After having finished the German section of the Eisenach-Budapest trail, I wasn’t quite ready to put my hiking shoes away. So I headed out and started another hiking project: As many borders are still closed these days, I eventually took the opportunity to start hiking the German section of the Iron Curtain Trail/Green Belt Trail („Grünes Band“). I am excited about that because of two reasons: first, it is a 1400 km long trail (so, yeah, hike it!) and second, it is historically and culturally very meaningful. I was born in the former eastern part of Germany and although I am very far from being nostalgic about life in the GDR, it is a part of my identity, which I cannot, don’t want to and shouldn’t deny. When the wall came down and somewhat ever since, having grown up in the GDR is almost seen as synonymous with having grown up in the „wrong system“.
But it is where I was born, where I grew up, where my family grew up. I didn’t eat western cereals for breakfast, I didn’t watch the children’s TV shows well-known in the west; we had different childhood heroes, dishes we loved and loathed, and books we talked about. A different collective memory. Later, many members of the 3rd generation of the east (born in the mid 70s – mid 80s), often felt inferior or defeated: we remained silent in small talk situations or conversations with people of the same age who grew up in the west. We lacked of self-esteem and eloquence. There are many experiences and memories we don’t share, but we were expected to adapt to.
Yes, it’s been a dictatorship, where civil liberties and human rights were violated: people weren’t allowed to travel wherever they pleased, people were spied on, denunciated even by close family members and/or friends, tortured, killed. But things are never just b/w or that easy.
Fortunately it is history and nowadays the physical border is not just transformed into the German Green Belt, one of the world’s most unusual nature reserves along the former „Death strip“, but also a hiking and cycling path. The Iron Curtain Trail, once finished, will stretch all the way from the Barents Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. Hiking that trail is quite an experience: learning more about German history in detail, keep the memory of that time alive and take it as a constant reminder that peace, freedom and civil liberties are nothing to take for granted. Also creating new (hiking) memories and re-connect myself with that part of also my personal history.