In the third century AD, Germanic tribes began to settle on the territory of what is now Germany and emerged from conflicts with the Roman Empire as a heterogeneous culture with rudimentary national structures. From the end of the 10th century, the inhabitants of the areas north of the Alps began to perceive themselves as specifically ‘German’ and became part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Yet due to external and internal conflicts, such as the wars of religion and rivalry between the two great powers of Prussia and Austria, in the end the fragmented empire never managed to establish a unified German state. It fell apart in the early 19th century during the coalition wars against Napoleon and was replaced by the German Federation after the wars of liberation and the Congress of Vienna which is however not able to hold back the national movements.
It continues to gain strength, but the attempts of civil revolution fail. Not until after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 does the political unification as a constitutional monarchy succeed. Under the leadership of Chancellor Bismarck, the young Empire manages to defuse the acute social tensions with clever compromises while at the same time gaining international power. This period however came to an abrupt end in 1914 with the outbreak of World War I which was also provoked by the German Empire. The Germans are defeated and condemned to pay huge reparations under the Treaty of Versailles. The Weimar Republic rose from the ruins of the Empire. This first democratic regime on German soil does not last long though since it is too weak.
On 30 January 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor. The National Socialist government soon established a brutal dictatorship and, with its attack on Poland in 1939, initiated World War II. German troops and their allies took the horrors of war beyond the borders of Europe and a wave of massacres beyond belief cost at least six million Jews their lives. Finally, thanks to the united efforts of the anti-Hitler coalition led by Great Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany was defeated, bringing one of the darkest chapters in the history of mankind to an end.
In 1955 the “Federal Republic of Germany” became a member of NATO, while the “German Democratic Republic” joined the Warsaw Pact.
Following the Yalta Conference decisions (February 1945), Germany was divided into four occupation zones. The gradual separation of the Soviet-occupied zone eventually led to the “Cold War” and the division of Germany into two states forming part of two different blocs. In 1955 the “Federal Republic of Germany” became a member of NATO, while the “German Democratic Republic” joined the Warsaw Pact. The first uprising occurred in the GDR on 17 June 1953, is however put down by Soviet tanks. The Berlin Wall which was erected on 13 August 1961, finally demonstrated the dividing line of the two blocs running through Germany.
The situation did not change until the 1980s, when the governments of the Warsaw Pact States were subject to increasing pressure from growing economic and political problems. Thanks to the policy of openness (‘glasnost’) and restructuring (‘perestroika’) initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev as well as the peaceful revolution in eastern middle Europe made it possible that there were massive protests in the GDR and the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. On 3 October 1990 the two German States were reunited.
Today the German section is at the centre of the push to change the former border into a major green belt through the centre of Europe. The human depopulation of the area that was driven by the security issues linked with the proximity of such a highly controlled border has had the unintended side effect of preserving the area's wildlife heritage. There is now a chain of preserved areas that are home to some stunning landscapes, quite unexpected in such a densely populated part of the world. For more information, visit the European Green Belt website.
For nearly 40 years, the Iron Curtain divided Europe. From the Barents to the Black Sea, there ran a barrier which displayed its inhumane side most strongly in Germany. It cut up a country into East and West, separated families and friends for decades. And yet nature conquered the frontier strip. The "Green Belt" was created, with valuable habitats full of rare animals and plants. Since 1989, the BUND has been active in preserving the Green Belt, along with other organisations and government departments.
Egerteich - Ulrichsgrün
Iron Curtain Trail - Bavaria
The EuroVelo 13 signposted in the Upper Palatine Forest mostly remains on the German side of the border, crossing over near Rozvadov at the monument to opening of the Iron Curtain and the border museum. The route then crosses back over at Waidhaus and leads along the Bockl Cycle Route to Eslarn. From Friedrichshäng, the route once again crosses back onto the Czech side.
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ADFC - Landesverband Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
The regional office of the German cyclists organisation in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
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Ahlbeck-Swinemünde - Priwall-Travemünde
North Sea Cycle Route - Mecklenburg-Vorpommern
The first section along the Baltic coast is above all worth a visit for its varied coastal scenery and the countless historic seaside resorts and Hanseatic towns. The route starts to the west of Swinemünde, in Usedom Island Nature Park. From here, it runs close to the water along slightly hilly sections via the Hanseatic towns of Greifswald, Stralsund, Rostock and Wismar to the mouth of the River Trave on Privall peninsula before ending in the coastal town of Travemünde. UNESCO has added the old towns of Stralsund and Wismar to its list of World Heritage Sites as representative examples of the Hanseatic cultural heritage.
Boizenburg - Schnackenburg
Elbe Cycle Route
This section of the EuroVelo 13 leads along the Elbe Cycle Route. It begins in Boizenburg beside the River Elbe, which is Germany’s second longest river, and continues south-east through the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Elbe River Landscape via the towns of Hitzacker and Dömitz to Schnackenburg.