Holiday time is summer camp time! This slogan was true for many children who grew up in the German Democratic Republic. And, truly, the small republic established a great number of summer camps. The youth getaways were divided into pioneer's camps („Pionierferienlager“) and company camps („Betriebsferienlager“) and were spread all over the country. In the year 1989 alone there were 49 pioneer's camps within the GDR, as well as hundreds of additional company camps.
The Pioneer Republic "Wilhelm Pieck" was only an hour's drive away from Berlin and was inaugurated on the 16th of July, 1952 in Altenhof near the lake Werbellinsee. Wilhelm Pieck, president of the GDR and person who the camp was named after, opened the GDR-pioneer's camp headquarters as a symbol for the holiday season. The role model for the German model-camp was the soviet summer camp “Artek” on the Crimea, which was created by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1925.
Since its opening the Pioneer Republic was constantly expanded and covered an area of 1.1 km² in 1989. Along with the obligatory accommodation buildings the camp also consisted of a kindergarten, a Polytechnic High School, various sports facilities and dining options as well as a Mongolian yurt as a special feature. Approximately 400,000 young pioneers visited the summer camp throughout its existence. Unlike stays in company camps, the delegation to the Pioneer Republic was regarded as an award and was the result of an outstanding performance at school or in the social field achieved by the participants.
In matters of organization, the "International Summer Camp" was the highlight of the year. These camps were mainly visited by deserving participants from other socialist and communist countries, mainly from Eastern Europe. On top of the usual camp activities such as flag ceremonies, hiking, handicraft work, scouting games, swimming, table tennis as well as the obligatory dance evening and Neptune Festival, the young people were also politically educated within the school buildings of the Pioneer Republic. This was another feature highlighting the elite character of this camp.
There are numerous objects concerning summer camp in the GDR within our collection. Among other things we for example own a packing list for a company camp of the “Centrum” department store chain, a passport for the central pioneer's camp "Helmut Just" in Biesenthal, Brandenburg from the summer of 1974 as well as an award "for very good performances in the student production" of the Pioneer Republic "Wilhelm Pieck" from November 28, 1969.
The site of the former camp at the lake Werbellinsee was privatized after the reunification of Eastern and Western Germany and is now home to an international recreational and meeting place for young people.
Do you have experiences or objects related to summer camps which you would like to share with us? We are looking forward to hearing or reading from you!