THE RE-UNITED HARZ

 

and the two Germanys
RE-UNITED.

A personal diary of "the Change" and Wiedervereinigung.

May 1987. I met the reality of divided Germany on a short walking
holiday in the West Harz, based at Braunlage. Saw the observation
towers, the border
"Halt! Hier Grenze" warning signs as at the
Ecker beck, to the top right.
The Iron Curtain fence wound along the 
earlier provincial and local government boundaries, unnaturally dividing
up a physically coherent region. Was all this forever I wondered? On
another day, from the border close to the small mountain Wurmberg
near Braunlage, I had my first sight
(right) of the former resort village
of Schierke in a valley on the eastern side. We were to become familar
with Schierke in later years.

9 November 1988. My wife Pat and I visited Berlin and the West Harz on a coach tour. The 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, when the Nazis savagely attacked Jewish businesses and synagogues and rounded up thousands of Jews. Saw the Wall by the Reichstag and the Brandenburger Tor. Looked sadly at the crosses for the victims of attempted border crossings. Went on to the famous Checkpoint Charlie. I recall silently praying by the Wall. Was it a very believing prayer? After all there had been four decades of division.

10 November 1988. During a West Harz coach tour we were taken to the Kaffeehorst parking ground by Wurmberg near Braunlage, only a few metres from the border
and its watchtowers,
pictured at the right. A Border Guard officer told
us about the measures on the eastern side, of the so called "death strip"
and the concrete strip patrol roads called Kolonnen Weg. Then he spoke
about the second fence further away and of the relative isolation of
those who lived in the restricted border zone. We listened, took our
photographs on this grey day and perhaps did not expect ever to return, or to see "the other side."

Nov. 9th 1989. Dramatic events in East Germany. For weeks we had been following the events in Eastern Germany – the DDR. A peaceful revolution, "Sanfte Revolution", had welled up led by pastors, playwrights, intellectuals and others, with the churches playing a valuable part with early evening meetings for prayer. Then late on this evening, the precise first anniversary of our West Berlin visit, we saw live television news as the wall was breached by East Berliners pouring through, as surprised Border Guards and police stood by. What a change! The change, die Wende, came from below.

Sunday, 12th November 1989. From a report: Crowds of expectant Braunlage residents gathered along the dead end B27 road at the inner frontier towards Elend. From over the border DDR soldiers actually waved! How improbable previously. Just before 3 o'clock shouts and screams were heard as the gate in the fence opened and people from
the neighbouring DDR villages rushed through. An improvised wooden
plank bridge was thrown over the Bremke. Amidst unbelievable scenes of
singing and cheering and flowing tears, there was soon two way traffic
as westerners made their way on foot to Elend and easterners wended
their way to Braunlage. It was only the older people who had previously
seen their neighbouring places! Old acquaintances were renewed after many years . A commemorative stone, provided and installed by local residents, now stands close to the sight of these events.

June 1990. Incredibly walking in the East Harz. On our first planned holiday at "our holiday home in Braunlage" we saw the change for ourselves. The sight of hundreds of Trabant and Wartburg cars coming in to Braunlage early for a combination of shopping and to see more of the immediate West. On one of our expeditions we parked our car at the Kaffeehorst Parkplatz of our 1988 visit. Then we walked through a gap in the fence
(pictured right) on one of the original Harz walking routes
through the forest to Schierke. This route had re-opened 2
months earlier when groups from Braunlage and Schierke met
there and throw an improvised plank bridge over the beck.
The 10th anniversary of this was celebrated at this point by
groups from Braunlage and Schierke on April1st 2000. Now we
saw the now disused patrol routes, wire fences and towers at
first hand. To Brocken.
On another day we visited Father
Brocken for the first time. In the mist, as we went through the gateway in the Brocken Wall, it was astonishing to realise that we were alongside Russian soldiers! Other walks took us to such villages as Elend
, Tanne and Sorge in the former DDR. A car tour took us to the well-preserved town of Wernigerode. As we toured we had an impression in some places that time had stood still for 40 years.
Right. This is a "preserved" museum section of the DDR border patrol
routes and a watchtower near Sorge.

September 1991. Seeing more of the east. Toured along
the North German Baltic Coast and visited the former Hansa towns of
Stralsund and Greifswald. The grandeur of some historical buildings was
mixed with ill cared for buildings. Even many buildings of the very large
communal farms appeared run down. After visiting the former women's'
concentration camp at Ravensbruck we returned to the now unified
Berlin. We were able to see the fine buildings of the Mitte.Continued via Wittenberg of Luther fame and the rather dirty looking Halle. Impression of shut down factories due to collapse of the East's traditional markets in Eastern Europe. Yet many East Germans had training in good industrial and other craft skills. Were these to be wasted or would they be seen to be valuable for the future of the economy?

1995-99. Umleitung and other diversions. Now we saw the slow but steady improvement in villages and small towns. Investment in the basic infrastructure was bringing changes, most apparent in work on the roads and the number of diversions! How many places were named "Umleitung"? Homeowners were bringing their houses up to higher standards. Many new service based industries could be seen. We were meeting holidaymakers from the eastern states
of Germany. Some have become regular friends. On the B27
road between Braunlage
in Lower Saxony and the eastern
Sachsen-Anhalt village of Elend
, local people had set up
memorials of the re- unification. The stream called the Bremke
had been the local political boundary pre-war and it became
the inner German border post the War and during the Cold
War. On the Braunlage
side there is the small monument stone
and an explanation (further above) . On the eastern side is a
larger monument
(pictured right) consisting of two large
stones, apparently splintered apart but now cemented together again. A text on the monument states "Deutschland 1989. Wieder vereint."- Germany 1989 -united again.

November 1999. On Sunday the 7th we spent some time at a festival celebrating the tenth anniversary of the opening of the fence and the Iron Curtain. This was at the Bremke Bridge between Braunlage and Elend , where West and East Germany had been previously divided. Local and regional leaders spoke of their delight at the re-developing of the local communities' relationships in an area that physically was truly one. "Nothing was more hurtful than the division of the Harz", said one political leader. Pastor Axel Lundbeck from Braunlage described the border opening in 1989 as "a wonder of God." 2 days later, on the main German TV channels, we watched the Berliners celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the fall of the Wall.


5th January 2006. One of the remaining fractures of the Harz landscape and nature was healed when the 2 National Parks, of the former western Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) and former eastern Sachsen-Anhalt, were finally united when the respective Minister-Presidents signed the formal document. The head office is in Wernigerode. The total area covers almost 25,000 hectares.