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of the
Iron Curtain
Material and Metaphor
An Archaeology of the Iron Curtain
Material and Metaphor
of the
Iron Curtain
Material and Metaphor
Södertörns högskola
Södertörns högskola
SE-141 89 Huddinge
Cover Photo: Anna McWilliams
Cover Design: Jonathan Robson
Layout: Per Lindblom & Jonathan Robson
Printed by Elanders, Stockholm 2013
Södertörn Doctoral Dissertations 86
ISSN 1652-7399
ISBN 978-91-86069-78-0 (print)
ISBN 978-91-86069-79-7 (digital)
Södertörn Archaeological Studies 9
ISSN 1652-2559
Stockholm Studies in Archaeology 59
ISBN 978-91-7447-819-8
Standing on the shoreline
The materiality of the Iron Curtain
Studying the Iron Curtain
Recording the Iron Curtain
Case studies
A physical metaphor
The changing rhetoric around a wall
“…love walks lonely by the Berlin wall…”
The image of the Berlin Wall today
The materiality of the Berlin Wall
Methods and aims
On the edge of the western world
The material
Berlin today
The ‘enemy facing’ wall
Crossing over
Memorials and Museums
Back to nothing
Case study 1: The Italian/Slovenian border
Methods and aims
The town on the hill
Between the wars
WWII and new borders
One city becomes two
A border in constant change
The material
Remains of the former militarised border
In the company of saints and bunkers
Patrolling the city
The physical border
Crossing over
The border as an advertising point
Resisting the border
People and the border
Some concluding points
Reference plan and gazetteer of sites
Case Study 2: The Czech/Austrian border
Methods and aims
The castle on the rock
World Wars
A new political order
Militarised border in the study area
Guardians of the border
The material
A changing landscape
Fence line
Searching the landscape
Border guard stations
Archive studies
Voices from Austria
Some concluding points
Different sources – different stories
Reference plan and gazetteer of sites
An archaeology of the Iron Curtain
Artefacts, text and everything else in between
Moving in memories
The experience of things
To go with the flow
The mundane war
An archaeology of a metaphor
The end of a journey
Sammanfattning (Summery in Swedish)
Writing a thesis is certainly like being on a long journey. Sometimes you
travel on your own and at times you are accompanied by many lovely and
helpful people. If I were to thank all those who have helped me in my work
the acknowledgement would probably be longer than the thesis itself. But
there are some people that do deserve particular thanks. Firstly my two
tutors Mats Burström and Anders Andrén who have read, commented and
guided me along the way. I am indebted for the numerous suggestions and
comments you have so generously provided me with.
My home during these years has been at the archaeology department at
Södertörn University and at the Baltic and East European Graduate School
(BEEGS) at the same university. BEEGS provided a fantastic starting point
where both the academic and administrative staff made the start of my
journey not just an easier task, but also much more fun. Thanks to all my
fellow doctoral students here for advice, comments on drafts and well
deserved beers! Thank you also Jorid Palm at the School of Historical and
Contemporary Studies at Södertörn for all her help and support during the
final stages of my work.
At the archaeology department at Södertörn University I have had the
opportunity to grow, learn and test ideas and doors have always been open
for advice, so thanks to Kerstin Cassel, Johan Rönnby, Björn Nilsson, Hans
Bolin, Niklas Eriksson and Oscar Törnqvist for their always enthusiastic
support. This thesis would not exist without your help and encouragement!
At Södertörn University the ‘open door policy’ has also stretched across
departments and I am very grateful to those of you that have helped me find
my way in disciplines that have been somewhat new to me, especially Beate
Feldman Eellend, Thomas Lundén and Anne Kaun. Thanks also to my
cousin Charlotte Hagström at the Ethnology department in Lund who has
provided useful advice.
Thank you Chris Beach for providing me with such great maps and
illustrations which helped to lift my material in such a great way and to
Jonathan Robson and Per Lindblom at Södertörn University Publications
for their excellent work with the layout and graphics of this thesis. Thanks
also to Rodrigo Trompiz for his always patient help and comments on my
language and to Mirja Arnshav who made sure my Swedish was legible.
Always making me feel welcome during visits to Stockholm University
were fellow doctoral students Jenny Nyberg, Cecilia Ljung, Ingrid Berg and
Elin Engström. Thank you!
I must also thank everyone who helped me during my fieldwork to
access areas, find information, get in contact with people or who shared
their own stories and memories. Thank you Claudia Melisch and Jamie
Sewell for being such lovely guides and friends during my visits to Berlin. A
big thank you goes to the Swedish-Slovenian Friendship Association and in
particular Lojze Hribar who has shown such interest in my work and helped
me in all ways possible – even being my personal guide in Slovenia! Great
help was also provided by the Nova Gorica Regional museum and the
director Andrej Malnič during my fieldwork in Slovenia and by the Podyji
Park administration during my fieldwork in the Czech Republic. The fieldwork in the Czech Republic was made possible through a grant from Albert
and Maria Bergströms Stiftelse which I received in 2010.
I also want to thank family and friends who have always supported and
put up with me through times of stress, confusion and great excitements. A
big thank you to my former colleagues, and good friends, Andrea Bradley
and Sefryn Penrose for always listening, reading, commenting and generally
just being there. Thank you Lisa Söderbaum-Beach who is always on the
other end of a phone, Anke Marsh with whom I have shared the adventures
of archaeology ever since we first started as undergraduates, Kristin Ilves
with whom I have shared the aches and pains of doctoral life as well as an
office during part of my research, Anders Udd for helping me see my material in a less academic and a more colourful way and to Cecilia Minning
who has been a good friend and neighbour always at the ready with a cup of
coffee. Thank you all for your friendship and support!
Thank you to my mum and dad, Eva-Lena and Lennart Nilsson, and my
sister Åsa Moberg for always showing an interest and for providing all that
critical support with babysitting, dinners, wood chopping and other things
that makes a stressed doctoral student’s life so much easier. And last but by
no means least thank you John and Tage: to my John for always understanding and providing all that ground service when I have had my head
stuck in a book or been locked in front of the computer for hours and days;
to Tage who just gives me such joy and happiness. This is to you and to our
new family member who is about to make an appearance in the very near
future. Love always.
Stockholm, December 2013
Anna McWilliams
Standing on the shoreline
Growing up on the east coast of Sweden a walk on the beach was like a
treasure hunt where washed up plastic bottles or cans with Russian writing
were like messages from another world. I could not see this other world but
I was told that it was very different from my own. I did not know what the
Iron Curtain was back then but the Baltic Sea most certainly felt like a big
barrier in which Russian submarines would occasionally take a ‘wrong turn’
and surface a bit too close for comfort, a big barrier that separated ‘us’ from
‘them’ and which was to colour my views of Eastern and Western Europe.
