10th World Festival of Youth and Students / Red Woodstock


From nakedness in public fountains to camping at the Berlin TV tower, Red Woodstock appeared to be a lapse in action from the People’s Police and proved to be a big success for the German Democratic Republic (GDR). In what could be considered the biggest event of the year, the GDR demonstrated to the world that we East Germans can have fun too. Since 1947, the World Festival of Youths has taken place regularly with themes that reflect the goals of the Soviet Union and this festival in 1973 was reflective of the recently improved relations between the two German sectors (White 2018, 590). Following relaxation between the East and West, we enjoyed welcoming our West German neighbors and international visitors in this celebration of anti-imperialism, peace, and friendship.

These festivals, organized by the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students after 1947, have been hosted throughout Eastern Europe to mark our stance of anti-imperialism and show solidarity with those around the world currently battling imperialism. After hosting the third World Festival of Youths in 1951, the GDR is happy to welcome its return in the summer of 1973 for the tenth World Festival of Youth and Students. Later more commonly referred to as “Red Woodstock,” twenty-five thousand international participants and hundreds of thousands of East German youths descended upon the German Democratic Republic to experience “nine days of music performances, art exhibitions, sports events, and political seminars – all in the name of international socialism” (White 2018, 586). This was an event that truly allowed East Germany and the Soviet Union to connect with foreign audiences in a way that was never accomplished before, but also was a demonstration of global support against Western imperialism from Vietnam to Palestine (10th World Festival of Youth and Students, 1973).  

With many viewing the German Democratic Republic, or the GDR, as nothing more than a proxy state of the Soviet Union, the GDR has gone through great lengths to establish our legitimacy. Though the GDR certainly has a positive friendship with the Soviet Union and shares in the great fortune of a communist society, these are two distinct countries with distinct cultures and governments. Under Erich Hockener, the GDR seeks to create a long-term policy of international recognition. With the capitalist West refusing to recognize the GDR and previously regarding it as an unfriendly act if third countries were to recognize the GDR or to maintain diplomatic relations with it, besides our dear partner the Soviet Union, it is critical that western imperialists do not interfere in such diplomatic efforts. These efforts have, thus far, included reaching out to developing nations to develop a relationship with the Global South based on “equality” and prove themselves as the “better Germany ” through foreign aid (Müller 2015, 283). From supplying foreign aid to sending youth organizations to train young Yemeni groups in technical vocations throughout South Yemen, the GDR is sensitive to improving our international perception (Müller 2015, 282). Following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 and Leonid Brezhnev’s (the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) visit to the Federal Republic in May, the successful Tenth Festival of Youth and Students was reflective of our new missions of international cooperation and hope towards continued outreach in the future (Allan 2016, 175).

With these great diplomatic efforts and achievements, the competition between the two Germany’s is nonexistent; though relations with the West have improved, it is without question that the East is simply superior in ideology. These good deeds done out of diplomacy, rather than imperialism, demonstrate the GDR’s international cooperation, and Red Woodstock occurred as another manifestation of this policy. As such, “The GDR’s ‘Red Woodstock’ still has to be considered part of East Berlin’s long-term ‘policy of recognition’ and the event clearly followed the “strategy of the honest broker” toward the Global South, as the Festival’s slogan indicates: The GDR was to incorporate ‘anti imperialist solidarity, peace, and friendship’” (Müller 2015, 283). Thus, ‘Red Woodstock’ was not a break from the GDR’s socialist ideology; rather, it exemplified it and furthered the anti-imperialist message of communism in every way.

Though Red Woodstock was an event organized by the GDR with a clear political agenda of establishing anti-imperialist solidarity amidst the Cold War, it also served as the most influential event for young Germans to occur in the East. In fact, this festival allowed the socialist ideology to grow within the minds of the youth further towards its goal of establishing an equal and anti-imperialist society. Amidst a time of great political change to affirm the GDR’s legitimacy and growing youth disconnect, Red Woodstock served as “a moment of globalized influences and youth engagement that reflected not only shifting societal norms, but also the East German state’s commitment to international solidarity” (White 2018, 587). By capitalizing on this East German message of international solidarity, the youth were able to alter the present social norms. While societal controls were suspended only briefly, small actions such as late-night conversations and musical performances to the larger trends of anti-imperialist expressions and public resistance did not disappear from East German society directly after the end of the festival (White 2018, 610). Though many participants reflected on this as nothing more than a break from the everyday reality of socialism in East Germany, Red Woodstock evidently served a much greater purpose. Rather than existing as a momentary time of revolutionary thought that ceased to exist the next day when reality returned, Red Woodstock was not a true break and created a lasting shift in East German society.

