became the currency for the Soviet zone, and its stamps were marked with overprints. This established the economic separation of the two German states. In July 1948, the stamps of the previously common issue were overprinted with the words “Soviet Occupation Zone” and subsequently the Soviet zone issued different stamps from the western zones, all, however, under the “Deutsche Post” label.
The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was founded on May 23, 1949; the formation of the German Democratic Republic followed on October 7, 1949. In the FRG, the “Deutsche Post” was renamed Deutsche Bundespost (German Federal Post) in 1950, while the GDR retained the term “Deutsche Post”. Due to Berlin’s occupation status, the West Berlin postal service was technically independent of the West German Bundespost; it was known as the Deutsche Bundespost Berlin. However, no such requirements were applied to the DP operating in East Berlin.
The first stamp of the German Democratic Republic was issued on October 9, 1949, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). Regular air mail service started in 1950, beginning with the Soviet Union, then with other countries. With the creation of two German states, mail between the two was handled according to the regulations of the UPU.
Philatelically, the DDR issued postage stamps primarily for the purpose of spreading their political and social propaganda. As with the USSR and the other Eastern European Communist countries, the DDR issued numerous stamps and sets of stamps during each year. The DP invented the practice of producing a specific stamp in a set at an intentionally low number — called a Sperrwert (limited issue stamp) – to artificially increase the value of the stamp and the set.
Stamps were to some degree produced for sale to gain hard currency abroad, and while valid these stamps were not issued for circulation to the general public but sold directly to stamp dealers abroad and to registered philatelists.
In its 41 years of existence, the German Democratic Republic issued over 3,400 postage stamps. With the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990, the DP became part of the Deutsche Bundespost, which in turn later became the privatized Deutsche Post AG on January 1, 1995. As part of the reunification process, the DP’s stamps became valid also for the FRG and West Berlin, beginning on July 2, 1990, and vice versa, until their eventual expiration.
Scott #91 was issued on October 28, 1951, to promote the annual Stamp Day. The 12-pfennig deep blue stamp is perforated 13 and features a father and his children with a stamp collection.