Ulrike Poppe was born in 1953 in Rostock and grew up in Hohen-Neuendorf, near Berlin. She began studying at Berlin's Humboldt University to become a teacher of art and history but discontinued her studies in 1973 without completing her degree. For a time she worked as an aid in a children's home and in the Psychiatric Clinic at the Charité University Hospital until in 1976, she obtained an assistant position at the German History Museum. In the 1980s, because of her active participation in key areas of opposition in East Berlin, she underwent a series of "demoralisation measures" instigated by the Ministry of State Security (MfS). In 1980, she together with a small group of like-minded friends opened the first independent kindergarten in East Berlin. In 1982, she co-founded the "Frauen für den Frieden" (Women for Peace) group and launched a series of protest actions against the GDR's new conscription laws.
At the end of 1983, the MfS arrested Ulrike Poppe together with Bärbel Bohley, charging them with "treasonable communication." They were both taken to the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen remand prison. These MfS detentions triggered a mass wave of protests in the GDR and abroad, which led to the two women being released six weeks later. From 1985, Ulrike Poppe was involved in the "Initiative Frieden und Menschenrechte" (Initiative for Peace and Human Rights), an organisation critical of the SED regime. In September 1989, she was one of the first to sign the petition that would establish the "Demokratie Jetzt" (Democracy Now) civil rights movement. She represented this group in the main negotiations leading up to the first free elections for the Volkskammer, the East German parliament, in March 1990. Until 1991, she was a member of the "Demokratie Jetzt" representatives' council, which played a key role in the peaceful revolution of autumn 1989.
Since 2010, she has been the appointed Commissioner for the Study of the Repercussions of the Communist Dictatorship for Brandenburg. She is also a member of the Berlin-Hohenschönhausen Memorial Advisory Board.