GDR History

A dream ship in the service of the FDGB – die MS »Völkerfreundschaft«

The GDR cruise ship »Völkerfreundschaft« represented East German holidaymakers' dreams from 1960 to 1985. For the majority of the population, however, the GDR's dream ship remained just that – a dream. (22 Jan 2015)

For a quarter of a century, the motor ship (MS) »Völkerfreundschaft« stood for East German holidaymakers' dreams. From 1960 until it was sold in 1985, thousands of holidaymakers enjoyed a cruise on the GDR's »dream ship«. Bought by the FDGB, this ship was intended to meet the party leadership's and workers' growing needs for travel and holiday opportunities.

Birth name of the »Völkerfreundschaft«: »Stockholm«

The ship was originally built in Gothenburg in Sweden shortly after the end of the Second World War and was launched on 9 September 1946. After the usual ship trials, it was commissioned in 1948 and sailed on its maiden voyage under the name »Stockholm«. Built for transatlantic traffic, the »Stockholm« travelled between Scandinavia and North America. In 1956, however, a serious accident occurred on this route. On 25 July 1956, shortly before midnight, the 160-metre-long passenger ship collided with the large Italian cruise ship »Andrea Doria« off the east coast of North America. The cause of the collision was dense fog and navigational errors on both ships. The »Andrea Doria« sank just 11 hours later. In the process, 43 of the 1706 people on board lost their lives. The »Stockholm« suffered five fatalities but was still able to make its way to the port of New York without assistance.

Sale of the »Stockholm« to the GDR in 1959

After a series of renovations, the ship was sold to the GDR in 1959 and handed over to the FDGB on 3 January 1960 under the name »Völkerfreundschaft«. It was converted into a »one-class ship« with a capacity of 568 passengers. The maiden voyage under the GDR flag took place from 24 February to 8 March 1960 and took passengers to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It called at various ports in Greece and Romania.

You can find a photo album documenting the first great voyage of the »Völkerfreundschaft« in our collection. It contains numerous impressions of the ports of call and of everyday life on board. The page of the photo album shown in the illustration shows five photographs taken on 5 March 1960 in Athens, Greece, on shore leave. The photographs have the deckle edge typical of the time.

Brochure »Voyage with MS 'Völkerfreundschaft'« - front and back illustration

A trip on the GDR dream ship: a dream for many

With a price of 250 marks per person for a two-week cruise, it was clear that not every FDGB holidaymaker could enjoy one of these exotic voyages. The coveted places on board were often given to deserving workers, activists and party veterans. By awarding them to deserving workers, the state tried to boost morale and work performance in the factories. It was also possible for West German travellers to get a place on board - for foreign currency of course. A jewellery plate from 1982 exemplifies the allocation of seats by the FDGB. The decorative plate commemorates a Mediterranean and Black Sea voyage in 1982 for deserving party veterans and party workers. Ports of call were Algiers, Tripoli, Constanza, Batumi and Varna. The porcelain plate is in two colours, with the silhouette of the ship in the centre.

Sale of the »Völkerfreundschaft« in the mid-1980s

In the mid-1980s, the »Völkerfreundschaft« was sold to a Norwegian shipping company and replaced by the larger and much more modern »Arkona«. Under changing names and owners, the »Völkerfreundschaft« is still in service today, making it the longest serving transatlantic ship in the world.


Editor's note: this blog post first appeared on 22 January 2015.

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