‘It is a Shame We Are Not Neighbours’: GDR Tourist Cruises to Cuba, 1961–89

Bodie, George. 2020. ‘It is a Shame We Are Not Neighbours’: GDR Tourist Cruises to Cuba, 1961–89. Journal of Contemporary History, 55(2), pp. 411-434. ISSN 0022-0094 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The German Democratic Republic (GDR) is typically portrayed as only allowing its citizens to travel within the ‘Eastern bloc’. It has passed largely unremarked upon that from 1961 to 1989, however, tens of thousands of GDR citizens travelled to Cuba, with thousands of these journeys taking place on trade union-owned cruise ships. This article investigates the implications of this largely ignored phenomenon. Accompanying these cruises was wealth of symbolism, and the tensions within this symbolism allow us to explore the peculiar global vision constructed by GDR elites, which has hitherto been largely obscured by the depiction of the GDR as a parochial, autarchic state. Cuba was part of what was known as the “socialist world system”, the collection of socialist states across the world who shared the same, socialist, societal structures. Communist theorists supposed that these societies were on a path of objective convergence, and that tourism would further this process. At the same time, Cuba was exoticized as a site of radical, southern difference and consumerist pleasure. These conflicting visions were ever present in the literature surrounding cruises to Cuba, but as time went on, the latter vision gained prominence.

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Research for this article was funded by the AHRC and UCL SSEES.


Cuba, GDR, globalisation, leisure, tourism

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28 August 2019Published Online
April 2020Published

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26 Sep 2022 08:38

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26 Sep 2022 08:38

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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