Teaching the Archive: Student project in the East German Studies Archive 2018-19


Thanks to the University of Reading’s Teaching and Learning Development fund, I worked all year at the Archive searching its holdings for rare documents and objects in order to open a new door into East German politics and culture for university students and secondary school pupils of German, History, Politics, Design or Typography. My findings are now available on this website!

Despite a lot of fascinating books, brochures, and magazines, my favourite object was the pin of the Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ)/Free German Youth (founded 1946), the only officially recognised and supported youth organisation in East Germany; it stood under the control of the GDR’s ruling party, the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED)/Socialist Unity Party. The pin shows a bright yellow sun rising into a blue sky – a symbol of hope as a ‘new day is breaking’ after war and disaster. From the beginning, the Communists in the eastern part of Germany tried to mobilise young people for their socialist project.

Thank you again for letting me take part in the archiving project this year; I’ve really enjoyed it and it has inspired me to work on it more in my year abroad. I hope I can continue with it in final year.


Emily Woodall




English-language publishing: a tool of GDR foreign policy


The extensive English-language holdings in the East German Studies Archive give a sense of the huge scale on which the GDR published magazines and journals in foreign languages. The GDR is often regarded as a closed-off state, but the Archive’s holdings challenge this view, showing that foreign-language publishing was approached proactively and strategically. In responding to significant international developments and seeking to shape the GDR’s reputation abroad, foreign-language publications were used as a tool of foreign policy. Looking back at the Archive’s holdings today, they capture key moments in the GDR’s relations with the rest of the world.

12 issues of ‘First-hand information’ appeared in 1974

The series First-hand information provides a striking case. These booklets were published from 1966 until the collapse of the GDR and covered topics such as education, women’s rights, the economy, healthcare and agriculture. The preface to the first booklet indicates their initial aim: to give West German readers ‘correct’ information to counter the ‘misinformation’ that had been circulating about life in the East. By the early 1970s, however, the GDR had begun to translate these booklets into other languages, and those produced in 1974, in particular, show that they were now serving broader foreign policy goals. No fewer than 12 booklets were published in 1974, a remarkable increase on the previous quarterly schedule, and all were translated into English. It seems no coincidence that this huge output took place in the context of three significant events that year: the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the GDR, the exchange of permanent representatives with West Germany, and the passing of the final GDR constitution, which dropped any reference to the entire German nation. The quantity and themes of the 1974 booklets suggest that they were being used strategically to emphasise the GDR’s achievements in areas ranging from environmental protection to healthcare and living standards at the very moment when, politically and constitutionally, it was asserting its longevity and its independent identity.

As well as serving this collective purpose, some of the 1974 booklets also seem to have been employed individually to position the GDR in relation to important international issues. The booklet How do we protect our environment? promotes the GDR’s environmental protection credentials, implicitly responding to the European Union’s adaptation of its first Environmental Action Programme in 1973. Youth in the GDR draws on the Tenth World Festival of Youth and Students (held in East Berlin in 1973) and the new Youth Act to contrast the GDR’s views on the rights and responsibilities of young people with the prevailing countercultural trend of international youth movements. Fun – Health – Fitness emphasises the GDR’s successes in the 1972 Olympic Games and other recent sporting events.

Publishing a wide range of journals and magazines in multiple languages was expensive for the GDR. The scale of the investment demonstrates that, far from closing itself off, the GDR was seeking to present itself as part of the international community, offering sound solutions to international problems.

To access a detailed catalogue of the Archive’s English-language holdings, click here.

Follow the Archive on Twitter here.

For more information on the Archive’s English-language holdings, contact Dr Mary Frank.