Legally speaking, the reunification of Germany in 1990 was not a merger of two equal states resulting in a new country. Rather, it is better characterized as the absorption of the German Democratic Republic (the GDR, or East Germany) into the Federal Republic of Germany (the FRG, or West Germany). The GDR and its laws effectively ceased to exist, whereas the laws and constitution of the FRG remained largely the same.

I am interested in learning about those unusual cases where the FRG decided to adopt laws and legal ordinances from the GDR and to apply them across all of Germany. The only example that comes to mind is the traffic law concerning right turns on red lights. Quoth Wikipedia:

In Germany, right turns on red are only permitted, after a complete stop, when a specific sign is present. This rule was first introduced in 1978 in East Germany and was originally supposed to become obsolete together with the East German highway code by the end of 1990, following German reunification. However, authorities were unable to remove the signs in time, and public opinion caused them to leave the regulation unchanged, even extending its scope to the former areas of West Germany in 1994. By 1999, there were 300 turn-on-red intersections in West Germany while East Germany featured 2,500; the numbers in West Germany have risen considerably since then, though, and as of 2002 a total of 5,000 turn-on-red intersections were counted, with 48% in West Germany.

Are there any other notable examples of country-wide FRG laws or regulations being replaced or superseded by ones formerly in use in the GDR? If there are a lot of such cases, are these summarized in a book or other (online) source?

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    Quite a lot of decisions based on GDR regulations were "grandfathered in" after reunification, but that's not what you're talking about, right?
    – o.m.
    Feb 17, 2016 at 15:51
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    IIRC correctly, legally the GDR and their laws just "vanished". This case seems more one of drivers following the rules they were used to, and latter the authorities seeing it as a good idea and extending (through changes in the driving code) to all of Germany. Maybe some German-speaking people can check for changes in the driving code in 1990-1994.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 17, 2016 at 17:36
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    @SJuan76, the GDR did not simply vanish. The districts of the GDR were reorganized into five federal states of the FRG (with a special case for Berlin), and the details filled several hundred pages of appendices to the Reunification treaty. Certain GDR national laws became state laws until the state legislatures got around to updating them.
    – o.m.
    Feb 18, 2016 at 6:09
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    @SJuan76: That specific sign (right pointing green arrow) was (before the merger) only present in the east, but without the requirement to stop. In the end studies were performed (we are germans after all) and in 1994 the driving laws were changed.
    – PlasmaHH
    Mar 11, 2016 at 22:24

2 Answers 2


Germany is still somewhat divided, legally, in the sense that the vast majority of local, communal and federal state level laws and regulations within the five new federal states continued to be binding unless and until a federal state parliament abolished them, one by one.

That means 3300 such regulations were still in effect after October 3rd, 1990. Some of these were not simply of the category "we do not have time to bother" but evaluated as reasonable and therefore kept, binding even now, today.

Examples include regulations for quitting a religious community, environmental protection, laws regarding foundations (Stiftungen), transportation of corpses, building and service regulations, regulations for coal mining.

The federal state of Sachsen-Anhalt was the first of the Neue Länder to explicitly ratify the continuation of 46 GDR laws and regulations that were voted on as "more reasonable" than what the West had to offer or something new, The former Minister of Justice proclaimed at the time that GDR laws were often formulated and phrased in a much clearer language and with much better goals than in the Federal Republic of Germany; notably regarding family law, abortion rights etc. She publicly regretted that most of those exemplary regulations didn't make the cut to be adopted by the West, that is the whole of the new Federal Republic of Germany.

Curiously, some of the old laws explicitly confirmed as new laws still contain phrases like Beschlüsse der Sozialistische Einheitspartei ("decisions the Socialist Unity Party"), since rephrasing these parts would have made the adoption process more complicated, legally. These terms were now typeset in italics to mark them as outdated in the official documents.

Some of these changes can be witnessed on the official server for legal texts by the federal state of Sachsen-Anhalt in:

Gesetz zur Bereinigung des zu Landesrecht gewordenen Rechts der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (Rechtsbereinigungsgesetz) vom 26. Juni 1996

Nur sinnvoll

When Saxony-Anhalt's Minister of Justice Karin Schubert presented a 333-page collection of laws at the end of last week, it was published: There, as in other new federal states, GDR law still applies. In Saxony-Anhalt, however, this is not because someone in Bonn or Magdeburg forgot to repeal any laws, ordinances or decrees of the "pre-reunification" period, or because they have not yet been replaced by new state laws. No, in Magdeburg this happened on purpose.

In 1996, the Landtag adopted a special law on legal restructuring.

What is going on in Magdeburg? Has the PDS pushed or duped its toleration partners to at least partially preserve the "unjust state" of the GDR?

