[All pictures are courtesy of Norbert Ruckel]

The Green Strip

While the vast majority of the border barrier system was disassembled in the first years following reunification, the track of land that once held the fences remains a permanent feature snaking across Germany. In the urban areas, the old line has been blurred although if you know where to look, the barrier can easily be imagined. The farm fields still hold a few indicators but as the crops breathlessly sweep across the land it all seems to merge into an rolling sea of peaceful green. Was that a control road or just another farmer's path?

It is where the German forests were cut for the barrier system that the border can most easily be recalled. Spectacular pine forests suddenly end and then begin again a hundred meters further along. From both the ground and the air, the " green strip " is clearly visible.

Every now and then, parts of the old barrier system can be found. They remain where either the funds ran out or where the local population wanted a physical reminder of the past. There was some debate as to whether the border trace should have been completely cleared. In Germany, where the past and the present walk closely together, they decided this part of their past was too terrible to bury. There were lessons to learn and always new generations to teach.

Norbert Ruckel provided the images, all from the former Eaglehorse sector. Writing for the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London, Hannah Cleaver brings us up to speed on the impact of the border strip and modern German culture:

German death strip starts fresh life as a nature sanctuary

By Hannah Cleaver on the old 'Iron Curtain'

(Filed: 04/08/2003)

The huge stretch of the Iron Curtain that separated East and West Germany for four decades is to become a nature reserve. The inner German border, as it was known, abounded with movement sensors, minefields, dog patrols and watchtowers all wrapped up in seemingly endless thick fencing. Around 38,000 border guards, roughly one for each 40 yards, patrolled its length, ready to shoot dead anyone trying to cross it. Now the 68 square miles stretched along 866 miles is to be a haven for wildlife.

  The Winter desert across the former border area.   Silence and the remains of a tower and gate system. The concrete DDR marker has long lost its plaque but the recognizable colors remain for now.  

Pieces of land, some as narrow as 30 yards, others as wide as 1,000 yards, have been reclaimed by the owners from whom it was confiscated. The German government has sold other packages for agricultural use. But after years of lobbying by conservationists, Hans Eichel, Germany's finance minister, has decided to give the rest of the land to the five relevant federal states for nothing.

  A perfect view of the green strip.   You know ... it is really a wonderful place to walk.  
  ... and you can walk for a very long way.  

With wildlife protection lying in the remit of the states, the way has been cleared for the enactment of protection laws. Four of the states have already signed up to the idea, and the last is expected to follow suit soon. Ironically, the instruments of terror which kept people from the border also preserved the land, a haven for species unable to survive in farmland.

Dr Liana Geidezis, leader of the Green Band project which has helped to coordinate efforts to secure the land, said: "There are many species which live there on Germany's red list of threatened species including the fish otter, the black stork, red-backed shrike and many species of orchids.

  Nothing but the wind ...   The gate is closed now ... you may just walk around!  

"The curious thing also is that it is less polluted than the surrounding land. Herbicide was used to keep the strip clear of foliage, allowing patrols to drive up and down it. But this was less than the fertilizers and other chemicals which were used on either side of the border by farmers.

"And there was no industry for at least three miles on the eastern side of the border - it was not allowed. On the western side very little industry was built as no one wanted to be so close to the border."

  We have left our tower and have found new careers. Have you visited my shop in Erfurt?   I have lost contact with the other towers in my sector.  

The Green Band hopes to extend the scheme all the way along the Iron Curtain to the Adriatic, but is hampered by the fact that outside Germany the division remains an official border.

Within Germany the former frontier is still remarkably visible. Although the fences and watchtowers have gone, the concrete patrol tracks are still there, amid lush foliage. In places the variety of plant and insect life is astounding - the flowers look as if they should be bowed under the weight of butterflies while deer take shelter in the quiet.

  Through the forest and then into the farm fields. The green strip is a "super highway" for all manner of wildlife.   The spur where OP Sierra / Tennessee once stood. The fence ran just along the bottom of this feature.  

The state of Thuringia has the largest share of the border, 474 miles of it, and was the first to accept Mr Eichel's offer. (Eaglehorse sector )

Stefan Baldus, state secretary in the agriculture ministry, said the state intended to combine conservation with memorial sites, such as a museum at Schifflersgrund which has maintained a small length of original fencing complete with a watchtower. The man working there spent his childhood in the shadow of the border, within the three-mile zone where all residents had a special stamp in their passports and relatives had to get passes to visit.

  The deer cross the open areas wary of hunters.   I am reporting new construction in the former border area and will continue to observe.  

"At one stage the government moved out a load of people who were not considered trustworthy enough to live so close to the border," he said, declining to give his name out of ingrown East German caution.

Commemoration of those whose lives were wrecked, and taken, by the border is made at the West-East Gate near Duderstadt, opened by Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, last June.

  They had orders to shoot the fellow Germans! Can you imagine that? Come, lets go home now.   The remains of the Soviet radar base at Grossgleichberg and the new TV tower on the hill.  

Two giant oak trunks point to the sky, joined at their base by a metal strip lying along the former border. Surrounding them is a group of saplings which are intended to grow as the oak trunks eventually rot away, filling the space left by the death strip with life.

The Green Band has packets of grass and wild flower seeds, gathered from the former border, to give away to the first 10 readers to send an e-mail, in English, to alexander.purps@bund.net

With NAFTA and the European Union, increasingly borders and barriers have taken on a diminished importance. Notably, extensive border barrier systems designed to either repel invaders or contain populations now exist along the North - South Korea border, in selected cities in Northern Ireland, along the Israel - Lebanon border and now in advanced construction phase, along the border between Israel and the West Bank - Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to continue this controversial barrier system in light of the constant suicide bomber attacks of the Intifada. The liberal wing of his cabinet declared that all this was little better than a new version of the East German fence [click on the thumbnail below to see picture].