We´ve just had a few days in the Bavarian Forest which is in the south east of Germany and buts onto the Czech border. One day we drove up towards the border for a walk and,
accidentally had a walk back into the Cold War, refugees, Empire, nationalism and man´s inhumanity to man. The road to the Czech Border is straight out of a spy film. It´s a single track ribbon which ends abruptly at the border.
And naturally we kept on following our noses, crossed a wooden footbridge and entered the Czech Republic. It´s important to know that this area was once the Sudeten Land, here lived an estimated 3 million German speaking Bohemians. The Czech Republic has had a pretty stormy history, it together, with Slovakia, was once a part of the Austro Hungarian Empire. After the Empire´s collapse in 1918, the Republic of Czechosovakia was formed. It´s life was short lived, though. In 1938 parts of the Republic, including the Sudeten Land, were annexed by HItler´s Germany. Thousands of Sudeten Czechs were expelled or murdered. But all such things have a terrible habit of swinging the other way. After the end of WW2, the Germans and German speaking Sudetens were, in their turn, murdered or expelled. Many in the Czech Republic felt that they´d been betrayed by the West and moved towards the Communists. And this is where our border walk moved to the Cold War!
We came around a corner in the narrow path through the forest to be confronted by the old Cold War border! This had been rebuilt here complete with double electrified fence, “death strip” and watch tower!
It was quite a surprise to be suddenly transported back in time to pre 1989!
This place was originally a village called, depending on which language you spoke, either Buzina or Buchwald. At the beginning of the 20th Century, 392 German and 4 Czech speakers lived in the village. Because the village virtually straddled the border, as the Cold War developed, the surviving residents were “moved” to other areas and in 1956 the remaining buildings were leveled. At that time the border was still relatively open – although I´ve heard stories of children who strayed into Czechoslovakia to retrieve footballs being arrested. But with the advent of the Berlin Wall this part of the Cold War border received it´s dose of barbed wire, land mines, watch towers and machine-guns.
All things come to pass and now this border is once again open, no longer is one confronted by armed unsmiling border guards, in fact because of the open border policy of the EU, no border guards at all. A heart warming aspect of this now open border are the two national parks which occupy this border area – on the German side is Bavarian Forest National Park and on the Czech, the Sumava National Park. We tramped through the hardly visible remains of the village, through the forest and finally hit the road again which brought us back to our car.