East Germany Table of Contents
In 1985 East Germany had an average population density of 154 persons per square kilometer. Densities ranged from 57 persons in the northern district of Neubrandenburg to 312 in the southern industrial town of Karl-Marx-Stadt (formerly Chemnitz). In the north, where soils are of generally poor quality and few towns of historical significance are found, the population was rather sparsely distributed. In the south, where rich loessial soils provide attractive farmland and major mineral deposits are found, the population was denser and was concentrated in and around urban-industrial centers.
Major transportation routes bypass the northern third of the country. There are few large industrial centers outside of newly developed coastal ports, and the quality of the land is such as to favor forests, pastureland, and mixed extensive-intensive agriculture. By far the most important port city is Rostock, whose 1985 population was 244,444. Rostock was developed into a major center after the war in order to compensate for the loss of strategically located ports. Stralsund and Wismar were also developed into port cities and in 1985 were sizable municipalities of 75,480 and 57,465, respectively.
In the central third of the country, East Berlin overshadows all other cities in terms of its size and its political and economic significance. It had a 1985 population of 1.2 million and an average density of 3,016 persons per square kilometer. Over the years it has acted as a magnet, attracting persons from all over East Germany. It has a higher proportion of the economically active population than any of the other districts but a relatively low proportion of the young. Other important urban centers in the central section of the country include Potsdam, Brandenburg, Frankfurt am Oder, and Magdeburg. Potsdam (139,467) lies to the southwest of Berlin and is a center for light industry. Brandenburg is located west of Berlin and had a 1985 population of 94,862. Frankfurt am Oder lies near the Polish-German border. Although after the war it suffered some loss of inhabitants because of its location, the city's population in 1985 stood at 85,593. With the exception of East Berlin, Magdeburg (population 288,965) is the largest city in the central part of the country. It is located near the inter-German border in a fertile agricultural region and is one of the oldest cities in the country.
The southern third is the most densely populated and the most industrialized section of the country. It also contains the most fertile agricultural land. The loessial soils of the Börderland make the region attractive for farming. Intensive agriculture predominates, and the farm population lives in nucleated village settlements. Most of East Germany's mineral resources are also found in the south, and large cities developed around the deposits. In 1985 the two largest cities were Leipzig (553,660) and Dresden (519,769). Leipzig has lost population since the 1970s but in 1985 was still the second largest city in East Germany. Surrounded by rich agricultural land and easily accessible, it is well known as a publishing and printing center but more particularly as the site of the semiannual Leipzig Fair. Dresden, in the southeast, is a historic city noted for its impressive art collections. In 1985 eight other cities in the south each had populations in excess of 100,000. Cottbus (124,752) specializes in light industries. Dessau (103,569) is the center of an important local food processing industry. Halle (235,169) supports a variety of industrial activities. Farther south lie Karl-Marx-Stadt and Zwickau, having populations of 315,452 and 120,206, respectively. Several large cities are located in the southwest. Erfurt, the largest, had 216,046 residents; also sizable were Gera (131,843) and Jena (107,401).
The urban population, i.e., those living in cities or towns of 2,000 or more, constituted about 77 percent of the total populace in 1985. Only 26 percent of the population lived in cities or towns of 100,000 inhabitants. Instead about 30 percent of the population made their homes in small and medium-sized towns of 5,000 to 50,000. World War II greatly affected the rate and direction of urbanization. Many of the more industrialized towns suffered heavy damage during the war and were only slowly rebuilt. In the immediate postwar period, there was also some internal migration away from towns located along border areas. An exception was the city of Eisenhüttenstadt, near the GermanPolish border. Constructed in 1950 as a model socialist city, it attracted a sizable population for employment in its iron and steel industries.
In keeping with the socialist pattern of urban planning, the state has attempted to develop urban centers throughout the country, to encourage uniform regional development, and to reduce disparities between rural and urban areas. The government has encouraged the development of some industry in the northern and central districts and fostered a diversification of industry in the south in order to revitalize centers with diminished resources and to redirect industrial activity toward priority sectors. In reality, planners have not been successful in controlling and balancing growth between rural and urban areas or among districts.
There have been no official restrictions on the internal movement of the population. However, a shortage of housing and difficulties related to switching jobs has prevented large-scale internal migration. Movement has taken place primarily within district boundaries, and residents have gone from rural areas and small urban centers to medium- and large-sized municipalities. In 1985, for example, about 16 persons per 1,000 inhabitants moved across district boundaries.
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents