Where barbed wire fences, spotlights, and watchtowers once made crossing the former inner-German border almost impossible, today you can find wonderful hiking regions. The “German Greenbelt” winds its way across pastures, meadows, hills and through impenetrable forests, sometimes barely 50 meters wide, sometimes proudly 200 meters wide. The most impressive is the border in the Harz Mountains and along the mountainous border from Thuringia to Hesse and Bavaria. For decades, the GDR border troops removed all bushes and trees along the border strip and so a unique flora and fauna settled here.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, BUND für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland e.V. (BUND) — or Friends of the Earth Germany — set itself the task of protecting these habitats, which are important for rare animals and plants. They also preserved former border relics — the perfect combination of nature conservation and remembrance culture. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain and the founding of the Greenbelt, we have selected 14 hikes for you to explore the different landscapes between the Baltic Sea and the Thuringian Forest.
Our routes will take you to the Werra mountain region, through the Thuringian Forest, into the picturesque Saale Valley, the enchanted Harz Mountains and into the beautiful Altmark. A special highlight is the hike to the Brocken — after all, under the leadership of the SED regime, the mountain was a military restricted area and thus absolutely inaccessible for citizens of the GDR as well as the FRG. Today, on the highest mountain in Northern Germany, people from the West and East can enjoy the unique nature and the spectacular view, together.
“30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall — 30th Anniversary of the Green Belt”: bund.net/30jahre-gb
The wide wooded hills of Werrabergland are a wonderful region for extended day hikes. Exactly over these hills also the green band pulls. On this hike, the Hofcafé Sickenberg will take you on a long tour on the Hessian-Thuringian border along the old column route of the GDR border troops. On the way you can expect quiet forests, beautiful viewpoints and the unique heathland on the old border strip. Also exciting is the nearly 40-meter-long Stasitunnel, which was used by the GDR as an agent lock during the Cold War.
This circular walk takes you from the Bavarian village of Bächlein through the quaint Mitwitzer forest. Along the way, which takes you along the picturesque forest pond Reginasee and along the renatured Föritz, you can experience the whole natural diversity of the Green Belt. Attentive hikers can discover the rare little grebe on the forest ponds on this tour. On the Föritz, on the other hand, traces of the most important animal builder can be seen - in fact, beavers have been settling here again for a few years.
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Around the small village of Spahl in the west of Thuringia rises a meadow-covered hill range - the "Spahler Heights". Here, the Thuringian Rhön goes into the Hessian and on our round hike you can enjoy beautiful views into both federal states. Part of the circular route runs along the column path of the former inner-German border. The concrete slabs along the way remind us that crossing the border for many years was life-threatening. All the more liberating, if you walk back and forth between Hessen and Thuringia and admire the wide landscape.
Around Hirschberg meanders the Saale as a narrow river through the hills between Bavaria and Thuringia - until 1989, they formed the border between East and West Germany. Hirschberg and especially the district Sparnberg were right on the border and were surrounded by walls and fences. Today, only the colonnade along the Saaleufer, which was renaturated as a green belt over many kilometers, is reminiscent of it. Our route takes you through the picturesque river valley and over hilly meadows and fields.
The Rennsteig - Germany's most famous and oldest long-distance hiking trail - was interrupted by the inner-German separation for many decades in six places. North of the Bavarian town of Tettau was one of these interruptions. On our tour we take you from Tettau to the reopened Rennsteig, which you follow to Spechtsbrunn. Here you leave the famous path and wander on the Green Belt, the renatured inner German border, back to Tettau. The route runs along wetlands, through quiet forests and across open meadows and fields. On several information boards you will learn interesting facts about life directly at the border.
Along the GDR border, the SED regime had many villages and yards evicted and demolished if they were too close to the border. The little village of Liebau on the Thuringian-Bavarian border also fell victim to this hustle and bustle. On our route we will take you from Fürth am Berg on the path of the GDR border troops between Bavaria and Thuringia across wide meadows and finally to the memorial site for the village Liebau. Today, only the concrete slabs laid in the ground are reminiscent of the once insurmountable border - on the other hand, the broad death strip has been renatured and presents itself as an idyllic heath landscape.
Meadow Panorama Trail - the name of this circular route does not promise too much. The short tour takes you from the edge of Nordhalbens over almost endless Bärwurzwiesen. Views over the vast landscape between Bavaria and Thuringia are of course also included. Another highlight is the section where you follow the column path. It is a path made of concrete slabs, which was formerly used by the GDR border troops. The path meanders on a wide strip of meadow over the wooded hills - an impressive sight.
Northwest of Salzwedel, near the border between Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony, lies an old clay mining area. After the turn of the BUND took over the clay pits and renatured it as a wide wetland meadow and pond biotope. Today, the pits bear the name Brietzer Teiche - named after the nearby Brietzer mill. Meanwhile, countless birds have settled here: ducks, divers, geese, swans, lapwings and even the rare kingfishers. On our hike we will lead you along the shore and to observation posts from where you can watch the action on the water.
At the tip of the Wirler, the border between Saxony-Anhalt and Lower Saxony bends sharply west from the north - a real frontier point. As on the entire former inner German border, today's Green Belt, here is a wide strip in the forest, which was cleared by the GDR border troops and kept free. So you can admire a scenic feature here. Between the pine forests extends a wide inland dune with heather, silver grass and open sandy areas, which is now kept open by the BUND together with the SUNK. From a trail parking lot north of Ziemendorf there is an access via a forest and Plattenweg to this dune at the top of the Wirler. A small circular route opens up this section of the Green Belt and leads from the top of the Wirler to relics reminiscent of the former border situation.
This ascent route to the Brocken, the highest mountain in northern Germany, is by far the most famous - after all, in 1777, Goethe and a forester climbed up to the summit in winter cold weather. The Brocken summit was during the inner German division military restricted area, secured with a concrete wall and can not be reached for any GDR citizens. On the mountain, a unique flora and fauna has been developed or preserved, which you can explore during your hike. Today, people from the east and west come together again to enjoy the magnificent view over the Harz Mountains.
The inner German border between the FRG and the GDR also ran through the middle of the Harz Mountains - including the length of the Eckertalsperre. Thus, the dam border area and the north-eastern shore was closely guarded. Today, only a boundary post on the dam reminds of the division and you can once complete the reservoir on our hike. On the way you can expect untouched forests, a break at the Scharfenstein ranger station and marvelous views over the water and mountains of the Harz mountains.
The small village concern, a district of the city of Upper Harz, is located in the middle of the resin, surrounded by dense coniferous forests and not far from the border with Lower Saxony. But while along the inner-German border, the border installations, fences and watchtowers have been mostly completely dismantled, here is a piece of border security originally preserved - a scary sight. Several rows of barbed-wire reinforced fences, bunkers, floodlights and watchtowers make it clear how intriguing the border lay in the middle of Germany. Our short hike takes you from concern through the forest to this "open-air museum of remembrance".
Where once the inner German border cut the Harz in two parts, today you can walk wonderfully. On this route we lead you through the romantic Eckertal. On the way you can expect natural paths, a monument to the German reunification in Stapelburg, an original border post and the former Naturheilanstalt Jungborn with their idea "back to nature". It was already opened in 1896 by the life reformer Adolf Just, who conveyed to his guests values such as contentment, closeness to nature and joint action - today still topical topics.
This round trip connects three great highlights: First, it goes to the dam wall of the dam Eckertalsperre, then you continue through the romantic Eckertal and from there you climb up to the view at the Winterbergklippe - so you can expect a varied day hike.