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Biking the Iron Curtain Trail

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

THE first thing that struck us was the distance between the watchtowers. We had just cycled a strenuous mile uphill above the medieval village of Geisa, along the Iron Curtain Trail that follows the old Warsaw Pact-NATO divide in central Germany. Now, in the tranquillity of the early evening, we emerged at the top of the hill onto a verdant field adorned with European Union and German flags — and two sinister-looking structures that faced off against each other no more than 70 yards apart.

Between them stood a remnant of the original Iron Curtain fence: its concrete support posts had once been fortified with antipersonnel fragmentation mines loaded with an explosive charge of 110 grams of TNT and 80 metal splinters that could be propelled 30 yards in all directions. A German shepherd molded from concrete and painted in shades of brown and black, a classic piece of cold war kitsch, was tethered by a metal chain to a tree.

But it was the towers that demanded attention: the East German relic, erected in the early 1970s, was an ugly white column about 40 feet high, topped by an observation slot and a bristling array of listening equipment. The American installation, dominated by an open-air deck, looked like a combination military post and lifeguard station — “Seven Days in May” meets “Baywatch.”

From 1953 until 1989, these watchtowers straddled the most dangerous border in the world. American troops from the 14th and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiments stared down East German soldiers just across the divide from their base, Point Alpha, waiting for the ground attack that would

Entire Article: travel.newyorktimes.com

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