Years later I was working as a Heritage Consultant in London. Following
guidelines such as Institute for Archaeologists (IFA) guidelines and best
practice documents from English Heritage, I worked on Desk Based Assessments, Conservation Plans and Environmental Impact Assessments. I directed fieldwork to mitigate the negative impacts of roadwork, new pipelines
or other construction projects. Together with my colleagues we were looking out for the heritage of our past and making sure it was preserved for
future generations, if not in situ then at least through records. There was,
however, little discussion in how this heritage had come to be. What factors
and processes are involved in making these sites that we investigate?
What has come to fascinate me more and more whilst carrying out the
work on my thesis are the processes involved in creating the past that we see
around us. Heritage does not just happen; it is created and recreated as part
of our history writing. To an archaeologist it should probably not come as a
surprise how important the material is to the way we view and write our
history, but somehow it still did. In this thesis I look closer at how a
material part of our history that we see around us today has come to be the
way it is. By looking at how the material of the Iron Curtain has developed
over time, how it looks today and how it is viewed by people around it I
hope to demonstrate one example of the kind of processes in which a
materiality can be formed in history writing and in creating, or not creating
as the case may be, a heritage.
The materiality of the Iron Curtain
The aim of this thesis is to explore what knowledge about the Iron Curtain
can be reached through the material traces it has left behind as well as the
effects these remains have on people around them. The aim is also to
contribute to the continuous discussion and methodological development
of the archaeology of the contemporary past.
Why use the Iron Curtain as material? Whenever you deal with Cold
War history the term Iron Curtain is never far away. Sentences such as
“behind the Iron Curtain” or “after the fall of the Iron Curtain” are often
used. But what was it really? When I had just started as a PhD student I
explained to a friend of mine what my research was going to be about. He
looked quite concerned and then said “But you know that the Iron Curtain
never actually existed? It was a metaphor.” This inconsistency, the paradox
of the real and imagined Iron Curtain is what makes it such an interesting
material study. On the one hand there was the metaphor of the Iron
Curtain: an idea of a Europe divided by two political blocs. On the other
there were a series of heavily militarised borders running through Central
Europe physically dividing it. Do they tell the same story? If not, does one
story take precedence when we write our Cold War history? How do the
stories that emerge from the metaphor and the materials fit within the local
and world history?
Another reason why this is such interesting material is that it is now in
the process of becoming heritage. In some places it has already come a long
way, in others it may never be seen as heritage at all. What are the processes
involved in this ‘becoming’?
But maybe most importantly, it is a very interesting material in itself
which is well worth studying. Seeing that the term Iron Curtain is frequently used and well known to a lot of people in the western world, its
physicality is little understood. Studies have been made in Germany of the
materiality of the Inner German Border (Sheffer 2007 and 2008, Rottman
2008) but generally studies have mainly focussed on the social consequences
inherent in a divided country. There have also been archaeological studies
carried out of the materiality of the Inner German Border and the Berlin
Wall (Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004, Schmidt and von Preuschen 2005,
Faversham and Schmidt 2007, Rottman 2008, Klausmeier 2009). Elsewhere,
however, there is little research to inform us of what the militarised borders
looked like, how they functioned, how they affected the people around them
and how the borders, and the remains thereof, have continued to affect
people also after the events of 1989.
I have used Churchill’s description of an Iron Curtain stretching from
the Baltic to the Adriatic to limit myself geographically but this is of course
just a limitation I have set as a necessary approach to what would otherwise
be too vast a material. I have also limited myself to the time period between
1945, the end of World War II and 1989, the fall of many of the military
borders in central Europe. The reader should be aware, however, that the
Iron Curtain can be described in many different ways both metaphorically
and geographically and can be seen to stretch throughout the world and
across different time periods.
Studying the Iron Curtain
Discussions of methodology have been an important part of the work of my
thesis from beginning to end. During a very early consultation with my tutor,
before I was about to embark on my first fieldwork, we discussed recording
methods. When I suggested that I would require some sort of GPS to record
the coordinates of any finds that I made out in the terrain my tutor asked me
why I needed to be so precise, why not just mark them on a map? The
question threw me and I thought to myself: “but this is what we do”. We
identify, we measure, we record, we describe and we report and it all needs to
be exact so that we can demonstrate that it has all been carried out to good
scientific standards. Otherwise it is just not good archaeology. Or is it? In her
doctoral thesis archaeologist Laura McAtackney (2008:8 and 16) discusses the
role of traditional archaeological empirical methods such as excavation and
building surveys as well as artefact recording and suggests that sometimes we
carry out our investigations just because that is what we are supposed to do.
But does it always bring something to our research? In an article about the
role of contemporary archaeology or an archaeology of the present and
following discussion in ‘Surface assemblages: Towards an archaeology in and
of the present’ archaeologist Rodney Harrison (2011) suggests that the
connection between archaeology and excavation has become too accepted
and that we need to change our attitudes towards a stronger focus on
archaeology through its surface assemblages. In a response to Harrison’s
article archaeologist Paul Graves-Brown write: “Indeed, one might argue that
the site and the digging thereof are what we have needed, subconsciously, to
legitimate our practice” (Graves-Brown 2011:169). Harrison’s article can be
seen as a way of rethinking the way we conduct archaeology and turn
“interest towards an emerging present” (Harrison 2011:181). This shifts the
emphasis of archaeology away from being a study of the past to be a study of
the past in the present. A shift in perception of time is also present in the
work of archaeologist Laurent Olivier who claims that we should view
archaeology more in relation to memory as fragmented and constantly
created and recreated instead of as fitting into a unilinear history writing
(Olivier 2004:209–211). What happens when we apply these perspectives of
time on the material that we study?
