East Germany, officially known as German Democratic Republic (abbreviated as GDR or DDR) was an European country which was officially irreligious. It existed between 1949 until 1990, when it reunified with West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

General censorship[]

Soviet Military Administration in Germany organised Censorship in East Germany in 1945. Its president was Sergei Ivanovich Tiulpanov. The list of banned books (Liste der auszusondernden Literatur) was published in 1946, 1947 and 1948.

Like many Soviet-allied countries prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the East German government applied censorship during its existence from 1949 to 1990, which was practised through a hierarchical but unofficial censorship apparatus, ultimately controlled by the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED, Sozialistiche Einheitspartei Deutschlands). Through censorship, the socialist point of view on society was ensured in all forms of literature, arts, culture and public communication. Due to the lack of an official censorship apparatus, censorship was applied locally in a highly structured and institutionalized manner under the control of the SED.

The original 1949 version of the East German constitution did not provide for censorship of the press, but did guarantee in article 9, section 2 that "censorship of the media is not to occur". This provision was removed in the 1968 revision of the document, and expanded to become article 27, reflecting the modernization of technology:

    • "Every citizen has the right to freely and publicly advance his or her opinion in accordance to the principles of the constitution."
    • "The freedom of press, broadcasting and television is warranted."

Despite this, both official and unofficial censorship occurred throughout the history of the GDR, although to a lessened extent during its later years. Because East Germany was effectively a one-party state under the command and guidance of the SED, the freedom of the press and other printing industries was at the will of the ruling party, the regime, and the ideological desires of the people in command. Although apparently contradicting the above provisions, the fact that expression had to be "in accordance with the principles of the constitution" allowed the government to call on issues such as national security, public decency, and other issues covered in national law in order to enforce censorship.

The SED, under the official rubric of Kulturpolitik (cultural policy), established a framework of systematic control in order to exercise control over all literary and artistic production in East Germany. All publishers, as well as all public venues and exhibitions of art and culture, were subject to censorship that ensured the representation of the socialist point of view.

Content which was considered harmful to the regime, or to communist ideologies in general, was strictly forbidden. The definition of what could be harmful included a number of different categories.

Most directly, criticism of communism was not tolerated. This included any criticisms of communism in general, as well as discussion of the contemporary regimes of East Germany and the Soviet Union, and usually of other Soviet-allied states. It also included discussion of the Stasi's activities and methods. Similarly, ideas which were sympathetic of capitalism or fascism, which were seen as the two enemies of communism, were not allowed. Any idea which encouraged resistance to the government, such as conscientious objection, was not to be discussed.

Negative portrayals of the GDR were censored as well. This included criticisms and complaints about the standard of living and education in the country as well as calling attention to pollution and other problems of the industrial system. Republikflucht, or fleeing the GDR for West Germany or other countries, was not to be portrayed at all, nor was discussion of the Berlin Wall.

Lastly, the government enforced strict standards of decency. "Crude" topics, such as homosexuality and pornography, were to be avoided. Similarly, portrayals of any East German as "uncivilized", through extreme violence or delinquency, or the suggestion that East Germans might suffer from problems such as alcoholism or suicidal depression were also to be excluded.

In addition to censoring content, the government also reserved the right to disallow publication or exhibition on the basis of form. Anything not considered a "proper" form was barred. Disallowed forms and techniques included free verse poetry; internal monologue and stream of consciousness; nonsense or avant-garde; and abstract art.

Book censorship[]


The procedural system of literary production allowed the state to exercise control over and coordinate the production of literature in the GDR. Through this system, the state incorporated literature production in its planned based economy. This allowed the state to influence its citizens and interpretations of literature in the GDR. The literature censorship system was composed of a large and complex network of interlocking institutions. The control mechanism for Literature in the GDR was two-fold: Control was applied through the SED itself and through the responsible ministries, sectors and divisions. The censoring process followed specific steps which enabled the government to plan and control the literature which would be published in the GDR. Authors worked together with editors from the publishing houses who were responsible for removing any problematic content from the manuscripts. In order to publish a manuscript, it had to be evaluated by a series of official and unofficial reviewers whose role it was to check the manuscripts for political and cultural appropriateness. After the writer and the editor were done with the manuscript, it was reviewed by two outside readers and an in-house committee for ideological implications. The last instance of power laid within the Ministry of Culture, where the print approval was given. The branch responsible for giving the approval for print was called head office for publishing companies and bookselling trade (Hauptverwaltung Verlage und Buchhandel, HV Verlage) which were directly tied to the SED. Especially difficult texts sometimes were given to a special SED central committee for additional reviewing. With the editor being the first instance of censorship, the outside readers and the committee were the second and the HV the third instance of governmental control over literary publications. Work was allowed to be published if it succeeded the Druckgenehmigungsverfahren and got issued an authorization from the Ministry of Culture, called a Druckgenehmigung. In case the ministry ordered changes to be made before publication, authors had the choice to either agree to them or not have their work published at all.

