Eisenhüttenstadt is a new town of the mid-20th century, an expression of the belief of Communist economists in the primacy of heavy industry. It stands on the River Oder, close to the point where it is joined by the Oder-Spree Canal, 25 km south of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. Since the Second World War the Oder has formed the border between Germany and Poland. The city was founded in 1951 to provide accommodation for employees at Eisenhüttenkombinat Ost (EKO) an enormous iron and steel plant, built to use coke from Poland and iron ore from the Ukraine, and to provide steel, particularly coils for the manufacture of motor car bodies and domestic appliances. It followed the examples of Magnitogorsk in Russia and Nowa Huta in Poland. The foundations of the first blast furnace were laid on New Year’s Day 1951, and it was fired for the first time in September of that year.
Building of the town also began on 1 January 1951. Designs by the Bauhaus architect, Franz Ehrlich (1907-84) were rejected in favour of a plan by Kurt Walter Leucht (1913-98) which favoured the plattenbau style of construction, using prefabricated concrete slabs to create blocks of four- and five-storey apartments and shops, alongside wide boulevards. There was generous provision of health, cultural and recreational facilities, but no church was built until the 1990s. The town was perceived as a model community and proclaimed to be Germany’s first socialist city. In 1953 it was named Stalinstadt in honour of Josef Stalin (1879-1953), the Soviet dictator, but was re-named in 1961, when it was merged with the neighbouring community of Fürstenberg.
The steelworks remains one of the largest in Europe with an output of more than two million tonnes a year. After the reunification of Germany the works was privatised in 1995. It was extensively modernised and since 2007 has been part of the Arcelor-Mittal group, with whom guided tours can be arranged by telephone or letter.
Privatisation of the steelworks has led to severe unemployment in Eisenhüttenstadt and the town’s population has fallen from 53,000 in 1988 to about 35,000. A programme to rehabilitate the town’s buildings is currently in progress.
The Dokumentationszentrum Alltagskultur der DDR (Documentation Centre of Everyday Life in the GDR) aims to show what life was like for ordinary people in the former German Democratic Republic and has displays that are open to the public of some of the 50,000 objects in its collection.