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 engaged 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 of the GDR. It crystallized 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 an unusual 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, winter 2016, summer 2021 and again in summer 2023. The exposition follows a southern-northern direction along the former Inner Border.
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 have personally visited. Border sites in Berlin are not included.
Navigate this post – Click on links to scroll
- Schwarzes Moor
- Point Alpha
- Point India & Point Romeo
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.
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.
The Eisfeld site can be reached easily from highway N.73, less than .5 miles from exit Eisfeld-Süd. Actually, the highway didn’t exist at the time of the GDR, and the corresponding traffic ran on what is today Coburger Strasse. The very location of the former border checkpoint is today taken by a gas station, serving the highway traffic.
On site, you can still find the ‘Gedenkstätte Innerdeutsche Grenze Eisfeld-Rottenbach’, hosted in the original control tower for the border checkpoint. The tower can be visited as an automated museum, meaning that entrance is possible by putting a few coins in an automatic system to unlock the door. Despite being automated, the museum has hours of operations.
The Eisfeld site is similar to the one in Eussenhausen (see later), being the location of a former border crossing point. Actually, this checkpoint was built in a relatively later stage in the life of the inner border in 1973, to decrease congestion on major crossing points then in existence.
The highway today running nearby was not there in the Cold War years, hence the relatively smaller road running today into the service area and gas station now taking the place of the former checkpoint, used to be a major road linking the FRG and GDR near Eisfeld.
Of course, having been turned into a service station, the original function of the place is somewhat deceived. However, the control tower greeting you when approaching from the south betrays the original identity of this facility.
The control tower was there to oversee and keep a constant watch on border control and customs operations, taking place on the several vehicle lanes beneath. Today, it is home to a very interesting exhibition on the topic.
Most of the exhibition is centered on pictures from the time of construction, operation and final dismantlement. These are very evocative of the bygone era of the Iron Curtain.
On the top floor, a scale model of the former border crossing facility can be found. This is extremely interesting to understand the general arrangement of the site, and how traffic flows used to be managed on site. The normal access road from the FRG was interrupted by a preliminary checkpoint, giving access to the control area. Vehicles were split in multiple parallel queues for the official check. The lanes then rejoined and access to the GDR was via a normally-sized road. Basically the same happened in the opposite direction.
Stopping gear for emergency – conceived especially to stop fleeing vehicles – was located in several points, as well as fences all around the area, with watchtowers and more usual stopping systems for men and vehicles. Garrisons and booths were abundant too.
Most of this has gone today, except maybe some of the buildings of the service station, recycled from a different function.
The control tower is the most conspicuous remain, together with some pieces of the Berlin wall, clearly not from here, but located here for remembrance. Visiting the small museum – unfortunately with descriptions in German only – may take about 45 minutes. Website here.
The memorial can be found on the local road connecting Gompertshausen (Thuringia) to Alsleben (Bavaria). Parking opportunities on site.
The memorial Grenzdenkmal Gompertshausen is centered on an early-generation watchtower. The place was unlikely associated to a crossing point, and it is possible that the local road, now passing right besides the tower, was cut in the days of the GDR.
The memorial cannot be toured unless by appointment. However, its location in the middle of a peaceful agricultural area is rather suggestive of the grim atmosphere of the bygone oppressive communist regime.
Close to the tower, a portion of the fence has been preserved, similarly to the access to an interesting underground facility – with a function which is today hard to guess from outside. A ventilation pipe is clearly visible in the premises, likely connected with this facility.
Not far from the tower, in the village of Gompertshausen, an attentive eye can spot a (likely) former garrison of the border guards, now in a state of disrepair.
Unlike some more prominent museums on this page, the ‘Freilandmuseum Behrungen’ open-air exhibition is not associated to a border crossing point. Actually, the public road giving access to the memorial runs parallel to it. Access is very easy driving from the village of Behrungen (Thuringia, former GDR) along Röhmilder Strasse, leaving the town heading east. The memorial can be found to the south of the road roughly 1 mile from the town. A first part of the memorial is a small preserved portion of the fence line, very close to the road. From there you can spot the watchtower. You can approach the latter by car, driving on the original service road, and park right ahead of it.
Visiting the watchtower is rarely possible. However, you can move around the area and cross the border with a short walk on a trail, to get good pictures anyway. The surroundings of the preserved part are in the middle of a natural preserve, making the visit a possible stop when wandering in this very nice area.
