Tourism in East Germany

From Academic Kids

Tourism in East Germany (officially: German Democratic Republic) was tightly controlled by the communist government, though it was nonetheless possible to enjoy a holiday in East Germany.

This article deals with the formalities of travel in East Germany. For information about the countryside itself, see Tourism in Germany.


Contents

Package Tours

A traveller would first have to book his or her trip at a travel agent that was accredited by the Reisebüro der DDR, the East German state tourist organisation. The travel agent would then offer the traveller one of the several package tours that the Reisebüro offered.

The formalities involved with a holiday in East Germany (such as the visa, any hotel bookings, advice on currency exchange, etc) would be taken care of by the Reisebüro. This made the usually tedious and complicated border crossing between East and West Germany much smoother.

Once inside East Germany, the traveller would be closely watched, and any East German citizens with contact to the traveller would be closely watched too. This made staying with East Germany friends or family difficult, as both the reluctance of the authorities to permit it and the knowledge that the Stasi were almost certainly watching made it both dangerous and uncomfortable for the East German hosts.

Customs

Many foreigners who travelled to East Germany had a difficult time with customs. The strict regulations enforced by the communist government meant that no spare parts for cars could be brought into East Germany without special permission, VHS tapes were expressly forbidden and compact discs and vinyl records could only be brought if they were of "cultural significance", a requirement that resulted in the confiscation of much pop music from Westerners. Any Western newspapers or magazines would also be confiscated.

Gifts up to the value of 200 East German marks or Ostmarks could be imported. This was not based on the price the traveller would have paid for them at home, but rather the price the item would sell for in East Germany.

Hotels

Visitors to East Germany were effectively obliged to stay in hotels belonging to the state-run Interhotel network. Contrary to the expectations of Westerners who envisioned East Germany as run down, Interhotel's branches (especially the Metropol and Grand hotels in East Berlin, the Bellevue in Dresden and the Merkur in Leipzig) were fully up to international standards.

There were four classes of hotel room:

  • Deluxe - a minimum of 100 ostmarks per night per person
  • Expensive - 90 to 100 ostmarks
  • Moderate - 70 to 90 ostmarks
  • Inexpensive - 40 to 70 ostmarks

A room with a bath would cost 5 or 10 more ostmarks.

Camping

Thirty campsites run by Intercamp dotted East Germany, in the following areas:

Equipped with electricity, sanitation, running water and other facilities, these camps were not cheap and had to be booked in advance.

Intercamp sites were open from May 1 to September 30.

Youth Hostels

East German youth hostels were not officially open to Westerners, but sometimes Westerners were allowed to use them if space was available.

Tipping

Tipping was officially abolished by the communist government, who viewed it as distinctly non-communistic (receiving extra money without actually doing anything extra). However, most people in the service industry in East Germany knew that Western tourists carried valuable West German marks, or, even better, US dollars, and were grateful when tipped in either of these.

Reference

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