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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany



East Germany is a state artificially and arbitrarily carved from the remnants of the Third Reich. At the end of World War II, Germany was partitioned into four occupation zones. The partitioning was to be a temporary measure, and the country was to be reunited after a short transitional period of one to three years. Political considerations and power rivalries, however, ultimately precluded speedy reunification. The British, French, and American zones were merged in 1949 to become the Federal Republic of Germany. The Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic, "an independent socialist state," later that same year.

The country covers an area of 108,568 square kilometers (including East Berlin), somewhat less than one-third the area of West Germany. The Baltic Sea coastline, East Germany's northern boundary, measures about 320 kilometers. The coastline has many natural harbors and is favorable for navigation, but before the war it had no important ports. Czechoslovakia and East Germany share a border of about 427 kilometers to the southeast. The border conforms to pre-1938 boundaries. The Erzgebirge (mountain range) form a natural frontier, although the mountains are not an impassable barrier. The Potsdam Protocol of 1945 defined eastward limits. Portions of Germany's prewar territories, most notably East Prussia, were placed under the administration of the Soviet Union and Poland pending conclusion of a final German peace treaty. The Allied powers agreed in principle that Poland should be given German territory to make up for land it had lost to the Soviet Union in 1939. At Potsdam the boundaries dividing Germany and Poland were drawn along the Oder and Neisse rivers located about 160 kilometers to the west of the prewar boundary. Poland was also given a small section of land in the north, lying to the west of the Oder and containing the port of Stettin (Polish: Szczecin) and the Swine Channel, which opens to the sea. East Germany confirmed the inviolability of the Oder-Neisse line in the early 1950s. Until 1970 West Germany refused to recognize the border and referred to the former German territories controlled by Poland and the Soviet Union as lands under foreign administration. However, the Moscow and Warsaw treaties, signed by West Germany in 1970, formally confirmed the Oder-Neisse line as Germany's easternmost boundary. The border extends for about 453 kilometers.

The western boundary of the Soviet zone was outlined in a protocol among the Allied powers in 1944, shortly before the end of the war. The western and southwestern frontier extends 1,381 kilometers from Lübeck Bay on the Baltic Sea southward. Following the old prewar state boundaries, the frontier cuts across the northern plains, tracing the course of the Elbe River for a short distance before traversing southward through the Harz (mountain range) and then twisting eastward through Thüringer Wald (forested mountain range). The border dividing the two Germanies is among the most closely guarded and fortified in the world. The areas along the border have been cleared of trees and houses. Barbed wire fences, mine fields, and control towers mark the entire length; and the restricted zone, including the high security area, stretches over 780 meters in width. What began as a temporary demarcation of administrative zones between the Allied powers has been made into a virtually impenetrable border by East Germany. One year after the conclusion of the 1972 Basic Treaty, the Boundary Commission was established to settle boundary questions between the two states. Bilateral frontier agreements were also concluded in 1973 to provide for care of frontier waterways and to handle environmental problems. In 1978 the two Germanies signed a protocol on the demarcation of about 90 percent of the inter-German border. Still disputed in early 1987 was a ninety-five kilometer section of the Elbe River in the north.

Data as of July 1987