Stephen Castle: Remembering The Cold War In Europe

Roundup: Talking About History

It is almost half a century since Winston Churchill declared in dramatic style that an 'Iron Curtain' had fallen across Europe.

Stretching from the Arctic to the Black Sea, the barbed wire and watchtowers erected during the Cold War came to symbolise the brutal post-war division of the Continent.

But what was once sinister is now merely intriguing. An ambitious plan is underway to turn the 4,500-mile stretch that was once the dividing line between East and West into a tourist trail.

Spanning the strictly controlled Finnish-Russian border and winding through the former Soviet satellites of the Baltics, the trail will criss-cross the old front line between East and West Germany, and then follow the path of the Danube. Nothing like this has ever been tried and, though cycling its entire length would take more than two months, organisers believe sections of the Iron Curtain trail will become a magnet for everyone from hikers to historians.

The idea of keeping its memory alive comes from a German MEP and Green activist concerned that the watchtowers and barbed wire are disappearing, not just from the consciousness of Europeans, but from the physical landscape. Michael Cramer argues that action is needed to salvage the trail before it is lost. 'Some parts of it are being recultivated, some has gone back to nature, some has been returned to former owners or sold off for real estate,' he says, sitting in his office in the eight floor of the European Parliament.

In Berlin, Mr Cramer has organised a cycling, hiking and skating tour of the Berlin Wall landmarks, including Checkpoint Charlie and the section along which a 20-year-old man became the last attempted fugitive from the east to be shot dead.

The inspiration came from America after a visit to the Freedom Trail in Boston, a walking tour which commemorates sites of importance linked to the American War of Independence.

Berlin's version, which cost EUR6m (£4m), follows the route of the wall through the city, as well as the 120km perimeter which once separated West Berlin from the communist GDR. More than 1,000 cyclists have taken part in organised cycle tours, the youngest aged seven, the oldest 84. 'Even Berliners who have lived here for 40 years said that they had been to parts of the city they had never visited before in their lives,' says Mr Cramer.

One-third of the population of the German capital was not there at the time of the fall of the wall, and therefore has little idea what life was like at the time.

The plan is to extend this experiment in contemporary history to other parts of Europe and, for example, to remind Latvians and Estonians of the days when they were barred from going to the coast after sunset or owning a boat.

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