The German Inner Border – GDR vs. FRG

The Berlin Wall is widely known as one of the most emblematic symbols of the Cold War – a materialization of the ‘Iron Curtain’. The Wall – at least in its preliminary stage – was erected almost overnight in August 1961 by the Government of the GDR (‘German Democratic Republic’, or ‘DDR’ in German), and later developed into a complex and virtually impenetrable dividing barrier with fortifications, multiple fences, barbed wire, watchtowers, watchdogs, mines, truck stopping bars and other devices, isolating the part of Berlin attributed to the US, Britain and France from the Soviet occupation zone.

This monster, which caused many people to lose their lives, or forced them to risk everything – and leave everything behind – in the pursue of freedom, remained in place and was steadily updated until its triumphal demolition in November 1989.

What is less known is that the reason for building the Wall was the urge of the GDR to stop emigration towards West Germany (‘FRG’, Federal Republic of Germany, or ‘BRD’ in German) and the free world. Actually, the Wall was built following a massive emigration wave from the harsh living conditions of the GDR, taking place during the Fifties and mounting until the Wall was built. Literally millions of people fled the regions occupied by the Soviets from the end of WWII in 1945 until 1961.

Consequently, blocking the border only in the city of Berlin would have been nonsense. As a matter of fact, at the same time as the construction of the Wall begun, the government of the GDR started one of the most gigantic ‘border-armoring’ operations in history, by ordering fortification of the whole border line between East and West Germany. The Berlin Wall was actually only the tip of the iceberg, as all the more than 800 miles long border line between East and West Germany, extending from the Baltic Sea to Bavaria and the Czech border, was blocked with the same level of restraining techniques deployed in Berlin, to the explicit aim of preventing people from crossing the fence and going East to West. For the Communist government, East Germany had to be reconfigured basically as a nationwide prison.

This incredible operation, which involved also engaging thousands border troops and tons of equipment, plus required continuous updates of the patrolling technologies, was reportedly so expensive that it contributed effectively to the collapse of the economy in the GDR. It crystalized the so-called ‘Inner Border’ between the two German republics, which had existed since 1945, but had never been so deadly. After the introduction of this strict border patrolling policy the number of people killed or wounded, and of those arrested because trying to cross the border, increased steadily until the re-opening of the border, following rapidly after the demolition of the Wall in Berlin in 1989.

Berlin is today an enjoyable city, full of interesting places to visit and things to do, and its urban configuration, so strikingly bound to the Wall and its history – unlike all other capital cities in Europe, Berlin is lacking a true ‘city center’ – with the passing of time is becoming more uniform. Differences between the two sides, once obvious, now tend to vanish, at least in the most seen parts of the city, with new buildings, fashionable shops and malls, stately hotels and governmental buildings rising where once the Wall had created barren flat areas, not restored for long from the ruins of WWII. Obviously, nothing bad in this process, which also makes Berlin one of the most lively places in Europe in terms of architecture.

The grim atmosphere of the Cold War years can still be breathed in many places in town especially in the former East Berlin, but even close to the few memorials of the Wall scattered over the urban territory it’s hard to imagine how it really felt like being there when the border could not be crossed. If you want more evocative places, you should look somewhere else.

In this sense, the preserved border checkpoints and portions of the fortified Inner Border are much more evocative, and constitute a very vivid, albeit little known, fragment of memory, inviting you to think about the monstrous effects of ideology and dictatorship. All along the former border, especially in the southern regions of the former GDR, you can still spot large areas spoiled of trees, where once the border fences run. Scattered watchtowers are not a unusal sight in these areas, even though many have been demolished immediately after dismantling the border. In some focal places, often corresponding to former checkpoints where important roads crossed the border, the fences have been totally preserved or just slightly altered, for keeping historical memory.

The following photographs were taken during an exploration of some of these sites in summer 2015 and winter 2016. The exposition follows a south-northern direction along the former Inner Border.

Map

The following map shows the location of the sites described below. For some sites you can zoom in close to the pinpointed positions on the map to see more detailed labels. Directions to reach all the sites listed are provided section by section. The list is not complete, but refers to the sites I’ve personally visited. Border sites in Berlin are not included.

Mödlareuth

Getting there

Mödlareuth is actually the name of a small village placed along the former Inner Border between Bavaria and Thuringia. The site is not difficult to reach by car, a 4 miles detour from highway N.9, going from Munich to Berlin. Just proceed to the village of Modlareuth, which is dominated by the ‘Deutsch-Deutsches Museum Mödlareuth’ (website here). This encompasses an open-air exhibition of the former border area, plus an indoor exhibition with patrolling vehicles, artifacts, videos and temporary exhibitions. Large free parking on site.

For photographing purposes, I would suggest approaching from the south, from the village of Parchim via H02. Mödlareuth is located in a natural basin surrounded by low hills, and the H02 proceeds downhill to the site, allowing for a perfect view of the former border area.

Sights

Most of the Inner Border once run in rural areas. In that case, ‘only’ double fences, dogs, watchtowers, truck-stopping grooves and mines were ok. In the less common cases when the border crossed or passed close to villages, something similar to what had happened in Berlin was replicated on a smaller scale, and a further fortification layer in the form of a tall concrete wall, was put in place.

This happened also in Mödlareuth, where the small village was split in two parts by a wall, gaining to this town the nickname of ‘Little Berlin’. The place was rather famous in the West before 1989, and it was visited also by vice-president Bush in the years of the Reagan administration.

As here one of the relatively few local roads not cut by the Inner Border was left, the village was also place for a border checkpoint for cars.

The open air exhibition showcases what remains of the wall – the most of it was demolished restoring the original, pre-war geography of the town -, as well as a full section of the border protection system and checkpoint. Looking from the West, you had first the real geographical border, coinciding with a creek as it was typical. Beyond it, poles with warning signs and distinctive concrete posts painted in black, red and yellow stripes (the colors of the German flag) with a metal placard bearing the emblem of the GDR. These signs had existed since the inception of the inner border to mark it, and date from older times than the other border devices. Then followed the wall. Behind it, a corridor for walking/motorized patrols and a fence. Then you had a groove in the ground, reinforced with concrete, capable of stopping a truck or a car pointing westwards from the GDR. An area of flattened sand followed next, to mark the footsteps of people approaching the border area. In different times, mines were placed in a much alike sand strip. Then followed a final fence.

Except for the wall, the above description applies with slight variants to all the length of the Inner Border.

The net used for the fences was very stiff and conceived to avoid fingers passing through, this way making climbing very difficult.

A peculiar aspect of the wall in Modlareuth is a small door in it. That was a service door for border patrols, used to access the area between the border line in the middle of the creek and the wall itself, for servicing or arresting Westerners. This happened more than once, not only here – as a matter of fact, walking past the border from the West was as easy as walking past the little creek where the border line passed. This was in all respects entering the GDR, even though the fortification line was about 30 feet further into the East. When this happened you could expect to be rapidly arrested and kept for interrogation before eventually being released in most cases. Servicing, like cutting trees and so on, in the strip between the wall and the real border was reportedly a task for very enthusiastic Communist troops, as escaping to the West from there was again as easy as a leaping past a narrow creek…

The road crossing the border in Mödlareuth is not active any more and is part of the open air exhibition. Actually the former customs house hosts the ticket office. Along the former road it is possible to observe an example of car stopping devices and original ‘stop’ and ‘no-trespassing’ signs.

The area was dominated by watchtowers. There are two in Mödlareuth, one original and inaccessible, the other probably cut in height. Both are of a relatively recent model, with a distinctive round section.

Going to the two main buildings of the museum it is possible to find other interesting items, including models of the site, and pieces of hardware like a sample of the standard border wall, and a vehicle stopping device able to cut the road in a matter of a second at a short notice.

A large depot hosts many vehicles – armored vehicles, 4×4, trucks, and even a helicopter – once part of the border patrols of the GDR, and also of the FRG. Forces of the latter did monitor the border, but as the problem was mainly with the GDR in trying to keep its citizens back, the FRG forces were as substantial as it is usual for a border between states.

There are also original road signs and warning signs, including some in English for US troops.

Finally, the museum offers a well-made 15 minutes documentary, played in English on request, with the history of the Inner Border and of the wall in Mödlareuth, with video recordings from the past which really add to the perception of how the place used to work, and show what it meant for the local population – families split overnight and for decades, as it was the case in Berlin.

When I visited in 2015 the temporary exhibition was unfortunately only in German.

There are information panels scattered all around the village providing an opportunity to better compare today’s village with how it was before 1989.

