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State-Controlled Vacations in East Germany (May 23, 1963)

Whereas West Germans enjoyed freedom of travel, East Germans had to use trade-union coupons (so called vacation checks) or government travel agencies to plan their domestic vacations. Foreign travel was limited to neighboring Eastern European states. These restrictions added to the population’s frustration with the regime.

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Everyone Wants to Travel to the Baltic Sea
Vacation worries in the Soviet Zone – the FDGB monopoly

Mountains of brochures, travel ads, posters – whereas a citizen of the Federal Republic can select a vacation from countless offers, a Central [i.e. East] German still treats it as a stroke of great fortune if he can spend his vacation where he wants. Once again, many residents of the Soviet Zone have had to resign themselves to staying at home during this year’s summer vacation. Others will be going to the mountains instead of the sea, as they had hoped; and others still have been looking for a travel opportunity for months.

The majority of vacation trips are organized by the Communist Free German Trade Union Federation [Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund or FDGB]. It only has 1.26 million “vacation checks” to distribute for all of 1963, even though it has 6.3 million members. That means that only about one in five FDGB members will receive a vacation check. That amounts to about seven percent of the total population. But not all of the lucky check holders can travel during the summer months. For the FDGB only owns 400 vacation homes and only contracts with 812 more, which means that it has upwards of 95,000 spots for travelers during the summer season, roughly 30,000 of which are rented private accommodations.

In past years, a vacation check for a thirteen-day FDGB trip (not including transportation expenses) cost 30 [East German] Marks. Now the FDGB has raised its prices and introduced a differentiated price scale so that it no longer has to pay such high subsidies. In 1962, these subsidies amounted to 82 million Marks. This year, the FDGB wants to spend only 60 million. The prices now vary according to the time of travel, the quality of the vacation home, and the income of the vacationer. Only those in the lowest income group, with gross monthly earnings of less than 500 Marks, still pay 30 Marks for a spot in the category “contract homes with outdoor beds” during the shoulder season. If you want to travel in high season, and if you earn more, then you have to pay up to 100 Marks for thirteen days of food and lodging.

That is still relatively inexpensive. But one should not measure a vacation trip on an FDGB check by Western standards. The meals are generally sufficient and good, but vacationers are not spared the effects of general supply problems. And the accommodations leave a lot to be desired. Well over half of all FDGB vacation spots consist of a bed in a three-bed room. It is rare for entire families to be able to travel together with the FDGB vacation service. FDGB instructions call it inopportune to give a check to a “non-working spouse.”

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