J17. The Best of East Germany: Youth Camps
We purchased these albums (and Item J18) from a former East German athlete who defected to the West. He tried to impress upon us that these albums represent the best side of East Germany. His words: “Nothing compares to how wonderful it was to be a youth in East Germany.” East Germany had many faults and dark sides, which came to bear with a vengeance upon the album’s prior owner as he aged out of the youth camp system, but when it came to sport and activities as a teenager, there was no better place to grow up than East Germany.
The Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend: FDJ) was the official youth movement of East Germany and the ruling Socialist Unity Party. The organization was for young adults, both male and female, between the ages of 14 and 25. While the FDJ was intended to indoctrinate East Germany’s youth with Marxist-Leninist ideology, it concentrated on holidays and camps. [“Holiday time is summer camp time!”] was an FDJ slogan. By 1989 there were 49 pioneer camps in East Germany. These two albums are about the summer camp in Trassenheide on the island of Usedom in the Baltic Sea.
These official (but vernacular) camp books are densely packed with over 620 well described photographs. The first album covers 1961-1967 and it starts at the very beginning – the first construction project to create the camp. It took 3 years of construction until in the summer of 1964 the first 75 youth were welcomed. Later in 1964 the capacity was expanded to 100 guests and by 1965 the camp could house 200. This first album ends with the construction of two houses on the property. The second album starts in 1968 and ends in 1982. It continues to document the construction (and repair) projects at the camp. Everything from electrical connections to the vegetable cellar was photographed in loving detail. This second album also concentrates more on the youth and their activities: morning communal sport; meal preparation, and even nude and semi nude beach parties (which, in the USA would of course be a strict no-go for a summer camp).
A rare official insight into East Germany’s extensive youth programs.
Please see Item J18 for an additional East German youth camp album.