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  The Silent Man on the Distant Hill

In the book Roter Stern uber Meiningen, Geba und Dolmar, Karl - Heinz Dorsmann, a resident of Meiningen and historian, tells the story of when the Russian army was a significant presence in the town and surrounding area. In German and lavishly illustrated with then and now photos, maps and diagrams, the book recalls the training areas, barracks and buildings associated with the home stationed motorized rifle regiment and supporting units. This garrison was in fact, the closest to the border Warsaw Pact combat unit outside of Berlin. Troopers may recall being at OP Sierra / Tennessee and on particularly cold and clear nights, being able to see Russian armored vehicles conducting live fire exercises at their local training area at Dolmar. Yes - they were that close.

Additionally, the book includes stories and photos that illustrate something of the life these far from home Russians experienced in Germany. In this section is an interesting anecdote and photograph related to Vladimir Putin, the long time strongman in Russia currently enjoying his third term as President.
 
   
  Karl - Heinz Dorsmann's excellent history of the Soviet presence in Meiningen and surrounding area  

A series of negotiations starting in the late 1940s provided the basic framework governing which military forces could be where and doing what within the 5 kilometer zone leading to the border. Basically, both the Russian and East German military were barred from their near border area and, in the Federal Republic, the West German military was similarly prohibited. The one major exception was the US Army that was granted patrol privileges along the border in the American sector of Germany and Berlin.

This is not to say, however, that the Russian military did not take an interest in the border. While the administration of the barrier system was an East German affair, if a NATO - Warsaw Pact war were to break out, certainly the border areas would be the scene of the first fighting. Hence, Soviet observation bunkers were scattered all along the German border area and in the Eaglehorse sector there were three, near the East German towns of Melpers, Schwickertshausen and Gompertshausen. Who knows how many Russian officers walked the near border area in either civilian clothes or dressed as East German workmen and this brings us back to the book Red Star Over Meiningen.

It was well known that the area of Gross Gleichberg and Klein Gleichberg, two large wooded hills in otherwise rolling and open farmland, just outside of the 5 K zone in East Germany, was a Soviet military area. On top of the larger of the two hills was a Soviet radio intercept station. This was adjacent to the Eaglehorse border patrol sector. To get your bearings, the West German towns you might recall were Irmelshausen and Rothausen; Bad Konigshofen would be about six kilometers to your southwest. At the foot of the Gleichbergs lay the German town of Romhild and moving southwest, towards the actual border fence lay the East German village of Mendhausen, one of those notorious places that seemed to have little or no traffic; the town lights came on and went off in unison.

   
  Soviet radio intercept site on Gross Gleichberg, just outside of the 5 K zone.  

On this Google map, the actual border between East and West Germany was along the old state borders of Bavaria and Thuringia and it is displayed as a white dashed line.

Dorsmann reports that the Gleichbergs had a duel use, both military intercept site and also as an ad hoc Soviet hunting preserve.

Seated in a group with Russian military trucks to the rear is a figure out on such a hunt who bears a very strong resemblance to a young Vladimir Putin. Dorsmann dates the photograph to 1980 and cites modern discussions with the then East German hunting guide who recalled the event and location as that Gleichberg - Romhild area. The prey were reh deer. There may be some confusion over the dates.
 

   
  Near to camera, second from right, Putin relaxes with hunting friends on a trip to the Romhild / Gleichberg area.  

In 1980, young Lieutenant Putin, KGB officer in the counter intelligence office, was stationed at Lenningrad; not exactly East Germany but perhaps he had an opportunity to travel. By 1985, however, Major Putin was stationed in Dresden, East Germany in a similar position and very well may have gone on a hunting trip to the near border area. One cannot imagine that he did not find a way to take a long look at the West, perhaps a BGS or Eaglehorse patrol rolled by in the distance.

Putin was notorious for usually being bored with his KGB assignments and very good at figuring out how to get to interesting places. In 1985, he stares blankly at the camera near Gleichberg, fifteen years later, he was the President of Russia.
 

   
  Putin as a Major in the mid 1980s  while stationed at Dresden.  

Thanks to Erwin Ritter for use of the Gross Gleichberg intercept station photo and thanks to Karl Dorsmann for his research and use of the Putin hunting party image.

September 2012

 
 


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