Berlin Wall & and German Unification

Glossary / General Vocabulary

© D Nutting

This list is alphabetical. The letters (m), (f) and (nt) indicate that the noun is masculine, feminine or neuter. You can search this page for a specific adjective or phrase by using the combination of Ctrl and F on your keyboard.
If you want to enter a German word that contains an Umlaut, you can copy and paste from one of these here:
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rthnd_gr.gif (168 bytes) Ostwortkatalog is a German website that lists words, titles and expressions that were unique to the former East Germany, and gives West German equivalents of them.

Anspruch (m)
- claim. For example, some western Germans made a claim for property they had left behind in eastern Germany when they had left the DDR years earlier (see Eigentum).
Arbeitslosigkeit (f)
- unemployment. Much unemployment occurred in eastern Germany after unification because most DDR businesses were not competitive enough for the western market economy. They had many more workers than were needed to produce goods efficiently.
Begrüßungsgeld (nt)
- welcome money (DM100). It was paid by the West German government to East Germans coming to visit the West in the initial period after the fall of the Wall. Using their passport, East Germans could collect it at a bank.
An adjective sometimes used by eastern Germans about the western Germans; the eastern Germans sometimes felt like western Germans were acting like "know-alls" (Besserwisser), treating them as the less-experienced partner in the ways of the western world.
BRD (f)
Bundesrepublik Deutschland - Federal Republic of Germany. Founded in May 1949 in the British, French and American occupation zones. It refers to West Germany up until unification in 1990, after which it refers to the whole of unified Germany.
DDR (f)
Deutsche Demokratische Republik - East Germany. Founded on 7/10/1949 in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany. On 3/10/1990 it became the 5 new states of unified Germany.
Eigentum (nt)
- property. After re-unification property issues were controversial in eastern Germany; some western Germans who had escaped from or left the DDR a long time ago hoped to claim the house in eastern Germany which they, according to eastern Germans, had abandoned.
Einigungsvertrag (m)
- the unification treaty signed by West Germany and East Germany on 31/8/1990. East Germany became 5 new states within the unified Germany (BRD) [see entry] and Berlin became the new capital of Germany.
Einkommen (nt)
- income. There was a big difference in the average personal income between eastern and western Germany when unification occurred in 1990.
- to dismiss (an employee) (see Arbeitslosigkeit)
FDJ (f)
Frei Deutsche Jugend - Free German Youth. Government-run youth movement in the DDR. It was supposed to create a new generation of Germans with communist attitudes, and to encourage group activity rather than individualism.
Gauck-Behörde (f)
Bundesbeauftragter für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen DDR - post-unification authority with responsibility for the vastly extensive files of the Stasi. Named after Joachim Gauck, its head, who had been a church opponent of the DDR regime. All German citizens have the right to find out if the Stasi had a file on them and request access to it if so.
Grenzsoldat (m)
- border guard
Grenzübergang (m)
- border crossing checkpoint
Grundgesetz (nt)
- the Basic Law, or written constitution of Germany. It takes precedence over all other laws. Some parts of it needed to be altered when the new states (former DDR) joined with West Germany at unification.
Kombinat (nt)
- East German word for a large amalgamated industrial complex
Konkurrenzkampf (m)
- aggressive competition. After unification, eastern Germans were confronted by the need to compete economically in the capitalist system of the West, when the government of the DDR had run everything for them previously.
Lebensqualität (f)
- quality of life, standard of living
Lohn (m)
- salary, pay
LPG (f)
Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft. - state-owned farm in the former DDR
Neue Länder
Neue Bundesländer - new federal states; the five East German states which joined the Bundesrepublik in 1990
Marktwirtschaft (f)
- market economy, free enterprise. Economic system that existed in West Germany and to which East Germans had to adapt after unification.
Meinungsfreiheit (f)
- freedom of opinion, and the freedom to express it. This was difficult in the DDR (see Stasi).
Miethai (m)
- "rent shark". Slang expression referring to landlords who charge high rates of rent on flats and houses. Eastern Germans, who were used to the government-controlled housing system that had existed in the DDR, found accommodation more costly in unified Germany.
Oder-Neiße-Linie (f)
This line, formed by the western banks of the Oder River and the Neiße River, forms the eastern border between Germany and Poland. The border was officially confirmed by an agreement signed in November 1990.
Ossi (m)
- slang term for an eastern German (Ostdeutscher)
PDS (f)
Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus - after the fall of the Berlin Wall the SED (see SED) renamed itself the PDS on 4th February 1990. It has not had much success in elections because of its links with the SED past. Most of its members live in the area of the former DDR.
