Shrinking Cities In Eastern Germany

The development of cities in the German Democratic Republic unfolded under the terms of a socialist society:

  • state-owned assets
  • centralized urban planning and city government

In this sense the structure of utilization did not arise from interests of private owners or economic players, but from comprehensive societal objectives and requirements.

Key elements of these objective and requirements were “Housing solutions as a societal problem” thereby following the ideal of social reforming, stating, that the supply of wide parts of the population with housing should contradict social segregation.

Concerning the structure of the cities, other ideals were being pursued such as the compact city.

The compact city

The principles behind the compact city were first cited in 1973 by George Dantzig and Thomas L. Saaty. Derived from this concept the GDR tried to circumvent splinter development and thereby suburbanisation through planned housing development.

City expansion was only to be realised in forms of industrial city expansion.

The Economy of the GDR

The GDR had a rich faculty of military and paramilitary organizations:

  • National People’s Army
  • Border guards
  • Sowjetarmee
  • Staatssicherheit

Many jobs were dependent of the military sector or at least closely related.

In all, there were four enormous economical branches the labor market was bound to.

  • Military
  • Industry
  • Agriculture
  • Administration

The precarious situation of monoculture as an economic specialization was enforced by the GDR administration.

The End of the Division

At the end of the division four processes played a mayor role in the diminution of the job market and thereby in the migration from eastern Germany to western Germany.

  • Deindustrialization
  • Decollectivization
  • Demilitarization
  • Deadministration

These processes resulted, as before mentioned, in structural interruptions in the new Länder. Although the process of deindustrialazation also showed some effect on the old Länder, there is a qualitative and a quantitative difference between western Germany and eastern Germany.

  • Qualitative, since eastern Germany has suffered a structural interruption rather than a structural change.
  • Quantitative, because these factors have been becoming a problem for all cities in eastern Germany, excluding Berlin.


The collapse of the eastern Germany industry – the deindustrialization – had had significant consequence on the economic basis of eastern German cities.

70% of all jobs in the industry were lost after the end of the division.

Dwindling employment through:

  • Eruptive market opening
  • Foreign exchange rates that were much higher than the purchasing power parity
  • Approximation of wages and salaries to a western German standard


Agriculture was, for many rural cities, the most important economic basis. The agricultural sector showed, for September 30th, 1985 over 850.000 employments.

This doubles the numbers of western Germany, although western Germany was bigger in area and population.

As for all other sectors, the approximation to western standards was fairly difficult to achieve. Hence the employment plummeted to a low of 20% in the agricultural sector.

This was in fact, the biggest loss of employment of all economic sector of the GDR.


The “bewaffneten Organe”(armed entities) of the GDR, the National People’s Army, the Grenztruppen, the Staatssicherheit, as well as other paramilitary organization had an important impact on the economic basis of many regions and cities.

They provided jobs for military and civilians and in addition for the connected service sector.

The consequence of the closing and centralization of Bundeswehr facilities during the “strategischen Neuausrichtung der Streitkräfte” continued the decrease of employment after the end of the division.


The Deadministration symbolizes the downsizing of administrative structures and institutions of the GDR.

Along with cut backs in employment, the deadministration also lead to a loss of status for man “Bezirks- and Kreisstädte”.


The consequence of the structural interruptions of eastern Germany were:

  • structural change in economy
  • demographic change
  • increasing apartment vacancies
  • under-utilization of techniocal and social infrastructure and herewith a rise in cost

The central problem was not formed around the transformation of the economy it was, that the economy eroded altogether.

As a result, unemployment rose and the economy stagnated, up until today. Since 1991 the unemployment rate rose steadily in eastern Germany. From 1997 to today it lay by 18% to 19%:

In consequence the economically active population is at a low of 12,1%. The socioeconomic profile of eastern German cities is characterized by high social benefits and low tax income. The old Länder are largely dependent on transfer payment from the new Länder.

Another dramatic problem is the decline in population in combination with aging.

This is the consequence of the migration of young and qualified parts of the population.

