How the Iron Curtain blossomed into an ecological paradise


The following is an excerpt from Wild Places by Sarah Baxter.

From the deadly division to the line of life. Few could have foreseen that the dark, decades-long fracturing of a continent would give Earth such respite, nurture such verdant sprouts, and see natural connections springing from such a grisly division. And yet a strip of land that once served as concrete, guns, barbed wire and border protection has been revived; orchids and otters, capercaillie and wildcats, marsh fritillaries, black storks, rare mosses live now. It’s revived rivers, restored forests, more biodiverse meadows, once separate lands united by conservation. The terrifying frontier that few dared to cross – and where some died trying – is now a place of hope and renewal.


Nowhere was the “curtain” so heavily militarized as along it to die Border, the “inner-German border” that separated the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany). This line ran almost 1,400 km (870 miles) from the Baltic Sea to what was then Czechoslovakia, plowing through villages, rending communities, tearing apart friends and families. Especially on the GDR side, the fortifications were heavy and complex along the entire length of the wall: behind the border, which was guarded by 50,000 armed soldiers, a restricted zone, a protective strip and external fences were erected. Almost 700 towers were erected; 1.3 million mines were laid. It created a virtual no man’s land – a fatal void that claimed the lives of many of those desperate enough to try to cross it.

That was a deadly room for many, yes. But not so for wildlife. With the Cold War raging on, political tensions high and the world in flux, the environment along the frontline was spared radical changes. Development and most human disturbances in this narrow border ceased. Border areas were largely closed off, so no farming was done, no shopping malls were built; People have been kept away, either by fear, violence, or choice. In this way, nature was granted a break, which was able to revive, diversify and expand along the watershed, creating an almost continuous corridor of semi-wilderness from the Baltic Sea to Bavaria. The area’s approximately 5,200 animal and plant species – over 600 of which are classified as endangered – have been left to their own devices. Even the fixed fences hardly presented an obstacle, as animals such as foxes and badgers could easily tunnel through.

Wild Places will be released on May 3, 2022. The Quarto Group The Quarto Group

The benefits this brutal barrier brought to nature did not go unnoticed. The German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND) was founded in 1975 and began to record the growing diversity of species and habitats in the “death strip”. In particular, it was found that 90 percent of several endangered bird species, such as the whinchat and woodlark, preferred to breed within the boundary zone and avoid farmland. 1989, when the border (and the Berlin Wall) finally fell, the Green Belt Germany project was born. His task would be daunting: transforming this endlessly long and ugly defense network into the most unconventional of wildlife sanctuaries.

Today the German Green Belt – or Green Band Germany– is a string of pearls of rich, diverse and vital wildlife sanctuaries strung between land that has been intensively farmed. Much of the military paraphernalia were dismantled, although some Observation towers, monuments and sections of fence are still standing, Poignant and important reminders of the past. former Customs officers, foresters and locals who bore witness to this divide in action now runs guided tours. In places have old barracks were converted into hotels. But now nature is in charge.

And what a variety of nature. Because the Green Belt is expanding So far it covers a wide ecological range, from sea cliffs and from dunes to lakes, river banks, gorges, bogs and mountains, wildflowers Meadows, beech forests, trembling bogs, ponds, lagoons and heaths Pagan. Many species thrive in these diverse environments. The coast is a paradise for gray seals, goosanders and migratory birds common cranes. They breed along the Elbe Storks and soaring sea eagles when winter comes, huge Flocks of whooper swans fill the sky. Lynx were successful Reintroduction to the caves and chasms of the Harz – u heavily defended landscape, once completely closed – and birch and pines begin to sprout on unintentionally cultivated land in search of mines. Wild cats hide in the forests of Eichsfeld, while the Franconian Forest martens, deer u Wild boar. The Vogtland is a bloom of flower-speckled meadows, bird life and butterflies. Streams flow in at the border with the Czech Republic which pearl mussels thrive.

The German Green Belt is still a work in progress. Some sections were destroyed after reunification, creating gaps along the line. But it is hoped that these will be closed so that the course of the Iron Curtain is preserved for both history and nature.

excerpt from Wild Places by Sarah Baxter, published by White Lion Publishing. Reprinted with permission. All other rights reserved.


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