The installation in Behrungen is basically a preserved section of the original border in the deep countryside, not corresponding to any crossing point. The focal point in the exhibition is an early-type watchtower, which has been restored and hosts a small exhibition, seldom open unless by appointment. The detection sensors on top of the tower are still there, as well as the communication antennas.
A service road with the original prefabricated concrete slabs can departs from the tower.
As usual in the structure of the border barrier of the GDR, the tower was in the middle of an interdicted strip, between two fence lines – one towards the GDR (north of the tower in this case) and one towards the FRG (to the south of the tower).
Two little portions of the inner fence line have been preserved, and can be seen quite apart from one another along the public road coming from Behrungen.
Besides one of the two fence traits, a smaller concrete shooting turret can be seen. Turrets like this, often covered in camo coat, can be found in a high number all along the line of the former inner border.
A big portion of the outer fence, south of the tower, is also visible in this exhibition. Running along it, a vehicle stopping moat made of concrete slabs is clearly visible still today.
In the vicinity of this fence, a mine was found by chance as recently as 2001. A commemoration stone was put in place, to stress how the monstrosity of the wall left a long-lasting and unwanted inheritance for the local population and visitors as well.
Unlike in the Cold War years, you can now cross this border, heading south into Bavaria. The original striped concrete post and white signals, showing the actual line of the border – south from the monstrous fence – are still there.
Further south, you can find the original ‘Stop’ line put in place by FRG authorities, with prohibition signs and an explanation of the rules in the border area dating from 1989. This rules were very tricky, especially for the fact that getting past the line marked by the posts, without even reaching to the fence, was already a border violation. This was something that could happen for Westerners just by mistake, but would trigger capture, interrogation and possibly fines by the GDR border control police.
The silent and peaceful area of the Behrungen site makes for a thought-provoking stop along the former inner border.
The open-air exhibition of the ‘Grenzmuseum Eussenhausen’ can be reached along the St2445, roughly 1.5 miles north of the small village of Eussenhausen in Bavaria. Crossing the border with Thuringia, the road changes its name into L3019, and the closest village is Henneberg, about 1 mile north of the inner border. The exhibition is arranged on a former apron of the border control area, slightly uphill, but fairly accessible for the general public, and with a large parking ahead. The exhibition is open-air and arguably accessible 24/7 for free.
As of 2021, the large border control area on the GDR side of the border line (i.e. in Thuringia) is basically abandoned and severely damaged. For relic- and ghost-place-hunters or like-minded people, this can also be toured, and makes for an evocative sight. A dedicated parking is not available in the vicinity of this former facility, hence parking close to the official memorial is recommended.
This border museum is located on a former border crossing point between and the GDR and FRG, likely opened similar to other checkpoints in the 1970s, to reduce the traffic jams created by border controls on major transit arteries. Today, the site is composed of three parts, two of which are officially for visitors, and the latter an abandoned site.
The first and most significant part of the site is made of the (arguably) original road giving access to the large control area. The original external fence of the GDR border area can still be seen along the sides of the road, as well as the original external gate.
It is likely that this area was originally intended for a kind of pre-check of vehicles, heading inside the GDR from the West. Today, the area has been converted into an exhibition of a wide array of stopping mechanisms and control booths once in place in the area of the border checkpoint.
Among the most striking items are one of the closing bars moving on a rail, and pushed by a still visible hydraulic actuator. The mass of the bar allowed to stop heavy traffic, and hydraulic power allowed for a very quick closure. This item was likely transferred here from the eastern side of the checkpoint, since similar stopping gear was intended to prevent GDR citizens fleeing the country.
Concrete shooting points, rather common along the border line also far from the authorized border-crossings, were often camo-painted. Some have been transferred here. A striped border post is also part of the exhibition.
A second part of the exhibition is a memorial built after the reopening of the border, to celebrate freedom. The meaning of the installations here is not always easy to capture. However, original parts of the fence wall rise the historical value of this area.
Finally, the area once used for controls can be found towards the eastern part of the checkpoint. This area is not open for visitors, but is basically open and unguarded, so a check is advised for more curious visitors. Here a tower was put in place to oversee the operations in the control lanes. This can still be seen, albeit severely damaged.
Close by, the large area once occupied by the control lanes can be seen. Original lamps are still there, but the sun shelters and control booths are totally gone. Looking at a historical picture available on the official part of the exhibition (see above), it is also clear that the bulky building on the side of the apron was not there at the time of border operations. Maybe this was built as a hotel – and construction halted before completion – after the reopening of the border.
