Over 90 percent of the GDR’s productive assets were owned by the country’s citizens collectively, while in West Germany productive assets remained privately owned, concentrated in a few hands.  Because the GDR’s economy was almost entirely publicly owned and the leadership was socialist, the economic surplus that people produced on the job went into a social fund to make the lives of everyone better rather than into the pockets of shareholders, bondholders, landowners and bankers.  Out of the social fund came subsidies for food, clothing, rent, public transportation, as well as cultural, social and recreational activities. Wages weren’t as high as in the West, but a growing number of essential goods and services were free or virtually free. Rents, for example, were very low. As a consequence, there were no evictions and there was no homelessness. Education was free through university, and university students received stipends to cover living expenses. Healthcare was also free. Childcare was highly subsidized.
SUEDEKUM: We also had these losers of globalization here in Germany, people who had problems because of trade. But [the] big difference is, in Germany, these people receive more support from the government. There’s a safety net. There is trade-adjustment assistance. There’s active labor market policy trying to bring these people back to other jobs elsewhere and subsidies, trying to keep the communities alive. We do a relatively better job in cushioning the losers. I’m not saying we’re perfect in that, but I think we’re doing a better job than the United States.
Ironically today, people do look fondly back at the nostalgia of the Communist times and reminders of the GDR . None are more evident in Berlin than the notoriously bad, but popular (by lack of choice?) old East German Trabant cars that are often used for tours today (over 3 million of these little cars so familiar in the Eastern Bloc were produced between 1957 and 1991). Then there is the adorable cult like figure of Ampelmann , the East German pedestrian light symbols that were introduced in 1961 and are still in use in the eastern sections of Berlin today.