The Detlev Rohwedder House with a street in front of it.

Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus, 2022.

Construction work in front of the headquarters of the Treuhandanstalt.

Construction work in front of the headquarters of the Treuhandanstalt, 1991.


Privatisation, Unemployment, Protests

In 1990, the Treuhandanstalt took over the GDR’s state-owned enterprises in order to transform them into a social market economy. Its task was to find new owners for the companies. Due to their often desolate condition, millions of people lost their jobs. The anger of many East Germans was directed at the Treuhand.



September 16, 1993, was a day like many others in front of the huge headquarters of the Treuhandanstalt in Berlin. Once again, protesters marched in front of the main entrance in the Wilhelmstraße. With 300 people, the rally was manageable – and yet a special one. Miners from Bischofferode in Thuringia made up its core. They fiercely resisted the closure of their potash mine and received worldwide attention for it. They had occupied the mine, about a dozen of them had gone on a hunger strike. And a handful of them walked the nearly 300-kilometre route from Eichsfeld to the city on the river Spree. They wanted, as they said, “to do to the Treuhand what it has been doing in East Germany for the past three years: flatten it.”

“Plattmachen”, in English “flatten it”, is the colloquial expression for the closure of companies. All too often, the Treuhandanstalt saw no alternative. Yet the agency, created in the summer of 1990 by the first freely elected GDR parliament, pursued a completely different goal: it was to transfer almost 8,000 companies of the centrally controlled GDR economy with around four million employees into the market economy. What had previously been controlled by the state party SED was to be transferred into private hands. The mostly West German buyers committed themselves to invest money and preserve jobs. Most of them received initial aid from the Treuhand.

Many expected the GDR to experience an economic upswing like West Germany in the 1950s. A director of the Treuhand, however, said: “Everyone knew that almost everything was scrap. ... Everything had collapsed.” What the outdated factories produced became largely unsellable on July 1, 1990. From that day on, D-Mark prices applied in the GDR for raw materials and wages as well as for finished products. Due to the increased costs, the previous sales markets, especially in Eastern Europe, collapsed.

Soon, the initial optimism turned into despair. All too often, debts, unresolved ownership issues, poisoned soil and poor economic prospects were arguments against the privatisation of many companies. One in three companies was closed. Even many committed new owners could not avoid layoffs. On average, seven out of ten employees lost their jobs, partly because the GDR factories produced relatively little with a large workforce. In addition, overstrained, sometimes greedy or also fraudulent investors did not respect the agreements and closed companies.
Because of the dramatic mass unemployment, the work of the Treuhand is still very controversial today. For one of the Treuhand managers, it is clear that the anger did not reach the right people: “Basically, this is all anger that should be directed against the economic management of the former GDR and against the economic policy that was wrongly pursued for 30, 40 years.”


Contemporary Witnesses Report

As a result of the reunification, the GDR economy had to be integrated into that of the Federal Republic. The Treuhandanstalt was supposed to carry out this task. Former employees report on the work of the Treuhand. A fourteen-year-old girl recalls how her city was also changed due to the work of the Treuhand.

Detlev Rohwedder explains the task of the Treuhand.
Nicole Päsler observes increasing unemployment in Eisenach.
Detlef Scheunert checks the situation of the companies for the Treuhand.
Listen to Memories Read Memories


The Treuhandanstalt was supposed to privatise the GDR’s businesses, which had previously been state-owned, and integrate the East German economy into the West German market economy. The result was deindustrialisation and mass unemployment in East Germany.


Detlev Rohwedder

At a press conference in 1990, the head of the Treuhand, Detlev Rohwedder, explained what he viewed as the central task of the Treuhandanstalt.

"The essential thing is to fulfil the legal mandate to privatise the GDR’s publicly-owned, state-owned, industrial assets, that means, the combines and state-owned enterprises, where possible, to reorganise them, to put them in order where possible, and to shut them down or liquidate them where necessary."


Nicole Päsler

The Treuhandanstalt closed several thousand state-owned enterprises throughout the GDR. In 1991, this included the automobile plant in Eisenach, which had previously manufactured the Wartburg. As a 14-year-old, Nicole Päsler witnessed how for many of the employees around her the world collapsed.

"Around the time of the reunification, people were very euphoric and had so many hopes about what would come, what would improve and so on. Of course, we all thought that this would somehow continue. Certainly not in the form of the automobile plant, but that the people would have a job despite all this. At school, there was the subject of civics, we were always shown the ugly side of capitalism: that there are unemployed people, that there are homeless people, that the prices are exorbitantly high, that one has to fight for bare survival. And then, all of a sudden, that’s how it happened. Those were not the goals for which we took to the streets."


Detlef Scheunert

Detlef Scheunert worked as a director of the Treuhand as the only East German. He previously worked in a large brake factory in Berlin. For the Treuhand, he examined the situation of companies in the East. Looking back, he reports how he recognised the catastrophic situation of the industry.

"I had seen what reality was like at the brake plant. That was a large-scale company. But I still thought, well, that’s typical Berlin laziness: big mouth, nothing behind it. And I thought there would be other companies. But when I drove through the GDR with Lauck, I saw a few bright spots, like an electronics combine. In Jena, in the Zeiss Jena combine, where they built some kind of control systems. That was the most modern technology. Everything came from the West. Well, what did you build there? Controls for the SS20. Armaments. So it was already broken, the substance, when it came to heavy industry. But when it came to consumer goods, there was nothing left. And that was also true for the supply situation. People knew that, too."

Close Memories


Places Nearby

Discover additional places related to Revolution, Unity and Transformation nearby. The sites on the map are less than 1 kilometre away. Continue exploring Berlin.


Wilhelmstraße 97
10117 Berlin
More Information


Explore Topics

The struggle for freedom in the GDR, the realization of German Unity, the growing together of Berlin – delve into one of three topics.

Allow Google Maps temporarily
My Favorites