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The Reestablishment of the Länder (April 19, 1990)

When the German Democratic Republic was founded in 1949, it consisted of five Länder – Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia, and Saxony – in addition to East Berlin. In 1952, the Länder were abolished and replaced with 14 districts [Bezirke]; they were joined by East Berlin, which was often counted as the 15th district. After the fall of the Wall, there was broad consensus that the Länder on the territory of the GDR needed to be reestablished, but their creation posed a host of problems. Territorial boundaries had to be drawn and capital cities designated. One core problem was that the new Länder lagged far behind most of their Western counterparts in terms of population size and economic might. Therefore, the author of the following piece suggested that consideration be given to territorial restructuring rather than the reintroduction of the traditional Länder.

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On the Foundations of the Postwar Period?
The planned restructuring is full of administrative difficulties and regional conflicts.

That the future GDR will no longer consist of districts, as it has for nearly forty years, but will be made up of Länder, is by now no longer a topic of discussion. The date for elections has not yet been set, but as of January 1991, as announced by Minister for Regional and Municipal Affairs Manfred Preiß, there will once again be five Länder. But the clearer the schedule for introducing the Länder has become, the clearer it has also become that their establishment will by no means go off without controversies and quarrels. To be sure, the introduction of the Länder is in essence a restoration – namely, of the Länder structure that existed in the GDR up to 1952. But this operation isn’t as simple as it might seem at first glance – and there’s also the question of whether it would actually be a good thing to make the task of establishing a federal structure in the GDR such a simple one.

Like the Federal Republic, the GDR originally developed out of the Länder. But throughout almost its entire existence, it was a centrally governed unitary state, in which only some regional consciousness, culture, and folklore were preserved from the Länder. Therefore, for all the differences that once existed between the various regions of the GDR, the Länder must in fact be newly established as state-political entities. Should they be erected on the nearly lost foundations of the postwar Länder? Or are there alternatives more in keeping with the goal of an efficient federal structure?

Of course, the most obvious path would be to take the districts that replaced the Länder and recombine them into Länder once again. For in fact the district structure rests by and large upon the old Länder framework. At the very least, the districts have their basis in the former Länder: Schwerin, Rostock, and Neubrandenburg in the north in Mecklenburg; Magdeburg and Halle in Saxony-Anhalt; Potsdam, Frankfurt/Oder and Cottbus in Brandenburg; Erfurt, Gera, and Suhl in Thuringia; finally, Leipzig, Dresden, and Karl-Marx-Stadt in Saxony. But that’s true only in a very general sense. The current districts also deviate from the former Länder boundaries to no small extent. It’s here, especially, that new problem zones emerge.

In the north, the question arises as to whether Uckermarck and Westpriegnitz, which would belong to Mecklenburg if the districts were simply transformed into Länder, should revert back to Brandenburg. In the south, the issue is whether the counties [Kreise] of Altenburg and Schmölln, which are now part of the largely Saxon district of Leipzig, would have to become Thuringian again. Similar problems present themselves in the Lausitz, where parts of the current district of Cottbus could be reincorporated into Saxony, and problems could also arise between the future Länder of Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg with regard to the area of Bad Liebenwerda, Senftenberg, Brandenburg, and Rethnow.

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