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People's Chamber

German Democratic Republic
State Arms of East Germany
Founded7 October 1949 (1949-10-07)
Disbanded3 October 1990 (1990-10-03)
Preceded byReichstag (Nazi Germany) 1933–1945
Länderkammer (East Germany) 1949–1958
Succeeded byBundestag
Vice President/Deputy President
Direct elections
First election
15 October 1950
Last election
18 March 1990
Meeting place
Palace of the Republic
Palace of the Republic, Berlin
Constitution of East Germany

The Volkskammer (German: [ˈfɔlkskamɐ], "People's Chamber") was the supreme power organ of East Germany. It was the only branch of government in the state, and per the principle of unified power, all state organs were subservient to it.

The Volkskammer was initially the lower house of a bicameral legislature. The upper house was the Chamber of States, or Länderkammer, but in 1952 the states of East Germany were dissolved, and the Chamber of States was abolished in 1958. Constitutionally, the Volkskammer was the highest organ of state power in the GDR, and both constitutions vested it with great lawmaking powers. All other branches of government, including the judiciary, were responsible to it. By 1960, the chamber appointed the State Council (the GDR's collective head of state), the Council of Ministers (the GDR's government), and the National Defence Council (the GDR's collective military leadership).

In practice, however, it was a rubber stamp parliament that did little more than ratify decisions already made by the SED Politburo. By the 1970s and before the Peaceful Revolution, the Volkskammer only met two to four times a year.[1]


In October 1949 the Volksrat ("People's Council"), charged with drafting the Constitution of East Germany, proclaimed itself the Volkskammer and requested official recognition as a national legislature from the Soviet Military Administration in Germany. This was granted by Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. The Volkskammer then convened with the Länderkammer to elect Wilhelm Pieck as the first President of East Germany and Otto Grotewohl as the first Prime Minister of East Germany.[2]

From its founding in 1949 until the first competitive elections in March 1990, all members of the Volkskammer were elected via a single list from the National Front, a popular front/electoral alliance dominated by the SED. In addition, seats were also allocated to various organizations affiliated with the SED, such as the Free German Youth. Effectively, the SED held control over the composition of the Volkskammer.[3] In any event, the minor parties in the National Front were largely subservient to the SED, and were required to accept the SED's "leading role" as a condition of their continued existence.[4]

The members of the People's Chamber were elected in multi-member constituencies, with four to eight seats. To be elected, a candidate needed to receive half of the valid votes cast in their constituency. If, within a constituency, an insufficient number of candidates got the majority needed to fill all the seats, a second round was held within 90 days. If the number of candidates getting this majority exceeds the number of seats in the respective constituency, the order of the candidates on the election list decided who got to sit in the Volkskammer. Candidates who lost out on a seat because of this would become successor candidates who would fill casual vacancies which might occur during a legislative period.[5]

Only one list of candidates appeared on a ballot paper; voters simply took the ballot paper and dropped it into the ballot box. Those who wanted to vote against the National Front list had to vote using a separate ballot box, without any secrecy.[6] The table below shows an overview of the reported results of all parliamentary elections before 1990, with the resulting disposition of parliamentary seats.

Election Turnout Agree Distribution of parliamentary seats
1950 98.53% 99.9% 110 67 66 33 35 49 25 24 20 6 12 19
1954 98.51% 99.4% 117 52 52 52 52 53 29 29 18 12
1958 98.90% 99.9% 117 52 52 52 52 53 29 29 18 12
1963 99.25% 99.9% 127 52 52 52 52 68 40 35 22
1967 99.82% 99.9% 127 52 52 52 52 68 40 35 22
1971 98.48% 99.5% 127 52 52 52 52 68 40 35 22
1976 98.58% 99.8% 127 52 52 52 52 68 40 35 22
1981 99.21% 99.9% 127 52 52 52 52 68 40 35 22
1986 99.74% 99.9% 127 52 52 52 52 68 37 21 32 14

In 1976, the Volkskammer moved into a specially constructed building on Marx-Engels-Platz (now Schloßplatz again), the Palace of the Republic (Palast der Republik). Prior to this, the Volkskammer met at Langenbeck-Virchow-Haus [de] in the Mitte district of Berlin.

Initially, voters in East Berlin could not take part in elections to the Volkskammer, in which they were represented by indirectly elected non-voting members, but in 1979 the electoral law was changed to provide for 66 directly elected deputies with full voting rights.[7]

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

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

Party/Group Acronym Members
Alliance for Germany CDU, DA, DSU 192
Social Democratic Party in the GDR SPD 88
Party of Democratic Socialism PDS, former SED 66
Association of Free DemocratsDFP, FDP, LDP 21
Alliance 90 B90 12
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[edit]

The president of the People's Chamber was the third-highest state post in the GDR (after the chairman of the Council of Ministers and the chairman of the State Council) and was the ex officio vice president during the existence of the office of president. As such, on two occasions, the president of the People's Chamber served as acting president for brief periods in 1949 and 1960. 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.

The presidency of the People's Chamber was held by a bloc party representative for most of that body's existence to keep up the appearance that the GDR was led by a broad coalition. Only one SED member ever held the post.

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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lower house of bicameral legislature until 8 December 1958


  1. ^ Pötzl, Norbert F. (18 March 2020). "Letzte DDR-Volkskammer-Wahl vor 30 Jahren: Sieg der D-Mark". Der Spiegel (in German). ISSN 2195-1349. Retrieved 9 November 2023.
  2. ^ Naimark, Norman M. The Russians In Germany: a History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949. E-book, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995
  3. ^ Kurt Sontheimer & Wilhelm Bleek. The Government and Politics of East Germany. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1975. p. 66.
  4. ^ Andreas Malchya: Der Ausba des neuen Systems 1949 bis 1961, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, last retrieved 2022-07-28.
  5. ^ "German Democratic Republic" (PDF). Chron. XX (1985-1986). Inter-Parliamentary Union. pp. 75–77. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  6. ^ Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 978-0-375-42532-5.
  7. ^ Webb, Adrian (9 September 2014). Longman Companion to Germany since 1945. p. 244. ISBN 9781317884231.

External links[edit]