Site of memory „Heinersgrün command post“
foreign language version: English

1. Site of memory Heinersgrün command post

The Heinersgrün command post in the Saxon-Bavarian section of the former inner-German border goes into operation in January 1978. After 1990 due to vandalism the relic increasingly falls into disrepair.

As part of a cooperation between the Vogtland district and the Deutsch-Deutsches Museum Mödlareuth, the observation tower has been renovated since 2019 and made accessible to the public as part of historical-political educational work.
Builder and owner of the former GDR watchtower is the Vogtland district. The renovation of the tower was co-financed by taxes on the basis of the budget approved by the Saxon state parliament.

The tower can be visited by prior arrangement and appointment at Deutsch-Deutsches Museum Mödlareuth.

Contact Museum:

  • +49 9295 1334

2. Beginning of the German division

I Plauen: view from the Pauluskirche over the Jößnitzer Strasse/corner of the Kaiserstrasse to the Bärenstein, 1946.
Photo: Stadtarchiv Plauen

By 1945 at the latest, the Second World War pulls back to its country of origin. With bombing raids, the Allies not only want to destroy the German war economy and infrastructure, but also the population’s will to persevere. Carpet bombing hits numerous cities. In Plauen in 1945, around 75% of the buildings are destroyed in 14 air raids and at least 2,300 people lose their lives.

II Map of Germany divided into occupation zones, 1945.

Photo: Stiftung Haus der Geschichte; EB-Nr. 1987/3/061 | Atlanta-Service, Frankfurt a.M.

After Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, the Allied powers divide the country into four occupation zones in accordance with the London Protocols of 1944/45. The Allies usually use the German state and provincial borders of 1937 as a guide. Saxony is now part of the Soviet occupation zone. Berlin is also divided into four sectors and placed under four-power administration.

III Border crossing Trogen – Heinersgrün on the A722, 1951. Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Joachim Vollert

Since the end of the war the occupation forces had controlled the borders between their respective zones. They may only be crossed with Allied permission. German police units are providing support since 1946. The ongoing emigration of residents from the Soviet occupation zone and cross-border commuting combined with increasing smuggling across the border cause major problems.

3. Development of the GDR border fortifications

I GDR police decree on the introduction of a special regime at the demarcation line, May 26, 1952.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth

On May 26, 1952 the GDR Council of Ministers decides to close the inner-German border and to create a border area. The police decree of the Ministry for State Security regulates the structure of this border area. It includes requirements for residents and visitors. It also points out the use of firearms when crossing the border without permission.

II Barbed wire fence on wooden posts, behind the 10 m wide control strip, 1959.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Achim Kilian

In 1952, a 10 m wide control strip is created along the inner-German border on the GDR side directly at the border line. In addition, since 1955, a barbed wire fence on wooden posts is being built as the first barrier. Observation towers and bunkers are erected.

III Placement of anti-personnel mines at the inner-German border, 1962.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Federal Border Guard

Shortly after the construction of the Berlin Wall, the next stage of expansion follows on the inner-German border. On the GDR side, a double row of barbed wire is erected on concrete pillars. Between the rows of fences, pioneers of the border troops put in the first anti-personnel mines. By the time they are dismantled in 1983, more than 1.2 million mines have been laid along the border along a length of around 800 km.

IV Splinter mines “SM-70” at the border fence I, 1976.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth| Bavarian Border Police

In the following decades, the fortifications are further expanded and perfected. With the installation of “SM-70” splinter mines, so-called self-firing systems, since 1971, border security became even more effective. To prevent escape, the so-called hinterland fence is also being built between the protective strip and the restricted zone.

4. GDR border area and border regime

I Forward border fortifications, 1988.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Arndt Schaffner

In the second half of the 1980s, the front GDR border fortifications consist of the GDR territory in front of the border fence, the fence itself, the anti-vehicle ditch, the 6m wide control strip, the patrol road and the border reporting net (from left to right).

II Schematic representation of the GDR border fortifications, 1988.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth

The Federal Border Guard and the Bavarian Border Police inform visitors on the western side about the history of the border and any dangers. Graphics explain the ideal-typical GDR border fortifications and show the structure of the border area with protective strip and restricted zone.

III Checkpoint of the German People’s Police near Schwand (Burgstein), undated.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Arndt Schaffner

About 5 km away from the border begins the restricted zone, which may only be entered with police permission. Roads are marked for entry and equipped with checkpoints. Here, members of the People’s Police check identity papers and vehicles before entering.

IV Pass for the temporary stay in the restricted zone in Pabstleithen from July 1st to December 31st, 1989.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth

For visiting the restricted zone and protective strip, it is necessary to apply for a permit. Workers from within the GDR also need police residence permits. All applications are carefully checked by the state authorities.

5. Command posts in the GDR border security

I Aerial view of the A772 (A72) north of Heinersgrün with GDR territory in front of the forticfications, front barriers and border signal and barrier fence II, around 1986/87.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Joachim Vollert
The Heinersgrün command post can be seen in the upper right part of the picture.

II Cross-section of a type building for command posts.

The tower is built from precast concrete parts. It has a footprint of 4.2 x 4.2 m and a height of 8.5 m to the lower edge of the roof. It consists of basement, ground floor, two floors and roof. The levels are connected by steel stairs. They house the necessary technology, a four-man „operational reserve“ for the border troops and the so-called command pulpit.

Command posts, often housed in observation towers, serve as coordination centres for practical work in a border security section. The members of the respective border company receive their orders from here and report their implementation or further observations. The officer on duty is also responsible for monitoring the technology for the border signal fence and mine barriers.

