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Mödlareuth border museum

  
  - darkometer rating:  5 -
 
One of the border museums and memorials along the former Iron Curtain that in Germany divided East (GDR) and West (FRG) during most of the Cold War era – here in fact more visibly than almost anywhere else. 

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

 
More background info: What's special about Mödlareuth is the fact that here the border sliced right through the small village, one part of it belonging to Bavaria the other to Thuringia. When after WWII the Allies used old administrative borders to set up their respective zones of occupation, this formerly harmless bureaucratic border became part of the heavily fortified Iron Curtain separating the West (in this case the US zone) from the Eastern Bloc.

And since the territory of this tiny (double) village was so small, the GDR border fortifications took more or less the same form as they did in Berlin (see Berlin Wall), hence Mödlrareuth's nickname "Little Berlin".

Unlike in Berlin, however, there were no border crossings/checkpoints at Mödlareuth – so for 37 years it was impossible to get from one part of the village to the other. Even waving at the former fellow villagers in the West was forbidden in the East.

As the border was considered particularly sensitive here, the GDR authorities forcibly resettled some villagers who were regarded as "unreliable" and even a building that stood right by the border line was demolished.

Over the years the border was then increasingly fortified, until, with the building of the present wall in 1966, it resembled the Berlin Wall. In fact the same type of construction was applied here and supplemented by the same types of watchtowers. A tiny door in the wall allowed GDR border guards to step outside and patrol along the border stretch between the wall and the little river that legally formed the actual border line.

Only one attempt at fleeing over the border into the West ever took place in Mödlareuth – and it was even successful (with a lot of luck), unlike so many other such attempts that ended in tragedy ... see e.g. Schifflersgrund.

Remarkably, a stretch of the wall was preserved after the collapse of the GDR and the Eastern Bloc, while almost everywhere else this hated construction was quickly torn down and all traces of it erased, before any thoughts of preservation occurred to anyone or voices calling for it were raised/heard.

In Mödlareuth, in contrast, the villagers did have that foresight and saved a stretch of wall from demolition – even though only one month after the "fall" of the wall in Berlin, a temporary border crossing point was cut into the wall at Mödlareuth. And pieces of the broken-down concrete wall became souvenirs here too – people even had their pieces stamped by the border guards!

But a sizeable stretch of wall was left standing to serve as a historic monument and reminder of the dark days of Germany's division. In fact, the museum at Mödlareuth was founded as early as July 1990 – and is thus one of the oldest of its type.

The odd result of all this is that one of best places to see what the Berlin Wall really looked like is to be found not in Berlin itself but here in this forgotten remote corner of south-east Germany near the Czech Republic! (The only other, even longer, stretch of Berlin Wall outside Berlin is to be found at Hötensleben! Further away from the village core of Mödlareuth, the border had the usual metal fence form, and apart from some reconstructions near the left-over wall, these have all completely disappeared – but cf. Behrungen).
 
 
What there is to see: Even as you approach the village of Mödlareuth and head for the main car park you can already see the star attraction of the site: the stretch of 'classic' GDR border wall – the most iconic image of the Iron Curtain.

Another relic from the Cold War also stands by the car park: an old T-34 tank, the main Soviet tank at the end of WWII and through the first phase of post-war East-West confrontation. The Soviet model helicopter that also used to stand by the car park and which you can still make out on Google maps, however, has disappeared ... where to I do not know.

To get into the open-air part of the border museum, i.e. closer to the wall and the border fortifications around it, you first have to head into the village along the main road, or rather the pavement running parallel to it. The turnstile in the fence opposite the car park is the exit and only works from the other, inner side.

On the slope above the village to the left a tall watchtower overlooks the entire area, but this one is not accessible. But wait until you're inside the open-air part of the museum!

When you get to the entrance to this right in the middle of the tiny village, you can either get your tickets at the booth there or, if it's not open (like when I visited in June 2011), go first to the main ticket office of the museum. Next to this, there's also the cinema room, where a 19-minute introductory film is shown about the border in general, and everyday life with the border in Mödlareuth in particular. It is available in English, as well as in German or French. The museum staff can set the language of your choice. You could always come back to see the film, in case it is already running or about to start in a language you don't want, and go to see the exhibitions first. There is a certain amount of overlap of the content of the film with parts of the main museum exhibition (esp. some eyewitness accounts), so if you've already seen it, you can skip the relevant sections in the museum later.

Also by the ticket counter there's a small museum shop which sells postcards, books, DVDs and a few objects such as model GDR border pillars ... and I confess that I couldn't resist adding this to my collection of dark tourism tack.