Instances of book censorship[]

  • The Jungle (1906) - this novel by Upton Sinclair was banned in 1956 by the East German government for being uncompatible with Communism.

Film censorship[]

Despite the three consecutive constitutions of the German Democratic Republic proclaiming freedom from censorship, in practice certain films were regulated. The chief reason for censorship in East Germany in cinema was criticism of government policies which the government perceived as a threat to the future of the nation. Censorship of film and other media was strictly de facto; the constitution of the GDR guaranteed freedom of the media and film. However, several forms of soft censorship were used to prevent the public from viewing certain films.

While censorship was, on the surface, officially banned by the GDR constitution, in practice, it was used extensively, particularly when it came to the censorship of American and Western films. During the immediate post WWII period, while the GDR was still working to establish legitimacy, direct censorship was not a viable option. The GDR worked hard to separate its own ideal from American and Western Ideals, which they viewed as a threat to the Communist ideals During the early years of the Republic, between the 1950s and 1970s the East German government employed what they called Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft, (FSK) which roughly translates to the Voluntary Self-Regulatory Body of the Film Industry. Though the name would suggest the organization was made up of volunteers, the actual members of the organisation were appointed by the GDR government. Many of these members worked in the film industry prior to the split of East and West Germany. These members were tasked with screening each film before it was released to the public. This organization censored numerous American and Western films claiming them to be unfit for public viewing. Although approval of the FSK was not supposed to be explicitly required, many theaters in the GDR refused to show films that were not on the FSK approved list. The inner workings of the FSK were kept mostly secret from German citizens. The GDR's government did not want the average citizen to know they were being censored, in an effort to distance itself from its recent fascist past.

Instances of film censorship[]

  • Das Kaninchen bin ich (The Rabbit Is Me) - this dramatic film was banned in 1965 by the East-German Communist government for criticising daily life in the country. While it did not directly referred to politics, the government still perceived it as dangerous criticism of the system. Due to the film's infamy all banned films in the DDR were referred to as "rabbit films". The film remained banned until Germany was unified again in 1990.
  • Denk bloss nicht, ich heule (Just Don't Think I'll Cry) - this drama film was banned in 1965 by the East-German Communist government for criticising the regime. It was said "it problematized the oppression of critical young people in East German schools".
  • Spur der Steine (Trace of Stones) - this film based on the novel of the same name by Erik Neutsch was banned in 1966 due to conflicts between the ruling Socialist Unity Party and the director Frank Beyer, due to the portrayal of the party in the film.
  • Die Russen kommen (The Russians Are Coming) - this film was banned in 1971 by the government due to its theme where a young Nazi lives fearful of the approaching Russian army. Even though the Russians are eventually portrayed in a sympathetic light, the plot was too controversial, especially three years after the Prague Spring.
  • Der Frühling braucht Zeit (Spring Takes its Times) - this drama film was banned in East Germany.
  • Hände hoch oder ich schieße (Hands Up or I'll Shoot) - this 1965 crime comedy film was refused screening by the East German censors in 1966, ceasing its post-production. Said film was completed only in 2009, making it the last East German film to be released.

Television censorship[]

Censorship of mass media in East Germany began with the restructuring and centralization of the media networks in East Germany. Production was set up centrally in Berlin, while print media was outsourced to local SED-offices. The centralized, SED-led news information service ADN (Allgemeine Deutsche Nachrichtendienst) had the monopoly on news distribution and so controlled which information could appear in GDR media. Through this institutional structure, censorship was applied indirectly, which made official censorship unnecessary. Any distribution of non-GDR news was forbidden. The central organ of the SED (and therefore the main newspaper in the GDR) was called 'Neues Deutschland'. This newspaper owned by the SED reported daily on developments within the party and the state in general. Like the print media, radio and television were also state-controlled. There were five[dubious – discuss] state-controlled TV-channels, which distributed SED-approved information and culturally appropriate entertainment.

Other censorship[]

External links[]