Leaving to the north-west towards Thuringia along K310, it is possible to spot a part of the most external border fence which has been preserved out of the village. You can walk freely along it. Still in Modlareuth, in the parking of the exhibition a Soviet tank still occupies one of the parking lots.

I would recommend this place for a visit, it is convenient to reach and extremely interesting for the general public as well as for the most committed specialist. Visiting may take from half an hour to 1 hour 30 minutes, depending on your pace and level of interest. The countryside nearby is lovely and relaxing. The site is fully accessible and well prepared, with many explanatory information. It may be a bit crowded, as people mostly from Germany are visiting it in flocks… yet visiting is very evocative and rewarding.

Point Alpha

Getting there

The place is located between the small towns of Rasdorf, in Hessen, and Geisa, in Thuringia. It is very famous (website here), and official ad signs can be spotted also along highway N.7, going from Munich to Hamburg, near the town of Hunfeld, Hessen. From there it is a 12 miles drive – in a very relaxing, typically German countryside – to the site. Approaching from Rasdorf on the L3170, it is possible to access the site from two sides. If you go straight uphill to the top, you reach the small museum to one end of the site. If you take to the left just .2 miles before reaching the top of the hill, you access the site from the opposite end, where the most peculiar part of the complex – a US Army outpost – is located.

Both items are interesting, and they’re also linked by a walking trail – .25 miles -, running along the former border line. Free parking is available on both ends, so it’s just a matter of what you want to visit first.

Sights

This place is extraordinary in the panorama of the relics of the Inner Border, due to the fact that this portion of the border line was guarded directly by US troops instead of FRG border patrols on the western side. This is witnessed by a small outpost of the US Army which has been since then deactivated and opened to the public. The area was considered by western observers as one of the most likely targets for a possible attack/invasion from the East. This was also due to the fact the US quarters in Fulda were relatively close and there is no natural barrier between this section of the border and that city.

The US outpost is a very interesting prototype of similar installations. Much of the original barracks are still standing. The side of the outpost facing the border is also the place for an observation tower with much communication equipment and an observation deck.

The former canteen now hosts a bar. To the back of it you can still see a basketball court. Other buildings include former office/barracks, with a nice exhibition about the history and function of the site, and vehicle depots. There are also some vehicles, including a tank and two helicopters, and tents.

Very close to the tower the American Flag is still waving. The pole is not planted in the ground, in observance to the fact that this is not American land.

Curiously, walking towards the fence from within the fort you can see signs for military personnel, warning about the limits of jurisdiction outside a delimited area, in order to avoid raising diplomatic issues by introducing armored vehicles or similar items in an area too close to the border.

After visiting the outpost you can walk towards the small museum, telling more about the history of the Inner Border. The short trail runs along reconstructed portions of the original fence and border interdiction system. Most notably, on the GDR side there is a watchtower of the most modern type, tall and with a square section. Facing the US tower, there is a shooting bunker from the early age soon after WWII, put in place probably before the total closure of the border. Some signs provide scant descriptions, but the function of all devices there is pretty obvious.

Close to the US outpost on the eastern side of the border it is possible to appreciate very clearly the construction of the vehicle stopping groove.

The portion of the border next to the small museum is preserved as it was before the final blockade – in a first stage, only concrete posts were in place, whereas barbed wire and stop signs were included in the picture. This was before the subsequent modernization, taking place in more stages from the definitive closure with fences, barriers and watchtowers in the early Sixties, until the reopening of the border.

Similarly to Mödlareuth, this place is easily accessible, fully prepared for the general public and interesting also for people with a specific interest in the matter. The US outpost is a peculiar sight of this border site. In terms of resemblance to the original condition of the border fortification system, in my opinion it is less evocative than other places, but it still provides a good idea of how it may have looked like. The area is really nice to walk, so there is something for everybody here. Visiting may take from half an hour if you skip the museum, to more than an hour, depending on your interest.

Eichsfeld

Getting there

This was a major checkpoint for crossing the border, as the road passing here was often very busy. You can reach this installation on the road 247 between Gerblingerode in Lower Saxony and Teistungen in Thuringia.

