President of East Germany

President of East Germany
Flag of the President of East Germany (1955–1960).svg
Residence Majakowskiring 29, Pankow, East Berlin
Seat Schönhausen Palace, Pankow, East Berlin
Appointer People's Chamber
Chamber of States
Precursor The Reichspräsident
Formation 11 October 1949
First holder Wilhelm Pieck
Final holder Wilhelm Pieck
Abolished 7 September 1960
Succession State Council of East Germany

The President of the Republic (German: Präsident der Republik) was the head of state of East Germany (German Democratic Republic) from 1949 until 1960.[1] The office was created by the Constitution of 1949 (Section V). The President of the Republic was elected by the People's Chamber (Volkskammer) and the Chamber of States (Landerkammer), the two chambers of parliament. The office was more ceremonial in nature. If necessary, the President of the People's Chamber acted as the President of the Republic.

The sole incumbent was Wilhelm Pieck of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), elected on 11 October 1949[2] and re-elected in 1953 and in 1957. Shortly after the death of Pieck on 7 September 1960, the Constitution was amended. The Law concerning the formation of the State Council of 12 September 1960 introduced a collective head of state instead of the presidency, the State Council of East Germany. In the last, democratic phase of East Germany in 1989/90, the State Council was abolished; President of the People's Chamber Sabine Bergmann-Pohl acted as head of state.


The President of the Republic was elected for a term of four years by the Volkskammer and the Landerkammer, meeting in joint session, which is convoked and presided over by the President of the Volkskammer.[3]

Any citizen who has reached the age of thirty-five years might stand for election.[3]

The administrative reform of 1952 led to the dissolution of the states (Länder) of East Germany. The Landerkammer thereby became meaningless; It met in 1954 for the last time and was formally abolished in 1958.

As a result, the Volkskammer alone was responsible for the election of the President.

Oath of office

On assuming office, the President of the Republic took the following oath before a joint session of the Volkskammer and the Landerkammer:[4]

I swear that I will dedicate my strength to the welfare of the German people, that I will defend the Constitution and the laws of the Republic, that I will discharge my duties conscientiously and do justice to all.


The President of the Republic might be recalled before the expiration of his term by a joint resolution of the Volkskammer and the Landerkammer. Such a resolution required a two-thirds majority of the statutory number of representatives.[5]

Duties and competences

Largely a ceremonial position (similarly to the President of West Germany), the duties and competences of the President of the Republic as stipulated in articles 104–108 of the Constitution of 1949:

  • Promulgating the laws of the Republic.[6]
  • Receiving the oath of office from members of the Council of Ministers upon their assumption of duties.[6]
  • Representing the Republic in international relations.[7]
  • Concluding and signing treaties with foreign countries on behalf of the Republic.[7]
  • Accrediting and receiving ambassadors and ministers.[7]

To become effective, all orders and decrees issued by the President of the Republic needed to be countersigned by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers or the competent Minister.[8]

The President exercised the right of pardon on behalf of the Republic. In this function he was advised by a committee of the Volkskammer.[9]

Incapacitation and vacancy

Whenever the President of the Republic is unable to attend to his office, he is represented by the President of the Volkskammer. If such incapacity is expected to continue for a protracted period, a substitute will be appointed by (a specific) law.[10]

Whenever the presidency is terminated prematurely, the same rule applies until the election of a new President.[10]

President Pieck was already at an advanced age when elected and did not play a major role in the dominant state party, SED (although he was Co-Chairman of SED, alongside Otto Grotewohl). Most of the power was held by Walter Ulbricht, First Secretary of the party from 1950. This changed after the abolition of the presidential office, since the most powerful SED politician was usually also the Chairman of the State Council.


After Wilhelm Pieck had died in 1960, the presidency was abolished in favor of a collective body, the State Council. The State Council was elected in the same way as the President, by the Volkskammer, and exercised the powers of the presidency. The State Council was effectively represented by its Chairman.

With the Constitution of 1968, the last references to the presidency were eliminated.

After the Peaceful Revolution, there were plans to reintroduce the office of the President of the Republic by constitutional law from 1990 onward, which did not happen in the course of German reunification.

Presidential standards


See also


  1. ^ Cook, Bernard A. (2001). Europe Since 1945: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 1284. ISBN 9780815340584.
  2. ^ Wilhelm Pieck timeline Retrieved 10 June 2010 (in German)
  3. ^ a b Article 101 of the Constitution of 1949.
  4. ^ Article 102 of the Constitution of 1949.
  5. ^ Article 103 of the Constitution of 1949.
  6. ^ a b Article 104 of the Constitution of 1949.
  7. ^ a b c Article 105 of the Constitution of 1949.
  8. ^ Article 106 of the Constitution of 1949.
  9. ^ Article 107 of the Constitution of 1949.
  10. ^ a b Article 108 of the Constitution of 1949.

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