The inner German border once separated the East from West.
Nearly 1,400 forbidding kilometres of high metal fences and four meter high walls, barbed wire, alarms, anti-vehicle ditches, minefields, and guard towers, running the length of Germany.
The “death strip”, which was up to 200 metres wide, passed through villages, forests, rivers and moorland and was patrolled by 50,000 armed GDR guards who faced tens of thousands of West German, British and US guards – and separated families and friends in both parts of Germany.
More than 100 people died while attempting to escape to the West from the German Democratic Republic (GDR
This separation finally ended when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany reunited in the autumn of 1990.
Now one of the world’s most unusual nature reserves has been created along the old “Death Strip”, turning a monument of repression into a symbol of renewal.
For decades, Germany’s former border sector remained an inaccessible area which gave nature, animals and plants a place to thrive undisturbed.
Apart from the no-man’s land itself, this also applied to the extensive tracts of land adjacent because they were so cut off.
From the western side of the border conservationists had long been watching different bird species among other animals thriving in such a hostile environment.
Conservationists from the East and the West initiated this nature conservation project to ensure that the border strip would be preserved as a green belt, and as the ecological backbone of Central Europe during this historic period of upheaval.
And they succeeded. No longer the Iron Curtain but the Green Belt.
So far, conservationists have documented around 1,200 at-risk species of animals and plants there, including rare orchids like the lady’s slipper and scarce species of birds such as the black stork and the kingfisher.
The Green Belt can be hiked or biked.
This post has come about because we’re now in Potsdam after having travelled along much of the old border, now this superb green belt.
We were here in 2010 on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, driving a very similar route to the one we have just covered. The Harz area is such a beautiful place, it always seems to draw us back.