Manfred Gerlach: Last head of state of East Germany

 

Manfred Gerlach served from 6 December 1989 until March 1990 as the head of state of East Germany, the German Democratic Republic (GDR). He had replaced the last Communist to hold the post, Egon Krenz, who had only held it from 24 October.

 In between, the Berlin Wall had been opened on 9 November and mass demonstrations were taking place all over the GDR. Gerlach was considered acceptable to the reformist wing of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED). Influenced by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, and growing discontent in the GDR, Gerlach had caused a stir when, on 13 October 1989, he called into question the leading role of the ruling SED. Few had expected this, because for most of his career he had played a willing part in the pseudo-democracy of Communist-dominated East Germany. He led the so-called Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (LDPD) from 1954 to February 1990.

Gerlach was born in Leipzig on 8 May 1928, the son of a skilled engineering worker. After attending local schools he got work as a legal clerk. In 1943, he founded an illegal anti-Nazi youth group. He was subsequently arrested, in March 1944, and was lucky he escaped a death sentence. On his 17th birthday, the Germans signed the unconditional surrender. The Americans had occupied Leipzig in the previous month, remaining until July when the Soviets took over. He was reinstated in his post and became a founding member of the Free German Youth and the LDPD.

By 1948 it was clear that the LDPD and the other non-communist parties would be subject to the leading role of the SED. Some of the top members of the LDPD fled to West Germany, but Gerlach stayed on, gaining rapid promotion. When the East German state was established in 1949 he became, aged 21, a member of the Volkskammer, the parliament. From 1951 to 1954 he studied law at the German Academy of State Sciences and Law. In 1964 he was awarded a doctorate.

As general secretary of the LDPD, from 1954, Gerlach was de facto party leader. Between 1967 and 1990 he was its chairman. His party was one of four satellite parties – Christian Democrats, the Farmers Party and the National Democrats were the others – “elected” to the GDR parliament in the non-competitive elections. Like the other leaders, he was a member of the Council of State, in theory the collective head of state. Their task internally was to reconcile the remnants of the middle and professional classes and Christians to the regime. Externally, the job was to cultivate relations with non-communist parties in Western countries, including NATO states. Among Gerlach’s targets were the British Liberal Party and the West German Free Democrats. Contacts with Western peace groups and Christians were also sought.

Gerlach served the communist leaders Walter Ulbricht and then, from 1971, Erich Honecker loyally, whatever the twists and turns of policy. They in turn implemented the wishes of the men in Moscow – Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko – in the GDR. The trouble started when Mikhail Gorbachev took over as General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party in 1985 and introduced glasnost and perestroika. Increasingly, East German reformers expected their leaders to follow Gorbachev, but they did not. Gerlach’s questioning of the SED’s leading role was therefore surprising.

Before the first free elections of March 1990, in the GDR, Gerlach’s party merged with two others to become the BFD. With a new leader it attracted 5.3 per cent. The Christian Democrats, blessed by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, gained 40.8 per cent, the Social Democrats 21.8 and the renamed Communists 16.4. Christian Democrat Sabine Bergmann-Pohl was elected president of the new Volkskammer and thus replaced Gerlach as head of state. His party fused with the West German Free Democratic Party (FDP).

In 1992 Gerlach was accused of having denounced several LDPD members to the Soviets in 1947. In November 1993 he gave up his membership of the FDP after it appeared he would be expelled. He died in Berlin after a long illness.

 

Manfred Gerlach, politician: born Leipzig 8 May 1928; died Berlin 17 October 2011.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Life and Style
life
News
‘The Graduate’, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, was directed by Nichols in his purple period
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager