Leadership of East Germany

Leadership of East Germany
Residence Schönhausen Palace
Majakowskiring
Waldsiedlung
Formation 7 October 1949
First holder
Final holder
Abolished
  • 6 December 1989 /
  • 18 March 1990
    (Communist rule ended)
  • 3 October 1990
    (German reunification)

The political leadership of East Germany was in the hands of several offices.

Prior the proclamation of an East German state, the Soviets established in 1948 the German Economic Commission (DWK) as a de facto government in their occupation zone. Its chairman was Heinrich Rau.

On 7 October 1949 an East German state, called the German Democratic Republic (GDR), was proclaimed and took the governmental functions over from the DWK. (Largely with the same function owners.)

For most of its existence (until autumn of 1989), the most important position in the GDR was that of the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) (titled as the First Secretary between 1953–1976). The Communist party and its leader held ultimate power and authority over state and government.

The formal head of state originally was the President of the German Democratic Republic. After the death of incumbent Wilhelm Pieck in 1960, the office was replaced by a collective head of state, the State Council. The position of chairman was commonly held by the party leader.

Government was headed by the Council of Ministers and its chairman, sometimes colloquially called Prime Minister.

Other important institutions included the People's Chamber, whose sessions were chaired by a President of the People's Chamber, and, since 1960, the National Defense Council, which held supreme command of the GDR's armed forces and had unlimited authority over the State in time of war. The Council was composed exclusively of members of the SED's Central Committee and Politburo, with the party leader serving as Chairman of the National Defense Council.

The political landscape was completely changed by the Peaceful Revolution late in 1989, which saw the SED having to relinquish its monopoly on political power and the National Defense Council and the State Council being abolished. The remaining institutions were the People's Chamber, whose President by default became head of state for the remainder of the GDR's existence, and the Council of Ministers, both now based on the country's first and only democratic elections in March 1990. The GDR joined the Federal Republic of Germany on 3 October 1990

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
East Germany

Leaders of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED)

No. Picture Name
(Birth–Death)
Took office Left office Political Party
Joint Chairmen of the Socialist Unity Party
Vorsitzende der Sozialistischen Einheitspartei Deutschlands
Wilhelm Pieck
(1876–1960)
22 April 194625 July 1950SED
Otto Grotewohl
(1894–1964)
General Secretary of the Central Committee
(First Secretary of the Central Committee 1953–1976)
Generalsekretär/Erster Sekretär des Zentralkommitees
1 Walter Ulbricht
(1893–1973)
25 July 19503 May 1971SED
2 Erich Honecker
(1912–1994)
3 May 197118 October 1989SED
3 Egon Krenz
(born 1937)
18 October 19893 December 1989SED
(Honorary) Chairmen of the Central Committee
Vorsitzender des Zentralkommitees
Walter Ulbricht
(1893–1973)
3 May 19711 August 1973SED

On December 1, 1989, the People's Chamber removed the section of the East German Constitution granting the SED a monopoly of power—thus ending Communist rule in East Germany. Before the month was out, the SED transformed from a Leninist cadre party into a democratic socialist party, renaming itself first to Socialist Unity Party — Party of Democratic Socialism and later in the same year, to Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS). Hence, the party's subsequent leaders were no more leaders of East Germany than the leaders of other parties.

Heads of state

No. Picture Name
(Birth–Death)
Took office Left office Political Party
State President
Staatspräsident
Johannes Dieckmann
(1893–1969)
Acting President
7 October 194911 October 1949LDPD
1 Wilhelm Pieck
(1876–1960)
11 October 19497 September 1960SED
Johannes Dieckmann
(1893–1969)
Acting President
7 September 196012 September 1960LDPD
Chairman of the State Council
Vorsitzender des Staatsrats
1 Walter Ulbricht
(1893–1973)
12 September 19601 August 1973SED
Friedrich Ebert, Jr.
(1894–1979)
Acting Chairman
1 August 19733 October 1973SED
2 Willi Stoph
(1914–1999)
3 October 197329 October 1976SED
3 Erich Honecker
(1912–1994)
29 October 197618 October 1989SED
4 Egon Krenz
(born 1937)
18 October 19896 December 1989SED
5 Manfred Gerlach
(1928–2011)
6 December 19895 April 1990LDPD
President of the People's Chamber of the GDR
Präsident der Volkskammer
1 Sabine Bergmann-Pohl
(born 1946)
5 April 19902 October 1990CDU

Heads of government

No. Picture Name
(Birth–Death)
Took office Left office Political Party
Chairman of the Council of Ministers
Vorsitzender des Ministerrats
1 Otto Grotewohl
(1894–1964)
12 October 194921 September 1964SED
2 Willi Stoph
(1914–1999)
21 September 19643 October 1973SED
3 Horst Sindermann
(1915–1990)
3 October 197329 October 1976SED
4 Willi Stoph
(1914–1999)
29 October 197613 November 1989SED
5 Hans Modrow
(born 1928)
13 November 198912 April 1990SED / PDS
6 Lothar de Maizière
(born 1940)
12 April 19902 October 1990CDU

Heads of parliament

No. Picture Name
(Birth–Death)
Took office Left office Political Party
President of the People's Chamber
Präsident der Volkskammer
1 Johannes Dieckmann
(1893–1969)
7 October 194922 February 1969LDPD
2 Gerald Götting
(1923–2015)
12 May 196929 October 1976CDU
3 Horst Sindermann
(1915–1990)
29 October 197613 November 1989SED
4 Günther Maleuda
(1931–2012)
13 November 19895 April 1990DBD
5 Sabine Bergmann-Pohl
(born 1946)
5 April 19902 October 1990CDU

Heads of the military

No. Picture Name
(Birth–Death)
Took office Left office Political Party
Chairman of the National Defense Council
Vorsitzender des Nationalen Verteidigungsrates
1 Walter Ulbricht
(1893–1973)
10 February 19603 May 1971SED
2 Erich Honecker
(1912–1994)
3 May 197118 October 1989SED
3 Egon Krenz
(born 1937)
18 October 19896 December 1989SED

See also

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