Technological Progress Means Permanent Increasing Unemployment

College graduates working as waitresses, jugglers, baristas, and improvising craftsmen are not signs of an economic downturn the way we tend to think of it. It is just an inevitable symptom of mechanization and rising efficiencies due to technological improvements. Mechanization is not just the biggest cause of unemployment domestically (compared to usual scapegoats like outsourcing) but internationally as well if you look at all of human population as a whole.

Research and development of more efficient machinery to replace human workers has not stopped with Henry Ford’s death. The subsequent results do not just affect blue collar workers of course. The internet and constant breakneck improvements in communication technology systems are constantly eroding white collar sector and driving down consumer prices.

Although economic/political system of United States is very inefficient at providing higher education infrastructure at an increasingly affordable price ( one of the more visible signs of supply not fulfilling demand as intended), mechanization makes itself felt nevertheless. The quarter of Americans who somehow acquire the resources to get a Bachelor’s degree are increasingly finding themselves doing “service sector” jobs that don’t need even a high school diploma. There is the fact of cut throat competition that human replacement brings (with the corresponding rise in power of the capitalist class that buys the labor).

This is tired old news but the problem of mechanization would not be solved even if the state built thousands of grad schools to make sure that the new generation of workers all have PhDs. Germany and France provide most of their people with access to higher education through advanced state capitalist economic schemes yet each country had relatively higher unemployment compared to United States. The only reason why United States did not have Eurozone levels of unemployment in the last 20 years is because the elites restricted supply of new university construction. If American public was supplied with education that it craves then we’d see the same riots, car burnings, student movements, and street protests as in Germany and France.

European oligarchs have long decided that keeping their poor citizens uneducated is too blunt in terms of spitting in the face of the general public. Considering that even the relatively technologically backward Russians were able to provide education for most of their society within 2 generations, German and French authorities could not deny their people the same without facing revolt. Considering it is also a spit in the face to ask a chemist or a media major graduate to serve food and booze, the elites in Berlin and France also provided welfare provisions and emulated United States with plugging menial labor gaps with immigrants. These measures have worked for a few decades and now are also breaking down as technology makes most people and their labor unnecessary. Obviously most people in the world (or France for that matter) can’t be neuroscientists, investment bankers, software database experts, or consultants even if they were certified for that. American elites are facing an even greater crisis since the economic system of United States was only sustained by class/race inequalities and decades of ideological state propaganda.

[A sidenote: provision of graduate level schooling, health care, and affordable housing to everybody in a country is but a logistical engineering problem that can be solved very cheaply (in terms of energy/labor expenditure) with today’s efficient tools. It is not even a problem of the state needing to own all means of production and distribution. 2009 technology allows the state to control just a bit of the vertically integrated industrial chains in order to rapidly build up the however many university buildings needed (besides the sheer cheapness to create a national standardized internet curriculum and the supporting broadband architecture).]

At the beginning of 20th century, many workers decided that although they could work 15 hours a day, they didn’t want to. They wanted to work just 8 hours a day by virtue of being alive in a resource rich sovereign state. The economic system of the time of course easily fired those who wanted some time during the day to themselves. The result was that thousands of workers engaged in years and years of strikes, skull crushing violence in the streets, and appeals to reason (“this is horrible human condition, I don’t like this, change it since technology allows more time during the day”). The oligarchic reforms, such as creation of 8 hour workweek and some safety nets, are well known. The efforts to prevent social instability and violence are repackaged as saving capitalism (and demonstrating capitalism’s adaptive qualities) in today’s history books. They also show that society did not collapse when the shift to an 8 hour workday occurred. Technology made it more than possible. When less than 1% of the population are needed to grow food and ( less than 30% of population needed to make knives, cars, computers, plates, jeans, and umbrellas) humanity can finally engage in mass reduction of daily energy expenditure.

