Inner German Border Before the Wall

From Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, The Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place On Earth by Iain MacGregor (Scribner, 2019), Kindle p. 16:

This Inner German border, … stretching almost fourteen hundred kilometers (close to nine hundred miles) from the Baltic Sea to the border with Czechoslovakia, was still not the impregnable barrier Stalin envisaged, a fact reflected in the name the locals living along its length gave to it, die Grenze (“the Border”).

Hans-Ulrich Jörges’s father decided to flee to the West in 1956, sending word to his family to follow him a year later. “We could leave,” Uli recalled later, “because they were not interested in a single woman with two children. I do remember a house search by Stasi officers, who wore long Gestapo-like leather coats, when I was three or four years old. Of course, that was a terrifying experience. In West Germany we settled in a village close to the border in Hessen, not far away from Bad Salzungen. Every Sunday for many years, in a sort of Homeric ritual, we traveled to the border and looked across the fence into our homeland of Thüringen. My parents would stand there fighting back the tears, gripping our hands tightly, and talking to one another to offer some comfort.”

For Uli’s family, the frontier was perhaps in the mind. “Our border was marked with a simple fence that you could walk across fields to and stand right up against, without any concern as to the border guards on the other side harming you. It was almost like a fence for retaining cattle in their field. There was no ‘Death Strip’ at that time, and when the border guards in the East passed by, one could even casually talk to them. I recall a small man standing beside us who shouted out to them as they marched past us silently that they come over to eat some white bread [difficult to obtain in East Germany]—and they did.”

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Filed under Britain, food, France, Germany, migration, military, nationalism, U.S., USSR, war

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