The museum has two separate indoors exhibitions. One is a vehicle hall in an old barn. Here a number of border patrol trucks, cars, motorcycles and even a small helicopter are amassed, in two rows facing each other: the eastern vehicles to the right, the western ones to the left (i.e. the other way round than what would have been representative of the border situation back then). Unless you're a real motor history buff, this is the less interesting part of the museum. Although, it must be said that some of the little cars in particular are quite "cute". This includes a blue "Trabbi", which is short for "Trabant", the main small passenger car built in the GDR. When I visited there was lots of "graffiti" drawn into the dust on the bonnet, including a heart with "GDR" and "FRG" in it!

One of the large trucks must have been some sort of special listening or spy vehicle, given the stacks of electronic gear visible inside. Apart from the vehicles there are also various old signs from the border or border crossing points as well as a few information panels (here in German only).

The main museum exhibition is in the building opposite – outside of which three sections of the (Berlin) Wall have been put up, and a border post just inside. The exhibition itself, which covers not just the border at Mödlareuth but the whole inner-German border and the history of the Berlin Wall, is mostly text-and-photo-based, but sufficiently supplemented by a few artefacts, such as border guard uniforms, medals and models.

The latter include two scale dioramas of what the border used to look like, complete with border guards, guard dogs and all the barbed wire and signs. Still, it looks more like model train scenery – a bit too cute.

Amongst the artefact exhibits, however, there are a few more genuinely scary items, especially (a replica of) one of those infamous spring-guns that used to be installed along the border fence. These were actually more like above-ground landmines: designed to be triggered automatically by any "trespassers" approaching the border fence, who would then be showered with shrapnel (and possibly be killed). These cruel devices were a major concern in the negotiations of the FRG about the easing of the tensions with the GDR in the 1970s and 80s – and were finally dismantled in 1983-84.

Well documented is also the story of the one successful attempt of a GDR citizen to scale the border and get out, simply by driving a vehicle right up to the wall and then putting a ladder against the top half and climbing over. Apparently, some border guards in a watchtower nearby did actually observe this happening but refrained from using their guns to stop the refugee, or "border violator" in their terminology – i.e. against their general orders.

A particularly amusing part of the photo exhibition section of the museum is that about "border provocations" of people on the western side of the wall. This included women exposing their bras/breasts or groups of people "mooning" in the direction of the GDR border guards – who dutifully documented these provocations with their cameras … (and for those processing the "evidence" it may simultaneously have helped to alleviate the official ban of porn in the GDR …).

The explanatory texts and exhibit labels in this part of the museum are mostly in German only, except for a few general background text panels in red, which are bilingual, with decent English translations.

Undoubtedly the main attraction of the Mödlareuth border museum, however, is its outdoor part with the stretch of the original wall – which speaks for itself in any case. This is accessed through a mock-up gate, complete with (now irrelevant) warning signs that you're not allowed to enter. On your way from the museum, you also cross the tiny little Tannbach stream, or rivulet, which formed the official border line and still marks the Thuringian-Bavarian border.

Just behind the gate to the open-air museum section there are a few items of border security gear, including a searchlight, which, as a small panel explains was apparently mechanically set-up to move about automatically during the night, randomly on and off, to create the false impression that it was actually manned (clever trick!)

Behind the gate to the right there's a "shortened" watchtower you can enter and climb to the top. The tower is of the same type as the original tall one nearby, but put here in its truncated form as an extra visitor attraction. The shortening is probably as much for the comfort of visitors as it is for their safety. Anyway, you can climb the internal ladder  (ca. 10 feet / 3 m) up to the observation level. The view from up there isn't that much different from that at ground level, but still, you get a vague impression …

The metal fences, floodlights, barriers etc. are reconstructions, or have been relocated here from elsewhere, such as the little camouflaged observation bunker. But together they help to give an impression of the complex nature of the border fortifications.

The stretch of the original concrete "Little Berlin" Wall is the heart of the open-air part of the museum. Of the formerly 700m about 100m are still standing. It's just about long enough to recreate something of its menacing aura of old, although the fact that the wall is painted a bright snowy white on both sides slightly detracts from that effort. One interesting feature of the wall is the little hatch by a small observation post (not accessible). This was the hatch used by the GDR border soldiers to get to the other side and go on patrols along the west-facing wall and the actual border line which was formed by Mödlareuth's little stream.

It is mainly the presence of this original wall that makes Mödlareuth one of the most rewarding of the various border museums along the former Iron Curtain in Germany ... although Hötensleben has an even longer stretch of wall and a more complete border installations ensemble. But the indoor exhibitions are also of a good quality and there's a good mix of information and even an element of entertainment.

Overall, Mödlareuth is most certainly worth the little detour when travelling in the area! For those with a special interest in the former Iron Curtain and Germany's post-WWII-history it's an absolute must-do!
 
 
Location: On the border of Thuringia and Bavaria, not far from the north-western end of the Czech Republic; ca. 7 miles (11 km) north of the Bavarian city of Hof and about 13 miles (21 km) south-west of Plauen in Saxony, Germany.

