Germany’s 30th anniversary of reunification this month is new cause for celebration. The entire former East-West border of Germany – some 870 miles in length — has been designated as a nature reserve.
Kai Frobel , an ecologist and early supporter who works for BUND, a German nature conservancy, says “It’s a national nature monument — similar to the Statue of Liberty.”
For nearly 40 years, the zone was a no-mans-land replete with 10-foot-high barbed-wire fencing, watchtowers, alarms, and armed patrols to keep people from defecting to the West. Today it is an open green zone – a place to walk, bike and enjoy nature.
The buffer zone – usually about 200 feet wide – was called the death strip since it was where East German soldiers patrolled to shoot would-be escapees to the West.
Willy Brandt in 1989: “That which belongs together, grows together.”
Creating a divided Germany at the end of World War II was the result of an arrangement by the Allies with Soviet forces; the Soviets also took control of other countries in Eastern Europe and part of Germany’s capital, Berlin. While the forced split in Germany tore apart towns, families and friendships, the militarized zone became a place where nature flourished. Today scientists count more than 5,200 different species of animals and plants, some of them rare and endangered such as the black stork and otter.
The East-West border – in physical terms – was built in 1952; then came the Berlin Wall, dividing the city (with a “fence” some 150 km in circumference) in 1961. Miraculously, some of the East German land remained in pristine state, despite pollution resulting from heavy industry and industrialized agriculture.
When the Berlin Wall came down Nov. 9, 1989– an important step to achieving the end of Soviet dominance of the East — scientists and environmentalists were quick to seize the opportunity for protecting the land in the former East German militarized zone.
Creating a Green Belt
The concept of a “green belt” originated just after the fall of the Wall, with a group of 300 environmentalists from the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (then East Germany) who assembled and formulated the Green Belt Resolution of Hof (Germany). The first conservation projects were a strategic move to eliminate the internal border that made Germany – and valuable habitats –artificially divided into two countries for 40 years.
A Pan European Ecological Network
The European Green Belt is a shared natural heritage along the line of the former Iron Curtain, to be conserved and restored as an ecological network connecting high-value natural and cultural landscapes. The 50-kilometer-wide “belt” is adjacent to many areas of high conservation value– 40 national parks and more than 3200 protected areas. The goal is to integrate the green belt with key habitats as an international network of valuable ecosystems. Read the Green News Update story on the European Green Belt
Two dozen countries and 150 conservation groups now make up the European Green Belt – an ecological spine some 12,500 kilometers in length – of border lands, riparian buffer, and natural places from the Barents Sea between Norway and Russia to the Black Sea between Bulgaria and Turkey– with a shared vision and transboundary cooperation for nature conservation and sustainable development.
The Green Belt is considered Europe’s largest conservation initiative – no longer an East-West border controlled by political division – that includes forests, swamps, wild mountain and river landscapes. Europe’s large mammals can be found here (wolves, bears and lynx) as well as threatened migratory and nesting birds.
The Iron Curtain Trail
You can try out the cycling experience of a lifetime – hikers welcome too – on the 10,400-kilometer-long Iron Curtain Trail (ICT) which stretches through 20 European countries from Norway and the Russian-Finnish border to Turkey.
The European Green Belt is a key part of of the trail. Here’s the perfect opportunity to do something as monumental as hiking the Appalachian Trail or taking the 3,350-kilometer challenge of Tour de France – or as simple as a family outing for a day or two. Read the Green News Update story on the Iron Curtain Trail.