The place hosts a modern museum in the former quarters of the GDR border patrol and in its annexes (website here). Furthermore, there is a loop trail along part of the former border, partially preserved in its final conditions to this day. This can be walked for free but it is pretty long, more than 1 hour for a well-trained young man, going up and down the hills to the West of the museum. I found it really much interesting especially for photographs, plus there are many information panels all along the trail, but you’d better go prepared especially on a torrid summer day.

Large parking available in front of the museum.

Sights

This place is the prototype of a checkpoint on a busy road crossing the border line. The main building of the museum has been built in a former customs house. The modern and well designed exhibition tells about the history of the Inner Border.

In a first part the focus is on the border control policy of the GDR – this was incredibly restrictive, as they tried to prevent Westerners from introducing illegal goods as well as western newspapers, books and similar ‘propaganda items’, plus they actively worked to stop people trying to flee th GDR using FRG vehicles.

This all was obtained with careful control of all vehicles, reportedly generating long queues. Every suspect good triggered a litigation, possibly resulting in access denial, fines, interrogations, … Among the hardware related to the topic, original passport control booths, movable mirrors for looking under stopped vehicles, optical instruments for checking parcels, uniforms, firearms, passports, papers.

In a second part, the museum tells about the Inner Border as a whole, including detailed information on the modernization stages from inception to demolition, and of many technical devices deployed to prevent escape. At some point, the innermost fence was supplied with contact sensors, linked to the watchtowers, telling the patrolling troops where the escapee was exactly. The strip between the inner and outer fences was filled with flattened sand, to make footprints immediately visible. This strip was filled with mines at a certain point. These had to be updated to more recent models later on, and the old ones were reportedly blown. Other deadly mechanisms included small cone-shaped explosive charges hanging from the fence, which exploded shooting plummets over a predefined area in case the fence was touched.

More information about the border include anecdotes, and numbers about people who died or where wounded trying to flee, and of those arrested for border-related issues. Also documented is the incredible cost of the whole border system, which like the Stasi – the detested internal police of the GDR – employed thousands of people, and necessitated of continuous maintenance and updates.

More about the history of the checkpoint in Eichsfeld and on the days of the re-opening can be found in the museum. A building close to the main hall, once for passport booths, hosts a photographic exhibition, very lively and interesting, about this particular checkpoint and the border re-opening. Also visible are a communication hub and a mechanic’s shop for disassembling suspect cars. In the outside courtyard of the museum some vehicles for patrolling are preserved, together with the original seal of the GDR once proudly standing in the middle of the border checkpoint.

Approaching the trailhead of the loop trail, very close to the museum, it is possible to spot vehicle stopping devices able to cut the road immediately in case of suspect escape situations.

A short map for the loop trail can be obtained for free in the museum. The checkpoint was like a punch in the otherwise continuous line of border fortification. Part of it can be seen going uphill along the trail. Original lamps shedding light along the border are still standing. Before reaching the watchtower on top of the hill it’s possible to see a well-preserved part of the original border system. Also visible are some shooting posts probably from an earlier time.

Crossing the border and going West – freely possible only today – you can still see a cippus with the ‘DDR’ sign. The sight from the west makes for good photo opportunities of how the border would have been like back in the Eighties, looking from the FRG towards the ‘dark side’. Curiously enough, an observation tower was built on the West looking to the East, reportedly not for military purposes but for tourism. As you can see from the photos in the museum, this was where people from all over Europe came to see in person an open-air prison in the middle of Europe, in the form of a country administrated by a Communist dictatorship.

Typical striped concrete posts with the symbol of the GDR can be seen ahead of the border fence to the West, marking the real geographical border.

If you ar looking for detailed and well-organized information about the Inner Border, as well as for a nice preserved checkpoint and a portion of the border fortifications, I suggest coming to Eichsfeld. The museum can be visited in half an hour and up to 1 hour. Add about 1 hour for the loop trail. Furthermore, the place is close to the beautiful Harz region, surrounded by a beautiful countryside. It makes for an ideal, unusual detour from that region or from the busy areas of Kassel, Gottingen and Hannover.

Sorge

Getting there

Differently from other sites, there is not an official museum preserving the border here, nor is this place well advertised with road signs. Furthermore, the focus of the place, a former watchtower and a part of preserved fence, can be reached with a walk – on a very well prepared horizontal road, once a military communication road running along the border – about 1.2 miles long each way, i.e. about 2.5 miles both ways, so be prepared.

