- Reisen zu den Sowjets: Der ausländische Tourismus in Rußland 1921–1941: Mit einem bio-bibliographischen Anhang zu 96 deutschen Reiseautoren
Between 1921 and 1941, thousands of German travelers—tourists, business travelers, scientific and cultural elites, and the politically curious—journeyed to the Soviet Union. From these travelers came almost 900 travel accounts, and from 100 of these (written by 96 authors) Matthias Heeke has meticulously reconstructed the logistics of their travel. Along the way, he provides the reader with an institutional history of Soviet foreign tourism and travel and a discussion of the ways in which the authors' political positions influenced the way in which they chose to write about their journeys.
The monograph is based on Heeke's 1999 doctoral dissertation at the University of Münster. The author has ranged widely in published and archival sources (the records of VOKS, the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries; Intourist; and the Soviet Commercial Fleet, Sovtorgflot, which carried passengers to and within the USSR). The source base for his study consists of the 100 travel accounts, which he combines with extensive information (reported in an appendix) about the biographies and publications of their authors. For his sample he chose monographs that were published between 1920 and 1945 by German or Austrian authors, works in which the central component was a journey to or limited period of residence in the Soviet Union during these years. The largest number of such trips took place in 1930 and 1931, although there was a substantial number of reports from the 1920s. After 1933, when the Nazis came to power, travel by Germans diminished and travel reports about the USSR could not be published inside the Reich. The travelers undertook their journeys for a variety of motives: study and information tours (by teachers, physicians, etc.); visits to Soviet cultural attractions; political tourism to visit sites of the 1917 revolutions; adventure travel, [End Page 137] including backpacking, hunting, and alpinism; and travel for medical treatment and cures. The typical author in the sample was a male between the ages of 30 and 39 (the World War I generation), who had completed high school, did not know Russian, and was a professional writer. Only 9 of the 96 authors were women (including several in married couples).
Heeke also categorizes his authors' political positions. Ten of the 96 could be labeled "propagandists," who believed in the cause of the Communist Party. Another 15 were considered "supporters" of a utopian alternative to the capitalist West and included Christian socialists, pacifists, and leftist intellectuals. Walter Benjamin, who published a well-known diary of his trip to Moscow in December 1926–January 1927, falls into this category.1 The most numerous group were the "investigators," conservatives who saw the USSR as a source of economic competition or liberals seeking an alternative to the economic crisis of the capitalist West: for them, the German situation was the reference point. Another 12 of the writers were explicit opponents of the Soviet regime, including Catholics, Social Democrats, and National Socialists. Another 13 were labeled "renegades," who had once been supporters of the regime but had experienced a change of loyalties. Finally, some of the accounts were written by "non-politicals," primarily scientists who were interested in their specialties rather than politics. Throughout his discussion of their reports, Heeke keeps the political coloring of his sources in full view.
Heeke's approach is to mine these sources to reconstruct the daily life of travel in the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s. He argues that the logistics of foreign travel are as important an influence on these writings as are political positions or the desire to draw interpretations from the travel experience. It turns out that these reports are a goldmine of information about the practicalities of "travel to...