Countdown to the Long Night of the Sciences: The fast break from the GDR marriages

The GDR had one of the highest divorce rates worldwide. Why was that? What consequences did that have? And what did the snooping of the state have to do with it? Scientist Anja Schrter from the Potsdam Center for Contemporary Historical Research explains.


The socialist legal system wanted to know exactly: “When was the last time you had marital traffic?” That was one of the questions that divorcing married couples in the GDR had to answer.

On the one hand, the dissolution of a marriage in GDR times was easy: The conditions were formulated intelligible and the hurdles low, the process cost little and was completed in a few weeks. Among other things, therefore, the GDR had one of the highest divorce rates worldwide. On the other hand, the citizens liked the state’s attempts to look through the keyhole and control the marital union less and less towards the end of the GDR era.

In the course of the German unity the “accession area” took over the West German divorce right – completely up to some special regulations, which came into force later. Nevertheless, the East German attitude to divorce still affects the nationwide divorce practice, as the scientist Anja Schrter from the Potsdam Center for Contemporary History has stated: “Here we have an example that the West could also learn from the East, and not just the other way around as it was usually highlighted. “

Betrayal and affairs

Schrter had decided to investigate changes in the legal system from the late GDR to the period of great upheaval to German unity. The divorce law proved to be a particularly exciting field of research, as the legal foundations and social conditions in East and West fundamentally differed. The historian studied statistics, filed files and conducted interviews with divorcees, judges, lawyers and lay judges in East and West Germany. The result, published in book form under the title “East German marriages in court – divorce practice in transition 1980-2000”, presents them on Saturday in the Long Night.

It was not only the intrusive questions that increasingly provoked discontent in the GDR. Divorced persons also had less and less to understand why they were summoned as witnesses and held accountable as part of the “socialist collective”, that they had not intervened when the married man fremdging with the colleague or the woman with an affair had the neighbor. As Anja Schrter learned in the interviews, this state snooping in private matters over time became too much for the judges themselves.

Divorces were also so common because GDR citizens usually made the covenant for life without a long phase of testing, at a younger age than in the West, and often for very practical reasons: Married people were easier to get loans and housing. Due to the prevailing lack of housing, however, it was hardly possible after divorce, to move from the shared apartment just in their own accommodation. So it happened sometimes that divorced with their respective new partners and all children shared the once used as a twin apartment. “Because ick had to set toilet times, although ick had me, you had to do so wat,” says a judge.

Hardly a fight for maintenance

Disputes over alimony payments, as prevalent in the old Federal Republic, there was hardly any in the GDR. Mostly both spouses worked and the childcare was taken care of anyway. Therefore, it was taken for granted that divorced and possibly single parents themselves could provide for their maintenance. This understanding of independence and independence, especially of East compared to Western women, has been preserved throughout the upheavals after the fall of the Wall – and has affected the whole German divorce practice.
Judges from East and West Germany, who interviewed Anja Schrter, pointed out that the Eastern mentality on this issue was considerably ahead of the reform of the divorce law that only took place in 2008.

It was always clear to Eastern women at the beginning of the 90s that they would have to work, according to an East German judge. She had little understanding for West German housewives who wanted to obtain maintenance indefinitely: “That hardly existed with me.” She had granted a close season, after which was applied: “Even if they did nothing, then at least they can go clean.”

East German marriages in court:Divorce practice in transition from 1980 to 2000. Lecture, House of the Leibniz Association, Chausseestrae 111, 10115 Berlin, 18:45.

The presentationis one of more than 2000 events of theLong Night of Sciences, on theSaturday, 15 June 2019, from 17 to 24 o’clock in Berlin and on the Potsdamer Telegrafenberg take place. 65 scientific institutions open their doors from 17 to 24 o’clock (in book from 16 to 23 o’clock).

tickets cost14 euros, reduced 9 euros, for families 27 euros.