Pretty Best Friends: The GDR and North Korea

Glorious Socialism GDR-North Korea Relations

On September 9, 1948, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was established. For East Germany, North Korea was a valued partner. During the Cold War era, both states were allies in the struggle for a “glorious socialism.” Erich Honecker and Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, held each other in high regard. – A retrospective on the shared German-North Korean times, displaying also an interesting GDR passport from 1970 with DPRK – with an interesting wording…

Diplomatic District of Munsu-dong GDR-North Korea Relations

Since 2001, the German Embassy in Pyongyang has been located in the diplomatic district of Munsu-dong, separated from the real North Korea by strict security. Before this “embassy” (associated with official diplomatic relations), reunified Germany maintained a “representation of interests” here. Both, however, exactly where for decades GDR diplomats took care of the excellent relations between the two countries: at the former seat of the GDR embassy.

In Cold War times, the GDR and North Korea were friends in the fight for “glorious socialism. They knew each other, appreciated each other and visited each other: In 1977 and 1986, SED leader Honecker was a guest in the North Korean brother country. He was pleased to note that there was “complete agreement on all the issues discussed. Kim Il Sung, his North Korean colleague and grandfather of today’s head of state Kim Jong-un, also sees it that way.

United in the Socialist Camp GDR-North Korea Relations

The GDR has maintained friendly diplomatic relations with North Korea since November 1949. At that time, the German Democratic Republic was just one month old, and here it was tying a “firm and unbreakable bond of friendship,” as the dictum of the time put it.

Richard Fischer – GDR’s First Ambassador

In 1954, Richard Fischer took up his post as the GDR’s first ambassador to Pyongyang. North Korea and the GDR are united in destiny: As in divided Germany, a Cold War seam runs through Korea. In numerous meetings at the government level, they emphasize the common struggle against “imperialism and capitalism”. The result is unique: North Korea will be the only country in the world to have diplomatic relations with the GDR in the following years, but not with the Federal Republic.

The consonance of political interests is followed by economic cooperation, which began with an agreement on trade in goods and payments in March 1955 and peaked in 1972, according to Liana Kang-Schmitz in her 2010 dissertation “North Korea’s Dealing with Attachment and Security Risk – The Example of Bilateral Relations with the GDR.” “After that, trade turnover leveled off to a level between 100 and 150 million marks by the end of the decade,” Kang-Schmitz said.

Little tricks among friends

Kim Il Sung’s first visit to the GDR also took place in the 1950s: In 1956, he traveled to several socialist countries – and in the GDR, among other things, he visited a model farm of the time, the LPG in Döbberin in Brandenburg. The excerpts of the news broadcast at the time show the “Great Leader” looking around stables and eagerly seeking contact with the local farmers.

Curious: As the “Berliner Zeitung” found out a few years ago, Kim Il Sung also wanted to see the same LPG on another visit to the GDR almost 30 years later. However, since it was no longer as presentable, the SED superiors directed their esteemed friend to Golzow, 30 kilometers away, in order to be able to show him a presentable LPG. GDR-North Korea Relations

GDR engineers in North Korea

Numerous agreements to improve political, economic, cultural and technical-scientific cooperation accompany the joint years. In the early 1980s, for example, the GDR sent engineers from the GDR’s large Robotron combine to communist North Korea. Siegbert Speck and Fritz Heydemüller were among the specialists. They were to set up a computer center in the communist brother country. With their trip to the “Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea,” however, Speck and Heydemüller were buying a ticket that would also make them aware of their own socialist social order and history.

Loyalty to the end GDR-North Korea Relations

The friendship between the two regimes outlasts the decades. Immediately before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Kim Il Sung assured Honecker and the SED leadership of his support in the fight against the “anti-socialist offensives of the imperialists. Both quickly and unreservedly applaud the Beijing rulers for the bloody suppression of the democracy movement.

When Honecker hoped for asylum somewhere in the world after the end of the GDR, the empire of the “Great Leader” again gladly offered itself – as, incidentally, it had done a few months earlier when Romania’s dictator Nikolae Ceaucescu was looking for a new place to stay – before he was stopped and executed shortly before leaving Bucharest. For “purely humanitarian and humanitarian reasons,” the Honecker couple was to be taken in, it was said at the time.

Like Father, Like Son?

In the case of Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung’s son, the connection with the GDR quickly leads into the realm of speculation: He is said to have studied economics in this country, and there are also reports here and there of training as a fighter pilot in the NVA. But by the time he inherited his father in 1994, the GDR was long gone.

GDR travel to North Korea GDR-North Korea Relations

Traveling to North Korea was only possible for official purposes approved by the GDR government. Like the trip from machinist Wolfgang Jesche from Strassfurt. His passport was issued in Strassfurt by the peoples’ police on 23 January 1970.

Page eight of the GDR passport shows a service visa granting travel to the *“Koreanischen VR” (Korean People’s Republic). The visa is dated 26 January 1970 and valid until 30 June of the same year, which makes it pretty obvious that his travel document was issued only for this purpose.