In addition to its vital political messaging of anti-imperialism, the Tenth World Festival of Youth and Students has evidently been one of the most successful showcases of Soviet art, literature, music, and culture we have had so far. Youth from all over our great Union gathered to experience insightful discussion about peace in and around the GDR, as well as all of the Soviet Union. These two weeks provided a space for communists from around the world to celebrate their beliefs in an environment free of judgement and scrutiny, especially from the Western and Capitalist world. This can be truly said for the Finnish students in attendance. Our great nation welcomed these students with open arms, giving them rounds of applause and cheers at each train station they stopped at (Koivunen, 140, 2012). To them, this was a dream come true, having the opportunity to escape the anti-communist mindset and fully embrace the joys of communism for the first time that we know so well in the GDR (Koivunen 140, 2012). This festival was not only for demonstrations and rallies, though. Students and youth were treated to group events such as concerts performed by our greatest artists, sporting events, and even group dinners that encouraged comradery between different individuals from all over the world. We could not be more happy with the outcome of this Youth Festival.

In efforts to establish and grow working relationships throughout the international world, the festival also served as a time for the GDR to reach far beyond its Nordic neighbors and establish a stronger relationship with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Although the tensions between the two German states are now relatively low, there is still strain due to differences in opinion on how to deal with Germany’s Nazi history. West Germany believed that the best way to reconcile with the atrocities was to support Israel and pay for reparations. However, the GDR, having an anti-imperialist and antifascist platform, put their support behind Palestine (White 2018, 597). Though it is true the Soviet Union initially supported Israel in removing the imperialist power of Great Britain from the area, Israel quickly proved to be an untrustworthy ally and directed imperialist actions towards the Palestinian people. As a result, Palestinians traveled to the 1973 festival, including Yasser Arafat.  A prominent guest at Red Woodstock, Yasser Arafat, chairman of the executive committee of the PLO, solidified the ties between Palestine and East Germany. Palestine is becoming an integral part of the East German agenda, as Arafat had aligned Palestine with other anti-imperialist movements and revolutions in the Third World (White 2018, 599). 

         Not only were ties strengthened throughout the Middle East, but socialism is even extending towards the most unlikely of places to the people suffering in the so-called free and opportunity-rich United States, with guest Angela Davis. Certainly, Davis represents a different image of America. A symbol that socialism is alive everywhere, even in the most capitalist of places, Davis, having battled the deeply entrenched racism in the United States through her leadership in the Black Power movement, is a true ally of socialism (White 2018, 596). Many East German Soviet youth may have grown up supporting Davis, from participating in exhibitions and campaigns such as “One Million Roses for Angela Davis” following her imprisonment in the United States and welcoming her at previous rallies, Davis was a familiar face in the Soviet Union and overwhelmingly recognized as a heroine (White 594-596). By coming to this festival, she has had the opportunity to speak about her socialist views in a country that supports her movement, unlike her own, which has persecuted her. In the face of the imperialist United States, Angela Davis is one of our own. 

         It is without a doubt that the Tenth World Festival of Youth and Students proved to be a success for socialism both near, within the German Democratic Republic, and far, from our Nordic neighbors to new places such as Palestine and the United States. Standing in solidarity against the evil forces of imperialism and capitalism, our youth stood united in common cause with the great governments of the GDR and the Soviet Union, demonstrating to the world the beauty and strength of socialism. United both in song and message, the GDR was able to open its borders and highlight the many recent successes of East Germany in this historical celebration. Just as we welcomed the world to join the GDR for the Tenth World Festival of Youth and Students, we welcome the world to join us in this fight against the campaigns of imperialism from Vietnam to Palestine.


10th World Festival of Youth and Students, East Berlin, 1973. Warwick Modern Records Centre. Accessed March 14, 2021. https://warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/archives_online/filmvideo/worldfestival. 

Allan, Seán. “Transnational Stardom: DEFA’s Management of Dean Reed.” In Re-Imagining DEFA: East German Cinema in Its National and Transnational Contexts, edited by Allan Seán and Heiduschke Sebastian, 168-88. NEW YORK, OXFORD: Berghahn Books, 2016. Accessed March 14, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvr6957f.13.

Koivunen, Pia. “‘A Dream Come True’: Finns Visiting the Lands of Socialism at the World Youth Festivals in the 1940s and 1950s.” Twentieth Century Communism, no. 4 (May 2012): 133–58. doi:10.3898/175864312801786364.

Müller, Miriam M. “Phase II: The Phase of Establishment and Expansion 1969 to 1978 Incorporating Marxism-Leninism into a Tribal Society.” In A Spectre Is Haunting Arabia: How the Germans Brought Their Communism to Yemen, 265-96. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2015. Accessed March 14, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1fxhb7.16.

White, Katharine. “East Germany’s RED WOODSTOCK: The 1973 FESTIVAL between the ‘Carnivalesque’ and the Everyday.” Central European History 51, no. 4 (2018): 585–610. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0008938918000754.