Wednesday, 24 June 2009

W is for...


A few years ago I did a trip through the Frankenwald area of Germany. An area in former West-Germany bordering former East Germany. There were still quite a few reminders of that period in German history. An ugly tower near the hotel we were staying in which was used by West-Germans to wave at their friends and relatives on the other side of the border, large fields without any boundaries (or so it seemed) on the Eastern part, drab grey houses (still) and this tower.

Germany was divided in two after World War II. Berlin was part Russian, American, British and French. The first part was Eastern, the other three Western. But not only Berlin was divided by the so-called Iron Curtain. The rest of the country soon followed. The border ran through villages, rivers and wooded areas and of course caused a massive upheaval on both sides.

The border was 1381 kilometers (858 miles) long and was mainly used to keep East-German citizens in instead of West-Germans out. The borders with Poland and Czechoslovakia were not fortified, since those countries were considered 'friendly', but even for those countries you would need permission.

The border runs through the indentation in the woods in the distance, continuing for miles and miles!

Basically the border consisted of a wide stretch of open land which in later years were also fortified by minefields (anti-vehicle and anti-personel). It was hard to cross those stretches, but even if you managed to do that, you weren't out of the woods yet. The towers were placed at certain distances, and the people guarding the border didn't hesitate in using force(read fire-arms). The fences were made higher over the years and were almost impossible to cross. But even with all those problems facing people, they still tried to escape. If they did manage to get across, they were granted West-German citizenship automatically.

In 1989 the border was finally broken and people from both countries were free to travel between the two states. A year later, the two countries were unified and that signified the official end to World War II (yes, really!). Most of the hated Iron Curtain was taken down within the year following its opening, but some parts remained. As a reminder. The photo at the top shows one of the watchtowers, the second photo the look from the watchtower. The towers would be placed at intervals of about 1 kilometer and the border guards would be able to see each other quite clearly.

Nowadays the whole of the East-West border, both in Germany as well as between other Eastern and Western countries is a very special place. Because of its relative solitude from 1945 onwards, animals and plants had mostly been left alone and have created a haven with some rare species amongst them. In recent years, environmental groups (mainly from the Eastern countries) have worked extremely hard to make the whole former border a national park and they are succeeding quite well. So in the end even some good has come out of that bad period.

For more information about the Inner-German border please check out this Wikipedia article.

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  1. Interesting review of that part of history, and good photos to illustrate.

  2. We went to Berlin during the last year of East-West separation and had to bus through the corridor in East Germany to reach Berlin. I still have the vivid memory about the crossing. Latter we watched in amazement how the wall fell down. The separation had been a sad episode of human history.

  3. How interesting that the hated wall and area has become an animal haven and a park. Good out of bad...I like that.

  4. Oh, I am SO glad I stopped over today to read this. Very informative. How wonderful to have such a great account of this tumultous part of time documented.

  5. Thank you for the information packed post and showing us.

  6. Thanks for the refresher. We all knew it was there, but I've just the Berlin wall pictured in my head, not what I see here.

    Nice walk in the post below.

  7. Mara, thanks for such an informative post. It is good to recall these things. A National Park is a good thing to come out of this.

  8. "An ugly tower",indeed, but an historic post !

  9. Thank you. A very informative post. I love the idea of the border becoming a safe haven for wildlife.

  10. Really unique choice for today. When I was young I really thought the curtain was made of iron and was pulled back & forth like a cinema curtain. Thanks for the reminder and sharing the photos!

  11. It is good to be reminded of those times and hope they never return. Lovely to know that nature benefited from the madness.

  12. What an interesting post! I didn't know that WWII wasn't officially over until Germany was reunified!

    How wonderful to read that some good came of that desolate frontier, in the form of native plants and animals flourishing in the wilderness.


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