Ghosts of Soviet bloc’s economy- images of deserted resort in GDR

Ghosts of Soviet bloc's economy- images of deserted resort in GDR

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Pension Sachsenruh Hotel in Saxony in former East Germany now stands just as the ghosts of Soviet bloc’s economy & power; captured by 31 year old German photographer Stefan Dietze of Leipzig (2) Televisions lying inside the abandoned hotel (3) Rotting wood and reeling wallpapers of the once luxurious hotel in GDR (4) Kitchen appliances and rotten food still lying in the deserted place (5) GDR border guard Conrad Schumann leaps into the West Berlin over barbed wire on 15th August 1961.  

The Communist Bloc or Eastern Bloc refers to the former communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe formed under the initiatives of Soviet Union. The 8 countries of the Warsaw pact formed the Eastern Bloc. The pact lasted from 14th May 1955 to 25th February 1991. It was a mutual defense treaty during the Cold War that lasted from 1947 to 1991.

There was a sustained state of military & political tension between powers in the U.S. led Western Bloc, which also comprised of 15 other NATO states, and Soviet Union led Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. It began after the WWII alliance against Nazi Germany made the U.S. and Soviet Union two superpowers. The extreme political, economical & ideological conflicts of the two world powers almost ignited a third world war, a nuclear war.

When West Germany was integrated into NATO in 1955, USSR signed the Warsaw pact as part of Soviet military reaction. The 8 member states of the Warsaw Pact were- Soviet Union, German Democratic Republic or East Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Albania & Romania. Other states of the pact besides the USSR were often referred to by many historians as ‘satellite states’ of Soviet Union.

Communists were minorities in Red army occupied countries during the 1944-1945. Only in Czechoslovakia communists had a majority. Soviet forces remained in Eastern & Central European countries after the WWII and installed communist puppet regimes in those states by means of falsified elections. Churchill said that the region was behind an ‘Iron Curtain’ controlled from Moscow.

At the end of WWII, political opposition to communists immediately emerged as the occupying Soviet forces conducted systematic plundering and rapes in the East Germany they controlled. It is estimated that tens of thousands to two million women became rape victims at the end of the war.

In June 1945, Stalin told the German communist leaders in Soviet occupied Germany that he expected U.S. would withdraw from West Germany within a year or two and then nothing could prevent the communist controlled united Germany within the Soviet bloc. In early 1946, Stalin once again said that Germany must be both Soviet & communist. Factories, technicians, equipment, skilled personnel & managers were transferred to Soviet Union forcibly. Falsified election and political oppression of other competing parties ensured a narrow election victory for Socialist Unity Party (SED) in East Germany in 1946.

Industry and property were nationalized under the SED Government. A word against the Government resulted in torture, punishment and even death. Marxism & Leninism propaganda were made compulsory part of School curricula. Professors and Students were fleeing to West Germany. Positions in the judiciary, school & government had to pass through ideological scrutiny.

Soviet occupation forces were enlisted in the GDR police ‘Volkspolizei’. Elaborate police apparatus like Soviet secret police SMERSH kept the public under close surveillance. Censorships restricted newspaper and media. Without any autonomy, German Democratic Republic (GDR) was declared on 7th October 1949. Soviet Foreign affair ministry carried out administrative authorities in GDR. Unlimited Soviet penetration of military, secret police & administrative structures were exercised like an occupied regime.

The Soviet bloc’s economy began poorly. East Germany was devastated by the WWII. So many of its young soldiers were lost, transportation and business were disrupted. Millions of German nationals were expelled from East & Central Europe to Germany after WWII which created refugee problem in GDR. And finally the reparations owed to the Soviet Union hurt the economy of GDR.

Approximately 33% of East Germany’s industrial plants were confiscated and transported to Soviet Union. Reparations were paid in industrial and agricultural products by the early 1950s. Coal mine rich Lower Silesia and natural port Szczecin were given to Poland according to Stalin’s decision.

