| Kathrin Zeilmann |
Moedlareuth, Germany (dpa) – A village in Germany which once straddled the Iron Curtain can still show tourists traces of the communist-built concrete wall which divided it in two parts for 23 years.
When people in Berlin noisily celebrated the fall of their Wall in November 1989, things stayed pretty quiet in the village of Moedlareuth. It was still too early to tear down the barrier dividing a place that US soldiers jokingly nicknamed “Little Berlin.”
Local man Arnold Friedrich remembers how the floodlights stayed on as normal along the wall, which was more than three metres high.
There were no demonstrations yet. No joyful scenes.
“In the following days nothing happened either,” recalls Friedrich, now 67, who was at that time mayor of Toepen in the Bavarian district of Hof, to which the western part of Moedlareuth belonged.
The community is on the border between Bavaria and Thuringia states. When Germany was divided between the Soviets and the western allies after World War II, the community was divided up too.
However, on December 5,
1989, things began to change. In the East German part of the village, there was a meeting where newly emboldened people demanded that the border be opened.
In west Moedlareuth, people showed their solidarity by holding a spontaneous demonstration and lighting candles and flaming torches.
“We wanted to show that something had to happen,” Friedrich says.
And something did happen: On December 7, modification work started on the eastern side. A small part of the wall was removed and replaced by steel gates. Mayor Friedrich used his authority to visit the eastern part of the village.
“I was able to chat to the people there. We agreed to open the border to the general public on December 9,” he said.
There was great excitement on both sides when a crossing was opened to pedestrians. Tears of joy flowed during the celebrations.
People who had once been neighbours and were then separated for decades were able to embrace again.
“Everyone wanted to hear one another’s stories,” says Friedrich.
For him it was a dream come true: “I always used to say that I wanted to live long enough to one day be on the other side.” That day came in late 1989.
Today part of the concrete barrier still stands in Moedlareuth in the yard of the Wall Museum.
Up to 70,000 people visit the village annually, says museum chief Robert Lebegern. The visitors are mainly school classes, but also tourists from the United States, South Korea and other nations.
It wasn’t until June 17, 1990 that the wall visibly came down in Moedlareuth.
Only Friedrich, his counte-rpart in the East, Herbert Hammerschmidt, and a building contractor with a digger knew what was coming.
“It was meant to be a symbolic act: The wall is gone,” says Friedrich. And so after a memorial service for the 1953 East German uprising, the digger tore a gap of more than 100 metres in the wall. “Suddenly the view across was unobstructed.”
On that day, the idea was born of setting up the museum in Moedlareuth. Quite a few villagers would have preferred for the wall to be completely torn down, but Friedrich and his colleagues convinced them to let at least a piece remain.
For the 50 or so inhabitants of the village, the global attention was somewhat unwelcome, especially when tourists and journalists came and peered into front gardens or sauntered into cow barns for a look around, Lebegern says.
After all, Moedlareuth hadn’t planned on being a historic village: it was just a farming community.
“The place is changing, evolving like anywhere else in the world,” said Lebegern, explaining why some locals would have preferred to close the book on the years of division and get on with their lives.
But grants ensured there would be money for a museum and local historians captured the memories of the inhabitants, including audio interviews with almost all of them, says Lebegern.
For the initial phase of the division, up till 1952 there were few documents, so the memories of eyewitnesses were particularly important.
Since reunification, Moedla-reuth has taken up its old ways.
“Within a short time the community had grown together again,” says the former mayor.
The division still exists on paper, via different zip codes and telephone prefixes. That’s because the sections are still in different states, Thuringia and Bavaria.
The separation of the village, following the line of a stream, actually dates back to the 16th century.
For centuries this admini-strative division played only a minor role in people’s daily lives.
Before the World War II, the village had a common school and a common fire department.
In 1952 a wooden fence was erected, followed by a barbed wire fence. In 1966, the 3.3-metre-high concrete wall was built – 700 metres long – establishing Moedlareuth’s unwanted claim to world fame.