Imagine this. Your country has just lost a war, and now the Soviets who are in charge are building a wall in your town. How will you visit your family? How will you shop? How will you go to school? For almost 37 years, this small town of 50 inhabitants was divided by a wall and guards. Brother could not visit or even wave at brother. Families were torn apart, but only lived mere feet from each other. It wasn’t until 1989 that the border that had blocked them from seeing each other was finally removed. If this type of story interests you, you will want to visit the German town of Moedlareuth.
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This small town had always straddled two German states, Bavaria and Thuringia. It didn’t really affect the townspeople much, because the only border was the small segment of the River Tannbach. The children from the Bavarian side, just walked over to the Thuringian side to go to school. The churchgoers from the Thuringian side just crossed over and attended services in the church on the Bavarian side. Both sides sent their sons to war together. Being a divided town just wasn’t an issue. Not until 1944 when the London Protocol of the Allies split up Germany. The Soviets were handed the Thuringia, and Bavaria became part of the American zone. Then in 1949, the founding of the new German states divided the town, not by an invisible border of two states, but now into two separate countries.
Even as two completely different countries, though, the townspeople could still go to the other side with a pass. It may not have been easy to get a pass, but once they did, they could visit for the day. All this stopped on May 26, 1952. The Soviets completely sealed off the crossing, and put in a 500 meter wide protective strip that was covered by guns. From that day forward, they built more and more barriers between the two sides of the town. By 1965, there was a steel chain link fence called a “Flanders Fence” as well as a concrete wall, so now you could hardly even catch glimpses very often of your loved ones.
After the Cold War and Today
The separation continued until December 9th, 1989. It was a full month after the fall of the Berlin wall, and both the folks on the Thuringian side and Bavarian side were eager for it to come down. It finally did, and Chancellor Helmut Kohl as well as U.S. President George Bush were in attendance. It was cause for celebration, but even though there was a passage during the day, at night it was closed down again. Only people with passports could cross.
In June of 1990, most of the barriers were completely destroyed, but thankfully enough was left so that a museum could be built reminding the people of the hardships and inhumane treatment that especially the Thuringians had to bear during the almost 40 years of Soviet occupation.
Deutsche-Deutsches Museum Modlareuth
Today part of the town of Moedlareuth as been turned into an open-air musuem. We arranged for an English speaking guide for our visit, and he explained the many deadly barriers as well as how the people tried to find ways to escape. We also visited the second floor of the museum to see artifacts of the Cold War and across the street there was a barn full of vehicles. All in all, we spent about two hours at the museum.
The Deutsch-Deutsches Museum Moelareuth is open all year from 8:00 – 5:00, except on Mondays. It is very inexpensive, only 3 Euros for adults and 2 for children. You can contact them if you have a group, and they will arrange an English tour for you which costs 3 Euros per person. It’s well worth it, although I wouldn’t bring children if you are taking the tour. It was 90 minutes long, lots of talking.
You can get a good look at it here in this fantastic video:
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