Monday, 31 March 2014

fulda-gap

Over the weekend, we criss-crossed the former border dividing West and East Germany, driving through the farthest reaches of Hessen and took the chance to visit the memorial site at Point Alpha. This first observation post, initially manned by the American Constabulary Corps and later by the regular army, as the US assumed command and control for border protection along the fringes of the Iron Curtain from West Germany, was known as the “hottest spot of the Cold War,” and not just with the hyperbole of two opponents being able to stare one another down (East German authorities erected a parallel tower that could not obscure the view down in the valley of the village of Geisa).
The Fulda Gap, the pass between the Rhön mountain range and the Vogelsberg massif, was known to strategists for a long time with the armies of Napoleon retreating from Leipzig along this route and the final push of the Allied armies following the same path into Germany in the final days of World War II. Today, the preserved installation is a conference centre, a youth camp and a museum. I noticed that many of the parents visiting were having a hard time explaining the place and artefacts to their young kids—not that I could do much better. Speaking of the whites of their eyes, I have updated this map of occupied Germany to include Soviet posts.
Not that all Americans were (are) necessarily better integrated into their host communities and did not create their own little ghettos, the Russian units stationed in the DDR had no interaction with the “economy” and very little evidence or memory remains of their presence. Far from some historical curiosity or conundrum, I am glad we took the time for reflection and that such places have been preserved and honoured.