Methodologies for studies of contemporary archaeology sites are still
somewhat experimental and unproven and as Harrison and archaeologist
John Schofield (2010:88) write the productivity of the research techniques
to be used in studies of a more recent material will only be demonstrated by
further work. My research should therefore be seen as a part of this current
discourse and a way to test and further the understanding of the study of
sites from a contemporary past. I wanted to understand the materiality of
the Iron Curtain and how this related to the popular idea of this iconic,
Cold War divider between the East and West. The choice stood between
concentrating on one site and studying several in order to compare. This
comparison between sites along the former militarised borders throughout
Europe offered the best possibility to understand the material and so I chose
to include more than one case study in my research. Research into sites
closer to our own time often provides a rich source material and it therefore
becomes important to make decisions of how to approach what can be a
vast assemblage of material evidence. Archaeologist Bjørnar Olsen, with his
cry for a return to things within archaeology (2010, 2003), suggests that
although materials are studied they are not seen as interesting in themselves
but are always only used in order to reach something else: “The material is a
source material, an incomplete representation of the past, traces of an
absent presence – not part of the past (or society) itself” (Olsen 2003:90). It
is by turning to the material and looking at the smaller pieces that we can
begin to understand the bigger picture. Archaeologist Jonathan Westin
writes: “…a single letter of [an] inscription is not accountable for the
meaning of those words or sentences it helps form, political or religious as
they may be… It is not a process where the primary movement is that of
cultural values trickling down and affecting the parts, but a process where
the greater movement is that of parts soaring upwards” (Westin 2012:39). It
is not in the discourse about heritage that heritage itself is created, but it is
in the movement and networks of the smaller interconnecting parts,
whether objects, humans or customs on which the discourses about heritage
rests. In light of this I want to start at the things themselves and by looking
at how the materials have been used, and viewed, over time, including their
situation today, to get a better understanding of how a heritage can be
created, out of the things themselves on their journey to their appropriation
today. The discourse should have its grounding in the material we study. If
not, it is possible that the materials and the discussions we carry out end up
being out of phase, estranged and lost from each other or that generalisations are made which are not based on a solid foundation. In my fieldwork I have found Actor Network Theory (ANT) a useful inspiration in
that it is descriptive rather than explanatory and this helps to understand
how relations between different actors assemble (Latour 2005). By turning
to the materials themselves and in my fieldwork focussing on the networks
at work within the sites themselves, in the past and in the present, I attempt
to discuss how heritage has been created, or not created as the case may be,
in the study areas. Apart from the materials themselves these networks are
created out of the actions of many different actors who have created the
sites as they appear today as well as the attitudes people have towards them.
Although the material is my starting point other sources, such as memories
and stories, both oral and written, have been weaved together with the
material, inseparable as they are. I have looked to other disciplines such as
anthropology, history, art history, ethnology and human geography to assist
me in tackling a vast material. Often the line between the disciplines is
blurry and many points overlap. Harrison and Schofield suggest that studying the recent past “is always going to be simultaneously archaeology and
anthropology, because it involves an archaeological approach while also
existing as a form of participant observation or ethnographic inquiry into
contemporary life” (Harrison and Schofield 2010:91). My starting point, as
well as my point of return has, however, been archaeological. It is in the
materials that have been left behind that I have started my investigations. By
using the materials as a starting point and seeing them as the smaller
building blocks that are, again in the words of Westin, “parts soaring
upwards” (Westin 2012:39) rather than saturated with the cultural values
and heritage categories trickling down from the top I hope to get a better
understanding of how the material of the past is created at these sites.
A large part of my fieldwork has been carried out in what can be called a
walkover survey. Walkover survey is defined by English Heritage’s National
Monuments Records Thesaurus as “A planned programme of investigation
conducted within a defined area aimed at identifying and surveying
previously unrecorded sites and checking the condition of known sites”
(NMR Website). Similarly to this definition my investigation was carried
out to identify and record remains of the former militarised border and its
infrastructure that still remain in the border landscapes today. These
investigations can also be considered a kind of observation. As the walkover
surveys worked as a way to investigate what the border areas look like today
and also how these areas are used in the present my own observations
became very important. The researcher’s own influence on the material that
is studied is, of course, nothing new. Whether we are conscious of it or not,
we are always part of the results that we produce. Within archaeology there
has been an increased focus on the reflexive since the 1990s, in particular
through the work of archaeologist Ian Hodder who has written extensively
on the subject and applied a more reflexive methodology at excavations at
Çatalhöyük (Hodder 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003). Also involved in this research
at Çatalhöyük as well as applying a reflexive methodology at the Citytunnel
Project in Malmö, Sweden is archaeologist Åsa Berggren (2001, 2002,
Berggren and Hodder 2000, 2003). Berggren points out that although reflexivity made a relatively late entrance on the archaeological scene it has been
part of other fields such as sociology, anthropology and philosophy for
longer (Berggren 2002:22). To put it simply one can say that reflexivity is
about making the process of interpretation as clear as possible. To be
reflexive means that we are aware that our thoughts and the choices that we
make are affecting the results we get and that we as researchers have an
impact on the material that we study. In this thesis I have tried to be as open
as possible about the different stages I have gone through and about the
development of the thought process in order to be as transparent as possible
in the production of this text.
Everyone makes observations but there is a distinction in using observations in a research capacity. Ethnologists Gösta Arvastson and Billy Ehn
make a distinction between the everyday observations that we make as
humans, an action that they claim is essential to being part of society, and
the scientific observations that are part of the ethnographic method. They
claim that the difference mainly lies in the reflexive nature of the latter
where the observer has the ability to scrutinise his or her own observations
(Arvastson and Ehn 2009:20). Ehn writes that “ethnographic observations
are not something one just does, but something that is created and used for
a more or less conscious purpose. It is here the researcher’s objectivity and
fantasy meet” (Ehn 2009:54 [my translation]). But our interpretations are
not created out of nothing. By being transparent about how a site affects us
we can make the process of our interpretation more clear. We may interpret
a site in different ways but it is still based on the material we have at hand.
My way of writing can be seen as a less traditional archaeological approach
as I place myself firmly in my texts. As archaeologist Joanna Brück points
out, as we observe, we interpret and this means the author is always present
(Brück 2005:56). I am not suggesting that the impressions that affect me
would necessarily have affected others in the same way in the past and I am
therefore not suggesting that people who were in the vicinity of the border
areas during the Cold War period would have had the same thoughts as me.
I do believe, however, that our impressions affect us whether we are aware
of this bias or not. As researchers, the impressions of a site will affect our
results and our conclusions.
It is, however, more difficult to describe the feeling of a place, or the way
it affects us than to describe the physical features of it. The subjective has
previously had little room in the reports that we produce even if it has
always affected the way archaeologist work (Berggren 2002:24). The body’s
interaction with the material we interpret is something that has become
more acknowledged in more recent years (see discussion in Harris and
Sørensen 2010, Edgeworth et al. 2012). By referring to the writings of
Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Latour, Olsen (2010) challenges us to
rethink the ontology that our attitude towards things is based on and to
emphasise the importance of the body in the world. He quotes Heidegger:
“we are always-already in the world, the world is part of our being – not
something external, ‘out there’ to eventually be embodied” (Heidegger
1982:137 quoted by Olsen 2010:96). In Persistent Memories Andreassen,
Bjerck and Olsen write of their work at a former Soviet mining community
in Svalbard, which closed in 1998: “Our fieldwork was preliminary and
experimental, attempting to grasp and sense the place” (Andreassen, Bjerck
and Olsen 2010:24, emphasis in original). Harrison and Schofield highlight
the importance of experiencing a place and write that “an experimental
approach can work, conveying a sense of what the place is like, in situations
where detailed survey is just too vast an undertaking” (Harrison and
Schofield 2010:207). I would say that this is important in any level of survey,
detailed or more overarching.
