East German leaders were determined to create the “new socialist personality” (or, if you prefer, the Homo Sovieticus) and saw in city planning another tool to facilitate this goal. At the centre of these efforts in the GDR were four so-called “socialist cities”, towns planned from the ground up and, theoretically at least, built in such a way as to enable its citizens to live their lives in conformity with the values and priorities of the state’s socialist ideology. Over the past number of years, I have managed to visit all four of these (Eisenhüttenstadt, Hoyerswerda, Schwedt and Halle-Neustadt) and have posted on them, or will be doing so soon.

The construction of the “socialist cities” took place between 1950 and 1967 and was an integral part of the GDR’s efforts to expand the country’s industrial capacity. In each case, the development of urban centres was related to the construction of a major industrial complex. The towns, their date of founding and the industry associated with them are:

  1. Eisenhüttenstadt (Iron Forge City), founded 1950 (as Stalinstadt it should be noted), steel industry
  2. Hoyerswerda, founded 1955, brown coal processing/heating plant
  3. Schwedt, founded 1959, oil refinery and paper factory
  4. Halle-Neustadt, founded 1967, chemical industry
HaNeu 14 - Panorama

View over Halle-Neustadt in April 2014, its centre clustered to the left and the city of Halle off in the distance on the horizon (photo: author)

Looking at the situation in what were the four “socialist cities” has been an interesting lens for me to consider the developments in eastern Germany since reunification in 1990. In my posts, I look for remnants of the GDR in the cityscapes and try to uncover aspects of East German history through my encounters with local residents and my own explorations of the towns.

The first post of mine on this theme looks at Halle-Neustadt and is entitled “Where The Streets Had No Name”. The post “A Hangover in Utopia” presents my truly unforgettable 2006 visit to Hoyerswerda, while a second post “Hoyerswerda Slight Return” documents a second stop in the town two years later.

I’ve also written two posts about my visits to the first of the GDR’s socialist cities, Eisenhüttenstadt, the first of which is “Tom Hanks and I in Eisenhüttenstadt” and the second is “We learned to build cities, not tear them down.” With luck, a post on the one remaining socialist city, Schwedt, is coming soon!

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