Iron Curtain Trail
From Hof to Szeged
|Length: 1730 km|
|Price: € 16,90|
Iron Curtain TrailThe Iron Curtain divided the continent into East and West and extended from the Barents Sea through Europe to the Black Sea - a distance of 10,000 kilometres. Until the peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe, it was the physical and ideological border between two mutually hostile blocs. It did not just divide many neighbouring states, but also divided Germany into East and West. Few things remain of the former death strip today. The few relics that are still there remind us of our past but no longer separate us.
Therefore, it is imperative to make the memories visible! We know that there is little in the way of shared memories between the West and the East, that the experiences of Europeans east and west of the border differ, not least because their perspectives were often shaped completely differently depending on the official policy in both parts of Europe. The Warsaw Pact countries were set up with the goal in mind of "protection against the class enemy". For the West, the East represented a lack of freedom in real socialism. Visible memories already exist with the "Berlin Wall Trail", which has been signposted since 2001 by the Berlin Senate and made with cyclists in mind. To compliment the various stops along the former Wall, the "Berlin Wall History Mile" was launched, a permanent exhibition with artistic designs of the crossings in four languages ??(German, English, French, Russian), with about 30 panels detailing the history of the division of Berlin, the Wall construction and when it came down. Photographs and short texts describe events that took place at each location. The "Berlin Wall Trail" became part of Berlin’s tourism program and is the first project that combines soft tourism and city tourism. In Berlin you can experience history, politics, nature and culture.
It was not just Berlin that was divided for decades, it was the rest of Germany, too. The memory of the present 1,400-kilometre inner German border strip must be preserved. With this in mind, on the 30th June 2004, the coalition parties of the SPD and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen brought forward the motion in the German Bundestag (DS 15/3454) to convert the former death strip into a habitat. The “Iron Curtain”, they argued, should be developed for sustainable tourism and a European Green Belt (Green Belt Europe) should run along it. The German Bundestag voted unanimously in favour of these plans in December of 2004.
The "German-German cycle track" on the "Green Belt" runs through 150 nature reserves and encompasses numerous flora-fauna habitat areas (FFH), including the three biosphere reserves of Schaalsee, Elbaue and Rhön as well as the Harz National Park. The route leads from the Baltic Sea to the Czech border with numerous rivers and lakes along the way and covers not just the height of the Harz mountains but also the Thuringian Forest. There are many monuments and border museums to discover, as well as some remaining watchtowers. But also Europe was divided for decades. The Iron Curtain ran from the Barents Sea on the Norwegian-Russian border to the Black Sea on the Bulgarian-Turkish border. Today, it no longer separates us but is rather a symbol of a common European experience in the reunified Europe. This is another reason why the European Parliament approved in 2005 my resolution by a large majority in the European Parliament from all countries and all political groups to include the “Iron Curtain Trail”, in its report on "New perspectives and challenges for sustainable tourism in Europe". It is part of a collective memory, with which the much-valued and often praised European identity can be promoted.
Europe’s division does not begin at the end of World War II, but rather with Hitler's seizure of power on 30 January 1933 and the beginning of World War II on 1 September 1939, as German soldiers marched into Poland. Had it not been for Nazi Germany and WWII, Europe would never have been divided. Despite their ideological differences, the anti-Hitler coalition was united in a common struggle against Nazi Germany. The respective own interests soon came to the fore, however, after the unconditional surrender of the German army. Already on March 5, 1946, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who had been voted out of office after the war, stated in his famous speech in Fulton/Missouri that a division of Europe had occurred and that part of Europe now found itself behind an "Iron Curtain". The Cold War had begun.
The leaders of the Warsaw Pact countries were not willing to grant political freedom and proved unable to solve the economic problems resulting in repeated uprisings. The first in the Soviet sphere of influence happened on 17 June 1953 in the GDR. This was followed in June of 1956 by the Poznan demonstrations in Poland and in October the Hungarian Revolution, the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the workers' uprising in 1970 in Poland, Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia in 1977 and in 1980 the emergence of the Solidarity movement in Poland, that with 10 million, had more than three times as many members as the Communist state party. The activities of Solidarity movement, the successful orientation of Hungary to the west, the "Singing Revolution" of independence movements in the Baltic states, the "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia, together with the increasingly strong opposition movement in the GDR and the dismantling of the barbed wire on the Hungarian-Austrian border by the two Foreign Ministers Gyula Horn and Alois Mock on 27 June 1989 paved the way for the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and the Iron Curtain in Europe.
