Places of Remembrance

Border Museums and Memorials

The division of Germany was a result of World War II. Already during the war, the allies (U.S.A., Soviet Union, and Great Britain) had discussed Germany's future fate at the conferences of Teheran and Yalta. In late 1944, the European Advisory Commission agreed upon a line of demarcation that would eventually divide Germany into four zones of occupation and the city of Berlin into four sectors. When after the war the differences between the Soviet Union on the one hand and the three Western allies (now also including France) on the other hand had become both apparent and insurmountable, two German states were founded in 1949: the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), which eventually joined the Western military alliance NATO, and the so-called German Democratic Republic (GDR), which was closely incorporated into the Eastern Bloc. It was controlled by the Socialist Unity Party (SED), a Sovieyt-style communist party that in collaboration with its secret police, the "Stasi," which had been modeled after the Soviet KGB, quickly set up repressive structures to control all aspects of society. By 1952, the GDR had begun to "secure" its borders. In SED-propaganda, the reason for this was the necessity to protect the GDR from western agents and saboteurs. The truth was, however, that thousands of East Germans continued to escape to the West, creating a serious shortage of skilled labor and thus a considerable threat to the young communist state. When on 13 August 1961 the Berlin Wall was errected, the SED-dictatorship had succeeded in imprisoning the East German people inside the GDR. It put a stop to the large-scale refugee movement. By then, some three million East Germans had left. But until the fall of the wall in 1989, thousands of East Germans put their lives at risk to try escaping nonetheless. Hundreds of them did not survive their escape attempts, many others were caught and imprisoned in one of the infamous Stasi-prisons. People attempted to flee across the Berlin wall, across the inner-German border, across the Baltic Sea or via another East Block country.

Today, memorials may be found in Germany that commemorate escape routes via the Baltic Sea, at the inner-German border, and across the Berlin Wall. A considerable number of smaller and bigger memorial sites, museums and citizens' initiatives has taken charge of sections of the former inner-German border to commemorate the victims, keep the memory of the German division alive, and offer various educational programs. Most of these sites have in common that they allow for different glimpses of the border fortifications mainly on the East German site. In the course of its forty years in power, the SED-dictatorship constantly tried to make its borders to the West more "effective." Different phases of construction may be traced, ranging from a simple barrier that the Soviets had used in the 1940s to sophisticated constuctions with several successive obstacles to stop escape attempts by the time of the 1970s and 1980s. To achieve such an elaborate and deadly construction, especially in 1952 and 1961 many farm houses and entire villages in the border regions were destroyed and tenthousands inhabitants resettled by force. Besides the history lesson, the former inner-German border today also teaches lessons about nature and the environment. A nature preserve called the "Green Belt" has been created along the former inner German-border and the Iron Curtain.

Note that in each of the following sections all entries are listed alphabetically according to the village, town, or city where they are located; this is followed by the German name and an English translation or description of that name in brackets. Only those places are listed that have a memorial with an exhibit and/or regular guided tours. All information taken from the Federal Foundation's documentation of places of remembrance around the globe with a special emphasis on places of remembrance of communist dictatorships. Unless otherwise indicated, all pictures are taken from the archives of the Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur.

Border Museums and Memorials at the Baltic Sea
Border Museums and Memorials at the Green Belt
Berlin Wall Museums and Memorials
Museums and Memorials Commemorating the Inner-German Border and the Division of Germany