A surviving building in this area is that of a small mechanics shop, possibly for the vehicles of GDR border protection corps.
The Eußenhausen site is interesting for the easy-to-visit exhibition, but also a glance to the currently (2021) abandoned former control area may be really evoking. This short 360° video captures the unreal silence of this once busy border point.
This site is immersed in a beautiful national preserve area, a popular destination for lovers of hiking or cycling activities. This site used to be a sharp corner of the inner border line. Today, the three German regions of Thuringia, Bavaria and Hessen (the former previously part of the GDR) still meet close to this point. The watchtower and the remains on site can be reached with a short walk on an unpaved, perfectly leveled and easy road from a large parking area, put in place for the visitors of the national preserve.
The parking can be reached by car approaching from Bavaria, where road St2287 meets St2288. The closest sizable village is Frankenheim, geographically just one mile north, but connected to the parking via a somewhat longer curvy road. The tower cannot be visited inside, and this small complex makes for a 24/7 open-air memorial, which can be neared without restrictions.
Smaller than other sites, but nonetheless interesting also for the vantage position on top of a hill and immersed in a beautiful natural preserve area, the Schwarzes Moor site is visible from a distance thanks to a late-generation, slender, square-based watchtower. This has been restored thanks to the intervention of local businesses, and the sight it provides from a distance is quite evocative of how the inner border should have looked like in this hilly countryside back in the years of operation.
A small remnant of the original fence put on the western side is also in place, right ahead of the watchtower. One of the original gates in the fence was apparently located here, arguably used only for maintenance operations. No crossing was possible in this area.
A striped original ‘DDR’ concrete border post, as well as a few white poles with a similar demarcation function, can still be seen, making for an ideal photo subject – provided you dare to walk on a pasture area generously pointed by the results of cow digestion…
Possibly less obvious to a less trained eye, a portion of the vehicle-stopping moat, once aligned with the largely disappeared fence, can still be seen, partially invaded vegetation.
Thanks to its elevated position, the former wide area of the border, once spoiled of any vegetation and today invaded by younger trees, is still visible from the hilltop where the tower is. The original service road running along the fence line, made of typically-GDR prefabricated concrete slabs, helps to capture the shape of the sinuous line of the border.
A historically relevant stop for those touring this region for the beautiful panoramas and for sporting activities, you will hardly miss this hiking trail head when roaming in the natural preserve.
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.
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 – the so-called ‘Fulda Gap’ – 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.
The US outposts of Point India and Point Romeo are not located on the same spot, but they are described together here for convenience, especially since there is nothing left of Point Romeo today, except for an info table and a commemorative stone.
Point Romeo can be reached in two minutes out of the Wildeck-Obersuhl exit on the highway N.4. Taking north from the exit along L3248, you will reach the small village of Richelsdorf. Turn left on Shildhofstrasse upon entering the village. Keep on this road for about 1.5 mi, until you see the massive foundation of highway N.4 ahead of you. You should find a small sign showing the direction of the memorial and telling you to go north-west on a narrow road. Turning right according to the sign on this unnamed road, you should find the memorial .3 miles from the crossing. The memorial is open-air and unfenced, with picnic tables on the spot. Reaching is possible at all times.
Point India can be found starting from regional road 7. Reaching the village of Lüderbach and driving along Altfelderstrasse pointing west, you should leave the village behind you as the road climbs steep uphill. Upon leaving the village, you will take a sharp bend to the right, followed by a gentler one to the left, all in less than 300 ft. Upon entering the latter bend, you will see a wide road taking sharply to the left. As you take that road, gently ascending and going to the east, you many notice the path is unusually wide for the non-existent traffic, and for the rural location where the road is. It is such due to its original function, as it led directly into the US outpost. Keep on this road going east for about 0.5 miles, gently climbing on top of the hill, and you will find a dead end with a small parking, and a clear sign marking the original place of Point India. The memorial is open 24/7, including the tower.
The location of the Point India post has been included in a nice nature-culture walking trail in the area. The corresponding map can be found at Point India, as well as in other notable places along the trail. One of them is the East German watchtower in Ifta.
