Geisa (Wartburgkreis, Thuringia), view of the old MTS [Machine & Tractor Station n° 23640HM, 1956]. Photo: Köhne, 14/07/1959. Source: German Federal Archives/Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-65801-0002 [WikimediaCommons] ©CC-BY-SA 3.0

German Democratic Republic (DDR)


After WWII, Germany faced radical ideological and regime changes while two million refugees flew back from areas lost to other countries; land-use and settlement patterns in the cultural landscape underwent evenly dramatic changes. In 1945, in the Soviet occupied areas (Sovietische Besatzungszone, SBZ), the “Bodenreform” was initiated: the project aimed at expropriating any plot bigger than 100ha from former Nazi-affiliated or large landowners, and to redistribute the resulting land to single families as a single plot (of around 10ha): ‘Junker land in farmer’s hands’, claimed the propaganda. The project aimed on the one hand at facilitating the economic recovery, and on the other hand, this step was considered as necessary towards the planned collectivisation of properties. The plots were in fact too small to guarantee self-subsistence of individual families, forcing people to share their efforts. Eastern German confiscated lands and goods were now state owned.

From 1952 onwards, agriculture was collectivized in the GDR, with subsequent additional expropriations: new farm owners were now forced to bring their shares into the so-called LPGs (Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaften – Agricultural Production Cooperatives) and former peasants were tuned into hired labourers, with regular working hours and social security. While peasants formally owned their cooperative shares, highly specialized agricultural engineers were sent to manage collective farms as loyal officials of the Socialist party and to secure the party’s control over the countryside. These experts planned and built drainage systems, paved roads, prefabricated buildings for farm workers, etc. The LPGs’ holdings usually comprised several functional buildings such as stalls for cows and pigs, winter-gardens, stations for renting the machineries, etc. In order to accommodate the growing population, multi-storeys buildings were built, generally with higher standards than in the existing single farmer houses.

After the German reunification, the land ownerships of the pre-Socialist era manor-owned large estates in North-Eastern Germany, specifically in the States of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg, was not returned to the original owners. This lead to a stand-still in many areas and to the decay of many collective farms and former manor buildings. Nevertheless, the old manor buildings have been restored thanks to their perceived ‘cultural value’, while socialist settlement structures are neglected. Regardless of recent developments, these buildings and their landscape surrounding are part of an ‘Ideological landscape’ heritage in Eastern Europe.

The organization of the LPGs, their changes but also migration and land abandonment after 1989, have been researched and published mostly in German (Niemke – Grünberg, 1959; Bernhardt – Wolfes, 2005), and mainly from the anthropological and sociological point of view (Hetzer, 2015; Schier, 2001).

Within the frame of former DDR’s shrinking demography and economy, cultural decline and political apathy among the inhabitants in the villages and settlements connected to the former collective farms (Beetz, 2008), the preservation as well as the development of awareness towards this heritage is a big challenge for the future. Two research teams deal with this case study. While EMU will deal more closely with the landscape and territorial aspects of this case study, as well as to the present-day challenges, TU-Berlin will deal with its architectural and urban patterns, retracing its historical emergence, and with the local communities’ narratives and memories around their living environment.

Beetz, S. et al. (2008), “Landscapes of Peripherization in North-Eastern Germany’s Countryside”, International Planning Studies, vol.13, n°4: 295-310.
Niemke, W., Grünberg, H. (1959), Alte Dörfer, neue Dörfer: Anleitung zur Dorfplanung in der DDR, Bauernverlag.
Bernhardt, C., Wolfes, T. (eds., 2005), Schönheit und Typenprojektierung. Der DDR-Städtebau im internationalen Kontext, Erkner.
Gross, N. (1996), “Farming in Former East Germany: Past Policies and Future Prospects”, Landscape and Urban Planning, 35 (1): 25-40.
Schier, B. (2001), Alltagsleben im “sozialistischen Dorf”: Merxleben und seine LPG im Spannungsfeld der SED-Agrarpolitik, 1945-1990, Waxmann.