Following the successful example of the Berlin Wall Trail and the German-German Border Trail, a hiking and biking trail was envisaged along the former Iron Curtain on the former death strip, to help us retrace the footsteps of this shared European history. The 10,000 kilometres "Green Belt" from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea have been under the patronage of Mikhail Gorbachev since 2002, who in March 1985, with a majority of just a single vote, was elected General Secretary of the KPdSU. The former president of the Soviet Union has been the President of Green Cross International (GCI) since 1993. The importance of the Green Belt for conservation and its value as a symbol of the union between East and West is internationally recognised today. Once Member States in cooperation with the European Parliament and the European Commission fully develop the project, you will be able to learn even more about European history, politics, nature and culture.
Twenty countries are participating in this project, including 15 EU Member States. Starting at the Barents Sea the hiking and biking trail extends along the western border of the former Warsaw Pact countries to the Black Sea. You begin by cycling along the Norwegian-Russian and Finnish-Russian border until you reach the Baltic Sea and continue along the shoreline of Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kaliningrad, Poland and the former GDR. The route from the peninsula Priwall at Travemünde to the Saxon-Bavarian-Czech border triangle follows the former inner-German border strip. Then it leads over the heights of the Bohemian Forest, past Moravia and the Slovak capital Bratislava, and here one must cross the Danube. The route takes you along the southern border of Hungary across Slovenia and Croatia. Between Romania and Serbia it largely follows the course of the Danube through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece and ends on the northernmost tip of Turkey on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.
The route passes through several national parks, each with a variety of interesting flora and fauna and combines a beautiful assortment of unique landscapes that have remained largely untouched due to its remote border location and the former exclusion zones. It also connects countless memorials, museums and open-air facilities, which remind us of Europe’s division and how it was overcome by the Peaceful Revolutions in Eastern Europe.
As with the "Berlin Wall Trail" and the "German-German Border Trail" the European "Iron Curtain Trail" partially makes use of paved patrol roads on the border. Many countries and regions in Europe are still working on the project and numerous sections have already been signposted and expanded.
Of course there are many ways in which you can move around in the Green Belt by bike. You can be on the western or the eastern side, closer to the border or further away, on paths with perforated plates or on asphalt. The proposed route was selected based on the following five criteria:
• as close as possible to the former border
• as comfortable as possible
• avoid busy roads
• frequent cross the former border
• integrate as many historical testimonials as possible
The suggested route is to be taken as a "work in progress". It should go without saying that the local people know more about their area, and there is always the possibility of construction works. And of course, a detour is sometimes suggested to take in a nearby tourist attraction. This has been done sparingly, however, because otherwise the whole route would become very long. With this in mind, the author and the publisher hope the readership of this book will take this into account, but are nonetheless pleased to accept suggestions and improvements based on the criteria mentioned above.
This edition of the European "Iron Curtain Trail" would not have been possible without the support of other individuals and institutions. I would like to thank Roland Esterbauer and his team, who has supported the project from the beginning and professionally implemented everything. In this edition of the "Iron Curtain Trail" I was accompanied along the Czech and Slovak border by Radka Žáková, Siegrid Weiß and Peter Šebo, along the Austrian-Hungarian border by Barbara Neuroth and on the Hungarian-Croatian section by Lidija Miš?in and Robert Rigo.
For the coordination of the project as well as the editing of the books I was greatly supported by Philipp Cerny, Alexander Kaas Elias, Jens Müller, Sara Ott and Erdmute Safranski, whom I would also like to thank very much. I would like to pay special thanks to the European initiative europeangreenbelt (www.greenbelt.eu), which together with conservationists from the Central and Eastern European countries brought the project "Green Belt" to life - now one of the most successful and at the same time emblematic European projects.
On 23 September 2014 a “Memorandum of Understanding” was signed in Slavonice by Gabriele Schwaderer for the European Green Belt Initiative, Daniel Mourek for the European Cyclists Federation and Michael Cramer for the European Parliament with the aim to protect the Green Belt and enable cycling in it. As part of both projects, the signing institutions undertook to support sustainable tourism, the protection and preservation of the special flora and fauna as well as the awareness of the history and culture. They are unified in their conviction that these goals can only be reached together with the population. Sustainable tourism in particular strengthens the local economy which is also supported by improving the existing infrastructure. I would also like to thank Mikhail Gorbachev, who as President of Green Cross International, gave his full support as patron of the "Green Belt" project.
And last but not least I would like to thank Marianne Birthler, Vaclav Havel (1936-2011) and Lech Wa??sa who are serving as patrons of the European project “Iron Curtain Trail”. More than 25 years have passed since the fall of the Iron Curtain in Europe. In Wilhelm von Humboldt’s words: We know that “Only those who know their past have a future”, which is why we have to first deal with the past. Therefore, we maintain with gratitude the memory of the Peaceful Revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe in order not to forget the decades of division on our continent. With all this in mind, I wish you great pleasure along your journey of exploring European history, politics, nature and culture.