People's Chamber

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People's Chamber
Legislature of German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
Coat of arms or logo
Established 1949
Disbanded 1990
Preceded by Nazi Reichstag
Succeeded by Bundestag
Seats 400
Meeting place
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-1990-0419-418, Berlin, Volkskammer während Regierungserklärung von Lothar de Maiziere.jpg
Palast der Republik

The People's Chamber (German: Volkskammer) was the unicameral legislature of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). From its founding in 1949 until the first free elections on 18 March 1990, all members of the Volkskammer were elected via a list controlled by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), called the National Front. Despite the appearance of a multi-party system, all these Bloc parties were completely subservient to the SED. In addition, seats were also allocated to various mass organizations affiliated with the SED, such as the Free German Youth.

Initially, it was the lower house of a bicameral legislature. The upper chamber was the Chamber of States, or Länderkammer, but in 1952 the states of East Germany were dissolved, and the chamber was abolished in 1958.

In theory, the Volkskammer was the highest organ of state power in the GDR. Both GDR constitutions vested it with great lawmaking powers. It also formally appointed the Council of State (after 1960), the Council of Ministers, and the National Defence Council. All other branches of government—including the judiciary—were theoretically responsible to it.

In practice, like most other legislatures in Communist countries, the People's Chamber did little more than rubber-stamp decisions already made by the SED and its Politburo. All parties were expected to respect the principles of democratic centralism and the leading role of the SED. As a result, all but two measures put before it before the Peaceful Revolution passed unanimously. A 1972 vote on liberalising abortion laws saw 14 CDU representatives vote nay and eight abstain, and the 1989 vote to confirm Egon Krenz as head of state saw 26 nays and 26 abstentions.

During People's Chamber elections, voters were presented with a single list from the National Front, with seats allocated based on a set quota rather than actual vote totals.[1] By ensuring that its candidates dominated the list, the SED effectively predetermined the composition of the legislature.

The "democratic centralist" principle extended to the ballot box as well. A voter simply took the ballot paper, which contained only one name, and dropped it into the ballot box. A voter could vote against the candidate by crossing out his or her name, but had to do so in a separate voting booth without any secrecy. The consequences for such an act of defiance were severe—loss of one's job or expulsion from school, and close surveillance by the Stasi.[2]

A typical slate was as follows:

Party/Group Acronym Members
Socialist Unity Party of Germany SED 127
Free German Trade Union Federation FDGB 68
Christian Democratic Union CDU 52
Liberal Democratic Party of Germany LDPD 52
Democratic Farmers' Party of Germany DBD 52
National Democratic Party of Germany NDPD 52
Free German Youth FDJ 40
Democratic Women's League of Germany DFD 35
Cultural Association of the DDR KB 22

In 1976, the Volkskammer moved into a specially-constructed building on Marx-Engels-Platz (now Schloßplatz again), the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic).

Protestor, January 1990
Ballot for the 1990 elections (written text reads "Sample")

After the 1990 elections, the disposition of the parties was as follows:

Party/Group Acronym Members
Alliance for Germany CDU, DA, DSU 192
Social Democratic Party of Germany SPD 88
Party of Democratic Socialism PDS, former SED 66
Association of Free Democrats DFP, FDP, LDP 21
Alliance 90 B90 12
East German Green Party and Independent Women's Association Grüne, UFV 8
National Democratic Party of Germany NDPD 2
Democratic Women's League of Germany DFD 1
United Left VL 1

Presidents of the People's Chamber

To keep up the appearance that the GDR was headed by a broad-based coalition, the presidency of the People's Chamber was held by a non-Communist for most of that body's existence; only one SED member ever held the title. On paper, the president of the People's Chamber was the third-highest post in the GDR and was ex-officio vice president of the country.

Name Entered office Left office Party
Johannes Dieckmann 7 October 1949 22 February 1969 LDPD
Gerald Götting 12 May 1969 29 October 1976 CDU
Horst Sindermann 29 October 1976 13 November 1989 SED
Günther Maleuda 13 November 1989 5 April 1990 DBD
Sabine Bergmann-Pohl 5 April 1990 2 October 1990 CDU

The last president of the People's Chamber, Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, was also interim head of state during the last six months of East Germany's existence due to the State Council having been abolished.

See also


  1. Eugene Register-Guard October 29, 1989. p. 5A.
  2. Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42532-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links