An integrated reflection and refraction seismic survey across the Permian-Cenozoic Northeast German basin yields new insights on the evolution of intracontinental basins. No precursor rift basin was observed, but there is evidence of lower-crustal thinning and an initial magmatic stage. Minor Triassic rifting and Late Cretaceous compressional tectonics indicate that intraplate deformation was strongly influenced by older structures. Intraplate thinning and contraction were strongly decoupled vertically and accommodated at distances longer than profile length (∼500 km). Thermal destabilization of a stressed, inhomogeneous lithosphere, rather than plate-boundary forces, controlled the evolution of the Northeast German basin.