30 Years Ago: Popular Protest Changing History

In autumn 1989, ever-growing waves of popular protest swept through East Germany and led to the crumbling of the communist state. After thousands of East Germans had tried to escape the country during their summer vacations by seeking asylum in West German embassies in other communist countries, a growing number of East Germans took their discontent to the streets in East Germany itself. Demanding more democracy, free elections, freedom of speech and movement, the protestors defeated the state and peacefully forced the opening of the Iron Curtain separating East from West on 9 November 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down.


From Die Zeit, 22 September 1989: ‘Bürger rufen nach Reformen’ by Marlies Menge


The East German Studies Archive holds files with clippings from British, and East and West German newspapers covering the events of thirty years ago. To remember the ‘Autumn of Popular Protest’ along with its newspaper coverage, follow our ‘Popular Protest Remembered’ tweets  https://twitter.com/EastArchive?lang=en



What we have in the Archive: 3

Heimatkunde 3
Document type: History book
Language: German
Date published: 1982
Place of publication: Berlin
Publisher: Volk und Wissen Volkseigener Verlag
Archive code: 3B1/1/3 73 He

Details/information: A school textbook containing images of important landmarks and describing influential events and aspects of life in the GDR. Images of ruins after WW2 are presented and the book describes the narrative of overcoming fascism in East Germany thanks to support from the Soviets. Children learn about the founding of the SED, how building projects are planned (for example, apartment blocks) and how to read maps. The book gives advice on sleep, nutrition and hygiene, and on the production of cattle and plants.

Module it links to: Icons of Modern Germany
Links to the module: Honecker era


The book opens with large images of Erich Honecker, General Secretary of the SED, the Television Tower and the city council building in the GDR, and captions explaining what each image is.


The narrative of Fascists vs. Antifascists is described, and the book tells the story of the antifascists being taken away to concentration camps. Readers also learn that Ernst Thälmann, the leader of the Communist Party in Germany, was killed in the Buchenwald concentration camp after spending 11 years in solitary confinement. There are images depicting the antifascists being captured.


The book describes the destruction left over by the war, mentioning how families lived in holes in the ground due to their houses being destroyed. The bottom right image shows the Soviet soldiers marching through a crowd of people raising their hats to them.




The further shaping of the developed socialist society in our republic. This page features a very patriotic image of athletes marching with GDR flags. The text emphasises the party’s commitment to the people, stating that they have kept their word to do anything for the happiness of the citizens of the GDR. Erich Honecker states that the GDR will flourish and that life in socialism will improve for everyone.



The book describes the extensive future building projects, such as the rebuilding/modernisation of almost a million apartments and the construction of new schools, playgrounds and shopping centres. The rent for families living in these beautiful new apartments will be affordable. There is a need for more young people to become builders and more firms to produce the parts, such as windows and pipes and baths, for these homes. At the end of the text, there are comprehension questions for the students to answer.

The text introduces the Ralf Tischendorf Baubrigade (team of construction workers), highlighting their efficiency; they were able to construct a five-storey building in fourteen days. Ralf Tischendorf is an SED member and a builder, who believes that constructing new houses is the finest career. The text then outlines his responsibilities and tasks.



The book covers a wide range of concepts and skills, including plants and the weather, how to read from maps, or how farm animals are reared. These explanations are accompanied by clear diagrams and questions at the end of texts. At this time in East Germany, around 10% of the population worked in agriculture, which might explain why there is information particularly about farming and animals.


The book offers a wide range of knowledge on different topics, emphasising how socialist education promotes all-round personal development.



What we have in the Archive: 2

Document name: Der Aufstand vom 17. Juni 1953/ The Uprising on 17 June 1953

Document type: West German government report

Language: German

Date published: 1988

Place of publication: Bonn

Publisher: Bundesministerium für innerdeutsche Beziehungen

Archive code: 3B3 Bund-i

Details/ information: This document is a West German interpretation of the June 1953 Uprising, the only workers’ mass protest and open uprising against the East German regime before 1989. The uprising was a result of poor working and living conditions as well as political oppression in the East. Dissatisfied workers went on strike to protest the government’s policies and particularly their own lack of representation; they demanded to have a voice and active participation. The uprising ultimately failed because the ruling party, the Sozialistische Einheitsparteit Deutschlands/ Socialist Unity Party (SED) called for the support of the USSR’s Red Army, who used force and tanks to quell the uprising. The West German government interpreted the uprising from the beginning as the East Germans’ wish for German unification and made 17 June a public holiday.

Module it links to: GM1IMG Icons of Modern Germany

Topic: 17 Juni 1953 Uprising









Document name: Zahlenspiegel Bundesrepublik Deutschland/ Deutsche Demokratische Republik – Ein Vergleich./ Facts and Figures Federal Republic of Germany/ German Democratic Republic – A Comparison.

