Border installations at Heubisch 1989, Thuringia/Bavaria

From death zone to lifeline

In his "Sinews of Peace" speech in Missouri in 1946, Winston Churchill coined the term "Iron Curtain" for this barrier between the two political and military systems. For four decades the Iron Curtain formed an almost insurmountable physical and ideological border in Europe.

Political change was instigated in 1989, when on 19th August the "Pan-European Picnic" took place on the Hungarian-Austrian border, close to the town of Sopron. During this event, the border between the two countries was to be symbolically opened for a short time. Over 600 tourists from the GDR used the opportunity of this brief opening of the Iron Curtain to flee to the West. On 27th June 1989, the two foreign ministers of Austria and Hungary had already cut through the border fence together. The process of the reunification of Germany and Europe had begun.

Along the inner German border, it was also forbidden to enter the "no man's land" in front of the chain-link fence from the West German side, since this was GDR territory. Still, it was possible to record the bird species living there very well from the paths of the Federal Border Guard, running right next to the border. The animals showed little respect for the terrifying frontier - it was not uncommon for the concrete posts to be "misappropriated" as songposts.

Mikhail Gorbachev with symbolic Green Belt share certificate during the inauguration of the West-Eastern Gate

In this way nature conservationists from the Bavarian branch of the BUND (BN) have been charting the natural features of the border corridor from the Western side since 1975, verifying the great diversity of species and habitats of the former death zone.

When, after 40 years, this inhuman border finally fell, due to the courage and commitment of many East Germans, it was clear that this unique natural treasure would have to be preserved. The intention was to turn the death zone into a "green corridor of peace", according to the first press release of the Bund Naturschutz (BN).

In December 1989, the BN organised the first all-German meeting with 400 nature conservationists from East and West, at the Bavarian-Saxon border in Hof. Here the concept and name of the "Green Belt" was born, and the first resolution was unanimously made to protect it. 13 years later, during the inauguration by Mikhail Gorbachev of the LandArt project "West-Eastern Gate" in the Eichsfeld, the vision of the European Green Belt was established.

The Green Belt is not only one of the most significant nature conservation projects, but also a living monument to recent contemporary history, which must be preserved for future generations.

You can find out more on the history of the Green Belt in the individual regions here.