Private property (real estate and business enterprises) in old East Germany

I had always been under the impression that real estate and sizable businesses were all nationalized during the Cold War Years in East Germany. I have some sheet music from the early fifties which is copyrighted to a “VEB” (government owned) publishing house. I’ve been reading fiction by Christoph Hein, who lived and wrote in East Germany, and whose stories are mostly set there, and some of the fictional (albeit, I suspect, autobiographical in some cases) events and situations bear this out. In one novel*, the protagonist’s grandfather is a farm manager for a collective, near the Baltic Sea, but gets fired for political unreliability. His replacement is someone who probably never saw a farm in his life. In the same story, though, another neighbor is mentioned as the owner of a factory.

In another novel**, the protagonist’s father talks of selling his farm and moving to the city, and later asks his son to take over. Clearly in this case the farm is owned by the farmer, who can talk of selling or bequeathing it just as one would do in a capitalist country.

So my question is: during those years, what was the extent of such private ownership? Was any seizure of land pretty much limited to the large estates owned by members of the former nobility, and those who were similarly well off? And were the owners of single family houses and small rental properties left alone, or did these people have reason to worry about some forced takeover down the road?

*Alles Vom Anfang An “Everything From The Beginning”
**Der Tangospieler “The Tango Player”
(I give the German titles and their literal translations. I don’t know what the published translations were actually called, or if there even were any.)

From my admittedly very limited knowledge on the topic, which is largely anecdotal and which largely pertains to the area between Erfurt, Halle and Leipzich, I know that pretty much all farm land was brought into one collective that would farm it, and all the people who used to farm on that land now became employees of the collective. This tied in really well with the ideology of farming on a very large scale which was supposed to be more effective.

After die Wende, the collectives were privatised (I don’t know how, but I know that quite a number of them ended up in Dutch hands, as the *Ossis *lack in entrepreneurial skill and mindset). The land was returned to the former owners, many of whom, however, choose to rent it out to the now-privatised collective. I seem to remember that there is some rather perverse way in which EU subsidies play into this, preventing actual development or sustainable use of the land (or something), but as you can tell I am quite hazy on the details.

Anyway, as to the OP, I guess we can generalize my account (since to say that the GDR was a fairly homogeneously run country would be quite the understatement) which means that in the GDR there was no privately owned farm land - the land was in the hand of the collective, which of course nominally was a completely voluntary decision that the people made, but in practice amounted to land seizure most of the time.

As to the houses, I am not so sure; I know a number of stories from the former communist block where people were forced to share larger houses with other families. However, I’m not sure these houses were actually confiscated - but then again, I cannot really imagine a communist housing market of any kind.

No wonder some of the Ossis are mad. It sounds like they, or the ones you mention got the shaft. And from what I’ve been reading and watching on some of the German broadcast sites, it’s still the poorest area generally in the country.

Only tangentially related to the OP’s question:

When my husband and I were on a guided walking tour of Berlin in the early '90s, it was pointed out that returning nationalised property in the East to former owners was a somewhat pressing problem: you could return it to the private owners before the Soviets took the city, which would be regular German citizens. But often those German citizens came by said property during the Nazi era after confiscation from Jews and other Reich enemies – so then who does it rightfully belong to? Many such cases were (are) taking years wending through the courts.

Aye, although part of it is a self-fulfilling cycle. The DDR was probably the best of the Soviet governments, and it was still a joke compared to West Germany. After unification, the new german government tried to sell off its industrial holdings andother public stuff. This was partly successful: many were bought out and closed down to be broken up and resold, and most others faced many layoffs.

This did not go over well - one director of the agency selling them off, Treuhand, was asassinated - but the collectives were financial and industrial disasters and couldn’t compete. When things opened up and peopel had to stand on their own, they found that basically the entire product of the decades of COmmunism was worthless.

But they also lose their best and brightest to the west, because firms in western Germany snap up any promising people. This continues the cycle, because without those people the eastern states just can’t grow and improve their lot. This also makes it harder for things to improve compared to, say, Poland, where there’s no such regional breakdown and labor costs are still lower compared to Germany, attacting foreign business.

Edit: Actually, there are also other reasons for not wanting to do business in eastern Germany today. Infrastructure is worse, some educational facilities were closed. Plus, much of the time the urban areas are just plain unpleasant. Even today, eastern Berlin still looks much different and much less attractive than west Berlin, at elast in term of residential opportunities. Ironically, though, I found that east Germans tended to be warmer and friendlier in person, at least compared to WestBerliners and northern Germans. Culturally it’s a little like the difference between, say, America’s Northeast, which is (stereotypically) New-Yorker-ish, aggressive and cold and the Midwest, where things are more laid-back, and community-oriented and not as concerned with wealth or advancement.