The trail head is in the small village of Sorge, in Saxony-Anhalt close to the border with Lower Saxony along road 242. After taking to the village from the 242, you need to turn right to reach the trailhead, which coincides with the end of the paved road and a no passing sign. Free parking available there, plus a sign with a detailed map of the site.

Sights

This place has not much to offer in terms of hardware. The inner fence is encountered soon after the trailhead. The road then points into the land strip once going to the outer fence, running on it for about 1 mile, and finally reaching a modern, tall watchtower with a square section. What makes this site interesting is the fact that it is almost desert. During my walk and stay there I encountered two people – from the Netherlands – in total. The area of the former border is deserted and unreally silent – very impressive.

Further on, former mine fields are presented, plus a strange monument to peace or equilibrium, unclear, but it’s made of stones and does not disturb the panorama.

It is noteworthy that they are keeping the strip around the preserved portion of the fence spoiled of vegetation. This was a distinctive feature of all the Inner Border line which is vanishing with time, as trees and vegetation are often reclaiming those areas.

There is actually a small independent museum about the Inner Border in Sorge (website here), where also a border railway station was operated. Due to time constraints I could not visit it.

The most distinctive feature of the place is the characteristic Soviet ‘ghost aura’, making it really grim even in plain sunlight. The chance to walk the trail with nobody around adds to the atmosphere. Of course it requires some extra-walk with respect to other sites, and all in all the hardware it has to offer is not so abundant, so I would recommend visiting only for more committed specialists. The roundtrip time depends on your level of training, but may be easily about an hour.

Hotensleben

Getting there

The village of Hotensleben is on the border between Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, hence it once stood right on the Inner Border line. This town can be conveniently reached about 6 miles to the South of Helmstedt on highway N.2 going from Hannover to Berlin.

The border site is located on the western end of the village, on the L104 heading to Schoeningen. In case you are coming from Schoeningen you will clearly see the installation before reaching Hotensleben. Large free parking by the site.

Sights

As it was often the case for towns close to the Inner Border or crossed by it – see Mödlareuth upper on this page -, besides the usual border devices including fences, minefields, watchtowers, vehicle stopping grooves and bars, also a wall was put in place. To be exact, two walls were erected in Hotensleben, totally enclosing the strip where a service road, a minefield, fences and watchtowers were standing.

Parts of these walls have been preserved for posterity. The outer wall, mostly similar to that you can find in Mödlareuth, is tall and white, whereas the innermost one is made of grey concrete slabs. Watchdogs once stood between the innermost wall and the next fence.

Today the place is totally open access all day around, and it is made of two parts. The southernmost area showcases a modern watchtower with a round section, which has been cut for improving stability as it is not maintained any more. Look for the concrete slabs making the pavement of the service road nearby, and to the manholes with GDR factory labels.

The main part is to the north of the road. Here you can appreciate most clearly the geography of the border strip, as it is placed on the side of a hill, over a gentle slope, offering a bird-eye view of the installation. Curiously, the topography of the border devices here is reportedly mostly similar to the one implemented in Berlin in the most recent times – so from here you can have a more precise idea of what was the Berlin wall than from everywhere in Berlin.

On top of the hill – a very short walk from the parking – a watchtower of the earliest type, a rather bulky, square-shaped tower, is still standing.

To the outside of the outer wall some border signs remain – as usual, the line ran in the middle of a creek.

There is no museum here, just an open air exhibition with some information provided through leaflets you can pick-up close to the parking.

I found this place very suggestive – also due to visiting near sunset, when I spent all my time there totally alone -, and the fact this represents a specimen of the Berlin Wall better than you can find in Berlin itself adds extreme value. It’s unlikely you will find much crowd here, so the place is ideal for photographs as well as for memory and thoughts. As there is no museum and the site is limited in size, visiting may take from 15 to 45 minutes. Would surely recommend for every kind of public, thanks also to the short distance from highway N.2 and from the Marienborn site.

Marienborn

Getting there

This is a gigantic installation also known as ‘Checkpoint Alpha’, which used to work as a major checkpoint for the highway traffic entering the GDR and/or heading to/coming from Berlin along highway N.2, from Hannover and central FRG. It can be spotted to the South of the highway, adjacent to it, immediately after the town of Helmstedt going to Berlin.

