Cold War Cruisin’

by Sarah DavisIMG_0779

Cruise ships are important to The Wende Museum because some argue that one in particular was the locale of the Cold War’s end. George H. W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev enjoyed luxurious meals and breath-taking views of the Mediterranean as they discussed the lifting of the Iron Curtain on board the MS Maxim Gorkiy. Many historians point to this, the Malta Summit, as the beginning of the “thaw,” though no official documents were signed.

Aside from MS Maxim Gorkiy’s political significance, taking a cruise was a popular vacation option for those in the East. Even in the face of constant political tension, leisure culture stayed strong in the east and the west. Americans traveled abroad, perhaps to uphold the values of freedom and capitalism.¹ But the GDR and the USSR both placed tough restrictions on travelers. All travel plans of GDR residents had to be monitored through the Reisebüro der DDR, a state travel organization that controlled local hotels and corresponded with travel agencies in foreign countries. Here’s a Socialist-friendly packing list to help you plan for your Cold War-era cruise.


Passport. As an obedient Soviet comrade like this young woman, you had to have your passport on you at all times, even at home in the USSR. If stopped, lacking a passport might lead officials to suspect you were a criminal, an anti-socialist, or a peasant fugitive trying to escape the commune. Nothing ruins a lovely cruise faster than getting thrown in the brig.


Camera. You will want to preserve all of your memories on film. Who knows, someday your photographs might be admired by thousands behind glass in a museum. With its unique East German design, the Pentacon K-16 camera is a great option for your voyage. Lightweight and compact, the Pentacon has a flash that will come handy in the dim lighting of the cabin. Say Käse!


Toiletries. Keep them dry! These colorful plastic soap and toothbrush cases were manufactured by Sonja, a ubiquitous East German plastic manufacturer that still exists today. You will need one for soap and one for your toothbrush so you can smell fresh as you flash your pearly whites. There is no doubt you’ll be doing a lot of smiling.


Hat. Protect your skin from the unforgiving Baltic sun with this stylish baseball cap. Broadcast your support for Kombinat VEB Fahrzeugelektrik, East German electric company extraordinaire, as you bask in the light. It’s crafted to the highest standard from the finest polyester.


Light reading. Brush up on your fussball technique with this handy copy of Die Taktik des Fußballspiels. Just because you’re at sea doesn’t mean you can’t be constantly improving your game. You have to be ready for the ‘76 Summer Olympics.


Luggage. All of these essentials need to go somewhere. This suitcase commemorating the tenth congress of the FDJ in Berlin in 1976 is a perfect fit. It depicts a the eye-catching stylized FDJ logo and a band of colorful stripes that will make you the envy of every socialist on board.

Now you’re set to contemplate the Competing Utopias of capitalism while the crisp ocean breeze blows through your hair. Or you can forget about it all together because this is, after all, a vacation.

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