The Society and Its Environment
THE GERMAN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC (East Germany) lies in the heart
of the northern plains of Europe and covers an area of
approximately 108,568 square kilometers, including East Berlin
(which is not recognized as part of East Germany by the United
States, France, and Britain). It is bounded on the north by the
Baltic Sea, on the east by Poland, on the southeast by
Czechoslovakia, and on the west and southwest by the Federal
Republic of Germany (West Germany). The terrain is gentle.
Lowlands and rolling hills characterize about two-thirds of the
country; the southern third comprises uplands and mountains. The
most fertile agricultural belt and the most densely settled area
of the country is the Börderland, where the central lowlands
merge into the uplands.
The population, which has declined steadily since World War
about 16.7 million in 1986. Low birthrates and the dynamics
of the population combined with historical trends to produce an
unbalanced age and sex structure; in the mid-1980s, a high
proportion of the population was over sixty years of age. Most
people lived in medium-sized towns of 5,000 to 50,000 residents.
There were, however, some large cities, most of which were
located in the southern section of the country. The largest city
was East Berlin with a population of 1.2 million. East Germany
considered East Berlin its capital, although in the view of the
Western Allies the entire city is still under the control of the
former Allied powers, the United States, Britain, France, and the
East Germany is relatively homogeneous culturally and
linguistically. It does have, however, a small Slavic population
known as Sorbs, who in 1984 numbered approximately 34,000 and
resided primarily around the cities of Cottbus, Bautzen, and
Hoyerswerda. A small Jewish community of a few hundred, all that
remain of the prewar Jewish population, also continue to live in
In the 1970s, despite the country's cultural ties with West
Germany, the East German government adopted a two-nation policy.
Abandoning the goal of reunification, East Germany concentrated
on building a national consciousness that was distinct from that
of the West Germans. This effort, however, was not very
successful, and East Germans continued to consider themselves
part of a larger German community that included the populations
of both German states.
The country calls itself a "socialist state of workers and
peasants." Theoretically all power resides in the hands of the
working class, but in reality the state exercises control of all
resources and means of production. The communist party leadership
forms the elite of society and is separated from the majority of
the population by the privileges and power it enjoys. Members of
the intelligentsia form an intermediate stratum. This segment of
the population includes members from the prewar middle class as
well as a group of newly trained and educated managers, planners,
technicians, artists and others trained in the humanities, and
scientists. In general the members of the intelligentsia are
apolitical. The vast majority of the population is categorized as
workers, a grouping that includes manual laborers and whitecollar workers. Social programs implemented by the government are
intended to restructure society and provide equal benefits for
the working-class man and woman. Health, housing, and welfare
programs are part of the scheme of restructuring society. The
government has had mixed results in these areas. Since the 1970s,
the government has catered to workers' demands for more and
better consumer goods. Whether or not the government would be
able to meet these demands in the future was uncertain because of
the slowdown in economic growth.
The family is the basic unit of society and is recognized as
such by communist officials, who consider it the smallest
collective unit. Parents are charged with educating their
children in the socialist way of life. Family structure and
relationships have been affected by the increased participation
of women in the work force.
In the mid-1980s, there were three major mass organizations--
the Free German Trade Union Federation, the Free German Youth,
and the Democratic Women's League of Germany. These organizations
sought to produce a unity of interests among all segments of the
population and to mobilize support for government policies.
The educational system, which is a source of pride for the
East German government and people, is the primary agent of
socialization. In the mid-1980s, all children began the ten-grade
general polytechnical school at the age of six. The curriculum
emphasized science and mathematics and contained a "practical
experience" component designed to bridge the gap between learning
and work. Upon completion of the ten-year program, most students
began vocational training as apprentices in local factories.
As of 1987, about 47 percent of the East German population
was Protestant. Another 7 percent was Roman Catholic, and under 1
percent adhered to other religious beliefs. The Lutheran Church,
the main Protestant denomination, was organized into eight
territorial churches that were, in turn, federated into two
primary organizations. Both of these groups had separated from
their West German counterparts in 1968. They cooperated with each
other under a loose federal structure set up in 1969, but as of
the mid-1980s there was talk of integrating the Lutheran churches
into a single entity. The church characterized its relationship
with the regime as one of critical solidarity, a phrase that
implied a mixture of compromise and criticism. The regime
considered the church an anomaly and generally discouraged the
population from participating in religious activities. For its
part, in the mid-1980s the church became a focus of dissent
because it provided institutional and ideological foundations for
the growth of an unofficial peace movement.
In the early 1980s, an organized opposition emerged that
revolved around the issues of peace and the demilitarization of
East German society. Opposition also crystallized around small
groups of the creative intelligentsia, who began openly to
criticize the regime in their artistic and philosophical works.
Most of the young intellectuals were committed Marxists who
sought to reform the system. Since the mid-1970s, the regime has
attempted to stifle dissent by exiling these critics to the West.
Dissent was also evident in the number of East Germans who
attempted to leave the country both legally and illegally.
Data as of July 1987