Document type: West German government report

Language: German

Date published: December 1978

Place of publication: Bonn/ Berlin (West)

Publisher: Bundesministerium für innerdeutsche Beziehungen

Archive code:

Details/ information: This report is a West German document detailing the figures for various aspects of life in both Germanies in 1978, including the population, birth and death rates, statistical information on the political system, economy, culture, and film among others.

Module it links to: GM1IMG Icons of Modern Germany

Links to the module: Honecker Era (1971 – 1989)















What we have in the Archive: 1

Document name: Buchenwald Konzentrationslager Gedenkführer / Buchenwald concentration camp memorial guide

Document type: Brochure

Language: German

Date published: 1986

Place of publication: Nationale Mahn- und Gedenkstätte (Weimar), Buchenwald Memorial

Author: Bodo Ritscher

Archive code:

Details/ information: This brochure was produced in East Germany as a guide to the memorial site of Buchenwald concentration camp. The camp was central for the East German approach to the Nazi dictatorship. Due to its many communist prisoners and their illegal resistance organisation within the camp, Buchenwald was used after the war as a symbol of communist suffering as well as a contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany; the camp served the East German government as a legitimisation of communist rule and the new socialist order in the GDR.

Module it links to: GM1IMG: Icons of Modern Germany, Part 1

Topic: Antifascism





Document name: Nackt unter Wölfen/ Naked among Wolves

Document type: Novel

Language: German

Date published: 1971 (first published in 1958)

Place of publication: Leipzig

Publisher: Reclam

Author/creator: Bruno Apitz

Archive code: 3B2/1 Ap

Details/ information: The novel is set in Buchenwald concentration camp and tells the story of prisoners who hide a Polish-Jewish boy. The child is brought to the camp in a suitcase by a newly arriving prisoner and needs the protection of the camp’s communist resistance group in order to survive. The child and his self-sacrificing communist protectors became symbols of the struggle against Nazism and of hope for a future in peace and freedom. The novel is said to be based on the biography of Stefan Jerzy Zweig, famously called the ‘Buchenwaldkind’. Bruno Apitz, the author of the novel, also works through his own experience as a communist prisoner in the camp from 1937 to 1945. In the GDR the novel was part of the school curriculum. It was very successful internationally and was translated into 30 languages and made into two films.

Module it links to: GM1IMG: Icons of Modern Germany Part 1

Topic: Antifascism

  • The original 1963 DEFA (East Germany) film ‘Nackt unter Wölfen’ based on the novel: https://reading.kanopy.com/video/naked-among-wolves
    • See also the full playlist on Kanopy of 3 other videos, showing the premiere of the film in Moscow, clips of the Buchenwaldkind meeting Buchenwald survivors and a talk by the author
  • Buchenwald brochure in the East German Archive
  • Niven, William, The Buchenwald Child: Truth, Fiction, and Propaganda, Camden House 2007.









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.

Uncovering East Germany’s English voice

A new research project in the East German Studies Archive is revealing that the GDR produced a vast range of publications in English. The Archive holds almost 2,500 individual items in English, ranging from journals, magazines and booklets to literary works. Some are one-off publications, others belong to series that ran for many years. They are evidence of a huge industry involving writers, editors, translators, designers and publishers. To employ so many people to communicate in English (and other languages not represented in the Archive) shows a state willing to commit significant resources to reaching out to the world, particularly the West.

Some of the GDR’s English-language publications were ‘easy wins’. Foreign Affairs Bulletin, for example, consisted simply of translations of articles that had already been published in newspapers such as Neues Deutschland, printed on inexpensive paper and with only black-and-white photos. The series Documents on the National Policy of the GDR contained translations of legal documents and politicians’ speeches, again published very simply. In sharp contrast, though, other publications contained articles written from scratch and were designed eye-catchingly with glossy paper, colour photos and coloured text. In this category, the Archive has 130 copies of GDR Review from 1978-1990. Even for the earlier issues of this magazine, the entire front cover was devoted to a colour photo and at least half the photos inside were in colour.

In terms of subject matter, too, the Archive’s English-language holdings are diverse. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is an emphasis on politics. The booklet series Our Point of View, for example, set out the GDR’s position on international issues such as nuclear weapons or EEC intervention in Poland in 1981. Implicitly supporting the GDR’s politics were several series giving facts and figures in areas such as industry and agriculture. Similarly, the First-hand Information booklet series presented specific social issues, such as women’s rights, education and healthcare, in the context of GDR socialism. Culture and leisure were also well represented. Alongside GDR Review with its features such as film reviews and recipes, the Archive has several copies of GDR Culture. Issue 5 of this magazine, for example, reported on topics including artistic activity in Gera and the youth radio station DT 64. Travel, too, features strongly in the Archive’s holdings, reflecting the GDR’s efforts to attract tourists and their foreign currency.

