'Little Berlin' village remembers how its own Wall fell

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'Little Berlin' village remembers how its own Wall fell
A file picture taken on July 14, 2014 shows a piece of the Berlin Wall displayed in front of the Andrei Sakharov Memorial Centre in Moscow. The wall separating East and West Berlin fell down almost 25 years ago on November 9, 1989, symbolizing the end of the Cold War era. 25 years after the Berlin Wall was torn down, former top Soviet officials say they now feel stabbed in the back by the West. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER NEMENOV.

MOEDLAREUTH (AFP).- Germany, 1989: Snow falls as an excited crowd breaks through the Wall and people tearfully embrace loved ones after decades of living apart.

Berlin? Wrong.

The scene recalled here happened not in the current German capital, an enduring symbol of Cold War division, but in the quiet and hilly village of Moedlareuth.

This rural hamlet of about 50 people, located on the border of the German states of Thuringia and Bavaria, is now also celebrating the 25th anniversary since the inner-German border came down.

Indeed, Moedlareuth has been an oddity since the 19th century, given its location.

As a community it has shared a school, a fire station and an inn, and its people celebrated holidays together, but it was administratively divided between two states, with different postal- and telephone-dialing codes.

Local people even used different greetings on the two sides, with Thuringians usually saying "Guten Tag" (Good Day) and Bavarians opting for the southern variant, "Gruess Gott" (Greet God).

In 1949, the geographic boundary here -- a small creek that runs through the middle of the village -- became a deep geopolitical gulf, as post-war Germany was split into the western Federal Republic of Germany and the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR).

A village cut in half 
In the early years of the partition, villagers were still allowed to move on both sides of the small waterway. But in 1952 the GDR put up a wooden fence that cut through the heart of Moedlareuth.

Then in 1966 it was replaced with a concrete wall that was three metres (10 feet) high, topped with watchtowers and guarded day and night.

On either side, stretches of barbed wire created a no-man's land along the impenetrable new frontier.

As elsewhere in the divided nation, some families were dispossessed, others torn apart.

"Overnight, the children on the Bavarian side could no longer attend the school which was located in Thuringia, farmers couldn't reach their fields, the community was shattered," said Robert Lebegern, director of the local German-German Museum founded in 1990, the year the nation reunified.

"At first we greeted people on the other side of the Wall, but they didn't respond. It was only later that we learned they weren't allowed to wave back," recalled Karin Mergner, a farmer who came to settle in Moedlareuth in 1966 to follow her husband.

Her farm is located on the western side, adjacent to a remaining 100-metre portion of wall inside the museum, a relic that now attracts 70,000 visitors each year.

The gash in the landscape, once part of the Iron Curtain between the Western and Soviet blocs, would remain intact here until December 9, 1989, and gave the village the nickname of "Little Berlin".

Although GDR citizens could not travel to West Germany, except for pensioners and people with special visas, the villagers tried to keep in touch, looking across the barrier from a hilltop.

"When blue baby clothes hung on a clothesline, we knew that a boy was born, and this is how people followed what was happening on the other side," said Arnold Friedrich, who in the 1980s and 90s was mayor of the Bavarian side.

Sense of community intact 
West German citizens were allowed, under tight restrictions, to visit the GDR from time to time, and sometimes Mergner would travel to the East to deliver bananas and coffee, rare treats there, to her neighbours.

To reach the other side of the village, just blocks away as the crow flies, she had to travel two hours by car and endure multiple, tedious border and police checks along the way.

"I never thought I'd see the day the Wall would fall," Mergner, now in her 60s, told AFP.

When she saw on television how the Wall opened in Berlin on November 9, her hopes rose that the same would soon happen in her home village, but it would take another four weeks until history also swept away the hated barrier in Moedlareuth.

"We all hugged, we drank sparkling wine together ... it was fantastic," she recalled.

Friedrich, the former mayor, recalled with his eyes tearing up that "I always used to say that one day I would like to have a beer on the other side of the Wall".

"On December 9, 1989, it became a reality," he said. 

"The sense of community that had existed before the Wall was still intact. People fell into each others' arms, and it was as if the village had never been separated."

© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

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