To get there, you might drive to the village of Ifta, which used to be on the GDR side, and take Willershäuserstrasse to the south. Upon leaving the village behind, as the road enters a small forest, you should spot the watchtower on top of a hill, 0.2 miles to the right of the road up. Take the road climbing to the tower, which is paved in the original concrete slabs typical to all service roads on the eastern side of the former border, and drive to the place, where a small flat area suitable for parking and basic picnic facilities can be found. The tower is generally closed.
The function of the two outposts of Point India and Point Romeo was similar as that of Point Alpha (see above). The region of the ‘Fulda Gap’, along the border between Hessen in the FRG and Thüringen in the GDR, was considered of high strategic significance, and actively guarded by US forces since immediately after WWII, when the line of the German Inner Border was crystallized. Thanks to the favorable morphology of the terrain in this area, an invasion from the Eastern Bloc was considered especially likely from this sector of the border. As a matter of fact, this idea elaborated on the western side of the Iron Curtain turned out to be a correct prevision of the actual plans for an attack to the West, prepared in the years of the Cold War by the USSR, taking advantage of its own presence in the Countries on the border with Western Europe (see here and here).
Today, the outpost of Point India has been almost completely demolished, and the area returned to nature. From the parking, you can spot the three traces that remain from the observation post (OP), namely the observation tower, the entry sign, and a service building which used to shelter some electrical gear, and currently standing right ahead of the parking area.
The sign bears an emblem with a motto from the 11th US Armored Cavalry regiment, which took responsibility for manning the observation point. The sign is a copy, but it resembles the original one, and it is close to its original location. The parking is actually very close to the former gate of the camp.
From the parking, a short walk leads to the original watchtower. This concrete watchtower is the third installed in the observation point premises, its predecessors being a wooden one from the late 1960s, flanked by a metal one in the late 1970s. Both were replaced by the concrete tower you see today, a perfect twin to that found in Point Alpha (see above).
The tower can be climbed today, and it is possible to enter the former observation room, as well as the open observation deck.
Inside the observation room, now spoiled of all hardware and turned into a permanently open memorial room, a very informative table with many interesting pictures from the site in the Cold War era can be found.
From the open deck on top, pointers allow to find a few notable locations in the panorama, including the original line of the border, today rather hard to spot, due to the now grown vegetation, as well as the tall antennas of the FRG-US Hoher Meissner electronic espionage post (in the distance). The village of Ifta, the first met on the East German side, can be clearly spotted.
With an equipment mainly composed of a ground radar and communication gear, the roughly 200-men staff of the observation point was that of keeping trace of any change along the border in their area of pertinence, including military movements on the communist side of the Iron Curtain.
A GDR watchtower in the vicinity of the US observation post can still be found along the nature trail in the area, of which Point Alpha is a highlight. The tower, similar to that to be found in Hotensleben (see later), and once in many places along the inner border, can be reached also by car, in a few minutes from Point India.
The observation point ‘Point India’ is settled in a very nice region, and is an interesting complement to the major site of Point Alpha. Located far from the crowds and with an interesting selection of pictures proposed in the exhibition, it is surely worth a detour for committed Cold War specialists or tourists in the area. A visit may take about 30 minutes.
Geographically placed between Point India (to the north) and Point Alpha (to the south), the Observation Point Romeo shared with them the history, purpose and arrangement, including a concrete observation tower built in the 1980s. However, the site has been completely demolished in 1994, a few years after German reunification.
Today, on the site of Point Romeo is a commemorative stone, and a table (in German) retracing the history of the site with interesting photographs, copies of newspaper headlines from the time, and text.
The Point Romeo site is a quick detour from the highway, keeping memory of the service of US military staff in the area for the long decades of the Cold War. Checking out the site may take 10 minutes.
The border museum in Schifflersgrund (‘Grenzmuseum Schifflersgrund’ in German) is a major installation along the former Inner Border, and is clearly marked with signs when approaching the town of Bad Sooden-Allendorf (FRG), in Hessen, or Sickenberg, in Thüringen (GDR). It is located on a local road connecting the two towns. The memorial site is modern and hosts a rich collection. It is also an active cultural center on the topic, with a central building for temporary exhibitions, and a separated building with a big conference room.
A large parking is available on site. For visiting the museum collection a ticket is required. Furthermore, a nature trail along the former border has been prepared and is clearly marked with tables on way-points. No ticket is required for it. Website with full information in multiple languages here.
