Germany - The Walls Came Tumbling Down

The Inner German Border Develops

With more space readily available, the security of the Inner German Border was able to 'deepen' over the years.



A diagram of the developing Inner German Border.......

The labels on the LHS indicate the 5km 'closed' zone (which could only be entered with a validated pass) and the 500m protected strip
The main change from the earlier border is the addition of a double row of barbed-wire fences with mines in between
A narrower, 6m control strip was cleared in front of this double row of fences in conjunction with a 60-80cm deep ditch

Click this link or the image for a larger version (opens in a new window).



This image shows the early 1950s fence in very poor condition and the 10m harrowed strip
In the background can be seen the two parallel barbed-wire fences supported by concrete posts - the space between likely to have now been mined


Since 1952 the residents of Mostholz had become used to the fence and 'Pieck Avenue' running through their village.
Then in 1962 the residents on the DDR side received the early morning call and were ordered from their beds to pack and evacuate their homes.
The buildings and the trees were then torn down leaving no trace of the farm and its barns and outbuildings.



The scene up to 1962 - the fence and the protection strip can be seen on the LHS of the road - then only flattened space
Click the image or this link for a larger version (opens in a new window)


On the night of the 2nd October 1961, 53 people from twelve families fled from Böseckendorf across the border without being detected.
Although the border was then mined to prevent further escapes, a second mass escape occurred on the 22nd February 1963.
Twelve people from two families crossed the border successfully, led by a DDR border guard who was engaged to one of the escapees.
He was able to guide the villagers across the border at a point that he knew was free of landmines.



Following the mass escapes, the village of Böseckendorf is completely evacuated and then destroyed

During these developments of the border defences, more than 12,000 people were forcibly removed from their homes in the border region and relocated further inland.
Many communities were broken up or completely razed to the ground.



West German school children and their teacher watch as homes are demolished on the East German side of the border

Even the strengthened Inner German Border proved to be only marginally effective. A determined, imaginative and well informed escapee would have little trouble in crossing the border.
In September 1967 the DDR began construction of the 'modern frontier' - this was supposed to be completed by 1970 but organisational and financial problems caused delays.

On the side facing West Germany, the parallel barbed wire fences were replaced by a single fence constructed of steel mesh.



The new metal mesh fence is constructed near Tremersdorf, Kreis Coburg (August 1968)



More durable plastic mines were installed to replace the old type (which were manufactured in a wooden frame and prone to rotting)

Controversially, in 1970, the SM-70, an anti-personnel device, triggered by a trip-wire, was added to the this fence.
Note: this device was never fitted to fences in Berlin.



The SM-70 was aimed parallel with the fence line and intended to kill or incapacitate anyone attempting to climb or cut through the fence
Amazingly, in 1976, two examples of the SM-70 (automatic firing device) were removed from the border by a West German infiltrator and taken to West Germany
Following the recovery, an international public outcry led to diplomatic protests with the East German government
Note: In 1983, the East German government agreed to remove these devices in exchange for a loan of one billion Marks from West Germany
A further condition of the loan was the removal of over one million landmines




The western side of the IGB - newcomers to the British Forces in Germany were taken on a familiarisation visit to the border



The actual line of the border could be (up to) several hundred meters before the line of the western fence/wall and marker posts identified the location
Any structure between the marker and the fence was either demolished or left unmaintained




In addition to the pillars, there were frequent warning signs........No trespassing, danger of collapse (referring to an old bridge near to the border)

The eastern border was marked by a "hinterland" fence, which was a 2-meter high metal grid fence that had electrical signalling devices installed in order to detect crossing attempts. In some areas, this fence was replaced by the 'roll-top' concrete wall to hide the view of the border area.
Note: Technical issues with the new fence produced a large number of false alarms and was considered unreliable - information that was not widely discussed.



The hinterland fence fitted with the electronic signalling wires (now a museum exhibit)

Inside the security zone (between the two fences) all-weather patrol roads were built that followed the raked control strip - known as the 'death strip' and usually about 6m wide. From the road, guards could inspect the control strip for signs of escape. In locations where the border was still vulnerable to escape attempts, the control strip was illuminated at night by high-intensity floodlights, which were also used at points where rivers and streams crossed the border.
Additionally there were numerous watchtowers, searchlights, bunkers, tripwires, mine fields, anti-vehicle ditches and dogs.........a formidable barrier.



The modern frontier showing the hinterland fence changing to a concrete wall near a group of East German houses
The old 1950s wire fencing and the ploughed strip (which were closer to the actual border) are no longer part of the modern frontier
At its peak, 
there were 50,000 Grenztruppen controlling the border
The border area consumed 6% of the DDR's territory and the cost of building & maintaining the border was a huge drain on limited resources

The 5km zone behind the hinterland fence was still carefully monitored and those living/working in this area continued to require special permits.



Signs warning of the 5km zone and a pass required to enter this area



The armband for a volunteer border watcher, a shepherd acting as a volunteer and a certificate for loyal service (click this link or the image for a larger version)
Images courtesy of the Kühlungsborn Border Museum


In order to increase the depth of the border defences, farms and small isolated settlements continued to be evacuated and destroyed into the 1980s.
In North-West Mecklenburg alone, thirteen villages were eradicated.
The village of Bardowiek (near Lübeck) was systematically destroyed between 1977 and 1989.



The electrical transformer building is all that remains of Bardowiek

In 1979 the original wire fence was changed to a 3.20m high 'expanded metal panel' with a tighter diamond pattern that offered no fingerholds.



The edges of the diamond patterns were extremely sharp and would easily tear the fingertips of anyone trying to climb the fence
It was only possible to see through the fence when the angle of your view was close to 90º


Although concessions regarding the SM-70 and the removal of mines had been extracted from East Germany, neither concession made it easier to cross the IGB; the East German authorities simply moved their control measures further back from the border.



A typical Inner German Border scene. The East German village is in the background. The striped East German border marker and the West German warning sign are in the foreground.

Author's Note:
I have come to realise that the Inner German Border wasn't a totally impregnable system.
The pictures below show areas where different elements of the 'border system' are in place.



Not every kilometer of the border had all these elements in place - watchtowers, lighting, anti-vehicle/tank structures, automatic firing mines, dog runs or constant patrols (click the image or this link for a larger version - in a new window)

If you chose a remote location, were fortunate with your timing and applied the correct techniques of fence crossing then it was possible to make your escape across the 'modern frontier'.



Boots modified by adding a spike help the escaper to climb the fence - a similar aid was made for the hands

However, potential escapees couldn't study satellite images using "Google Maps" and the layout of mines and patterns of patrolling by the Border Guards were unknown.
Additonally, it is important to remember that nobody still living in the border area would be sympathatic to a potential escapee.

Although travel was less restricted, anybody approaching the border area would be treated with great suspicion. The Stasi (State Security Service) had many thousands of paid employees and over 173,000 unofficial informants inside the DDR......any strange vehicle or people appearing to be reconnoitring the border area would be quickly reported.

Two documents that explain the develpment of the IGB can be viewed in the Extras / Further Reading.