Economy of East Germany was the largest and the most stable among Soviet bloc’s economy. But the estimated $ 100 billion worth of reparations taken from East Germany severely hindered the ability of East Germany to compete with the economy of West Germany. If the amount was invested in GDR, with the 18% average investment return rate in GDR back then would have made the per-capita income of East Germans 15 times that of the West Germans.

According to CIA’s 1990 fact book, population of East Germany was 16,307,000 while West Germany had the population of 62,168,000. Per capita GNP/GDP in East Germany was $ 9,679 and in the West Germany the figure was $ 15,300. Budget expenditure in the East was $ 123.2 billion and in the West was $ 563 billion.

Government used prices and money as political devices, highly subsidized prices of basic goods and services which resulted in a negative economy. This also increased differences with West Germany’s prosperity. Ironically, Socialist East Germany also had to take currency loans from West Germany.

Poverty of East Germany provoked its citizens fleeing to West Germany since the 1940s. A brain drain was also induced by the lack of political freedom in East Germany and the economic opportunities in the West. This situation further weakened the economy of GDR. Approximately 3.5 million East Germans, 20% of the entire GDR population had left GDR by 1961. On the night of 13th August 1961, as per the Government instructions, soldiers of East Germany started to erect the Berlin Wall to prevent anyone from escaping GDR.

The capital of occupied Germany, Berlin was also divided between the East & West Germany. But the capital was inside East Germany. So the Berlin Wall consisted of guard towers & large concrete walls completely surrounded all 155 km around West Berlin. Extensive chain fences, minefields, patrol boats & other obstacles were also installed along the western border of East Germany.

Between 1961 and 1989, 40,100 East Germans directly escaped over the wall, over 75,000 were prosecuted for escape attempts, 382,481 East Germans left Germany with official permits & 163,815 more escaped through other countries. According to official figures, over 13,000 died trying to escape from East Germany including 136 trying to escape from East Berlin during the period. But the figure is disputed to be much higher and many evidences regarding this were reported to be suppressed by the Soviet led communist regime.

East German Government announced the end of restrictions for GDR citizens to visit West Germany & West Berlin on 9th November 1989. The wall was primarily destroyed in 1990 and German reunification materialized on 3rd October 1990.

Web edition of eminent British tabloid news paper, The Daily Mail reported on an untouched ski resort in German Democratic Republic abandoned over 20 years ago, since 1992. Remnants of Soviet bloc’s economy were captured by 31 year old German photographer Stefan Dietze of Leipzig when he visited the Pension Sachsenruh Hotel in Saxony. It’s located in the mountainous Erzgebirge region of former East Germany.

Stefan decided to visit the deserted place after finding an old postcard on web. Dust is the only guest in the resort now. From the outside, the hotel looked quite glamorous to Stephan and he wanted to find the inside. He discovered that people used to arrive at the resort during the summer and enjoyed hiking holidays and in the winter the skiers used to come.

The luxury looks of the former East German hotel have been replaced by Rotting woods and peeling wallpapers. Pile of boots and skis were lying on the floor of one of the many adjoining buildings. This gave Stefan the impression that a group of skiers had just returned from their trip and hurried into an attached restaurant to warm up with a cup of tea.

Broken TVs and kitchen appliances have lain still for over 20 years. Stephan said, ‘the place was quite well equipped for GDR standards with the state of the art technologies of that time’. He also said that people who saw his photos were astonished by the fact that seemingly intact building were just left to rot and people always seemed to wonder why such places couldn’t be saved.

‘When people look at my pictures they do see the beauty that was once there & how nature is slowly re-conquering’ Stefan added.

More of Stephan’s urban exploration photographs can be seen on
Video story: Documentary on rise and fall of the Berlin Wall.

Video story: A deserted area in Leipzig, Soviet Union’s military factories were established here; now stands just as the ghosts of Soviet bloc’s economy & power, that once flourished.

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE