eby bike with the bike through the village, over the Werra Bridge, then right along the bank. That's how easy it is today, 30 years after the fall of the Wall. A river, a stone transition, not far from the geographical center of Germany, deep province in the low mountain range. All this on paved bike path, with a view of a wheat beer in the comfortable Radler accommodation in the evening, no matter on which side of the river, whether in Hesse or Thuringia.
At that time, in the 60s, West German youth groups sat on this embankment and sang “No beautiful country …”, “wild geese roaring through the night” and similarly harmless to incoherent songs, always strong against the communists on top of the watchtower. It stood opposite the Werra bank, on the edge of the village of Lindewerra.
Every hour some figure flitted from one house to another, barely recognizable by the close-meshed fence, behind the stump of a blown-up bridge on which bushes were already growing. Over there a near but strange world, no noise came from there. In the memory an old black and white film, a silent film.
Today a color film is running here. The bridge of sandstone, between North Hesse and Lindewerra in Thuringia, is again passable, through grain fields the combine harvests, the Werra in between is only blue, without the white foam mountains, which sent the potash industry of the GDR downstream to the west.
The broad death strip, which hiked up the mountain until 30 years ago like a floodlit ski slope, has grown over today. The Devil's Pulpit, the fabled viewpoint on a cliff, has its green deciduous forest carpet back. You have to look for them, the testimonies of the division.
The symbol of the German division became one of the unit
The modern touring bike is now, despite baggage for two weeks, practically by itself, with distant memories of the excruciatingly long retrains, then at the age of twelve on the same way, after the “No nice country” song. The Jugendburg Ludwigstein is as today as it is today, perched on the mountain like the child's drawing of a castle icon. The famous two-glance view, pictured on postage stamps, Ludwigstein over, over the ruin Hanstein, was a well-known symbol of the German division – today he is one of the unit.
In strange connection they stood early. In Hanstein, Thuringia, the robber barons had been living, the Ludwigstein in Hesse was built by the Landgrave to protect trade through the Werra valley from the bandits over there. In the 1980s, in the vaults of Hanstein Castle, the Stasi and Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler celebrated secret parties with West Whiskey in the Eastern Restricted Area.
The gentle hilltop tour along the Werra River lies approximately halfway along the German-German cycle path that runs from the Baltic Sea to the Czech border, always along the “Green Belt”, the natural areas on the former death strip. Here it runs through central Germany, a remote terrain, but with illustrious history.
Near the Hanstein, for example, one of the hidden agent locks, the Stasiröhre, hid in the thicket. After the turnaround, when it became public, it became clear why black Volvo limousines with tinted windows had rolled by in the dark in the area in the dark.
The bike path is a section of the Iron Curtain Trail
Over more than 1100 kilometers follows the entire cycle path of the former border between Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, Hesse and Bavaria on the western and the new federal states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Saxony on the eastern side. It is part of the 10,400-kilometer Iron Curtain Trail, which runs along the entire former Iron Curtain across Europe, from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea.
On the German section board-level routes in the north – on the Baltic Sea and in the Wendland, where the wind pushes the happy in front of him and brakes the unlucky person. On the other hand demanding mountain stages in the south, over the bald summits of the Rhön, for example, where you can see what you have done and can show this by selfie all over the world.
Acknowledgment is certainly the one who pushes the detour to the Brocken in the Harz – under certain circumstances in the literal sense, because with heavy luggage, the route can only be tackled consistently in the saddle for strong condition. With gradients of up to 13 percent, it is sometimes steeper than the Brenner Road over the main Alpine ridge. Rather, something for road bike or e-bike riders. Who does not take it so well, can climb the summit with the steam train, the wheel is allowed on board.
In fine weather, the 1141-meter-high Brocken is the crowning glory of the route, in the open air with a panoramic view, the North German Plain at your feet. This striking, treeless summit is closely interwoven with the history of the German division. No other mountain could so much create the feeling of lost unity when looking from one place to the next.
Pupils from all over Northern Germany who were led by their teachers to Torfhaus, below right opposite, and who had to recount the stories of Heine and Goethe on the Brocken under fir trees, can sing a song about it. Although, it must be mentioned, in the 80s in the west only a few still believed in reunification.
Today, the Heine fanboys with the – weightless, as downloaded – poems all the way up to cultivate his stay up. For clouds, the lines fit perfectly, which the author likes to claim as an alleged entry in his summit book: “Many Stones / Tired Legs / No View / Heinrich Heine”.
The spies of the Stasi, whose apparatuses were able to listen to car calls from the Brocken to Bonn, also enjoyed their share of the division. Was recorded in 1975 at this point probably also the conversation between CDU chief Helmut Kohl and Secretary General Kurt Biedenkopf, which became public and because of abuse of Franz-Josef Strauss scandal.
The bike tour leads through the middle of the Cold War
If you come from the north and have overcome the Harz by bike, you will not experience any more flat, comfortable sections when driving south. The Hessian mountains call now, then the Franconian, in the end the Vogtlanders.
But before the Rhön rises, the most explosive section of the Iron Curtain comes: the Fulda Gap, as Nato called the militarily interesting and relatively easily passable gap between the mountains of Harz and the Thuringian Forest, with the “Observation Point Alpha”. From here, in the west of the Warsaw Pact area, whose troops had launched the invasion of the Federal Republic, direction high finance to Frankfurt and the federal capital to Bonn.
The museum grounds in the former facilities of the US armed forces bring back the critical times with the nuclear war scenarios, radar systems, bunkers for fighter-bombers, gullies for nuclear explosive devices back to memory. Here the bike path leads through the middle of the Cold War.
Museums and memorials remind of the border
“Point Alpha” is only one of the dozens of borderland museums, but is one of the largest and most professional ones, together with the Brockenhaus and the memorial Marienborn near Helmstedt. There, the Green Belt cyclist on the huge area of the transit control center today behind the scenes of those border crossings, where he feared before the turn in the car, was sharply controlled and suspected everywhere mysterious eyes and ears, in his trunk or spied his life into it.
However, the many small museums along the route are also worth seeing, often entertained by associations and volunteers, with lovingly displayed border installations, souvenirs, models of fences, trenches, dog spreaders, and stories that each section of the “zonal border” wrote , People are received there by people who have experienced these stories – escapes, debris, tragedy and comedy.
In Schnackenburg on the Elbe, for example, where the cyclist can ride the Grenz-Lehrpfad even for a few kilometers. Or, nearby, in Göhr near Schnega in the Wendland, where the museum owner, as a passionate photographer in one of the most godforsaken areas, captured the borderline life between the fronts.
A wall like in Berlin cut up the village
A special case is the museum in Mödlareuth: a tiny village, partly in Bavaria and partly in Thuringia, was cut up by a wall like in Berlin, torn families, divided streets, land and houses were commonplace here.
Not only wall and barbed wire are shown here – after all, 700 meters of concrete barrier wall, the metal mesh fence and an observation tower in the original have been preserved. The societal consequences of the division will also be brought to the fore, such as forced evictions, everyday life at the border and the peaceful revolution.
The journey along the conquered border is consistently passable, with the route usually running alternately between East and West, sometimes directly on the old death strip. Nature has largely recaptured it – so sustainably that the inner-German border is no longer visible in many places today, 30 years after it has been overcome.
If it were not for the signs, the memorial sites and the memories, it would be easy to think that nothing here has ever been more peaceful than this.
Tips and information
Museums and memorials: Grenzlandmuseum Schnackenburg, open from 1 May to 30 November, grenzland-museum-schnackenburg.de; Swinmark Borderland Museum in Göhr near Schnega, focus on photography, opening hours May 1 to October 3, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 6 pm, swinmark-grenzlandmuseum.de; Zonengrenzmuseum Helmstedt, five departments plus special exhibitions, helmstedt.de/bildung-und-kultur/kultur/museen/zonengrenz-museum.html; Memorial German division Marienborn, former GDR border installations on the A2 motorway, gedenkstaette-marienborn.sachsen-anhalt.de; Grenzmuseum Sorge, open-air museum with remains of the border fortifications, grenzmuseum-sorge.de; Memorial “Point Alpha”, until 1989 an important observation base of the US armed forces in Europe, large permanent exhibition, pointalpha.com; Deutsch-Deutsches Museum Mödlareuth, until 1989 divided village, many original border installations are preserved here, moedlareuth.de
Bike Guide and Books: Recommended as a companion book for a bike tour on the Green Belt: “European Cycle Route Iron Curtain 3, German-German Cycle Path” by Michael Cramer, with city maps, accommodation directory, height profile, spiral binding, Esterbauer Verlag / Bikeline series, 15,90 Euro. This is the third volume from Cramer's five-volume Bikeline guide “The European Iron Curtain Trail”; Part 1 “Finland / Baltic Sea Baltic States”, Part 2 “Baltic Sea Cycle Route from Riga to Lübeck”, Part 4 “From the farm to Szeged” and part 5 “Southeast Europe” each cost 16.90 euros, esterbauer.com,
“Iron Curtain Trail” by Marianne Winter and Peter Wacker costs 12.99 euros as a paperback book, self-published, available at about Amazon.
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(t) Germany (t) Country Portraits (t) Thuringia (t) Berlin Wall (t) Border (t) Inner German Border (t) German German Border (t) Bicycle Rides (t) Bicycle Trips (t) Bicycle Paths (t) Bicycle Paths (t) Bike Paths (t) Kulke-Ulrich (t) Thuringian Forest (t) Helmstedt (t) Göhr (t) Europe (t) Iron Curtain Trail (t) Rhön (t) Travel (t) GDR (t) Michael Cramer (t) Lindewerra (t) Main Alpine Ridge (t) Lübeck (t) Brandenburg (t) Wendland (t) Arctic Ocean (t) Wittenberge (t) Bavaria (t) Point Alpha (t) Heinrich Heine (t) Szeged (t) Riga (t) Harz (t) Hesse (t) Bonn (t) Mödlareuth (t) Rüterberg (t) Baltic Sea (t) Green Belt (t) Baltic (t) Amazon (t) Brenner Road (t) Thuringia