Former East German Border, 1988

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay

In February, 1988, while on a military exercise in Germany, I got a chance to go on a border tour. The U.S. Army sponsored regular tours to show military and civilian personnel what they were facing. Little did I suspect that the next year the border would cease to exist.

While on the tour, we were told that the guard dogs along the border were not there to attack but to make noise, that guards were not supposed to fire on women and children, and were not to fire if there was a chance their round might cross the border. Many of the towers were unmanned much of the time. All in all, I got the distinct impression they were just plain tired. If you think the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, check out oppression.


The border tour experience began in the city of Hof where the U.S. reaction force had a billet. This was not a favorite post, since tours lasted 45 days and the force was on constant alert.

Originally, U.S. forces could go within ten meters of the border, but after a number of incidents, a buffer zone a kilometer wide was established.

One of the East German border markers. Occasionally U.S. troops thought they'd make great souvenirs. The free vacation in Leavenworth when they got caught was an added bonus. And they would get caught. The East Germans saw to that.
This chemical plant on the East German side was loaded with electronic intelligence gear.

Going Through Hell

I literally went through hell to get these pictures. The name of the village, Hoelle, literally translates as "hell" in German. (The word "hell" in German, on the other hand, means "bright." Alles klar?)
Hell frozen over.

Supposedly the village got is name because it was once a hotbed of witchcraft. Someone decided to commemorate the town's history by putting up this statue of a devil.

On the Way to the Border

It was a dark and snowy day, not the best day for photography.

On the Border

The sign tells U.S. forces to halt. Germans could go as close to the border as they liked, or dared, but U.S. forces were not supposed to get closer than a kilometer without authorization.

Official border tours, of course, were authorized.

This bend offered an exceptionally close approach to the border.
Above: the border.

Below: the East German side had several layers of security, including fences, dog runs, and watch towers.

That strip of no-man's land makes a nifty sanctuary for endangered species, by the way.

Border Town

The town is Blankenstein.
Left and below: there was a burly, no-nonsense looking guy in this watch tower observing us and taking photos. Any misbehavior by American troops would be documented and reported. We were told about one soldier who threw a snowball across the border and narrowly avoided a court martial for it.

So why would we care what the East Germans thought? Because any confrontations were to begin through official channels, thank you very much, and not because some dumb GI felt like provoking one.

The smokestack has an observation post at the top but no elevator. We were told it was often assigned to guards who screwed up.

The smokestack is visible on Google Earth at 50 24' 14.26" N, 11 42' 02.38" E. The border is not plotted very accurately in that area.

Below: looking along the West German side.  

Attention boaters!
The middle of the river marks the border!
Cross the middle of the river only with proper authorization.

Frankly, I'd take my boat somewhere else.

Border Views

Distant views of the border.

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Created 22 June 2007, Last Update 04 June 2020