After Checkpoint Bravo and Glienicke Bridge at Potsdam, the next set of photos takes us down to Thuringia again, but this time to the border train station Probstzella. With a population of 1300 inhabitants, the city was located right in the middle of the inner-German border, which separated Thuringia and Bavaria. In the time before World War II, it used to be a popular railroad hub as it served traffic going west towards the Rennsteig Mountains, south towards Lichtenfels and north towards Jena and Leipzig. The existing train station at Probstzella dates back to 1885, when the line between Saalfeld (south of Jena) and Lichtenfels opened to traffic. The line going to the Rennsteig Mountains via Sonneberg opened to traffic in 1913 but was closed down by 1997.
It is at this station where the East German government took the most difficult task in keeping its citizens from emigrating to Bavaria. Because the town was located deep in the mountain areas with steep valleys heavily populated with forests, the government undertook the most massive efforts in the town’s history. For instance, because the town was right in the middle of the 5-kilometer No-Go Zone, much of the residents at the border were forced to resettle inwards in an attempt to cut ties with their neighbors in the south and escape over the border. The rail line between Jena/Saalfeld and Lichtenfels was reduced to one track between Probstzella and the Bavarian border at Lauenstein- a stretch of 1000 kilometers. And lastly, the train station at Probstzella was extended to include a border control building right next to the train station complex, plus many tracks that were heavily guarded by patrolmen on the East German side. From 1952 until November 12th, 1989, passage between Bavaria and Thuringia via Probstzella was restricted in accordance to the interzonal regulations that had existed during that time.
When the border reopened to traffic on 12 November, 1989, the train station in Probstzella lost its entire meaning. There, passengers could travel freely between Bavaria and Thuringia without having to be stopped at the border control station and sometimes held in the waiting room for hours before either being allowed to pass or being turned back. It was at that time that decisions needed to be made regarding the train station and the border control building. The 1885 station building was sold to a private group with the full intention of constructing a East German museum devoted strictly to the history of the station during that time. That was opened on 6 November, 2010, one month after Germany celebrated its 20th birthday. The border control building however was demolished in 2009 because the structural integrity was compromised due to its deteriorating state.
The remains of that building were converted into a memorial. Consisting of two sets of waves plus a stretch of fencing used to keep the people from leaving East Germany, this memorial was erected in April 2010. It is now a park for cyclists and tourists wishing to learn more about the history of the border that had separated the two Germanys for almost half a century. The memorial is across the rail tracks from the train station, which now houses a museum. The station is considered a historical monument by the state of Thuringia. The photo gallery enclosed here is the train station and former border control point as was taken in May 2010, during a bike tour through the Franconian region. From Saalfeld to Kronach, I had an opportunity to enjoy the nature of the mountains and forest but also learn about the history of this area, especially the border that had once kept people away from the western half but today, people can pass right through. Once a stopping point, Probstzella has become a forgotten place with a place in German history.
- The interzone border agreements was introduced by the four powers that controlled and rebuilt Germany in 1945: The USA, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. It implied that residents were only allowed to leave their zones if they received special permission from the garrison of the occupied countries. This was eliminated by the creation of West Germany by the Americans, British and French forces in 1949, yet the Soviets tried many attempts in keeping the residents in their zone, culminating with the closing of the border and simultaneously, the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961. The Interzonal Transit Agreement of 1972 between the governments of East and West Germany allowed for the laxing of restrictions, whereby residents who were on business or retired and wanting to visit family in the west were allowed to leave but for a given time span. That expired when the borders opened allowing free passage on 9 November, 1989.
- At the border at Lauenstein, there used to be a welcome station for those who entered Bavaria from Thuringia. It featured a train station and a restaurant on the road parallel to the tracks. The station has been decommissioned and is now privately owned, whereas the restaurant was operating at the time of the visit.
- The former border was eventually converted into a stretch of green trees, known as the Green Zone. This initiative was started in 1991 with the purpose of repopulating the trees and other forms of vegetation. At the same time, it was also a marker of the border that had separated the two Germanys. In one of the pics, there was such a strip shown draping the mountains at Lauenstein.
- Today’s rail service still serves Probstzella but only on the north-south axis. Currently, regional service between Jena and Nuremberg via Saalfeld, Lichtenfels and Bamberg operate under three different providers, including the Deutsche Bahn, agilis and Erfurter Bahn. At one time, ICE-trains passed through Probstzella from 2000 until December 2017. Nowadays, only a pair of InterCity (IC) trains between Leipzig and Karlsruhe pass through. However, plans to reactivate the Fernverkehr (long-distance lines) are in the making. By 2023, a dozen IC-trains per direction are expected to use the line again, with the goal of making the Leipzig-Karlsruhe line the primary route, but also providing 2-trains-a-day-service between Munich and Berlin via Jena, Saalfeld and Lichtenfels, which the ICE trains had used before being relegated to the new line which now runs through Erfurt and Leipzig/Halle.