My walkover survey was carried out in two ways. During a systematic
study of sections of the former militarised border, all remains relating to the
border or border infrastructure were recorded on a map and notes were
taken, and targeted surveys were carried out in particular places. The second type of walkover survey was more spontaneous in character. These
surveys consisted of visits to sites, areas or buildings that had been raised as
possible areas of interest, either through other kinds of research such as
maps, documents, literature, or looking at satellite photos. They were also
often based on tips that were given by people that I met during the time I
spent in an area and where therefore often spontaneous and not researched
This way of looking at an area or a material, has been called “bimbling”,
a concept first described by Anderson (2004), and which has been used by
archaeologist John Schofield and Emily Morrissey during their research of
Strait Street in Valetta, Malta. They describe the difficulty of approaching a
material which is often only available during short moments when shown
by a property owner or when pointed out by people passing by. They found
that “bimbling” described as “interviews conducted in and through a place,
to generate a collage of collaborative knowledge and give people the opportunity to re-experience their connections with landscape and to reminisce,
prompting ‘other life-course memories associated with that individual’s
relationship with place’” (Harrison and Schofield 2010:76) was the best way
to approach the material. They write: “So we bimbled – walking up and
down Strait Street, talking with those we met, making notes and using the
digital video camera where it felt appropriate. We were told what bars were
where, and we began to gain an impression of what many of these places
were like” (Schofield and Morrissey 2007:93). In a similar way I used this
more walkabout and flexible style of surveying to gain an understanding of
the places along the former Iron Curtain and to be able to follow the connections which they provided.
Interviews were also important for my understanding of the material.
Sometimes these were combined with the walkover surveys such as my walk
with Maria and Antonio along the border near Trieste, visits to sites along
the Slovenian-Italian border with Andrej, or the time I spent with the guide
David in the Podyji National Park in the Czech Republic. In fact most of the
people that I interviewed wanted to meet me at, or bring me to, a particular
site that they felt had a connection with the border, the military or the
former Iron Curtain. During my time in Slovenia, Anja brought me to the
Solkan Bridge from where the border as well as the Slovenian road corridor
through Italy can be seen, the group interview conducted in Sofije, Slovenia,
included a visit to the former Morgan line (the Italian-Yugoslavian border
between 1945–1954), and Maria and Antonio drove me to the border near
Trieste, Italy, to show me an old sign that had survived in the landscape.
During these visits the importance of the material as a mnemonic became
obvious but these visits also helped to provide ample time for conversation
to flow a bit more freely than during a more formal interview situation.
There are several different methods and techniques for how to conduct
interviews (see for example: Ehn and Löfgren 1996, O’Reilly 2005, Kaijser
and Öhlander 2011). My interviews were carried out in what can be referred
to as unstructured interviews (O’Reilly 2005:116, Fägerborg 2011:99) in
which I used a general plan of the topics that I wanted to cover with a few
specific questions but generally the conversations were allowed to flow
freely in order not to be tied down. The aim of the interviews was not necessarily to gain answers to particular questions but rather to understand the
ways different people viewed the border and the Iron Curtain and this was
best reached through allowing the interviewees to speak freely about what
they considered to be of importance. The interviews varied in how many
people were present, usually just one or two, but there was also one group
interview in which seven people participated. How interviews were conducted also varied somewhat depending on the people being interviewed. It
was clear that an approach that worked with some people, such as those
living near the border in Slovenia and Italy who talked rather freely about
life in the area was not necessarily successful when interviewing others such
as the former military officer of the Czechoslovakian border who preferred
more specific questions. What was most important during interviews was
therefore being flexible and reflexive in the way to proceed. As sociologist
Karen O’Reilly writes “…qualitative research is as often art as science, it is
not easy to set out what should be done and how in a given set of circumstances” (O’Reilly 2005:4) but she also points out that in order to be
confident in making those choices the researcher has to be aware of the
options available and be able to adjust according to the situation.
In this thesis I do not use the word informant which is often the chosen
term within ethnographical studies. This is mostly due to the thesis’ Cold
War context where the word informant often brings to mind the word
informer and as such has connotations and meanings connected with
spying (Gerber 2011:28). Instead I use the word interviewee to try and steer
away from any such connotations. It was my hope to reach across different
age groups and include people from both sexes with the people that I
interviewed. This proved more successful in my fieldwork in Italy/Slovenia
where seven of the informants where women aged from their 30s to 80s and
seven were men aged from their 40s to 80s. In the Czech Republic and
Austria the interviewees were, however, almost exclusively male and their
ages ranged between their 30s and 60s. This is mainly due to the fact that
the people I reached and gained information from here were often those
who had had a connection with the military sites along the border, something few women came in contact with. As the Berlin case is not as extensive as the other two studies I did not have the opportunity and time to
interview many people here. The interviews in my two study areas were not
meant as a full ethnographical study including large numbers of people but
rather as an additional source, often deeply connected with the materials
and sites that I visited.
How much researchers write about the interviewees tends to vary
between different studies depending on how much is required as well as
personal taste. I have used first names and have also provided information
on gender as well as approximate age and ethnicity partly to help the reader
obtain some background and for the simple fact that it actually reads better
and makes it easier to follow. Although knowing the person’s gender does
not necessarily add anything it also does not take anything away from the
study either. Ethnicity helps to understand what background the interviewee has which is important as ethnicity is often featured as an important
factor in cultural identity in border areas such as those that I describe (for a
discussion on ethnicity and borders see Lundén 2004, McWilliams 2011).
The approximate age is added to understand the interviewees’ historical
background as life in the study areas changed throughout the Cold War
period. Exact age, however, has not been mentioned in order to help to keep
the anonymity of the people I have spoken to. This is also the reason why I
have given them different names in the thesis even though many of them
would have been happy for me to publish their actual names. This is an
important factor that should always be considered in studies where interview material is used. Even though they may have given their consent to
publish their words they do not have any control of the way that the
researcher uses the interviews or in the conclusions he or she may draw
from them. That responsibility lies solely on the researcher and therefore it
is important to protect the anonymity of the interviewees. To respect the
people that we interview and to make sure we do not leave them open to
criticism from others is an important part of the research ethics that we
must abide by and something that needs to be considered through all parts
of our work from planning our interviews and conducting them through to
the way we publish the words of others in our work (Pripp 2011:65). This is
also something that is particularly important to stress within contemporary
archaeology where people often do not have the same training in ethnographic fieldwork as for example an anthropologist or ethnologist. In this
thesis I have made a distinction between those who have spoken to me in an
official capacity as for example museum staff or historians, who are not
anonymous, and those that have spoken to me about their private life who
have been given other names. The distinction is not always clear as those in
an official role have also told me personal stories but the distinction is still
there and their official role is important to know to understand the context
or to validate the information.
