Jesús Ismael Irsula is thirteen years old when he attends an international summer camp in the GDR in 1966. Later, he studies in the GDR and translates for the representation of the Cuban brand Havana Club. In 1989 he starts his doctorate in German studies at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig. However, he does not want to stay in the GDR.
As pupils to East Germany
In summer 1966 Jesús Ismael Irsula is selected together with three girls and two other boys of the Unión de Pioneros de Cuba to participate in a summer camp in the GDR. They travel by ship from Havana to Rostock. Their journey lasts fourteen days, and upon arrival they continue on to the Wilhelm Pieck Pioneer Republic. There children from various socialist countries spend the summer in a kind of cadre school. Back in Havana, he thoroughly begins learning German. In the summer of 1973, after finishing high school, Jesús returns to East Germany. In Rostock he participates in a summer course, and in Berlin he receives further training in teaching German at the Humboldt University. Before going back to Cuba, he participates in the World Festival of Youth and Students (Weltfestspielen der Jugend und Studenten) in Berlin.
I was deeply impressed. We saw countries that were so different.Jesus Ismael Irsula Peña, Havana 2022
University in Leipzig
In 1975 Jesús Ismael Irsula visits the GDR for a third time. Up until 1979 he studied German language and literature at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig. He receives a scholarship and a room in the dormitory. There live many of his fellow students from East Germany and various other countries. Jesús makes friends with women from Eastern Europe and meets many other Latin Americans. At university, he also becomes acquainted with the woman who will later have a child with him.
Jesús is also politically active. In 1978 Jesús and his Cuban friends organized a comparsa, a carnival performance, to raise money for the World Youth Festival in Havana. He also speaks as a Cuban representative at an African students’ congress in the GDR. There he quotes Fidel Castro in describing Cubans as both Latin Americans and Latin Africans. He remembers the solidarity that he received. The Central Council of the FDJ awards him a medal of honor for his commitment.
At the Leipzig Trade Fair
While still studying German Jesús Ismael Irsula works as an interpreter at the Leipzig Trade Fair, where he works, among others, the Havana Club representative office. Jesús likes the work: He meets high-ranking Cuban business representatives and is also well paid.
It was fantastic for us!Jesus Ismael Irsula Peña, Havana 2022
Return(ing) to Cuba
In the summer of 1979 he graduates from university and returns to Cuba as a German teacher. His relationship with the East German student, who is the mother of his child, is good, but not exclusive. She and her friends bid him a fond farewell. At this stage it is not yet clear that soon he will return to the GDR.
In 1982 Jesús is given the opportunity to continue his studies and training in German with a PhD program. In 1990 he successfully defends his doctoral thesis.
Jesus Ismael Irsula Peña lives in Havana, where he works as an interpreter and translator.
Elaine del Valle Cala conducted the interview in Havana in 2021.
Text: Isabel Enzenbach
Research and research protocol photos: Elaine del Valle Cala, Isabel Enzenbach