Google maps locator:[50.4145,11.8807]
  
 
Access and costs: By car, but only a short detour from the motorway; fairly cheap – details: To get to Mödlareuth you really need a car (or motorcycle etc.), but at least it's quite an easy drive off the main motorways through the region.

Coming from the south along the A93 turn west onto the A72 motorway and take exit No. 3 onto the country road (Bundesstraße) No. 2 towards Töpen; in that village turn right – it's all well signposted too. Look out for the brown signs that say "Deutsch-Deutsches Museum Mödlareuth". When you get to the junction at Mödlareuth, use the large car park (with the old tank) by the road opposite the western end of the wall, as parking is restricted in the village. You will still have to walk into the village to gain access to not only the museum parts but also to the open-air complex.

Coming from the north on the A9 motorway south from Berlin, get off at exit No. 29 towards Gefell, and then head south on the B2 towards Töpen and Hof, and turn left at the tiny hamlet of Juchhöh.

Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (in winter only to 5 p.m.)

Admission: 3 EUR (for groups and others eligible for concession: 2 EUR). Guided tours of about 90 minutes' duration, also in English, can be arranged (contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
 
 
Time required: about an hour to an hour and a half, possibly even a bit more if you want to read all the information panels and watch the 19-minute film offered in the museum's cinema room.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: none in the immediate vicinity, but further west near Behrungen there's another open-air museum with relics of the former inner-German border.

South of Hof just a few miles east of the motorway A93, there's the former concentration camp of Flossenbürg. And a bit further in a south-westerly direction is Nuremberg.

North of Mödlareuth, e.g. Dresden, Leipzig and Buchenwald can be reached within a fairly easy drive too.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: nothing much in the immediate vicinity, other than relatively pleasant pastoral scenery. More attractive scenery can be found not too far away in the "nature parks" of Obere Saale in Thuringia and Frankenwald in Bavaria. See also Germany in general. The Czech Republic isn't far either.
  
 
 
  • Mödlareuth 01 - signs by the car parkMödlareuth 01 - signs by the car park
  • Mödlareuth 02 - T-34 tank by the car parkMödlareuth 02 - T-34 tank by the car park
  • Mödlareuth 03 - the wall through the fenceMödlareuth 03 - the wall through the fence
  • Mödlareuth 04 - former borderMödlareuth 04 - former border
  • Mödlareuth 05 - museum buildingMödlareuth 05 - museum building
  • Mödlareuth 06 - museum entranceMödlareuth 06 - museum entrance
  • Mödlareuth 07 - vehicle hallMödlareuth 07 - vehicle hall
  • Mödlareuth 08 - old signsMödlareuth 08 - old signs
  • Mödlareuth 09 - interior of border guard vehicleMödlareuth 09 - interior of border guard vehicle
  • Mödlareuth 10 - locked in the GDRMödlareuth 10 - locked in the GDR
  • Mödlareuth 11 - wall segments with vehicle hall in the backgroundMödlareuth 11 - wall segments with vehicle hall in the background
  • Mödlareuth 12 - inside the museumMödlareuth 12 - inside the museum
  • Mödlareuth 13 - museum exhibitionMödlareuth 13 - museum exhibition
  • Mödlareuth 14 - with a model borderMödlareuth 14 - with a model border
  • Mödlareuth 15 - spring gunMödlareuth 15 - spring gun
  • Mödlareuth 16 - souvenir pieces of the wallMödlareuth 16 - souvenir pieces of the wall
  • Mödlareuth 17 - the actual border riverMödlareuth 17 - the actual border river
  • Mödlareuth 18 - the border seen from the eastMödlareuth 18 - the border seen from the east
  • Mödlareuth 19 - eastern village pondMödlareuth 19 - eastern village pond
  • Mödlareuth 20 - a monument to memorial foresightMödlareuth 20 - a monument to memorial foresight
  • Mödlareuth 21 - entrance to the open-air partMödlareuth 21 - entrance to the open-air part
  • Mödlareuth 22 - today you only need a museum ticket to go inMödlareuth 22 - today you only need a museum ticket to go in
  • Mödlareuth 23 - still scaryMödlareuth 23 - still scary
  • Mödlareuth 24 - shortened observation towerMödlareuth 24 - shortened observation tower
  • Mödlareuth 25 - inside the towerMödlareuth 25 - inside the tower
  • Mödlareuth 26 - view from the towerMödlareuth 26 - view from the tower
  • Mödlareuth 27 - dog run installationMödlareuth 27 - dog run installation
  • Mödlareuth 28 - observation bunkerMödlareuth 28 - observation bunker
  • Mödlareuth 29 - the wall facing westMödlareuth 29 - the wall facing west
  • Mödlareuth 30 - behind the wall on the eastern sideMödlareuth 30 - behind the wall on the eastern side
  • Mödlareuth 31 - hatch in the wall for border guards onlyMödlareuth 31 - hatch in the wall for border guards only


 

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