The Iron Curtain’s Comeback: How the death-strip turned into a biodiversity Eden
How the death-strip turned into a biodiversity Eden, and why its story is emblematic of Europe’s problems today.
For half a century, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain, running between the Soviet Block and Western Europe. It claimed hundreds of lives, made the paper every day and instilled fear and dread in everyone. Not a bad career. But with the end of the Cold War, the Curtain “fell” and its infrastructure disappeared piece by piece until it could hardly be recognized at all. Today, the Iron Curtain makes its comeback, this time as a bike trail: the “biggest green success story in Europe since the Cold War,” according to The Independent (UK).
The “Iron Curtain Trail,” a title cutely belittling the ominous history of the strip, was launched as a common project by 23 countries in 2005. The border runs from the Northern tip of Norway down to Turkey, passing by the Baltic Sea, Germany, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. The reclaiming of the geopolitical landscape started back in the late 1970s, when West German biologist Kai Frobel noticed that the no-man’s land between his state and East Germany was home not only to automatic rifles, land mines, and border guards, but also to rare animals, such as the black stork and the fish otter. Years of little to no human contact along the border had preserved a biodiversity that could hardly be found anywhere else. When the wall came down in 1989, Frobel and his organization, die Grüne Band, struggled to convince the newly reunified state to declare the entire former inner border as a natural reserve.