June 1953 Uprising 

The Stasi

The Berlin Wall

Erich Honecker and the Fall of East Germany 

 

 

 June 1953 Uprising 

 

 

On June 16, 1953, following a production quota increase of 10 percent for workers building East Berlin's new boulevard the Stalinallee, (today's Karl-Marx-Allee), demonstrations by disgruntled workers broke out in East Berlin. The next day the protests spread across East Germany with more than a million on strike and demonstrations in 700 communities. Fearing revolution the government requested the aid of Soviet occupation troops and on the morning of the 18th tanks and soldiers were dispatched who dealt harshly with protesters. The result was some fifty deaths and a wave of arrests and jail sentences numbering over 10,000. Transit between West and East Berlin was relatively free at the time, meaning that the protests and the harsh Soviet reaction unfolded in full view of many western observers.

 

Stasi officers

 

The Stasi 

 

The East Germans soon formed a Ministry for State Security ( Staatssicherheit- Stasi )with agents and informers .During the early stages of the occupation, the Soviet army seized a great deal of industrial equipment from eastern Germany to be shipped back to the Soviet Union as war reparations, crippling the East German economy for years. The increasing economic prosperity of West Germany led large numbers of East Germans to flee to the West. Since the 1940s, East Germans had been leaving the Soviet zone of Germany to emigrate to the west. The ongoing emigration of East Germans further strained the East German economy.

 

The Berlin Wall

 

East German border guard escaping to the West

 

Although the German border between the two Germanies was largely closed by the mid-1950s , the sector borders in Berlin were relatively easy to cross. Due to the lure of higher salaries in the West and political oppression in the East, many skilled workers (such as doctors) crossed into the West, causing a 'brain drain' in the East. However, on the night of August 13, 1961, East German troops sealed the border between West and East Berlin and started to build the Berlin Wall, literally and physically enclosing West Berlin. Travel was greatly restricted into, and out of, East Germany. A highly effective security force called the Stasi monitored the lives of East German citizens to suppress dissenters through its network of informants and agents. At least 133 people were confirmed killed trying to cross the Wall into West Berlin .

 

Erich Honecker and the Fall of East Germany 

 

Erich Honecker

 

In 1971, Erich Honecker replaced Walter Ulbricht as head of state. East Germany was generally regarded as the most economically advanced member of the Warsaw Pact. Before the 1970s, the official position of West Germany was that of the Hallstein Doctrine which involved non-recognition of East Germany. In the early 1970s, Ostpolitik led by Willy Brandt led to a form of mutual recognition between East and West Germany. 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) helped to normalise relations between East and West Germany and led to both Germanies joining the United Nations.

 

 

an East German girl entering West Germany in 1989

 

In September 1989 Hungary removed its border restrictions and unsealed its border and more than 13,000 people left East Germany by crossing the "green" 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 and in October he was replaced by Egon Krenz.

 

 fall of the Berlin Wall

 

On November 9, 1989 a few sections of the Berlin Wall were opened, resulting in thousands of East Germans crossing into West Berlin and West Germany for the first time. Soon, the governing party of East Germany resigned. Although there were some small attempts to create a permanent, democratic East Germany, these were soon overwhelmed by calls for unification with West Germany. After some negotiations (2+4 Talks, involving the two Germanies and the former Allied Powers United States, France, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union), conditions for German unification were agreed upon. The East German territory was reorganized into five states. Thus, on October 3, 1990 the five East German states plus East Berlin joined the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

East German teens against reunification in the election of 1990