was ANY emigration allowed from East Germany to the West?

Was there any procedure for persons to legally emigrate from East Germany to West Germany? Now, i’m imagining that if such a thing were possible it would probably take years to get through the beaurocracy. But was there an application or something even available?

Another question: What if, say, an East German childs’ parents are killed in a traffic accident. And the rest of the childs extended family were in West Germany and asked to take responsibilty for that child. Would the kid be allowed to go to West Germany or would he be forced into a state orphanage or foster care?

Retired persons could emigrate legally. The state didn’t need their labour any more, and they could be a burden on the West German welfare state instead of the East German one.
The child would be a ward of the state regardless of of what anyone in the West wanted.

Ah, time to bring up the old joke that was funny before 1989 (and then turned unexpedectly)

Question: When will Germany be re-united again?
Answer: 2009, when the DDR (East Germany) turns 60.

And then history made a back-stairs joke with the DDR collapsing in their 40th year.

The joke was that pensioneers, who no longer produced anything for the state, had a high likelihood of getting their permission to leave the DDR. The permission wasn’t specifially for West Germany, but for leaving East Germany. (You could apply for permission to travel to another Eastern bloc country for holiday, or to Western Europe for a week on business/ conference, but that was different from the permission to leave the country forever).

Generally, the more valuable your skills and education and the more scarce you were to the DDR, the less luck you had.

Applying for the permission in itself was of course already a serious cause for concern - why would a happy socialist want to leave the workers paradise? Again pensioneers could claim they wanted to see their grandchildren, and the state could save the pension.

Similar for short-time visas: if you were a loyal worker, member of the party, politically un-suspect, with family in the DDR, and a job where a conference in Paris or London was vital, you had good chances; if you were in any way suspect - your parents had the wrong job or were of the wrong class, you didn’t belong to the party, you had several times criticzed the state, and were single, with nothing enticing you back: you probably would be denied permission to travel to the West, and be under surveillance too for wanting to leave.

The second question, I don’t know, you have to wait till an Ossie comes along.

go on

In other words, only if there was something left in East Germany to force you to return.

Yes, I know that some retired folks left East Germany and went to a Western country. In former times there were nothing like 401K pensions in Germany and so normal people didn’t have financial security after retirement. They were somehow dependent on the state. Only a few had the money to leave the country and as far as I know many did it because they wanted to spend the money that wasn’t legally earned outside the country.

Sometimes even the elderly didn’t want to leave East Germany: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodbye_lenin

Could you marry out of the East, like in Hedwig and the Angry Inch?

Yes, you could apply for emigrating to East Germany (a colleague of mine did go that route, in the late 1980s). There was no actual form provided AFAIK but you could write a letter to that effect.

To file such an application was not actually illegal, but you immediately lost any privileges due a non-politically suspect person e.g. any position of responsibility (e.g. my colleague, an engineer, had to work as a telegram messenger instead). Your children, if any, would be denied permission to attend university. Any other discretionary permits would be denied. You were under observation and if you did anything illegal at all they’d throw the book at you.

If you stuck that out for a certain number of years they’d let you go (as being more trouble than you’re worth).

Then there was the pensioner route (the pensioners in question would not be destitute in West Germany as their statutory pension would be calculated on the basis of their work life in East Germany - which would typically begin earlier that that of their West German counterparts)

The third route was the hardest - get convicted to a prison term for a failed attempt to cross the border, or for another political crime. After you’d have served the bulk of your sentence the West German government would be offered the opportunity to buy your freedom, which they then did for typically a five digit sum, West German marks. Ostensibly this was to compensate the East German state for the cost of your education. 33,755 people went that route between 1964 and 1989.

What about the disabled or people with mental problems? Was it easy for them to leave the country? Castro experimented with emptying Cuban jails and mental asylums in the early 80s by sending them to the US.

There was also the route of ‘Ausbürgerung’ - Deprivation of citizenship. Wolf Biermann (among others) was stripped of his DDR-citizenship after a concert in the West, so he could not return. It was the GDR way of getting rid of his vocal protest of the regime.

I’ve always wondered about that, why it was illegal for people to leave that place. Couldn’t understand why the Communists wanted to keep discontent people in their territory

Because pretty much everyone would have left-- certainly most of the able-bodied working age people, since they could make much more in the West and have decent products to spend their money on. Not to mention the whole totalitarianism aspect-- most people would prefer not to live in one if they have a choice.

Even back during the immediately post-war period, when the borders were more porous and the difference between the standard of living on each side was much less, many working age people were going to the west where they made more, while people dependent on government assistance tended to stay in the east where these benefits were better. As the economic conditions got hugely better in the west, but stagnated in the east, the rate of emigration from the east skyrocketed. Hence the wall.

In this thread we discuss the Berlin Wall. The posts by DMark in particular may be of interest to you.

A side note: This year on Nov. 09, 2009 it will be 20 years.

An interesting concept published recently was to divide the world into ‘walled’ and ‘un-walled’ areas, rather than 3rd world, developed world, etc.

This is defined by those countries that have physical walls or heavily patrolled borders.

But most of them are walled to keep immigrants out, not prevent their people from leaving. Because the ‘walled’ countries have a much higher standard of living – they have only 14% of the world population, but produce 73% or the wealth of the world. A map of the walled world is here.

Don’t forget that during the McCarthy era, many Americans who had not been convicted (or even charged) with any crime, were denied passports. The most notable was Linus Pauling whose only crime was to agitate against nuclear weapons. When he won the 1954 Nobel prize in chemistry, he did get a passport. So it was not only the east bloc countries that restricted the ability of its citizens to travel, although only they did it to ordinary people.