Archive research was carried out in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Italy
and the UK. These were not meant to be full archive studies but rather a
way to get an idea of what kind of material is available about these sites.
Anything more would have been too much of an undertaking within this
project. Although language was sometimes a problem, these archive
studies did help in providing background knowledge. Of particular use
were maps and photos as these helped to provide an understanding of the
kinds of physical material that had existed along the Iron Curtain and
how the borders’ different areas had looked in the past. Photos, often of a
more personal nature, were also found on an online forum for former
Czechoslovakian soldiers. Through this forum I also managed to get in
contact with three former border guards who could tell me about their
time as soldiers along the borders. Conversations between the soldiers
themselves on the online forum were all written in Czech and therefore
could only be understood in small parts (Army Forum Website).
Outside Germany there is little literature written about the former Iron
Curtain or the guards who once protected the militarised borders. Instead
literature was mostly used to provide historical background to the larger
political events. In Germany, however, the situation is different and I was
able to gain a good understanding of both the general history as well as the
physicality of the Inner German Border and, in particular, the Berlin Wall
through literature (Huyssen 1997, Faversham and Schmidt 1999 and 2007,
Dolff-Bonekämper 2002, Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004, Harrison 2005,
Schmidt and von Preuschen 2005, Taylor 2006, Sheffer 2007 and 2008,
Rottman 2008, Klausmeier 2009, Hamberg 2009).
Recording the Iron Curtain
Conveying the information gained through these studies to the reader is a
complicated process in itself in which materials, documents, photos and
impressions are converted into text. Here there is an element of
interpretation every step of the way. Ehn writes that the observations we
make become history as soon as we verbalise and communicate them
(Ehn 2009:56). In an attempt to write an objective description of the
Docklands in London, Högdahl became aware of the difficulty in writing a
description of something without letting one’s personal assumptions and
preconceptions interfere. She describes the process from the first observations, a selective process in itself where some things fall within our
sphere of interest, others outside. We then use words to initially write
down our observations and later we will process these words into a text
using different analytical tools. She explains this process as a series of
translations (Högdahl 2009:111). The texts we eventually produce are
therefore a result of this long line of interpretations of which we may only
be aware of some parts. Hodder has suggested that archaeological writing
in the field has stayed largely unchanged due to a feeling of a kind of
“guardianship” keeping records for the state and is often seen as separate
to the process of making interpretations (Hodder 2003:57). As Hodder
points out, despite this tradition of viewing the fieldwork as something
objective, we in fact interpret every step of the way and we therefore need
to be transparent about this process.
Photos have been important throughout my work. I have taken thousands of pictures throughout my fieldwork. They have worked both as a
document for me to constantly go back to in my work as a way to help my
memory or to discover new things that I have not previously seen. The
photos have helped me discover and rediscover both physical objects and
relationships at the sites that I have studied or helped to capture a feeling
encountered. In the writing of this thesis they have become a way to
portray how I interacted with the material as well as an attempt to demonstrate the relationship between objects or the feelings that the sites have
evoked. Archaeologists Yannis Hamilakis and Aris Anagnostopoulos
(2009) have discussed the role of photography within archaeology and
suggest that photographs often falls within three categories: the official
site photography and laboratory photography; the unofficial photographs
taken by those who are excavating or by visitors (these two categories also
stated in Bateman 2005); and the photographs that can be seen as pos26
itioned somewhere in between a visual ethnographic commentary and
artwork (Hamilakis and Anagnostopoulos 2009:288–289). According to
Hamilakis and Anagnostopoulos the problem with the way that photography has traditionally been viewed in archaeology is as a “faithful,
disembodied representation of reality” (Hamilakis and Anagnostopoulos
2009: 283). Instead they suggest that photographs should be seen more as
a material artefact and as a mnemonic, “[i]n other words they are memories, that is reworked renderings of the things they have witnessed. They
do not represent but rather recall. They do not show, but rather evoke. As
such, they are material mnemonics, and as all memory, they are reworkings of the past, not a faithful reproduction of it” (Hamilakis and
Anagnostopoulos 2009:289). For me the photographs are an important
part of my work not because of their differences to the text but rather
their similarities to it. It is through the interaction with the material
through site visits and again through the photographs that I have taken
that this thesis has taken shape. It is also through the interaction of both
text and photographs that these pages have been created.
Archaeologists Þora Pétursdottír and Bjørnar Olsen (forthcoming) have
discussed the relationship between text and images and suggest that
photographs are often seen as more biased than text. They mean that
photographs are often considered a supplement and instead they argue that
photographs should be seen as an engagement with the material. Discussing
the aesthetic aspects of ruined photographs they describe the aesthetic
experience as a prelinguistic condition which can be described as “an immediate reaction to confrontation with reality” (Olsen and Pétursdottír,
forthcoming). Although I started photographing as documentation during
my fieldwork it became so much more than this. It became an extension of
the bodily engagement with the material that I came across. Some of the
photos in this thesis are more of documentary character while others may
seem more art-like. There has been a lot of criticism both within as well as
outside the archaeological field of the more art-like aesthetic style photos
(see Olsen and Pétursdottír, forthcoming) but this may also depends on
who is taking the photographs. Photographer Angus Boulton’s film and
photographs of Forst Zinna (2007), a Soviet military base in former East
Germany, has received a lot of positive feedback. Although speaking about
moving images Harrison and Schofield discuss Boulton’s film of the Forst
Zinna site where they describe how he captures the feeling of the place and
its abandonment, and although they suggest Boulton uses techniques that
are not all that different from traditional archaeological and building
recording methods he also manages to convey a feeling of having been
there: “One feels as though one knows the site intimately – not so much its
layout and plan-form, but the character of the place, its aura, and the ghosts
of place that inhabit the decrepit rooms and open spaces” (Harrison and
Schofield 2010:119). There are several examples of archaeological research
using artists to provide an alternative perspective on the sites investigated
(for examples see Cocroft and Wilson 2006, Talbot and Bradley 2006,
Schofield et al. 2012) but the recording of these sites have still tended to be
traditional archaeological with the artist brought in to provide the aesthetic.
