The stretch of land that once divided Germany is now being reconnected by nature. Twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, public green spaces are unifying the entire country.
Until 1989, a wall divided Germany into West Germany and East Germany – an actual wall structure where residents on each side of the divide were not allowed to even wave hello to each other. Mandated segregation. It is hard to imagine, but this was life in Germany just a few generations ago.
Breaking down barriers, elevating nature
Today, the walls have come down, both physically and symbolically. In their place are more than 870 miles of natural habitat to be enjoyed by everyone, part of the largest conservation project in Germany – a green sanctuary, The National Nature Heritage Green Belt.
Officially named The National Nature Heritage Green Belt in 2005, the public green space is ideal for walking, biking or even horseback riding. It is slowly becoming a popular route for long-distance cycling, too. Germany’s portion of the Nature Heritage Green Belt is just part of a larger Green Belt running through Europe. In November 2005, it was named a “National Nature Heritage.”
Ironically, this ‘no man’s land’ that was heavily fortified with barbed wire and landmines to prevent humans from crossing the border became a protected breeding ground for plants and animals.
- Nestled among the lands are more than 5,200 species of flowers and plants, some of which were thought to have been extinct. Rare orchids and endangered animal species now abound.
- There are 17 natural habitats that are represented along Germany’s 150-600 feet wide Green Belt, including wetlands, marshes, tall grass meadows, rivers, and pioneer forests.
- The total area of the Green Belt covers a 3,088 square miles.
The Bavarian branch of the non-profit environmental group BUND started seeing potential in the wilderness of the Germany border 14 years before the Iron Curtain fell down. They were instrumental in helping to protect the natural space after reunification began.
Bits and pieces of the days before German reunification can still be seen along the Green Belt. Memorials and watchtowers could be spotted, but the main focus of the Green Belt now is to enjoy nature.
The National Nature Heritage Green Belt in Germany runs from Travemunde on the Baltic Coast to the small town of Hof in the region of Bavaria. Along the route, traditional German delicacies, sights and sounds can be savored, showcasing the varied traditions of the country from north to south.
Included along the Green Belt the meadows of the Elbe river (pictured above), Saalfeld’s fairy grottoes, horseback riding in Wendland, cycling in the foothills of Harz, and toy-making in Sonneberg.
Feature image courtesy of Massmo Relsig