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WorkPhoto (detail): @ picture alliance / dpa


Unemployment was not supposed to exist in the GDR. The right to work was enshrined in the constitution of the “workers and farmers” state, but in reality, many jobs were created and maintained artificially and work led neither to economic nor personal wealth. Things were and are not that different in the West. In both states, the realm of work allowed citizens to organize, protest and air their grievances. Guest workers (Gastarbeiter*innen) in the FRG and contract workers (Vertragsarbeiter*innen) in the GDR, were a constant projection for racist violence, complicating thus the notion of work.

Emplyoment Unemployment Youth Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

Employment/Unemployment in West and East Germany

What challenges did young people face in the 70ies and 80ies, the last generation of divided Germany? In the West, they faced the first real structural unemployment phase since the end of WWII. The destruction of the environment and a reheating of a Cold War itself led to a pessimistic outlook and coining of the term “Ellenbogengesellschaft” (ellbow society). Things were different in the East, where unemployment was unheard of, but the equal access to educational opportunities was limited.

Open Memory Box © Open Memory Box


Building your own house was as important of an acitivity, as it was in the West. Access East German recordings to zoom in on Hausbau. 

Open Memory Box © Open Memory Box

Pride in Work

East Germans took pride in their work. Access footage on work recorded by East German citizen throughout four decades. 

What privileges did workers and farmers habe in the GDR? Video still © Goethe-Institut New York

What privileges did workers have in the GDR? What did it mean to be a worker in a worker's state?

East Germany called itself a worker’s state. Did workers receive the highest privileges in East Germany? How does it compare to West Germany?

Where would East Germans have met POC? Video still: © Goethe-Institut New York

POC in West and East Germany

Where would East Germans have met POC? What about West German “guest workers?”

Gastarbeiter © Goethe-Institut New York

For students of German

The issue of guest workers in West Germany to mitigate labor shortages after WWII is well known, but who were East Germany's guest- or contract workers? 
Download interactive PDF

Reunification Revisited © Goethe-Institut New York

Employment: A personal Story

We asked, Ingrid Miethe, PhD answered: Could you briefly explain in what way the GDR influenced your education and work? 
See answer.

Nicole @ Nicole Reichenbach

Global Student Voice: Nicole, Guatemala

Nicole Reichenbach lives in Guatemala and is a student at a PASCH- school, a global network of schools with stellar German programs. In this video she discusses the meaning of work for society. In German with English subtitles.

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