Along the border patrol road (“Kolonnenweg”)
The GDR border installations dating back to the 1950s and ‘60s were reconstructed in terms of their individual expansion stages at an authentic point along the road between the “House on the Border” (Geisa/Thuringia district) and the former US observation post at Point Alpha (Rasdorf/Hesse district). The segment originating in the 1970s/1980s, as well as the observation tower, are authentic originals. Viewed from the former border patrol road (“Kolonnenweg”), along today’s green belt, you can understand just how the appearance of the border changed over the years as it became increasingly insurmountable.
Coming from the direction of the “House on the Border”, on the right-hand side you will find the observation tower of the GDR border guard forces. On the left-hand side, there are samples of border fortifications originating from four decades, beginning with the end of the war until the last days of the GDR. A simple road barrier bearing the Russian word STOI (halt) illustrates the post-war situation. This is how the roads between the occupation zones were blocked.
Subsequently, one can see the simple barbed wire fence erected in the 1950s which was replaced in the 1960s by a double fence with concrete posts, placed at intervals of 10 to 30 meters, depending on their length. Between the two fences the LPMD 6L wooden box personnel mines and later plastic mines were laid. With the onset of East-West rapprochement and the efforts of the GDR to attain international acknowledgement, the mines were detonated as of the early 1970s. However, they were replaced by equally cruel SM70 fragmentation mines installed directly at the fence. In its final expansion stage, the expanded metal fence was generally 3 meters high and, as of 1972, equipped with motor vehicle barrier trenches intended to deter border breaches with a motor vehicle.
The emergence of the frontier between the power blocs
The ultimate break between the allies of the Second World War came with the blockade of Berlin by the Soviet Union. The trigger is deemed to be the monetary reform transacted by the western Allies in their zones on June 21, 1948. The USSR reacted to the introduction of the DM with the closure of all land and waterway links between what later became the German Federal Republic and West Berlin. As of July 13, 1948, which was still during the blockade, the Soviet military administration demanded that citizens from the western occupation zones have a residence permit in addition to the interzonal passport. Thus, a visit to Berlin required a permit from the local authorities of the Soviet occupation zone, resulting in further constraint of inner German visitor traffic. Ultimately, the economic disparity between the zones was partly responsible for having smugglers and speculators take advantage of the open “green border”. To stem the tide of goods flowing out of the area under Soviet occupation, the USSR subjected the demarcation line to more intense supervision, reinforcing Soviet troops with East German border police as of the fall of 1946. The presence of the border police was enabled by an initiative passed by the Control Board (Nr. 16 of November 6, 1945). The critical situation among the power blocs was exacerbated by the outbreak of the Korean War, thus escalating the Cold War by another notch.
The expansion of the border began slowly with the onset of the 1950s. The “green line” was replaced by the dreaded “anti-fascist protective barrier”, whose installations would become increasingly impermeable in the decades that followed.
Destinies of flight
Even after the GDR had fortified its border so as to effectively deter a crossing which had once been possible across the green line, people attempted to escape the dictatorial regime of the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany) state. Adventure-laden designs from balloons to mini-submarines were invented to enable flight from the country. In 1979, two families succeeded in fleeing with a hot air balloon they had sewn themselves. Thereupon, pastures and glades in the vicinity of the frontier were checked for their suitability as possible launch sites for hot air balloons and, if deemed as such, were subjected to especially stringent surveillance. The exhibition includes a map that illustrates this impressively.
Nevertheless, most escape attempts were a lot less spectacular and, with a bit of luck, did end in freedom. Due to the progressively more sophisticated nature of the border installations, flight became increasingly hazardous. The first fatal shots were fired as early as August 24, 1961. The images of Peter Fechter, shot during an attempted escape, clearly illustrate the brutality of the GDR regime. Following a 45-minute death struggle, the barely 18-year old Fechter succumbed in the death strip of no man’s land.
Over 60,000 persons were condemned to prison sentences averaging four years for “attempted flight from the Republic” or the preparation thereof.
The birch-cross – the attempted escape of Bernhard F.
The birch-cross located directly opposite the US Army observation post constitutes a special type of memorial site. The cross was erected in memory of an attempted flight hazarded by two men at this site on Christmas of 1975. They were almost at their destination when Bernhard F, one of the men who was from a neighboring village, triggered an SM 70 fragmentation mine mounted on the last border fence before freedom. He was injured so seriously that for a long time it was assumed he had not survived. His companion was arrested. All this transpired right in front of the Americans who were not allowed to intervene.
Today the birch-cross stands for all those who became victims of the German division. The state-sponsored despotism and injustice that was endured by upstanding democratic citizens in the second German dictatorship must not be forgotten.
Memorial of German Division and Reunification
August 13, 2000, 39 years after the erection of the Berlin wall, saw the unveiling of the Memorial of German Division and Reunification right on the frontier of the two German states, next to the former Point Alpha observation post and directly on the death strip. It is five meters high and is comprised of three metal-framed wooden steles. Two of them are separated by a crack which symbolizes German partition and consists of two steles with the same cut surfaces. These two parts were joined in the background and, with their still visible and painful scar, they symbolize the reunification.
The back of the memorial bears one of the watchwords originating from the thousands of demonstrators who participated in the days of the peaceful revolution of the fall of 1989; “We are one nation” and the legendary words of Willy Brandt; “Now that which belongs together is growing together”. The work of art had been designed by students of wood sculpture (Holzbildhauerhandwerk) at the Bad Salzungen state vocational training center (SBBZ). At the official opening ceremony, the state prime ministers of Hesse and Thuringia, Roland Koch and Dr. Benhard Vogel, paid tribute to “the victims of the German division, the brave people of the peaceful revolution and the architects of German unity” (wording of the memorial dedication). Wreath-laying and memorial ceremonies are held here every year on the day of German unity.