The project has now achieved its first milestones by creating a detailed catalogue of the Archive’s English-language holdings (available here) and setting up a Twitter feed (@East Archive). The next steps will involve pursuing some of the research questions raised by the materials, including who translated these publications, how the publications responded to national and international developments and who read them.

For more information about this project, contact Dr Mary Frank.

Sputnik Magazine


Sputnik Magazine was published monthly by the Soviet press agency Novosti from 1967 until 1991. Sputnik provided a digest of the Soviet press for international readers; it was available in several languages and sold in socialist and capitalist countries around the world.

The magazine presented topics relating to politics, science, and culture as well as the society of the Soviet Union. Novosti wanted to promote a positive, modern image of the socialist development in the Soviet Union internationally. The magazine’s name reflects this objective as it refers to the first artificial earth satellite, which was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957. As a means of promoting socialism Soviet style, Sputnik disseminated socialist propaganda which many readers in the socialist countries dismissed as indoctrination. However, with changes in Soviet policies in the 1980s, the magazine became a source of sought-after information and discussion.


When Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985 (until 1991), he promoted the new ideals of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) as approaches to a reformed socialism.


Perestroika was a political concept (1980 -1991) within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. In the 1980s, the economy in the USSR was crumbling, which resulted in poor living conditions, environmental problems, political disengagement, and disintegration of society. Gorbachev pursued a new approach to tackle the problems, believing that more openness in discussing problems would initiate a democratization and consequently engagement of people in much needed reforms. This included more freedom of speech and less censorship for the media and opposition groups either political or religious. These political changes were reflected in Sputnik magazine, which became a means of promoting and disseminating the new course in the Soviet Union internationally.

In his column, the chief editor of the magazine promotes reforms as renewal: ‘Perestroika bedeutet Erneuerung’.

“Die Perestroika ist ein Abschnitt im Leben unserer Gesellschaft, da sich ein jeder aktiv an den bei uns vor sich gehenden Umwandlungen beteiligen kann.”

(“Perestroika is a stage in the life of our society when everyone can actively participate in the transformations that are going on in our country.”)

Initiative, original ideas, and innovative thinking were celebrated as means of a renewal from below.

‘Mehr Demokratie – Aber Wie?’ (‘More Democracy – But How?’) was the central question of the issue.

SPUTNIK 6/1988

The June issue from the end of the 1980s reflects the political transformation in the Soviet Union. It compiles articles critical of social, political, and economic developments and endorses non-conformity and free speech. The front cover of the issue shows a young punk, an example of openness and tolerance of individuality, in this case of a subculture. The acceptance of other groups or subcultures who did not follow ‘the socialist norm’ is here seen as a progressive step towards reform.

Children are a particular focus of the issue. As symbols of a society’s future, their situation is seen to reflect the Soviet Union’s perspective. An article titled ‘Was ist aus unserer Güte geworden?’ (‘What has become of our Kindness?’) is exemplary of the criticism of society’s failures. It discusses mothers [not fathers!] who light-heartedly give their children away or leave them in state care in order to work and pursue a career or simply have an easier life. The article stresses the loneliness and sorrow of the abandoned children.

“Die Mutter hat noch mit der Hand gewinkt, nun würde sie bald am Ende des Korridors verschwinden. Es würde an seine Mutter denken, wie es ihr so ginge, was sie morgen tat […] denn es liebte seine Mutter und glaubte fest daran, dass sie früher oder später zusammen sein würden […]”

(“The mother waved goodbye, now she would soon disappear at the end of the corridor. The girl would think of its mother, how she was, what she would do tomorrow […] for it loved its mother and firmly believed that sooner or later they would be together […]”)

Vehemently criticising the denial of a proper homes and family, the article points to a society that has become cold, careless, and disinterested in human values.


East Germany (GDR) faced problems in the 1980s similar to those of the Soviet Union. Under Erich Honecker as General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party (1971-89), GDR society suffered not just rapid economic decline, but stagnated politically and disintegrated. Unlike Gorbachev, Honecker refused to implement changes and even in the face of growing protest he pleaded for communism to remain unchanged. Ironically, it was the development in the Soviet Union with Gorbachev as its icon which inspired protest in East Germany. For the first time in post-war Europe, a Soviet leader became a political star celebrated by the masses who had until then seen the Soviet Union as oppressor. For the first time, too, people queued to buy Sputnik and found it an inspiring read. As the East German leadership feared loss of control, films, books, and newspapers from the Soviet Union were for the first time in East German history banned in order to contain the call for freedom. Sputnik magazine was banned on 18 November 1988; one year later, on 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall had been brought down by popular protest and Sputnik was sold again.

Amy Peaurt, BA German and Spanish