ACTT members visit East Germany 

12 November 2018

From ‘Film and TV Technician’, the magazine of the Association of Cinematograph, Television and allied Technicians trade union, for July 1960

At the beginning of March four A.C.T.T. members, Gordon White, of Alpha Television, Birmingham, Ronald Barr, of Humphries Laboratories, Paul Rose, of AR Television and Malcolm Borland of Pathé Laboratories, paid a visit to East Germany as guests of the East German Chemical Workers’ Union. We summarise here the report on the visit prepared by GORDON WHITE.

A last minute change of date; no visas in our passports, and several alternative arrangements for our arrival in East Berlin, led Alan Sapper to wish us a very pessimistic “Good Journey.” Everything, however, went like clockwork. After a very pleasant sea voyage, we settled down to a twelve-hour train journey across Holland and Germany, and were finally met in East Berlin by the President of the Chemical Workers Union, Ruddi Hoeppner, his wife, and colleagues. We were driven to the Trade Union Hotel in East Berlin, and there spent a very pleasant evening in conversation with our hosts.


The next day, we were driven to Oberhof, in the Thuringian Forest. Here we stayed in a hotel to which all the foreign Trade Union Delegates come. The hospitality was magnificent. Also at the Hostel, were seventy-five Czechoslovakians and twenty English guests. The other English guests included representatives of the Printers’ Union, E.T.U., Miners’ Union and Transport and General Workers’ Union.

Most of the English party had come to East Germany with preconceived ideas of what they would find. In the course of the fortnight some of these ideas were radically changed. We were given every chance to speak both to officials and to the ordinary people, and there seemed no reluctance on the part of the people to answer any of our questions.

TV aerials on a roof in Saxony-Anhalt, East Germany, in 1989 by Aad van der DriftCC-BY-2.0

Officials and ordinary people, admit that East Germany has not the high standard of living which West Germany enjoys. West Germany, however, possesses the very prosperous Rhur, and most of the industrial assets. East Germany was mainly agricultural before the war, and consequently, has had to build up her industries since becoming a separate republic. The West Germans also accepted Marshall Aid which the East Germans refused.

The Germans themselves, seemed very happy, and very interested in England and our way of life. In many instances, people went out of their way to come and speak to us when they knew that we were English—in marked contrast to my experiences in West Germany last year.


The East German Government works on a five party system. The parties are the Socialist Party, Trade Unions, the Mothers’ Party, the Free German Youth Party, and the Liberal Party. It was decided when the Socialists came to power, that the seats in their Parliament would be divided so that the Socialists have the majority, as it is argued, their tasks were far greater than any of the others. Consequently, the Socialist Government can never be changed. All matters regarding the Government’s policy and plans, are discussed by everyone within the different parties, and a compromise is reached. The result, however, must be a Socialist result. The people are completely free, in the sense that they have a real say in the government, but deviation from a Socialist aim would not be tolerated. This we found to be the biggest criticism of the system. The general feeling of some people we spoke to was that although they were happy at the moment with the Government, should they ever wish to be other than socialists they knew it would be impossible.

A main aim towards a Socialist State is public ownership of all the means of production, transport and distribution. To these ends 90% of the industry of East Germany is publicly owned.

The Trade Unions in the publicly owned factories take an active part in the management. Not only conditions of work and pay are discussed, but also the production methods and output targets are mutually agreed every year. In the private industries as in England, these last two points are left solely to the management.

All Trade Unionists are entitled to cheap holidays anywhere in East Germany, and for this purpose hotels and hostels have been taken over or built in the best holiday centres.

Great emphasis is placed on education, and anyone can take a course in any subject free of charge. People are being encouraged to learn more than one job in nearly all the factories. Medical care is also an essential part of factory life, and is completely free of charge.

All schooling in East Germany is free. Politics form part of the curriculum, but religion does not. Religion is left for the parents to teach, and most of the young people I met were atheists.


We visited Buchenwald Concentration camp. To this camp were taken all the German opponents of Hitler, together with the Jews. The camp has been left as a memorial to all those who died opposing fascism, and a further memorial has been erected to the memory of all the people of all the Nations who died in the war. It is difficult to describe one’s feelings at seeing such a place, but it is very easy to understand the feelings of the East Germans, when ex-Nazis hold office in West Germany, and antisemitism breaks out throughout the West. Here is the reminder of what happened before.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-G0301-0001-009 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

After a wonderful stay in Oberhof, we were driven to Berlin. Here we were taken around the East German TV Studios. The buildings were very contemporary, and the whole layout, which was quite vast in comparison with any ITV Studio, was very well planned. Television is new in East Germany, and as late as 1950, the transmission was very intermittent, but as there were only about seventy-five sets in East Germany, this did not really matter.

The service started with single lens cameras, built by the engineers themselves. These are still in operation. In 1958 there began a seven-year plan. To-day, there are ten transmitters, and next year this number will increase. Studios will be built in Dresden, Leipzig, and on the Baltic Coast. The studios in Berlin are now mainly equipped with Pye equipment. There are eight studios, and they transmit fifty hours per week. By 1965 they will have increased this to eighty hours, and colour television will be in operation. A British firm is competing for the colour transmitter contract.

Attached to the studios is a large building, which is the experimental department. Here they are trying to produce a colour television set for approximately £150 [£3,300 in 2018, allowing for inflation]. A normal television set in East Germany costs about £100 [£2,200]. It is the price of the set which will determine when the service starts. The programmes are mainly educational, but a great number of plays are also transmitted. The service is slightly commercial, but this is for only one hour between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., and even then the adverts do not interrupt a programme. The studios themselves were fairly conventional as was the technical area. Their main asset was their excellent layout, especially in the Master Control area.

After two days in Berlin it was time to leave. It was a holiday none of us will forget, and I would like to place on record our thanks to the officials at A.C.T.T. and the East German Chemical Workers’ Union, who made it possible.

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