About two years ago I had stumbled across the old inner-german border whilst wandering near Coburg. That brief experience lead me to begin researching the very physical manifestation of Churchill’s ‘iron curtain‘.
Google being my friend – it didn’t take too long to find websites which are dedicated to preserving the history of this particular border. In the course of my googling I came across the curious case of the ‘little berlin’ or the town of Moedlareuth. This town, which even today remains tiny, sits in a picturesque valley, with a wee stream dividing it in half. The stream also marks the boundary between the German provinces of Thuringa and Bavaria – notable because this also marked the extent of the Soviet Zone of Occupation after WWII and subsequently became the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik-DDR 1949-1990).
From 1952 until 1966 the DDR strengthened its border with the federal republic, becoming eventually one of the most heavily militarised zones anywhere – perhaps with the exception of that between North and South Korea. In moedlareuth it was particularly noticeable as the border ran right through the middle of the town passing quite close to buildings. By 1966, the temporary fencing was replaced with a 14 ft high double wall backed up with electrified fences, watchtowers, minefields and machine gun posts manned by the volkspolizei (‘vopos‘) creating a death zone which became almost impossible to cross.
And so, presented with the opportunity to go and see remnants of this border, early sunday morning, off I jetted towards moedlareuth. A beautiful sunny day, the wide open autobahn – no need to repeat my previous musings about driving fast cars in Germany.
Note: in this first picture, taken from the former East German side – from right to left – the vehicle track along which border / security forces would patrol, the plowed soil intended to reveal footprints, the small ditch with the vertical rise on the left, thus preventing any vehicles from ramming the electrified fence, and further to the left – but since removed – was the 14ft high concrete wall (although a segment remains just out of the picture). Between the fence and wall the 10m wide strip was planted with land and anti personel mines. The only border in the world designed to keep its residents in. In fact the East Germans essentially thought of those who escaped as ‘deserters’. The pamphlet “He Who Leaves the German Democratic Republic Joins the Warmongers”, Notizbuch des Agitators (“Agitator’s Notebook”), published by the Socialist Unity Party’s Agitation Department, Berlin District, November 1955, had this to say:
Both from the moral standpoint as well as in terms of the interests of the whole German nation, leaving the GDR is an act of political and moral backwardness and depravity.
Those who let themselves be recruited objectively serve West German Reaction and militarism, whether they know it or not. Is it not despicable when for the sake of a few alluring job offers or other false promises about a “guaranteed future” one leaves a country in which the seed for a new and more beautiful life is sprouting, and is already showing the first fruits, for the place that favors a new war and destruction?
Is it not an act of political depravity when citizens, whether young people, workers, or members of the intelligentsia, leave and betray what our people have created through common labor in our republic to offer themselves to the American or British secret services or work for the West German factory owners, Junkers, or militarists? Does not leaving the land of progress for the morass of an historically outdated social order demonstrate political backwardness and blindness? …[W]orkers throughout Germany will demand punishment for those who today leave the German Democratic Republic, the strong bastion of the fight for peace, to serve the deadly enemy of the German people, the imperialists and militarists.
How to get there:
By Car from Greding: turn onto the Autobahn 9 (A9) north towards Nuremberg, following signs for Berlin / Hof. Leave A9 at exit 33, joining A72 towards Hof. Take exit 3, north towards Toepen. In Toepen follow signs for the Deutch-Deutches Museumto moedlareuth.