Not at all. The SPD politician Schubert said that apart from the Green Arrow, there were other "quite sensible regulations in the GDR which were not simply thrown overboard". She referred to the protection of nature and the environment, to regulations on leaving religious communities, and in the law on foundations. The GDR had often formulated laws more clearly, much had been "more reasonably regulated", so in family and labour law. It would have wished that some of it had been taken over into all-German federal law.

Understandable. But hopeless. For laws are also a reflection of society. Even if they regulate such "non-political" matters as organ transplants or abortions. The GDR regulations on this were considered exemplary. But they fit neither the credo of capitalism nor the world view of the church. They were only sensible.

Wie DDR-Gesetze überleben

Magdeburg - Laws passed under the communists could not possibly still be valid, said an East German municipal representative. He wanted to simply disregard the national park regulations for the Hochharz, which were passed by the last GDR parliament in 1990.
It is a widespread mistake, says Saxony-Anhalt's Minister of Justice Karin Schubert (SPD), that all laws from GDR times have automatically lapsed with the reunification. On the contrary: a large part of the 3300 GDR laws that fell under the jurisdiction of the states after reunification will remain in force until the East German parliaments repeal them or replace them with new ones. In June 1996 Saxony-Anhalt was the first of the new Länder to adopt a law on legal consolidation. It adopted 46 legal regulations of the GDR as state law. Of these, 14 were not adopted until 1990 under the de Maizière government, but most of them date back to the 1950s and 1960s.

All laws not listed in the Rechtsbereinigungsgesetz have been out of force since the end of 1996. Since yesterday the complete collection of GDR laws still in force has been available in printed form. It comprises 333 pages. "The collection shows that there were quite sensible regulations in the GDR. There is no reason to throw it overboard", says Minister of Justice Schubert. The regulations or individual paragraphs that have been adopted are "non-political law": for example the 1964 decree on the ringing of birds and bats for scientific purposes or the decree on the transfer of corpses, which has been in force since 1971. Although the Building and Operating Regulations for Lignite Mining Works Railways of 1960 have little practical significance due to numerous mine closures after German unification, the Magdeburg Minister of Justice sees them as proof that the technical standard in the GDR was obviously better than its current reputation.

The laws adopted in the wording still contain many a surviving term. "Resolutions of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany", "Councils of the Municipalities", "Deutsche Reichsbahn" or the wording "the requirements of the socialist economy" were printed in italics to indicate that they were outdated: An amendment to the law would have invalidated it. The collection of GDR laws still in force is intended to contribute to greater legal certainty in the new Länder. Even lawyers sometimes have difficulties with the current legal situation, says Minister Schubert. She now sees the federal government as having a duty: even at the federal level, some harmless GDR laws would continue to apply. For example, a training and examination regulation requires knowledge of socialist laws.

The unification treaty explicitly lists some GDR laws, regulations and treaties to either keep or abolish immediately in 1990 in Anlage II Besondere Bestimmungen für fortgeltendes Recht der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik. From this you can deduce that only international treaties of the GDR were really adopted wholesale by the West for the entire country.

Although quite a number of GDR-laws were transformed into federal law during the unification process, but they had usually an expiration date attached to them, most ceasing to be valid in 1991.

The Grüner Pfeil is not really a fitting example since it was introduced only in 1994 in the West and is only an example for a working regulation. That was newly introduced in the West, modelled after the Eastern example.

Some new laws were clearly inspired by former GDR laws. On the positive side might be counted: some progress on family laws, women's and children' rights. On the negative side there numerous examples going into the direction of a militarised police state since the Großer Lauschangriff that are inspired by the organisation and functions of the Ministry for State Security hence the anti-campaign slogan Stasi 2.0 was created.

Altogether, it is not a very uncommon view towards the whole territory of the GDR to whether it was just colonised by the West, leading to questions like: "Was East German Education a Victim of West German 'Colonisation' after Unification?"

  • @Marzipanherz It should, thx! Feb 12, 2018 at 19:15
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    Just learned that organ transplant law and abortion law are considered not political. Seems like there is humor in Germany after all... Jan 28, 2020 at 22:08

There were changes in the newly unified Germany which were clearly inspired by GDR practice, but which were not a direct application of GDR laws and regulations.

  • Government-organized childcare for preschool kids, especially those 1-3 years old, has been improved in the West. This had been common in the East.
  • West Germany used to have a school system where 5th-graders were divided into academic, white-collar, and blue-collar tracks (Gymnasium, Realschule, Hauptschule). The GDR had polytechnic schools for all. Similar reforms had been debated and tried in the West for decades, but they only really took off after Reunification. (Disclaimer: education policy is a thorny issue, and this is a gross oversimplification.)
  • Wish they'd introduced the little Green Arrow (in the US it's the Turn Right On Red rule) everywhere. IIRC, a few communities experimented with it, but it never went beyond that?
    – Marakai
    Jun 24, 2016 at 0:26

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