Wolfgang made several trips (at least four) to the DPRK until 1971, also via China to North Korea. Other stamps show travel to Bulgaria and USSR.

I am fortunate to have several GDR passports with North Korean travel in my collection, they are extremely rare to find and precious travel documents of East-German passport history. GDR-North Korea Relations

Here, is another GDR passport from 1960 with North Korea travel.

* The chosen wording can be misleading or even wrong, as The People’s Republic of Korea (PRK) was a brief provisional government established following the surrender of the Empire of Japan at the conclusion of World War II. It was officially declared on September 6, 1945, at a time when Korea was being split into two occupation zones: the northern region under Soviet control and the southern region under U.S. authority. The PRK was established on the basis of a network of people’s committees and advocated a program of substantial social transformation. In the southern part of Korea, the U.S. military administration banned the PRK on December 12, 1945. Meanwhile, in the northern region, Soviet authorities assumed control of the PRK and placed pro-Soviet Korean communists like Kim Il-sung in key positions of authority, eventually incorporating it into the evolving political structure of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).  GDR-North Korea Relations

 

FAQ Passport History
Passport collection, passport renewal, old passports for sale, vintage passport, emergency passport renewal, same day passport, passport application, pasaporte passeport паспорт 护照 パスポート جواز سفر पासपोर्ट

1. What are the earliest known examples of passports, and how have they evolved?

The word "passport" came up only in the mid 15th Century. Before that, such documents were safe conducts, recommendations or protection letters. On a practical aspect, the earliest passport I have seen was from the mid 16th Century. Read more...

2. Are there any notable historical figures or personalities whose passports are highly sought after by collectors?

Every collector is doing well to define his collection focus, and yes, there are collectors looking for Celebrity passports and travel documents of historical figures like Winston Churchill, Brothers Grimm, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Read more...

3. How did passport designs and security features change throughout different periods in history, and what impact did these changes have on forgery prevention?

"Passports" before the 18th Century had a pure functional character. Security features were, in the best case, a watermark and a wax seal. Forgery, back then, was not an issue like it is nowadays. Only from the 1980s on, security features became a thing. A state-of-the-art passport nowadays has dozens of security features - visible and invisible. Some are known only by the security document printer itself. Read more...

4. What are some of the rarest and most valuable historical passports that have ever been sold or auctioned?

Lou Gehrig, Victor Tsoi, Marilyn Monroe, James Joyce, and Albert Einstein when it comes to the most expensive ones. Read more...

5. How do diplomatic passports differ from regular passports, and what makes them significant to collectors?

Such documents were often held by officials in high ranks, like ambassadors, consuls or special envoys. Furthermore, these travel documents are often frequently traveled. Hence, they hold a tapestry of stamps or visas. Partly from unusual places.

6. Can you provide insights into the stories behind specific historical passports that offer unique insights into past travel and migration trends?

A passport tells the story of its bearer and these stories can be everything - surprising, sad, vivid. Isabella Bird and her travels (1831-1904) or Mary Kingsley, a fearless Lady explorer.

7. What role did passports play during significant historical events, such as wartime travel restrictions or international treaties?

During war, a passport could have been a matter of life or death. Especially, when we are looking into WWII and the Holocaust. And yes, during that time, passports and similar documents were often forged to escape and save lives. Example...

8. How has the emergence of digital passports and biometric identification impacted the world of passport collecting?

Current modern passports having now often a sparkling, flashy design. This has mainly two reasons. 1. Improved security and 2. Displaying a countries' heritage, icons, and important figures or achievements. I can fully understand that those modern documents are wanted, especially by younger collectors.

9. Are there any specialized collections of passports, such as those from a specific country, era, or distinguished individuals?

Yes, the University of Western Sidney Library has e.g. a passport collection of the former prime minister Hon Edward Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret. They are all diplomatic passports and I had the pleasure to apprise them. I hold e.g. a collection of almost all types of the German Empire passports (only 2 types are still missing). Also, my East German passport collection is quite extensive with pretty rare passport types.

10. Where can passport collectors find reliable resources and reputable sellers to expand their collection and learn more about passport history?

A good start is eBay, Delcampe, flea markets, garage or estate sales. The more significant travel documents you probably find at the classic auction houses. Sometimes I also offer documents from my archive/collection. See offers... As you are already here, you surely found a great source on the topic 😉

Other great sources are: Scottish Passports, The Nansen passport, The secret lives of diplomatic couriers

11. Is vintage passport collecting legal? What are the regulations and considerations collectors should know when acquiring historical passports?

First, it's important to stress that each country has its own laws when it comes to passports. Collecting old vintage passports for historical or educational reasons is safe and legal, or at least tolerated. More details on the legal aspects are here...

Does this article spark your curiosity about passport collecting and the history of passports? With this valuable information, you have a good basis to start your own passport collection.

Question? Contact me...