Demonstration by the Polish trade union Solidarnosc in the pilgrimage city of Tschenstochau (Poland). The illegal trade union Solidarnosc grew into a mass movement that could no longer be stopped.
Source: AP Photo


The SED regarded artists as servants to the political system. A number of individuals tried to escape this expectation, wanting to create their work free from patronage by the state. They circumvented bans on performing and state censorship by working in private and church spaces.

The band Tacheles in concert in the Zion Church in East Berlin, 1987. A few months before the concert, a state functionary had banned the founding musician André Greiner-Pol (top l.) from performing for life, and prohibited his band Freygang, not for the first time.
Source: Harald Hauswald/OSTKREUZ
East Berlin, back yard in Schönhauser Allee: a fashion show by the nonconformist designers from ccd and Allerleirauh. An alternative cultural scene grew up in East Germany in the 1980s. The events in back yards, basements and private premises took place without the permission of the state cultural authorities.
Source: Sybille Bergemann/OSTKREUZ
Exhibition poster from the Eigen + Art Gallery, Leipzig, 1989. From 1985 on, the Leipziger Gerd Harry Lybke managed to run an unofficial gallery using all kinds of tricks and loopholes.
Source: Galerie EIGEN + ART/Leipzig
The musicians Christian Kunert (l.) and Gerulf Pannach (2nd from l.) and the writer Jürgen Fuchs (r.) were welcomed to West Berlin by Wolf Biermann (2nd from r.) on 27 August 1977 after their release from Stasi imprisonment. The SED’s harassment, performance bans, threats of imprisonment and expatriation drove prominent critical artists out of the country.
Source: Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft/Johanna Guschlbauer
The singer-songwriter Bettina Wegner in concert in 1980. Wegner rejected state intervention into her lyrics, and was then banned from performing in East Germany. Her only chance to perform was in churches. Wegner was pressured to leave the country and moved to West Berlin in 1983.
Source: ullstein bild/Heinrichs
In 1981, Ingrid and Dietrich Bahß opened a private gallery in their flat in Magdeburg. It became a venue for open discussions. Opening of the photo exhibition by Gundula Schulze with the Puppentheater Zinnober.
Poster by the artist Cornelia Schleime for her exhibition in 1982.
Source: Cornelia Schleime, 1982
The Protestant Student Community in East Berlin, 1982. Werner Theuer (l.) and Jutta Werdowski (r.), both members of the opposition scene in East Berlin, acted out the dissident play Die Schlinge (“The Noose”) in churches or private premises.
Source: Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft
The photographer Harald Hauswald in East Berlin, 22 April 1987. Hauswald chronicled the opposition movement in the GDR through his work. His pictures show the reality behind the pompous facade of East German state propaganda.
Source: Privatarchiv Carlo Jordan
An alternative arts scene grew up in the East Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg during the 1980s. Many of its leading figures saw themselves as apolitical artists, such as the writers Jan Faktor, Bert Papenfuß and Stefan Döring (l.-r.). Faktor did later become involved in the New Forum movement in the autumn of 1989, however.
Source: Privatarchiv Jan Faktor
Alexanderplatz underground station in East Berlin, 1989. Puppeteers and actors founded the Theater Zinnober in 1979. It was the first free theatre in the GDR, and for many years the only one. It developed artistic ideas outside of the official theatre sector.
Source: Jochen Wermann
Political art action: this exhibition poster by Henning Wagenbreth was posted to walls in Prenzlauer Berg in the summer of 1989: “Cyclists have nothing to lose but their chains”. Fifty screen-prints were produced in the Streupresse printing press in Berlin-Weißensee.
Source: Henning Wagenbreth
Samizdat magazine Glasnot, 1989. The title is a play on the Russian word glasnost (openness) and the German Not (need). Small print runs of illegal magazines produced via samizdat (self-publishing) allowed artistic content to be distributed along unofficial routes. This was an ideal way to evade state bans and censorship.
Source: Privatarchiv Christian Sachse
The writers Lutz Rathenow (at table, r.) and Uwe Kolbe (at table, 2nd from l.) reading in the Prenzlauer Berg district of East Berlin, 1982. Writers who criticised the system were not allowed to publish in the GDR. They managed to reach audiences through typed manuscripts and readings in private premises.
Source: Harald Hauswald/OSTKREUZ

The arts in the GDR were closely tied to the political ideology of the single ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). All areas of the arts were controlled and monitored by the state. There was no free market for art, music or literature.

An alternative cultural scene began developing in the GDR in the late 1970s. Most of the leading figures did not regard themselves as part of the political opposition. Yet their desire for autonomous forms of expression provoked mistrust on the part of the GDR leadership. The secret police (Stasi) infiltrated the arts scene to keep it in check.

Nevertheless, critical artists found a growing audience in churches, back yards and private premises. A number of them took an open stand against the dictatorship, joining opposition groups. They were banned, arrested or expelled from the country. More and more artists tried to leave the GDR so that they could work in freedom.

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