Within the work for this thesis I have often found myself somewhere in
between: between the archaeological, the ethnographical, the photographical, the literature, the emotional, the historical, the personal and the
official. And maybe this is exactly what characterises the study of an
archaeology of the contemporary, you are never quite at home but never
completely lost, just somewhere in between. My hope is that I have been
able to shed some light on this in-betweeness and how one can make this
part of a functioning methodology.
The structure of the thesis follows much the same way I have come to
experience this material in my work. I started with the term Iron Curtain
and tried to understand where it came from, what it meant and how people
had seen it throughout the twentieth century. An image of the Iron Curtain
started to take form, something which is described in Chapter 2. Even
though my first fieldwork was carried out in Italy/Slovenia, not Berlin, the
Berlin Wall had become an important site early in my work as it was highly
connected with the metaphor of the Iron Curtain, as discussed in Chapter 2.
Two visits to Berlin were the result of this emerging connection and in
Chapter 3 I discuss the materiality of the Berlin Wall as experienced during
these two visits as well as through archaeological and literary sources. The
fieldwork in Italy/Slovenia (Chapter 4) and Czech Republic/Austria
(Chapter 5) provides the majority of the empirical material on which my
discussions and conclusions are based. These conclusions are mainly presented in Chapter 6 although they are also present in Chapters 4 and 5.
Case studies
The area used for my first field research is located on the border between
Italy and Slovenia around the two towns of Gorizia (in Italy) and Nova
Gorica (in Slovenia) (Chapter 4). The border was re-drawn here following
World War II dividing the area between Italy and Yugoslavia. On either
side of the border the two towns of Gorizia and Nova Gorica grew
separately but still intertwined, affected by Cold War politics. The border
between Italy and Slovenia has had a long and complex history and its
relationship with the Iron Curtain is far from clear. Many would say this
border, formerly between Yugoslavia and Italy, was never part of the Iron
Curtain. This is why I chose this border for my first case study as it would
help my discussions of what the Iron Curtain really was, or was not. Located
in a valley south of the Alps and north of the Karst plateau this area consists
of arable land which has been cultivated for centuries.
Apart from my fieldwork in the Gorizia/Nova Gorica area I also travelled
along the western and northern borders of Slovenia. Starting from the town
of Koper, on the Adriatic Coast, I headed north until reaching the border
with Austria and following the Slovenian-Austrian border I tried to cross
the border in as many places as possible until I reached the tripoint between
Austria, Slovenia and Hungary. I wanted to get an idea of how the landscape changed throughout this border and what the actual border and its
crossing points look like today.
My second field study was carried out on the border between the Czech
Republic and Austria in the area around the Podyji Park located near the
town of Znojmo in southern Czech area of South Moravia (Chapter 5). The
park developed as part of the grounds of Vranov Castle in the 18th century
and became part of a war landscape from the 1930s as it was drawn into
World War II and subsequently the Cold War. The, then Czechoslovakian,
border was heavily militarised from the 1950s until early 1990s. My studies
here, in contrast to the study in Slovenia, dealt with the type of border that
we traditionally connect with the Iron Curtain. The study here was mainly
focussed on the Czech side of the border although some observations were
also made of the landscape on the Austrian side.
I also conducted research into the situation along the Inner German
Border and in particular Berlin (Chapter 3). Although I did not carry out
fieldwork to the same extent as the two other studies I was able to get a good
understanding of the history and the changing fabric also of this border.
The Inner German Border, especially the Berlin Wall, is highly important
for the understanding of what the Iron Curtain was, or still is, and the fact
that I did not carry out a study to the same amount of detail here does not
suggest I find it less important. In the study of the German-German border
I was also able to rely on the fairly extensive research that has already been
carried out here, including archaeological studies of the Berlin Wall. I also
carried out two trips to Berlin to make observations of what the remains of
this wall look like and how it is treated today.
The fact that many people consider the Berlin Wall to be the symbol of
the Iron Curtain and Cold War division makes this an important site,
however, by stepping out of this area it is also possible to get new perspectives and challenge some of the preconceptions that exist about the Iron
Curtain. The fact that I did not start my research in Berlin was, I believe,
important in challenging some of my own preconceptions of what the Iron
Curtain was. The study areas that I have chosen for my research represent
three very different sites with highly varying material but also with many
similarities. Studying these and comparing the results from all three sites
has given me the opportunity to gain a broad understanding of a highly
complex monument, the Iron Curtain.
A physical metaphor
Concrete and barbed wire. For many people in the West this is the typical
picture of the Iron Curtain. The Iron Curtain has become synonymous with
the Berlin Wall. When discussing the location of the former Iron Curtain,
people often refer to the inner German border, continuing along the
borders of former Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Italy:
a long barrier between Eastern and Western Europe, a divider of ideologies
that kept the communist in and the capitalist out, or was it the other way
around? These ideas of what the Iron Curtain was are a fusion of the
physical and the abstract, a metaphor with a physical face.
But what was the Iron Curtain? Where does this picture of concrete and
barbed wire come from? Iron curtains first appeared as a very physical
feature in the theatres of London during the 19th century to stop the fires
that had become all too common. During the First World War, the term
was used as an abstract visualisation of the barriers between the fighting
sides, and during the interwar period, to make clear the growing differences
between Europe and the Soviet Union. It was, however, Churchill’s use of
the expression in his speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in
1946, where he referred to an Iron Curtain, stretching across the continent
from the Baltic to the Adriatic (Wright 2007:43), that cemented the image
of the Iron Curtain in the popular imagination. Churchill may not have
been the first to use this metaphor but by using these particular words he
was pointing to something highly solid and impenetrable, a physical iron
curtain imperative to stop fires and not letting them get out of control, he
created an image in people’s minds which was to have a massive impact on
how people viewed the division of post-war Europe even before any
militarised borders had been fully raised. This image of an Iron Curtain as a
barrier between two superpowers of different ideological convictions was
therefore created through words before they were set in stone. Reactions to
Churchill’s speech demonstrate how the matter was more complex than the
then former Prime Minister was making it seem. The Times expressed
concerns that portraying Western democracy and Soviet Communism as
two opposing sides was unwise and that both types of governments could
learn from each other (Wright 2007:46). In the days following Churchill’s
speech both Prime Minister Attlee and President Truman distanced
themselves from Churchill’s opinions and Stalin made it known that he
took this as a ‘call to war’ (Wright 2007: 47, 56). As the Cold War advanced
the use of the term Iron Curtain increased and was frequently used in
speeches, papers and the media. In the West, Europe was portrayed as two
polarised halves of East and West, with the Iron Curtain standing as a
barrier between them keeping the captive population of the communist
regimes from escaping to the west. In the German Democratic Republic
(GDR) the border was referred to as the Antifaschistische Schutzwall (AntiFascist Protection Wall) protecting the population from the West.