The place is accessible in at least two ways. If you are driving to Berlin, you can stop by the service/fuel station about .5 miles after the Marienborn/Helmstedt exit. The service station occupies part of the former site, which can be reached by foot. If you are driving from the opposite direction on N.2 or you are not coming from the highway at all, you may start from the village of Marienborn, take the K1373 in the direction of Morsleben (i.e. to the north), and turn to the left immediately before passing below the highway, keeping on K1373. This road goes west parallel to the highway for about 1 mile, then you clearly see the site to the right. Coming from the town of Marienborn it will be possible to spot also a watchtower of the oldest type along the former border. Scant information from the website here.

Sights

This place is a real ‘Jurassic Park’ of Communism, a true, evoking, grim relic of the Cold War. The installation is big, and today totally disused, but not abandoned. Actually, when I visited in summer 2015 some of the former passport booths were undergoing (slow) restoration, and were not accessible. The former main customs building, once hosting the offices of the guards, today hosts a nice and detailed free permanent exhibition, with some artifacts, explanatory panels and site control devices, plus many self explaining photographs – the only major flaw being everything is in German only. Here you can find a leaflet also in English, guiding you in the exploration of the site. Some report guided tours are offered, by I didn’t try myself, as I expected them to be given in German only.

First of all, the geometry: the place worked as a GDR checkpoint for both directions of traffic. All vehicle traffic was detoured here, both coming in or going out the Communist territory. This was one of the main gates to the Soviet bloc, so this place was reportedly very busy year round, with legendary waiting times to be expected in all directions.

For those entering the GDR, the main worry for border patrols was the introduction of contraband goods and ‘western propaganda’ in the form of books, newspapers, prohibited goods, religious items and so on. All cars, buses and trucks were accurately scanned.

In order to cope with the huge traffic flow, passports of incoming passengers had to be placed over a treadmill leading to the passport control booths, in order to start passport processing before the vehicle actually reached the booths. This device is still standing.

In the part deputed to controlling buses and trucks it is possible to notice higher banks and ladders for getting a vantage view. Movable mirrors are placed at the level of the canopy.

I was impressed by the shabby appearance of this control station, especially doors, booths and the material of the canopies… really an anticipation of Communist quality for those coming in. Red emergency buttons all around could trigger a blockade of the control post in case of suspect activities.

Dedicated buildings included a livestock inspection quarter and a depot for inspecting dangerous material, a morgue and a bank – which can be recognized by the window railings. All Westerners coming in the GDR were forced by the law to buy a certain amount of GDR marks, at the exchange rate of 1:1 to FRG marks – due to the almost null value of the former, this was basically an entrance fee to the ‘Paradise of Socialism’.

The outgoing traffic was scanned as well, in search of potential enemies of the state trying to flee the country. A suspended deck for inspecting trucks is still standing close to the highway. The lanes leading to the control booths are still painted on the concrete of the pavement passing north of the main office building.

Suspect parcels in all directions were X-rayed or optically scanned. At a certain point in history, a well deceived scanning device – the grey ‘booth’ with no windows you can see in the photos – was put in place besides the outgoing traffic lanes, reportedly covertly X-raying all cars leaving the GDR even before reaching the control booths – definitely another era…

Military troops going to West Berlin were treated more smoothly, but the platform of their dedicated office, immediately nearby the highway, has been demolished.

Original lights all around and deserted garages, barracks and service buildings for the border personnel complete the picture. Also noticeable are the concrete post where the round seal of the GDR was once proudly standing – today there is a unexplicable hole instead of the ‘DDR’ emblem -, placed between the two roadways in the middle of the highway close to the checkpoint area.

Albeit different from all other border checkpoints – no fences, mines or concrete walls – this place is similarly evocative of the oppressive border policy of the GDR, which was evident also to ordinary Westerners trying to reach Berlin by road. This was a place where many people routinely experienced what a restrictive Communist dictatorship really meant. Would surely recommend for people interested in recent history, history of the Inner Border and the GDR, as the place is mostly preserved as it was in 1989, and easy to reach even if you’re just passing by. Exploration may take from fifteen minutes to more than an hour if you include the museum and a careful look to everything.

Schlagsdorf

Getting there

The small sleepy town of Schlagsdorf is less than 10 miles South of Lubeck. It is located in Mecklemburg-Vorpommern, on the border with Schleswig-Holstein. It can be conveniently reached by car from highway N.20 going from Lubeck to Rostock, or from the South via road 208.