The site of Schifflersgrund is centered around a preserved portion of the Inner Border. Due to the local morphology, as the border ran along the rim of a small canyon, the inaccessible area between the two fences marking the border on the GDR side was unusually large. A section of the ‘external’ fence, immediately past the border line when coming from the FRG, is still preserved, together with an original watchtower. The latter used to sit in the restricted area between the inner and external fences, which was accessible only to the border guards of the GDR. Close to the watchtower, a small section of the ‘inner’ fence, the first met coming from the GDR towards the border line, is also preserved.
Between the two fences, the respect area encompasses the local shallow canyon with the original East German service road, now employed as a cultural and nature trail, running along the ‘external’ fence for some thousands feet.
Access to the area around the tower is possible with a ticket. The main building with the ticket office hosts interesting temporary exhibitions and a book, souvenir & memorabilia shop.
Walking towards the watchtower is across a yard, where an interesting series of vehicles and helicopters once employed along the border by the opponents on the two sides is on display. Vehicles include a Soviet truck with a radar antenna typically deployed for airspace monitoring.
Helicopters of Soviet construction on the GDR side include a Mil-24 attack helicopter, and Mil-2 and Mil-8 utility/transport models. On the FRG side are two US-designed Bell helicopters managed by the Border Guards of the FRG.
A small but interesting exhibition is related to the last weeks of WWII and the immediate post-WWII period in Germany. The connection with the site is in the fact that a large region, extending as far as Leipzig to the east, was conquered by American forces in the last stages of WWII. Of course, Berlin and the easternmost part of today’s Germany were militarily taken by the Red Army (see this post). However, it was due to international agreements (Yalta and later Potsdam) that the westernmost regions of what later the GDR were handed over to Stalin and communism.
The same short exhibition mentions the US observation points, soon to appear along the border in the ‘Fulda Gap’ (see above) after WWII.
Approaching the tower, you get through a partly reconstructed double fence, with all the typical gear for stopping potential escapees. This include the infamous automatic shotguns, activated by contact with the fence, and shooting metal balls in proximity to the net.
From close to the tower, you can get the view of the external fence mostly like it used to be in the Cold War era.
A small museum building by the tower is adorned with original signs from the border area. These range from ‘danger zone’ signs in German, to border warning signs for the American military staff.
Inside the building is a compact but rich collection of interesting photographs, including always-striking now-and-then comparisons, showing how different the panorama used to look like in the area during the Cold War era.
Uniforms from both sides of the border, as well as memorabilia items are on display, close by to some dioramas and a scale model of the border site.
An impressive listing of those fallen in the pursuit of freedom from the East-German communist dictatorship completes this well-stocked exhibition.
A complement to the exhibition in the area around the watchtower can be found in a hangar cross the parking. To the sides of a large conference area are upscaled pictures from the time, as well as a modernly designed exhibition on the Cold War in Germany and the Inner German Border.
The exhibition is in both German and English, and retraces the post-WWII history of Germany, citing many characters, both well-known (former Presidents of the United States, Soviet Secretaries, etc.) and less-known (local leaders, especially cultural leaders and dissidents from Germany).
Preserved alongside the explanatory panels are some artifacts and memorabilia items.
Also vehicles one employed along the border are on display.
Of particular relevance is a scraper employed as a mean for an escape attempt by a man named Heinz-Josef Grosse. While working with the scraper in proximity to the ‘external’ fence, the man raised the bucket above the fence, climbed over it and jumped across the fence. Tragically, he was shot dead by the GDR border guards while trying to ascend from the canyon.
Out of the same hangar are an attack helicopter from the FRG and more vehicles from both sides of the border.
The cultural and nature trail prepared by the organization running the museum in Schifflersgrund is about 7 miles long, and takes you around an extensive area along the former border. However, the preserved part of the ‘external’ fence can be found immediately beside the museum facility, and can be accessed quickly and permanently without a ticket.
Walking along the service road can be a good occasion for taking evocative pictures.
The place where Heinz-Josef Grosse got killed is marked with a sign.
Further on to the west a wooden observation deck can be employed for getting a bird’s eye view of the area around the former border area. Also here, a table with historical pictures allows to get a clear view of how the place looked like in the Cold War era.
All in all, the Schifflersgrund site makes for a nice documentation center, and offers a rich and unique open-air exhibition, including a rare preserved portion of the original border fence. The place is a primary memorial about the history of the Inner German Border. A visit may take from 45 minutes, concentrating on the museum only, to 1.5 hours with a short walk along the original fence, to an entire half day, when venturing along the open-air round trail.
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.
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.