(Young Pioneers) - government-run children's movement in the DDR (also called Jungpioniere). It was supposed to create a new generation of Germans with communist attitudes, and to encourage group activity rather than individualism. It was the junior branch of the FDJ (Freie Deutsche Jugend). Membership of the Pioniere was not compulsory, but it was not easy to opt out, and around 90% of children belonged to it. At the age of 14 they joined the FDJ.
Pressefreiheit (f)
- freedom of the press. This did not exist in the DDR, where all of the newspapers, radio and television were government-controlled.
Rentner (m)
- pensioner, retired person reliant on government benefits. Many older East German workers had to go into early retirement after unification because of high unemployment in the eastern part of Germany (see Arbeitslosigkeit). Pensions in the states which used to be the DDR are lower than in western Germany.
Republikflucht (f)
- the official DDR name of the crime of escaping from the country (from the republic). It was a serious offence, considered by DDR law to be "dangerous to society and contrary to the rights and interests of society" (gesellschaftsgefährliche Straftaten gegen Rechte und Interessen der Gesellschaft). As it was a serious offence (with years in prison as a standard punishment), border guards were allowed to use guns to stop people committing the crime. Related crimes:
  • versuchte Republikflucht = attempted escape from the country;
  • beabsichtigte Republikflucht, geplante Republikflucht = planning to escape from the country;
  • Beihilfe zur vollendeten Republikflucht = aiding and abetting a completed escape from the country.
If you are interested in the post-unification legal issues that involved the DDR's shootings at the border, and if you can handle some German legal language, you could read about: Die Mauerschützen-Problematik.
- to re-organise, re-adjust something. Business, the economy and infrastructure (ie buildings, facilities) in eastern Germany had to go through massive re-organisation. Many businesses were not economically viable in the western market economy, and much unemployment occurred.
SED (f)
Sozialistisches Einheitspartei Deutschlands - Socialist Unity Party. Political party formed in East Germany in 1946 under the guidance of the Soviet Union, and which ruled the DDR until the collapse of communism in 1990. Although a fixed number of seats in the Volkskammer [see entry] were allocated to some other parties, the SED held absolute power and ruled the DDR as a communist, one-party country, under the leadership of Walter Ulbricht (until 1971) and Erich Honecker (1971-1989).
Sozialhilfe (f)
- welfare payments, unemployment benefits
Staatsverleumdung (f)
- DDR crime of slandering the State (criticising the government)
Stasi (m)
Staatssicherheitsdienst - the State Secret Police of the DDR. It penetrated all areas of East German life through a network of up to half a million paid informers among the population.
Steuer (f)
- tax
Steuererhöhung (f)
- tax increase. The German government increased taxes in order to pay for re-unification. It was the subject of some debate among the western German population.
Trabi (Trabant) (m)
- East German make of car
Treuhandanstalt (f)
- government body responsible for privatising former state-owned businesses in East Germany after unification. Some businesses were wound up, and some were returned to the original owners from whom the East German government had taken them. The Treuhandanstalt also returned state assets such as Kindergärten and sports facilities to local councils. Its activities were completed at the end of 1994.
Umschulung (f)
- job re-training. With high unemployment in eastern Germany after re-unification, many workers had to undergo re-training for other occupations.
Unternehmer (m)
- entrepreneur, employer, industrialist. Many West German entrepreneurs saw great opportunities for themselves and their companies in eastern Germany after re-unification. Some found that developments went slower than they had hoped.
VEB (m)
Volkseigener Betrieb - State-owned company in the DDR. VEBs' futures in the unified Germany were decided by the Treuhandanstalt [see entry] in the early 1990s.
Vereinigung (f)
- unification. Some people think that this term is more exact than Wiedervereinigung (re-unification), as it is not a return to the complete territory which Germany had before it was split up. At the end of the Second World War Germany lost about a quarter of the territory it had had in 1937. This land was in the East of Germany.
Vertrag (m)
- agreement, contract
Volkskammer (f)
- the national parliament of the DDR, located in a building called the Palast der Republik ('Palace of the Republic')
VoPo (f)
Volkspolizei - the police force in the DDR
Währung (f)
- currency
Währungsunion (f)
On the 1st July 1990 a major step towards re-unification of the two Germanys was taken when the West German DM was introduced across East German territory. East German marks in private savings accounts were exchanged for DM at a rate of 1:1 (though the East mark was really worth less), up to a maximum of DM 4000, above which the rate of 2:1 applied.
Warenangebot (nt)
- range of goods. East Germans who visited the West for the first time when the Wall came down were amazed by the range of goods in the West German stores.
Wartburg (m)
- East German make of car (named after the Wartburg, one of the most famous and historic of German castles)
Wende (f)
- change, or 'turning-point'. The term Wende now refers particularly to the fall of communism in the DDR and the opening of the Wall on 9th November 1990. It's a major turning-point in the history of modern Germany.
Wessi (m)
- slang term for a western German (Westdeutscher)
Wirtschaft (f)
- economy