The journey along the Iron Curtain brings us around Germany- a key country in the history of Europe. You will discover both East and West Europe, and you will cross these once impenetrable boundaries.
A bit of History
Germany was the instigator of the Second World War, and the great defeated. After the war, Europe was divided. At the centre of this was Germany and its capital city, Berlin. Amongst the victors there were significant political differences. The Soviet Union had lived under the Communist regime. While the Western powers had adopted democracy as their governmental system. In the end, Germany and the rest of Europe was split into two big blocks. Berlin was placed under Soviet rule in part, while three quarters of it remained under western control.
The term 'iron curtain' was first used by Winston Churchill- the British Prime Minister during the war. It was used to describe how the continent of Europe had been broken into two sides. The tension caused by this split remained evident until 1989 and the fall of the Berlin wall. The conflict between capitalism and communism and the continual move to exhibit military dominance developed again when it came to the cold war, and the prospect of nuclear warfare. Fortunately, this situation has dissipated, and we strive to prevent such a similar catastrophe. The country of Germany has since moved toward wholeness, and is no longer so defined by conflict. Nonetheless, inequalities still exist between East and West when it comes to issues such as employment and wage rates.
Get ready: during this trip, you will cross a border that once signified the rift that dominated much of Europe during the Twentieth Century. We can do this trip in two ways: By following the line that from 1945 divided the Federal Republic of Germany from the Democratic Republic of Germany. Alternatively, we can go off the beaten track and visit major cities at either side of the border, finishing in Berlin- the divided city. The German Iron Curtain goes from Hof- at the border of the Czech republic- and Lubeck- the most northerly point of the country. We will come across many interesting places along the way. In total, we will travel approximately 650 kilometres across this historical landscape. If we choose to travel the full length of the East/ West border, we will encounter this country and its environment it all its depth and variety. The other option involves stopping off at some of Germany's most interesting cities, finishing in Berlin- the city that until 1989 was divided in two.
Cities to visit:
Located in the highlands of Bavaria Hof sits between the Frankelwald and Fichtelgebirge Mountains. Here, in the middle of the natural parks, is the perfect place to forget the bustle of the big city and to begin our adventure. It is worth visiting the Art Nouveau building, Theresienstein, and to take a walk by lake Untreusse. The border of the Czech Republic is located 10km only to the East.
Gottingen is located half way between Bonn and Berlin and is characterised by its lively university scene. In fact, forty-two Nobel laureates have studied or taught here. Continuing northwards from Gottingen, near Braunlage, we come to the National Park of Harz
Magdeburg is a city that has been struggling to rebuild itself since the war. It is not unusual to come across buildings that have still not been fully re-constructed since German reunification. The city also contains two record-breaking constructions- one is the cathedral that measures 104 metres in heights. This makes it the tallest in Germany. The other is the canal bridge that, at 918 meters in length, makes it the longest in Europe. We also recommend that you visit the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser's green citadel.
Also known as Brunswick, this city has an exciting atmosphere created by its unusual fusion of past and present. It has a rich cultural and historical heritage. The greatest areas to see here are the extensive pedestrian spaces- here we can stroll peacefully without the interruption of city traffic. Brunswick Technical University is currently doing research into how old-fashioned buildings can be updated and refurbished to conform to eco-friendly standards. Included in their projects is the new Brunswick council building and the Evangelist church in Berlin. The European Union has donated three million euros in sponsorship to the NANOIMPRINT project. This project seeks to find ways of renewing litter in order to create useful raw materials through biotechnological processes.
Hamburg is the second most populated city in Germany, after Berlin. It sits on the banks of the Elba River and is a prominent commercial city. The river itself is navigable from the sea to the city. As such, it has long since served the city and made it possible to create a major port here. It is rivalled only perhaps by Rotterdam's port. Hamburg has thus developed as a place of openness, inhabited by a welcoming community of natives. And don't forget to visit the lake in the city centre, the Alster. If the city seems at any time too grey, you can always take a nice walk alongside the woodlands at its parameters. The city also has 2303 bridges- this is more than Amsterdam and Venice put together.
This is the last stop on our tour if we have chosen to follow the German 'curtain'. It is an old city, filled with charm. In 1942, a fifth of the old part of the city was destroyed. Today we can see the attempts at reconstruction of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Saxony area, along with Leipzig, was invaded after the Second World War by the soviet army. Theses cities thus became part of the Democratic Republic of Germany. It was the 'Peaceful Prayers' revolution that precipitated the reunification of Germany in 1989. Since then the renewal and reconstruction of the city has been undertaken- with the help of sponsorship from the European Union and the federal government. It is worth visiting the Battle of Nations monument- the biggest of its kind in Europe, with a platform providing a panoramic view from 91 metres in height. The main rail station has one of the biggest terminals in Europe. The Hauptbahnhof-Promenaden boulevards provide commercial and shopping services.
This is the city where the conference that eventually led to the division of Germany was held in 1945. Today it is a city of great beauty and cultural charm. The par and Sans Souci Palace are must-sees. For history and cinema lovers: the Babelsberg Filmpark will surely be interesting. This features the old studios of the UFA, where propaganda movies for WW II were made.
Berlin in Germany's capital and focal point for all its activities: art, architecture and culture and more. After the Second World War, the city was divided into four- later becoming two blocks in 1949. These were called the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany, ruled by the allies), and the DRG (Democratic Republic of Germany, ruled by the Soviets). The city was fractured, and a physical barrier was erected that made this visible- the infamous Berlin Wall. In 1968 the DRG decided to construct this wall to prevent emigration. Until 1989, the Wall dominated much of the life of the city's inhabitants. Some inhabitants even lost their lives trying to breach the threshold.
Berlin Wall: in Mühlenstraat, there is more than a kilometre of this construction still standing. Checkpoint Charlie was the entry point for foreigners. Today it is a commemorative museum for those who died trying to cross the wall.
Brandemburg Gate: near the fallen Wall, we can find the city's symbol. It also symbolises German reunification.
Reichstag (German Parliament): known as the Bundestag, it is open to the public. From its crystal dome we get a great view of the city.
Potsdamer Platz: this is the modern part of Berlin, with skyscrapers and shopping centres.
Alexanderplatz: in the middle of this square is the television antenna (Fernsehturm) that is 368 meters high. It can be seen from almost every part of the city. The tower features a circular restaurant from where we can get an incredible view of the city.
Unter der Linden: this is an avenue that stretches across the city. A walk here is compulsory- to delight in the beauty that Berlin offers.
When we have completed the trip, we will be able to say we know the most representative and populated country in the European Union. A country saturated with contemporary history, and a key to understanding the XX century. The Iron Curtain was a physical frontier but also a psychological one. It divided the world into two, ideologically. Germany has learned how to reunify itself, and today is a free country that thrives on the differences between its citizens. Today you have a unique opportunity to travel across this once segregated country on your bike without any problem!