THE BORDER FORTIFICATIONS IN THE EIGHTIES
The border fortifications were constantly being developed and improved. In the early eighties, the inner wall that closed off the border strip on the East German side was the first obstacle that fugitives encountered. Then they had to climb over a signal fence that when touched activated an alarm in the observation towers where the border soldiers were stationed. A carpet of steel spikes often lay at the foot of the fence with the sharp ends pointing upward, either to injure or deter fugitives. Officially they were referred to as “surface obstacles,” but the border guards called them “asparagus bed.” In the West they were sometimes called “Stalin’s lawn.” After a fugitive had crossed the patrol road and security strip, he had to get passed the “tank traps” that were designed to prevent an escape with a car or truck. In the inner-city area they were usually made of railroad tracks welded together and enveloped in barbed wire, thus also posing an obstacle to people escaping on foot. On the outer ring border a ditch was also added. The nearly 12-foot-high border wall was the last obstacle that a fugitive had to get over before reaching the West.
At some areas dog runs were also installed so that watchdogs could block the path, alert border soldiers of an approaching fugitive and deter him from continuing his flight.
At night the border strip was lit up brightly by a line of lamps allowing border soldiers to see fugitives in the dark. Both walls enclosing the border strip were painted white on the inner side so that a fleeing person could be easily recognized.
Watchtowers, occupied by border soldiers, stood approximately 250 meters apart. They were positioned so that the guards posted there could easily oversee the border area between two towers. Guards stood on the towers, monitoring the border strip and rear border territory, and ready to recognize fugitives in time to prevent their escape. The border soldiers were also expected to maintain surveillance on the area of West Berlin that bordered the Wall.
In the late seventies, the SED leadership had the border wall rebuilt. Hoping to achieve international recognition, the SED no longer wanted the East German capital’s public image dominated by the menacing border fortifications with their metal gratings, bunkers and vehicle obstacles. These types of barriers were removed from the border strip by 1983. This was possible because the new Wall had a much stronger “blocking capacity” and surveillance of all of East Germany and the rear border area was strongly improved. Hence the border fortifications became less crucial to preventing escapes.
By the late eighties, shortly before the Wall fell in 1989, most of the menacing obstacles between East and West Berlin had been removed from the Wall.
Sketch of the border fortifications drawn by the border troops, 1983
Bundesarchiv, Militärarchiv Freiburg