GDR Axes From Behind the Iron Curtain

1950 – 1990
Multiple makers
East Germany

Axes made in East Germany during the Cold War period were stamped “GDR” for the German Democratic Republic. GDR axes can sometimes be found with the maker’s branding, a TGL standards stamp, or on its own. Multiple factories made GDR axes, and most if not all were eventually nationalized.

Interestingly “GDR” was used instead of “DDR” (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), likely to simplify for exports. Although both terms were used in and out of East Germany.(1)

At first, established axe and tool makers like Trept (now Bison) who had been in operation since the 1800s integrated GDR into their brand marks that were being stamped on axe heads. However, under the communist government, many companies were nationalized as time went on (Trept in 1972).(5)

In 1969 the government founded a state-owned company “VEB Werkzeugkombinat Schmalkalden”, producing axes under the brand SMALCALDA (also stamped GDR).(3)

GDR axes that are only stamped “GDR” are suspected to be later production. Already by the 70s the global axe business was well into collapsing, and stamps were simplifying or vanishing to cut costs.

Most GDR axes are found in German-style patterns, like the Rhineland pattern. These German axes were mostly used in East Germany and neighboring countries. Due to political tensions, not as many items from East Germany were exported to places like North America.

TGL Stamps on East German axes

A “TGL” stamp on a GDR axe indicates the axe passed the East German Government set TGL technical and quality standards.

TGL stands for “Technischen Normen, Gütevorschriften und Lieferbedingungen” which translated directly means “Technical Standards, Quality Regulations, and Delivery Conditions”.

The TGL standards were developed and introduced in 1955 and continued until the re-unification in 1990. Unlike the similar DIN standards in West Germany, TGL standards were enforced by law and covered a broader range of topics. They were accepted as state-of-the-art in the GDR.

Not all GDR axes are stamped TGL – but they likely all still passed these standards. The marking also could have been printed on the paper label.

East German vs West German Axes

You can find plenty of axes made by both West and East Germany. But, given the political climate, they tend to show up in different countries, and with slightly different features. Given these axes were made by countries that haven’t existed for over 30 years, I’m including a quick summary as well.

After World War 2, Germany was split into zones that were occupied by the various Allied forces. This resulted in the eventual creation of two different German countries (West and East), that were iconically a primary frontline of the Cold War.

West Germany

(The Federal Republic of Germany)

A Capitalist (Constitutional Republic) country, comprised by the areas previously occupied by USA/UK/France.

East Germany

(The German Democratic Republic)

A Communist (Marxist Socialist Republic) country, under the control of the Soviet Union and part of the Eastern Bloc.

Axes made in West Germany became common exports to North America and Western Europe, and large numbers were made in “American-style” designs. Both single-bit and double-bit axes were for both household forestry use in North America.

Despite political friction with USSR, East Germany still had a strong reputation for machining and engineering. So, GDR axes were still exported around the world. But, they mainly went to Europe and Scandinavia and kept traditional German designs. But, as mentioned earlier some made it to places like North America and Australia with a similar American design to the West Germans.

Due to the industrial and mechanical capabilities of East Germany, it became the strongest economy in the Eastern Bloc until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, and the reunification of Germany.

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  1. East Germany – Wikipedia
  2. Technische Normen, Gütevorschriften und Lieferbedingungen – Wikipedia
  3. Kerr-Forge – Smalcalda
  4. Blade Forums – 1245539
  5. Bison History

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