III Leaflet „Military Professions in the Border Troops of the GDR“, GDR Military Publishing House, 1983.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | GDR Military Publishing House

View into the so-called command pulpit of a command post. The photo is from a brochure used by the GDR to promote careers in the military.

6. Victims of the GDR border regime
The GDR border regime as an expression of the SED dictatorship claims around 1,000 lives. They include cross-border commuters, refugees and people who die in connection with the border regime. At least 11 people lose their lives on the 43 km long border between Saxony and Bavaria alone.

I Localities near Heinersgrün affected by forced resettlement in the GDR.
Map created with Openstreetview

Other victims of the GDR border regime are those affected by forced resettlement. More than 12,000 people are resettled inland from the GDR border area in the course of two large waves of resettlement in 1952 and 1961 as well as later individual resettlement. They lose house, farm and homeland. Sometimes, whole villages are demolished. Near Heinersgrün the settlements of Ebersberg, Hasenreuth, Markusgrün, Stöckigt, Troschenreuth and Hammerleithen disappear.

II Escape attempt resulting in death by triggering the SM-70 splinter mine near the command post in Heinersgrün/Saxony, July 22, 1978.

Peter Stegeman
born on December 9th, 1940 in Zwickau, lives in Beiersdorf, married, 2 children
fatally injured by splinter mines on July 22, 1978
Location of the incident: 1000m west of Heinersgrün, district of Oelsnitz

Photo: BStU (MFS-BV-KARL-MARX-STADT-AU-2329_78_C_162)

III Reconstruction of the escape attempt by GDR border troops.
Photo: Federal Archives/Military Archives Freiburg GTÜ/AZN 11382 | GDR border troops / Ministry of State Security

In the evening of July 21, 1978, Peter Stegemann leaves his home and reaches the border area unnoticed, using the old autobahn as a guide. At Heinersgrün he crosses a gate of the border signal fence and reaches the protective strip. He passes more obstacles. When attempting to climb over the border fence I, however, he triggers five SM-70s, so-called „self-firing systems“, at 3:05 a.m. After being transported to the hospital in Oelsnitz, only the death of Peter Stegemann can be determined: his body has more than 50 injuries. The Stasi conceals the cause and circumstances of death.

7. Peaceful revolution and opening of the inner German border

I Arrival of a train with GDR refugees from the West German embassy in Prague, October 1989.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Private archive Markus Lohneisen

In the summer of 1989, a mass departure of GDR citizens begins, particularly via Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Over 12,000 people seek refuge in the West-German Embassy in Prague. From the beginning of October they can travel from there to the Federal Republic. They are taken by special Reichsbahn trains via the GDR border station in Gutenfürst to Hof main station.

II Mass demonstration Plauen, October 7, 1989.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Private archive Anneliese Saupe

In the revolutionary autumn of 1989, mass demonstrations take place throughout the GDR. On October 7th thousands of demonstrators in Plauen do not shy away from state power. Two days later in Leipzig, around 70,000 people fight for the breakthrough of the Peaceful Revolution. The loss of power of the SED state leadership is undeniable.

III Border crossing at Bornholmer Strasse, Berlin on November 9th, 1989.
Photo: Robert Havemann Society | Andreas Kämper

An unclear wording by Günter Schabowski at a press conference leads to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many East Berliners make their way to the border crossing points. In view of the crowds, the Bornholmer Strasse crossing opens at 11:30 p.m. on November 9, 1989. Further crossings between East and West Berlin open a shortly after.

IV Opening of the border at Wiedersberg – Ullitz, November 12, 1989.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Bavarian Border Police

A few hours after the fall of the Wall in Berlin, the existing border crossings on the inner-German border, such as the Gutenfürst border station and the Berlin-Munich motorway, are also opened. By spring 1990, ten new border crossings will be created in the district of Hof. The first is the border crossing at Wiedersberg – Ullitz on November 12, 1989.

Preparatory work for the opening of the border on today’s A72, November 19, 1989.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Private archive Werner Robl

In many places, construction work is necessary before the creation of new border crossings. Some of the old roads have been severely damaged over the decades. After several days of preparatory structural work in East and West, the border crossing between Hof and Plauen on today’s A72 is opened on November 19, 1989. On the first day, around 20,000 GDR citizens travel to North-Eastern Bavaria via this connection.

8. Between demolition and museumization

I Dismantling of the border and signal fence-II by GDR border troops near Gassenreuth, January 3rd, 1990.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Arndt Schaffner

The dismantling of the border barriers begins with the opening of the border. Initially operated by the GDR border troops, regional construction companies and residents have been involved in the dismantling since 1990. Fences, walls and towers gradually disappear.

II On-site meeting in Ullitz to hand over the final report on mine clearance from 1991 to 1995, December 12, 1995.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth | Ingolf Hermann

Demining the border was a bigger problem. Although pioneers from the GDR border troops cleared the majority by 1985, some mines have migrated underground over the decades. A mine search is necessary. This is officially completed by the Federal Ministry of Defense on December 12, 1995. Places with residual risks are now marked by signs.

III Green Belt near Mödlareuth, 2020.
Photo: Museum Mödlareuth

On December 9th, 1989, conservationists and environmentalists from all over Germany met in Hof and Ullitz. They pass an initial resolution to protect the „Green Belt“ on the former inner-German border. Since then, the area has developed into a retreat for many rare animal and plant species.

Since 1990, numerous memorials and museums on the history of German division and on various aspects of the SED dictatorship have been created and still contribute to the historical processing today. Museums on the history of the inner-German border, such as the Mödlareuth Museum or the Heinersgrün border tower, are part of the decentralized landscape of remembrance.