Following the division of Germany into sectors tension soon arose
between them, in particular on the border between the zones of what was seen
as the Western allies, American, British and French and the East, i.e. the
Soviet controlled sectors. In her research into the development of the Inner
German Border, looking specifically at how the border developed between the
two towns of Sonneberg and Neustadt bei Coburg, historian Edith Sheffer
(2008) demonstrates how the confusion and turmoil following World War II
helped to justify the development of the border, not only the physical
fortifications but also the mental border. She claims: “This mental boundary
evolved surprisingly quickly and proved surprisingly powerful, not just
reflecting, but itself propelling the growth of the physical border” (Sheffer
2008:599). The chaos that existed in the border areas where illegal crossings, a
thriving black market and violence often got out of hand, affecting life in
these areas, caused many of the locals to crave stability and clear rules. This in
turn was used to justify stricter regulations in the border areas, which were
even welcomed. Her research of the border between the two towns of
Neustadt, subsequently in Federal Republic of Germany (FDR), and
Sonnenberg, in German Democratic Republic (GDR), shows that it was the
Americans who first started to demarcate and fortify the border here in the
late 1940s. These actions were soon followed by the Soviets erecting their own
barriers, making sure they reached higher than the American 1.8 m posts, as
well as adding fencing and barbed wire in some places (Sheffer 2008:91). By
the time the 1,380 km fence was erected along the entire border between East
and West Germany in 1952 the border had already been sufficiently
established in people’s minds that this did not cause as much controversy as
the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961. As this border, as well as the
fortification of other borders throughout Europe, had helped to stifle postwar chaos and violence and subsequently developed step by step, sometimes
even with the consent of the local population, the final closing of the Inner
German Border in 1952 did not receive that much attention. The fences were
already there in peoples’ minds. In other places in Europe, borders between
the countries that aligned themselves with the western and the eastern bloc
became more and more militarised. The difference in other places, such as the
borders between former Czechoslovakia and Hungary with Austria was that
the majority of the border infrastructure was constructed well inside the
eastern side of the actual borders, often away from the gaze of the western
neighbours. The official goal here, as in East Germany, was to keep the enemy
out but the majority of the structures were focussed on the threat from
within, their own population. The main focus in these long sections of
militarised border zones was to make sure that nobody could get across these
areas and through to the West.
In contrast during the 1960s, when the Berlin Wall was constructed, the
European division became acutely obvious to the world. Here the border,
which had previously been much more open than the borders between
other East and West zones in the divided Germany went through a
homogenous society. The border left West Berlin a floating island within
what increasingly felt like ‘enemy territory’. In her article The Berlin Wall –
a Symbol of the Cold War Era? historian Hope Harrison (2005) looks at how
the Berlin Wall came to be and points out that the wall is often seen as a
result of Soviet aggression. Her studies of Soviet and East German
documents show, however, that the Soviet leaders refused to sanction the
building of a militarised border through the city of Berlin as they felt there
would be too many negative consequences of such an act. Documents show
that GDR leader Walter Ulbricht had been pushing for a building of a wall
since 1953 but only in 1961 did he manage to persuade Soviet leader Nikita
Khruschev into agreeing to such a construction (Harrison 2005:19–23).
When the Berlin Wall was built in August 1961 it was the first time people
could really see the division clearly, even touch it. Before this the militarised
borders that had developed across the European continent had generally
been hidden from view through protected zones and with fencing
constructions placed several kilometres inside the different countries’
western borders. The fact that this border also came to divide a capital also
became an important factor in the attention it was given. In a war that was
present in all aspects of life, even stretching out into space, but in most cases
never tangible as a physical war of the kind previous experienced, the wall
was seen as a material manifestation of the political situation. The physicality of the wall was seen as an act of aggression and making, not only the
division of Europe very real, but also the Cold War as a whole. Right in
front of the eyes of the inhabitants of West Berlin as well as a large amount
of press, the Berlin Wall went from barbed wire to high, concrete walls, the
images of which were broadcast across the world. The Berlin Wall was a
frequent backdrop to political speeches throughout its existence such as
Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate in June 1987 in which he
declared “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” (cited in Bruner 1989:324)
(Figure 1). Even though John F. Kennedy’s speech held in June 1963 was
held at the Berlin’s City Hall and not at the wall itself, it was very much
present in his words. He also visited the wall and the pictures of the U.S.
president standing on a platform looking into the East were reported in the
press throughout the Western World.
Figure 1: Ronald Reagan speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall on 12th
June 1987. Photo: White House Photographic Office.
The changing rhetoric around a wall
The Berlin Wall was a frequent actor in rhetoric between the two blocs but
how it was used changed somewhat over its existence. Maybe not too
surprisingly the media in East Germany blamed the construction of the
Berlin Wall on the actions of the West but during the early period after the
wall had been constructed there was also debate in the Western press about
whether the wall was a result of a western failure as not enough had been
done to stop the construction (Bruner 1989:321). This attitude changed,
however, and in his 1963 speech Kennedy claims “… we have never had to
put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us” (cited
in Bruner 1989:324) suggesting that the wall was in fact proof of eastern
failures. Also during Reagan’s speech in Berlin in 1987 the wall is used as
evidence of failure of the Soviet Union and victory of the West (Bruner
1989:325). During its later years the way the wall was instead portrayed
more as an anachronism, emphasising the absurdity in its existence (Bruner
1989:325). In contrast in East Germany the fortified border with the
capitalist West became the focal point during celebration ceremonies
(Figure 2). Following its fall it instead became a symbol of freedom and the
victory of the people on both sides. This meaning of freedom has also come
to extend outside the Cold War context and images of the fall of the Berlin
Wall has found its way into other settings such as for example during the
2003 invasion of Iraq where images of the fall of the Berlin Wall was used in
news coverage to illustrate images of liberation (Manghani 2008:59).
The picture of the Berlin Wall has become a recurring image in the
media and was constantly used to represent the ideological divisions in
Berlin and in Europe. Critical theorist Sunil Manghani (2008) makes the
point that the media images of the fall of the Berlin Wall were not used to
critically investigate the exact goings on but rather they were used to
maintain an already popular and dominant interpretation of the events
(Manghani 2008:59). Although Manghani has studied images of the events
of 1989 in Berlin rather than the erection of the wall in 1961 his discussions
can also be extended to how previous images of the Berlin Wall were used.