The town hosts a small indoor museum in a former customs house, with a permanent exhibition and a cafe opening in the warm season (website here). The museum operates also a reconstructed specimen of the former border fortifications which is accessible by preliminarily purchasing the ticket by the museum office. The open air exhibition can be reached with a .2 miles walk through the village, or by car. Free parking all around.

Sights

The museum is focused on the restrictive customs policy of the GDR, and most notably on the effects of the border on the geography of Schlagsdorf and small towns nearby.

The area is pointed with lakes and creeks, so the geographical placement of the border line was particularly difficult around here. There existed places where the border crossed some rivers or creeks, and special nets were erected there, reaching to the bottom, cutting any communication also by water. These barriers have been demolished now, but this is well documented in the museum.

Another practice of the Communist regime even from the times of Soviet occupation was deportation of the population of some of the villages. Especially in this area, in order to avoid the creation of enclaves where the border line was too tortuous, it was decreed that some rural villages should be simply abandoned. This further dark side of the history of the Inner Border is documented here.

Like in other similar museums, some original signs, uniforms and models give an idea of how the border looked like in the decades when it was blocked.

Photographs of the border re-opening in 1989 and of the natural preserve now having taken the place of those grim installations complete this much interesting exhibition.

The open air exhibition puts together a small section of the usual external fence, ‘DDR’ posts, mine camps, lights, dog’s beds for watchdogs, local passport control booths and a modern watchtower.

Some beheaded GDR sculptures are there too, together with other stopping devices, like barbed wires forming a horizontal net at the level of the ground, which couldn’t be spotted in tall grass and made walking the area difficult and dangerous.

This border section was reportedly not here in origin, but closer to the small lake to the south of the village, where the border line actually ran. A trail with explanatory panels goes along the former border line bank of the lake. I didn’t go myself as when I visited in winter the temperature was several degrees below freezing…

In the village you can spot manholes with ‘Made in GDR’ labels, and also some garden fences made with the same net originally used for the outer fence of the border fortification – this is recycling!

I would recommend visiting to everybody even only slightly interested. The place is surrounded by a very nice and relaxing countryside, with various opportunities for enjoyable walks and other sports. Plus, the place makes for a short detour from historical Lubeck and its many attractions. Visiting both indoor and outdoor may take from 45 minutes to less than 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Kühlungsborn

Getting there

The coast town of Kühlungsborn in Mecklemburg-Vorpommern is a nice location, very busy with sea tourism. Being on the so-called ‘sea border’ of the GDR, i.e. on the Baltic sea, it was guarded similarly to the Inner Border. Approaching is necessarily via the L12 or L11.

The place can be rather crowded even far from the peak season, plus the watchtower and the small museum nearby are right behind the beaches, totally inaccessible by car (website here). Just park where you can, reach the beaches, enjoy the panorama, and go to the small central square where ‘Strandstrasse’ meets ‘Ostseeallee’. The latter points directly into the sea, and actually ends in a nice pier. To the west of the small square the watchtower can be easily spotted.

Sights

This place witnesses a less known aspect of the GDR border, which actually was constituted also by the Baltic Sea, from the outskirts of Lubeck – still in the West – to the border with Poland.

Similarly to every other part of the border with the West, several people tried to flee the country also by sea when the border was blocked. The border patrolling policy of the GDR was really restrictive, and the sea border was no exception. Several watchtowers were erected all along the coast, and motorboats patrolled the coasts continuously to stop any illegal traffic.

The modern, round-section watchtower makes for a strident sight in the otherwise pleasant, typically North-German background of the village of Kuhlungsborn.

When I visited in spring 2016 the small museum was closed for the season. I had much information through a recently visited remand prison of the Stasi (the internal police of the GDR, a kind of Communist Gestapo) in Rostock, which was hosting a rich exhibition about the ‘sea border’ (see the governmental website, this is slightly off topic but extremely interesting, website here). In any case, there are explanatory panels with photos also outside of the watchtower, allowing to get some information.

I would recommend visiting if you are going also for enjoying the town and beaches, or if you are a very committed specialist of such places. The museum is rather small in size and the hardware is basically the tower itself. Nonetheless, the striking contrast with respect to the background makes this place also rather evocative. I guess visiting may take up to 30 minutes including the museum.

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