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DemocracyPhoto (detail): Volkmar Heinz @ picture alliance / dpa-Zentralbild ZB

Democracy

Both, East and West Germany, called themselves “democratic,” but how did each state define democracy and how democratic were they in reality? Although other parties existed in the GDR, the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei) ruled as one party dictatorship. The FRG had a multi-party system in which a party needed at least 5% of the vote to enter parliament. At present, seven parties are represented in the German Bundestag. A political landscape comprised of many parties allows for a diverse articulation of voices, but at which point do they become a hindrance to decision taking? Is democracy only a question of parties? How much democracy do we need?

Die Parteienlandschaft in Deutschland   © Goethe-Institut New York

For German learners: The GDR Party Landscape

How many parties and mass-organisations were represented in the GDR's Volkskammer, the highest organ of state power? 
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Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

The aftermath of Weimar politics

After WWII, both Germanys thought that too many parties were a danger to democracy. How did this influence their politics? 

Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

Departure into Utopia?

One party?Antifascist state after WWII? What did it mean for East Germany that there were no notable changes to its political landscape? 

Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

Did the GDR have oppositional movements?

The history of the 1953 crushed worker's uprising by the Soviet troops is well known, but did the GDR have other oppositional movements? 

Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

West German attitudes towards democracy

Were people critical of democracy in West Germany? 

Berlin, 1962. People stand on a stage on the Western side of the Berlin Wall in order to catch a glimpse at the other side of the border. Photo (detail): Hermann Schröer © picture alliance/Timeline Images

Democracy according to East- and West Germany

Explore the vastly different ideas both states had when it came to “democracy.”

Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

Two democracies?

Both, West and East Germany called themselves “democratic,” but how democratic were they in reality? 

Approaches by historians Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

What do historians today think about....

...how West- and East Germany approached democracy and how they both organized the relationship between the state, the law and the people during the Cold War? 

Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

Democracy in the 20th century

How did the relationship between the state and people change with the advent of democracy? Why did democracy become such an important idea? 

Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

Democracy: How much?

What do we need democracy for? Is Capitalism by the way of the free market intrinsically tied to the idea of democracy? What about human rights and the idea of personal liberty?

Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

How many parties....

....can a democracy handle? Is it possible to have too many parties? When do too many parties lead to dysfunctional politics? 

Open Memory Box © Open Memory Box

The Colors of the Spectacle

Red, gold, black, flags, pins: Political symbols were everywhere in GDR's public space. Explore a vast array of symbols of political life. Footage recorded by East German citizens. 

Open Memory Box © Open Memory Box

Idealism or Opportunism?

East German citizens joined the party out of idealism or opportunism or a bit of both, as the story of Herr Lauterbach illustrates. Video footage from Open Memory Box, an archive that showcases 415 hours of home movies shot by East German citizens. In this video, Herr Lauterbach looks back at his daily life in the GDR and narrates the story of his family through footage that he shot throughout the years. In German with English subtitles. 

Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

Democracy=political parties?

Is Democracy only a question of political parties? 

Reunification Revisited © Goethe-Institut New York

Democracy and Socialism

In 1989, Ingrid Miethe, PhD, a GDR citizen, still thought that “Socialism with a human face” was possible. What does she think today? Do democracy and Socialism go hand in hand? 
See answer.

Frank Wolff Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

The Berlin Republic: Present-day German politics

The German political landscape changed tremendously afte Reunification. What did it mean for democracy? 

Open Memory Box © Open Memory Box

Uniformity of Life Styles

In its common political sense, democracy and single-party hegemony are hardly compatible, but democracy also, for example in Tocqueville’s classic definition, refers to uniformity of lifestyles, of which there was plenty in the GDR.


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