The ‘People’s Sport’: Petty Theft in the German Democratic Republic, 1963–1985

In: East Central Europe
Richard Millington Department of Languages and Cultures, University of Chester, Chester, UK

Search for other papers by Richard Millington in
Current site
Google Scholar
Download Citation Get Permissions

Access options

Get access to the full article by using one of the access options below.

Institutional Login

Log in with Open Athens, Shibboleth, or your institutional credentials

Login via Institution


Buy instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):



Friedrich Engels claimed that communism would eliminate criminality. With “exploitative” capitalist societal conditions removed, there would no longer be any material or psychological reasons for people to commit crime. The reality in the Eastern Bloc in the late Cold War was, however, very different. Petty theft was a particular problem area. Citizens filched alcohol from supermarkets, bricks from construction sites, and money from colleagues’ lockers on an epidemic scale.

This article employs archival and oral history evidence to examine petty theft in the German Democratic Republic (gdr). Scholars have generally attributed its occurrence to “economy of scarcity conditions,” that is, citizens stole items that were in short supply or not on general sale. This article, however, considers whether petty theft constituted a challenge to socialist rule since this crime contravened state ideology. It finds evidence that a desire to defy the state did motivate some citizens to steal, but that the majority of thefts were inspired by more prosaic reasons. The analysis does show, however, that citizens mocked and dismissed the concept of People’s Property, thereby rejecting a central tenet of the regime’s political project.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 117 117 24
Full Text Views 75 75 1
PDF Views & Downloads 114 114 3