'Little Berlin,' the tiny German village divided by a Wall

'Little Berlin,' the tiny German village divided by a Wall

5th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

The village of Moedlareuth, like Berlin, was divided by a Wall during the period of the Iron Curtain – a barrier that divided families, neighbours and friends.

For 23 years, the tiny village of Moedlareuth in southern Germany was known as "Little Berlin" because it, too, was divided by a Wall that cut right through its middle.

Perhaps nowhere else were the absurd aspects of Germany's painful division more apparent than in Moedlareuth. Now, 20 years after the fall of both Walls, the town is looking back with a mix of sorrow, nostalgia and wry humour.

Twenty-three people lived in the East and 27 in the West.

"One side was ruled by NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), the other by the Warsaw Pact (the Soviet-led military alliance)," said local councillor Klaus Gruenzner.

The Iron Curtain and the border dividing East and West Germany ran along the Tann, a stream which flows through the village and which, to this day, marks the boundary between the states of Bavaria and Thuringia.

From wood to concrete

Initially, the border was just a wooden fence. But it soon grew into a barbed wire and finally, in 1966, the communist authorities turned it into a concrete Wall -- 700 metres (2,300 feet) long and 3.3 metres high -- like the one dividing Berlin.

Everyone here remembers the "old Goller brothers." They died in the 1990s after being kept apart for nearly 20 years.

Max lived on the Western side of the village, Kurt on the Eastern side.

Kurt "wasn't even allowed to wave to his brother," recalled former Mayor Arnold Friedrich, as contact with the West was severely restricted.

When Kurt retired, he was finally allowed to visit his brother. But to do so, he had to travel 80 kilometres (50 miles) by way of an official border crossing to get to his brother's farmhouse which lay just 80 meters (yards) from his own home.

When the Wall came down in 1989, the two brothers fell into each other's arms. Kurt was 84, Max was 82. No one in the village has forgotten that day.

The inhabitants of Moedlareuth-East lived their lives in an open prison. Without a special permit, no one could visit them.

"The villagers employed in the nearby town had to go through three checkpoints to get to work," said Arnold Friedrich. "If they'd forgotten their papers, they weren't allowed through. And that despite the fact that the soldiers on duty knew them because they saw them every day.”

A sleepy surprise

When the Berlin Wall fell on the night of November 9, 1989, the inhabitants of "Little Berlin" were fast asleep. No one knew that their world had come to an end.

The revolution only swept into Moedlareuth a month later when a crossing point was officially cut into the Wall. On that Saturday, the whole village stood on either side of the gate waiting for it to open.

And after 23 years, neighbours met neighbours, old friends embraced and families were reunited.

Everyone was crying. Mulled wine was served and the local brass band turned up in full regalia to celebrate. Former Western Mayor Arnold Friedrich was the first to cross.

"I was in my office and someone called me on the phone saying, 'You're the mayor, come quick,'” said Friedrich.

Twenty years later, he remembers the day as one of the most joyous of his life. "We were over the moon, we were so happy," he said.

A former east German border marker stands next to a preserved segment of the 700m wall that cut the hamlet of Moedlareuth in two from 1966 to 1989, 20 April 2009

But Moedlareuth is a bit tired of telling its story.

When the Wall came down, sightseers came from far and wide with their cameras, chasing the villagers right into their garden sheds.

"The West German tourists were knocking on all the doors,” recalled the director of the local museum, Robert Lebegern. “They wanted to see how one lived in the East. They asked us if we had running water and television. It was like being in a zoo.”

Yannick Pasquet/AFP/Expatica

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