Whoever can’t get hold of a vacation check can try for a vacation at the state-run German Travel Agency [Deutsches Reisebüro or DER]. DER prices are approximately as high as those for package tours in the West. But by no means do they always offer the “Western standard” either. Vacationers are usually housed in private accommodations. They can use a coupon to eat in a nearby HO* restaurant. The DER also suffers from a massive shortage of accommodations. Virtually no hotels or pensions were built in Central [i.e. East] Germany in the last few years, which is why the DER is can barely satisfy one-third of the demand.
It is impossible to plan a private vacation trip to Soviet Zone recreational areas. Any and all hotels, guesthouses, pensions, homes, and private rooms have been monopolized by the FDGB or the DER. Those living in recreational areas are only allowed to have close relatives stay with them. Some farmers along the Baltic Sea coast have set up makeshift sleeping quarters in henhouses and barns to earn some extra income by taking in summer guests. At the beginning of this year, even these sorts of self-made lodgings were “registered” by the DER. Since the erection of the Berlin Wall, the FDGB and DER no longer organize any trips to Western or neutral countries. Only group travel to the Eastern Bloc countries is possible. The two vacation ships, the “Völkerfreundschaft” [“Friendship among Peoples”] and the “Fritz Heckert,” are no longer allowed to call at African or Scandinavian ports as they used to. They cruise the Black Sea throughout the summer. Every two weeks, airplanes from the eastern Lufthansa bring a new batch of vacationers to Constanza. Most foreign trips are distributed by the companies. The intelligentsia gets preferential treatment. SED propaganda chief [Gerhard] Eisler recently announced that 265,000 of the more than 17 million inhabitants of the Soviet Zone travelled to Eastern Bloc countries in 1962, above all to Czechoslovakia. Only 30,000 of them were private travelers.
For many of those seeking relaxation there is only one solution: camping. But even here the options are limited. Almost all camping lovers want to pitch their tents along the Baltic Sea coast, where there are [only] 61 tent cities with 271,000 spots, sixty percent of which are reserved for company retreats and youth groups. The central camping-spot referral agency in Stralsund had already received 1.5 million applications by April [of this year]. Many hopeful campers will therefore have to change their plans, because wild camping is not permitted along the coast. The Central [i.e. East] German vacationer is only allowed to spend time there under supervision. Otherwise, he might try to reach, via the Baltic Sea, those territories where it is easier to vacation.
*HO: Handelsorganisation, i.e. the GDR trade union – eds.
Source: “Alle wollen an die Ostsee reisen” [“Everyone Wants to Travel to the Baltic Sea”], Tagesspiegel, May 23, 1963.
Translation: Allison Brown