Gabriele Zimmer was born in the German Democratic Republic in 1955. In 1977 she graduated from the Karl-Marx-University Leipzig with a degree in Russian and French interpretation. From 1977 to 1989 she worked as a journalist and party functionary of the communist Socialist Unity Party (SED) for a company in the metal industry. In 1990 she co-founded the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) in the state of Thuringia, serving as chairwoman until 1998. From 2000 to 2003 she was the national chairwoman of PDS before it became the Left Party and from 2004 to 2019, she was a member of the European Parliament, including eight years as chairwoman of the left-wing group European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL).