The state-organized parades in the GDR were a conspicuous and typical aspect of political life in the East; they were frequently portrayed by photographers and therefore shaped the image of the East in the West. Vergrößert Bild 20 + Bildunterschrift und Kommentare Nearly every citizen of East Germany will have participated in such parades at some point in his or her life. On certain significant days, children, sportsmen/women and factory workers marched with banners along the main streets of their town or village to a podium where the local party officials (or the party leaders, in Berlin) were standing. When passing the podium, the marchers waved to the officials, who waved back. A voice from a loudspeaker would announce which group was marching and animate the crowd’s cheers.
These parades drew on traditions of the German working-class movement, but they were also influenced by the Soviet model. In post-war Germany, such parades evoked memories of National Socialist rituals; Vergrößert Bild 21 + Bildunterschrift und Kommentare
but the party officials did not let this worry them. From the early fifties onward, the remilitarisation of East German society also left its mark on these parades. After the founding of an East German Army in 1955, the first military parade in Germany since the end of Nazi rule took place in East Berlin. Alongside the uniformed police and army, the youth group members also wore uniform-like clothes for the parades. Nothing was spontaneous; even the words on the banners were selected by the Communist Party leadership and made compulsory.

Vergrößert Bild 22 + Bildunterschrift und Kommentare The major occasions for such parades were the traditional workers’ day, 1st May, the anniversary of the end of World War II, 8th May, the anniversary of the murder of the founders of the German Communist Party, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht on 15th January and visits of important representatives of Communist states. Highest in the hierarchy of parades was the 1st May. In 1959, the 10th anniversary of the founding of the GDR was celebrated with numerous, large-scale parades. From then on, the so-called „birthdays of the republic“ were celebrated in this way every ten years.

Since participation in these parades was on the basis of groups from Vergrößert Bild 23 + Bildunterschrift und Kommentare individual schools, sports groups, factories etc., it was always possible to check who took part. Many considered their participation as an unwelcome duty to be carried out in order to avoid critical questions and perhaps disadvantages later on. Street parties were organised to make the marches more attractive. The whole ritual was aimed at expressing harmony and unity between caring rulers and loyal subjects, but given the rigid rules and the pressure to take part, this was merely a stage-managed illusion.

Vergrößert Bild 24 + Bildunterschrift und Kommentare The themes of the banners carried in these parades always related to the past or to the future: they evoked „good“ traditions Vergrößert Bild 25 + Bildunterschrift und Kommentare (the beginnings of the Communist Party in Germany) and condemned „bad“ ones (Nazism, which was alway called „Fascism“ in East Germany) or evoked a bright future (the continuing development of socialism/communism). Vergrößert Bild 26 + Bildunterschrift und Kommentare The present was only referred to with reference to the West, which was portrayed as aggressive and belligerent. The real problems of the present East German society could not be addressed, since people were not allowed to prepare and carry banners different from the prescribed ones. Attempts to organize an alternative demonstration were punishable by several laws. Thus these parades, despite all their revolutionary pathos, always remained the same and expressed a standstill rather than progress.

Helwig-Wilson took a large number of photographs of parades. The selection presented here aims to show the variety of associations that such pictures can evoke. Vergrößert Bild 28 + Bildunterschrift und Kommentare

Vergrößert Bild 27 + Bildunterschrift und Kommentarepictures