Journey into the heart of the former East Germany - The360 Travel

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  • Sunday, December 15, 2019

    Journey into the heart of the former East Germany

    Journey into the heart of the former East Germany

    The fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago this autumn has spelled the death knell of the GDR, the German Democratic Republic. In small towns like Erfurt and Magdeburg, or in the east of the capital, Berlin, the dynamism found since the end of the communist regime is beautiful to see, even if the Cold War has left its mark ... Visit to the heart of the former GDR.


    The green belt

    The border between the two Germanys is indeed a thing of the past, but where the Iron Curtain once stood is today the "green belt", which extends over 1400 km in the country. This green no man's land has been completely spared by industry or real estate development for more than half a century. It is home to a fauna and flora of an impressive diversity. The Germans say that they have transformed this line of death into a line of life.

    East of Frankfurt, close to the old border, the Rhön Biosphere Reserve has been officially recognized by UNESCO. It is a paradise for walkers and cyclists. Noah's Sail allows you to admire the Rhön mountains on an observation platform located 800 meters above sea level. The panoramic view of the Rhön, Hesse, Thüringen and Bavaria lands is superb. The green belt is not limited to Germany. This vast ecological network of 13 000 km crosses 23 European countries, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary.

    Alpha Point Memorial

    The Alpha Point Memorial is located a few dozen kilometers north of the Rhön reserve. The tour begins with the House of the border. A permanent exhibition explains the hard border regime of the German Democratic Republic, and the confrontation of both worlds during the Cold War.

    Many archival photos show how much the border has been fortified over the years. "As early as 1952, the regime strengthened the border with a line of demarcation, barbed wire, the construction of towers and the addition of soldiers. In 1961, there were even mines that were installed between two walls. From 1949 to 1961, it is estimated that 2.7 million people fled the GDR to go west until the construction of the Berlin Wall on the night of August 12 to 13, 1961, "says Arndt Macheledt, historian and volunteer at the Point Alpha Foundation.

    We then walk along the old border, and we arrive at the former observation post of the US Army Point Alpha, which allowed to monitor the Fulda Valley, a place considered a place of escape. You can climb the tower and visit the former US military camp.

    Erfurt

    Halfway between Frankfurt and Berlin, Erfurt is a city of 200,000 inhabitants, capital of the Land of Thuringia, which was part of the former GDR.

    The city founded in the eighth century, very preserved, is composed of pretty half-timbered medieval houses with very colorful facades. One must visit the imposing Cathedral of Erfurt (St. Mary's) overlooking Domplatz Square where Martin Luther, a great theologian considered the father of Protestantism, was ordained a priest in 1507.

    The Épicier Bridge, emblematic monument of the city, is the longest inhabited bridge in Europe. It measures 120 meters, is composed of 62 houses now grouped in about thirty; we can also visit one of them.

    Since 2012 Erfurt has been home to the Andreasstrasse Educational and Memorial Center or the Stasi Prison Museum. This museum is housed in the former Erfurt prison, built in 1878 and later became the detention center of the Stasi, the dreaded secret police of the communist regime who spied on the citizens of the GDR.

    The visit of the prison gives cold in the back. The cells are narrow, the prisoners are packed together at six. There are also cells where the long interrogations were held, as well as the confinement room. You get into it feeling some pain, even 30 years later. "The Stasi wanted confessions, and all the methods were used to get them," said Judith Meyer, head of the center's educational programs. A permanent exhibition on the themes of detention, dictatorship and revolution completes the visit.

    Magdeburg

    Still further east, about 150 km from Berlin, on the banks of the River Elbe, the capital of the state of Saxony-Anhalt is a surprising city with more than 1,200 years of cultural heritage. It is one of the greenest cities in Germany. Magdeburg Cathedral is the oldest gothic cathedral in the country.

    One of the most beautiful proofs of Magdeburg's dynamism since the end of the communist regime is its famous green citadel. This daring creation of the Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser was inaugurated in 2005. The building with the very colorful facade was challenged by part of the population at the time. "You can imagine that the inhabitants were not delighted by this contrast with the neighboring buildings, whereas today the citadel is an integral part of the city," says Matias Tosi, artistic director of the citadel, which consists of 55 affordable apartments, shops, cafes, a hotel and a day care center. The roof is covered with plants and vegetation. It is possible to make guided tours. Attention, you must reserve.

    The Elbauenpark in Magdeburg is another example of what was created here after the reunification of the two Germanies. This 100-hectare area was once a military zone. It is now composed of flower gardens and offers many activities for the whole family. One can climb into the Millennium Tower, a strange wooden construction that houses an exhibition on the history of mankind.

    East Berlin

    If there is a district of former East Berlin that has changed a lot since reunification, it is Prenzlauer Berg. "It was the neighborhood of the counterculture, intellectuals, artists and students. After the fall of the Wall, the buildings of the district were renovated, then it became much gentrified, the rents increased, there are pretty shops, restaurants and cafes, in short, it is a very popular district which is now frequented by wealthier families, "says Ronald van Velsen, a Dutchman who lives in the area and organizes tours of Berlin by bike.

    An old brewery has also been transformed into a cultural center, the Kulturbrauerei. The Mauerpark (the Park of the Wall) is located on the old layout of the wall. There are musicians and karaoke fans, as well as soccer and basketball players. A very popular flea market is held every Sunday.

    The Oderberger Hotel is part of this district. This former public bath was converted into a hotel in 2016. The 20-meter pool has been preserved and is still open to the public. Designed in 1898, the building survived the war, but it had to close in 1986 due to its poor condition. It was in 2011 that the building was bought by the owners of the language school just behind. "It was natural for my mother, who founded this school where we learn German, to buy this building 30 years ago. For international students staying in Berlin, it's part of the experience of the neighborhood, they can enjoy the historic pool, "says Verena Jaeschke, hotel manager.

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