Although one of the world’s dominant economic experiments (free market capitalism as nicknamed by its ideologues) stagnated a lot of technological progress through inefficient distribution of education and key infrastructure, technology kept advancing exponentially nevertheless at least on micro consumer level. Mass unemployment is coming regardless of shifts to and from center-left or center-right socioeconomic structures. Even if the state started to aggressively employ millions of people, it would just delay the inevitable effects from mechanization. Although many of the rich and economic experts expect everybody to be content with doing service jobs for one another ( with the Marxist mantra of “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” repackaged as “I’m a biology major but I can cook let me bake you a pie. I’ve studied computer repair but can cut hair let me be your barber”) the authorities know this is not sustainable in a profit driven system. The current slide into an international economic depression will reshape the world even more so than the depression of 1930s. Oligarchs will try once again to preserve capitalist structures by reducing unemployment through provision of new welfare safety nets, reducing competition between workers through idling them in universities or sending them to war, and shifting political support towards more state capitalism.

As more engineers, scientists, researchers, and mathematicians publicly realize just how much more efficient 21st century direct state provision of goods and services is, it’ll be increasingly difficult for governments of the world to justify their efforts at placating the rising tide of unemployed and underemployed. State capitalism can only go so far in the face of material reality. Rising unemployment among large swaths of the population, social stagnation, falling profits is the only outcome of 19th century Laissez Faire economics grafted on top of 21st century scientific possibility. The rich will have to decide whether to push the world’s rising unemployed further into suffering and possible violent revolt or to provide a livable stipend and thus try to preserve personal power and some profit.

Living and Working in Germany

Germany’s a great place to live and work, whether for a short period or for the longer term. A lot of people are interested in visiting or moving to Germany.

Factors such as a strong economy, good salaries, high standard of living and social benefits, a modern infrastructure and affordable, high quality housing, all play a role.

Germany has the biggest economy in the EU and that means a large number of employment opportunities.

However, the German way of doing business is more cautious than the UK or US. Things happen here more slowly. Employees change jobs less frequently than people do in the UK. Partly this is due to German employment legislation, which discourages “hire and fire” styles of recruitment as found in English speaking countries.

On the other hand, all this means that when you do find a job, it’s much more likely to be a secure one.

Most job opportunities are in the big cities and surrounding regions in Western Germany. The capital Berlin has relatively high unemployment rates and job openings are also fewer in the eastern cities.

Salaries tend to be similar to London’s, but in skilled professions can be higher. However, German tax rates are also higher than the UK’s. Compulsory health insurance is an additional cost you will have to factor in. State pension insurance deductions are also high.

But you can still enjoy a higher net disposable income than in the UK.

Living costs too tend to be lower: eating out is often cheaper than in Britain, transport is cheaper, and not least, rents are also lower. This latter point is one of the big pluses of Germany – the large supply of mostly modern, good quality housing at reasonable rents.

Another plus about living and working in Germany is the health care system. Health provision is of a higher standard than in the UK. However, this does not come cheap. Health insurance in Germany is expensive.

You might be surprised to discover that the German work culture is less inclined towards working long hours of overtime than in the UK. Holiday allowances are also more generous, with around 6 weeks vacation as standard.

On the other hand, Germans tend to start work very early. Even in offices people can be at their desks as early as 6 or 7am. But they often prefer to leave earlier in the afternoons.

Language is not so much of a problem. Most younger people in Germany speak reasonable or passable English. However, you’ll need to learn at least some German. You will find more employment opportunities open to you if you can demonstrate some ability in German. Speaking the language will also help you get the best out of the country.

Or course, it’s not all perfect in Germany. High levels of bureaucracy and inflexibility, career rigidity, high social insurance and taxes, a more abrupt manner and relatively poor levels of customer services are a few examples of the downsides to living in Germany.

But overall, the advantages far outweigh any disadvantages and English-speaking people tend to feel at home here. On the whole, Germany is a very good location to move to, whether you’re looking to emigrate longer term or just to spend time living and working for a while in another country of the EU.

I lived in Germany for many years and I have to say I’m glad I made the decision to move there. It’s been well worth it and I’d recommend Germany as a destination to anyone else thinking of living and working abroad. For more information and advice about living and working in Germany, visit http://AllAboutGermany.NET