It demonstrates how powerful images can be and how prevailing the story
they convey can become. Manghani also uses other examples to show how
this type of reporting, and in effect also history writing, is constantly occurring in other places, such as the toppling of the Saddam Hussein statue in
Baghdad’s Firdos Square in the summer of 2003. This event was immediately broadcasted across the globe and even if the toppling of this statue
was not of particular importance as such the fact that it happened right in
front of media cameras made it a major event and instantly referred to as an
historic event (Manghani 2008:60).
Figure 2: East German parade as part of the celebration of 25 years of the Antifaschistische
Schutzwall in 1986. Photo: German Federal Archives (Reference: Bild 183-1986-0813-460).
There are some images that just reach us, that sneak under our skin and come
to represent a whole event. These are what Benjamin Drechsel, specialist in
political iconography, calls ‘key visuals’ as they have the ability to project a
powerful narrative and become symbols of a particular event (Drechsel
2010:17). The image of a naked girl, Kim Phuc, running in the streets
following a napalm bomb being dropped on her village, came to represent the
whole Vietnam War. The image was published in the New York Times (1972)
and was later awarded a Pulitzer Prize (The Kim Foundation website). Images
like this come to affect the way we remember events but also the places where
the events took place. Manghani refers to images as a sort of shorthand by
media professionals (Manghani 2008:59). In the same way there are some
images that have been particularly prevailing in the history of the Iron
Curtain, of which most of them are connected to the Berlin Wall, such as the
image of an East German soldier, Conrad Schumann, jumping over the
barbed wire throwing his gun as he leaps over to freedom in the west. These
images may have just presented a particular angle of the division of Cold War
but to the Western world these images became the Berlin Wall, and the Iron
Curtain. They were an important part of history writing, an act which is
always flawed by subjectivity, and in this case, camera angles. Whenever
media reports in papers or on television required an image to quickly remind
people of the Cold, the Berlin Wall and images of its dramatic erection or, as
the wall had become more established images of watch towers and patrolling
border guards taken from West Berlin, became a frequently used tool. What
other images could one use to demonstrate the complexity of a war with no
clear visible battle fields?
Drechsel likens the Berlin Wall to a political media icon, and argues that
from its construction to its fall it became a major media focus and a political
instrument on both sides of the Cold War divide. Whilst portrayed in the
Western media as a ‘concentration camp wall’ or a ‘Wall of Shame’, it was
presented in the East German media as a protection towards the threat of its
fascist neighbours (Drechsel 2010:17). By the use of what Drechsel calls
transmedial images the Berlin Wall was made into a political icon, either
bad or good depending from what side it was viewed from, given powerful
symbolic significance (Drechsel 2010:17). He means that different types of
media such as photography and film but also other types such as fragments
of the border, exhibitions, leaflets and memorials has become part of this
iconisation of the Berlin Wall and that this process still continues today.
The morning paper is staring back at me from the kitchen table. It is
July 2012 and a new spy story from the former DDR has hit the media in
Sweden. New information from the Stasi archives is still front page news,
and so is the Berlin Wall. One of the pictures on the front page shows two
East German soldiers behind a curtain of barbed wire (Breitner and
Lagerwall 2012:1, 8–9). Through binoculars they stare back at me as I sip
my morning coffee nearly 23 years after the wall disappeared. The image
of the wall still speaks and provides an instant understanding for those
who look at it. An image of the wall immediately makes people think of
East Germany, communism and the Cold War and is therefore a useful
and very powerful image.
“…love walks lonely by the Berlin wall…”
Goanna, ‘Common Ground’.
The Berlin Wall has played an important part not only in politics but also in
our imaginations. The period and its paranoia became popular themes in
films, books and music and this has also helped to formulate the image of
the Cold War, Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall that we are left with today. In
the video to Elton John’s song ‘Nikita’, produced in 1985, Elton is infatuated
by a GDR border guard and barbed wire, watchtowers and concrete walls
provided the setting, keeping him from the object of his affection. The Sex
Pistols sang: “…sensurround sound in a two inch wall. Well I was waiting for
the communist call. I didn’t ask for sunshine and I got a world war three. I’m
looking over the wall and they’re looking at me…” in ‘Holidays in the Sun’
and in America the country and western singer Reba McEntire claimed:
“…we have no curtain, made of iron or stone, we are not divided by a wall”
in her song ‘Let the Music Lift you up’. Many film posters and book covers,
especially for the then increasingly popular spy novels, depict the Iron
Curtain and often the Berlin Wall such as John Le Carré’s The spy who came
in from the cold in which the Berlin Wall is described:
Before them was a strip of thirty yards. It followed the wall in both
directions. Perhaps seventy yards to their right was a watch tower; the
beam of its searchlight played along the strip. The thin rain hung in the
air, so that the light from the arclamps was sallow and chalky, screening
the world beyond. There was no one to be seen; not a sound. An empty
stage. The watch tower’s searchlight began feeling its way along the wall
towards them, hesitant: each time it rested they could see the separate
bricks and the careless lines of mortar hastily put on.
(Le Carré 1963:227)
In the 1965 motion picture The Looking Glass War, also based on one of Le
Carré’s books, we see a spy, sent out by British Intelligence, getting into East
Germany by cutting his way through reels and reels of barbed wire, crawl
across the death strip, dismantling a mine before cutting his way through
the final wall of barbed wire whilst patrolling guards and their dogs pass at
close distance. The idea of the Iron Curtain as an impregnable barrier with a
physical form of concrete and barbed wire soon became cemented in
people’s minds. Its harshness often became synonymous with the Eastern
bloc’s authoritarian governments.
As time has changed and as the physicality of the Berlin Wall and the Iron
Curtain have disappeared the attitudes towards it has changed, also in how
it is portrayed in books and films. In the 1999 Leander Haußmann comedy
Sonnenallee (‘Sun Alley’) we meet 17 year old Micha and his friends living
on Sonnenallee, a street that was crossed by the Berlin Wall. Their biggest
interest is western pop music which is difficult to get hold of, especially
under the scrutinising eyes of the border guards patrolling just outside their
apartments. The film portrays an almost comical side of the wall and of life
in East Germany in the 1970s when the film is set. This would have been
impossible or at least highly inappropriate for a film produced during the
wall’s existence and this was criticised by, for example, the news magazine
Der Spiegel, which was critical of the nostalgia for former East Germany
presented in the film and also thought it was uncritical of the former GDR
government (Wellershoff 1999). Despite this criticism the film became
hugely popular. This is connected to what has become known to ostalgi
which is often explained as nostalgia about the former East Germany, which
developed during the 1990s. In her study of how former East Germans
define East and West, Ethnologist Sofi Gerber (2011) suggests that ostalgi is
not necessarily about nostalgia as it does not automatically refer to a
longing to a ‘better past’. In her interviews with former East Germans she
has instead seen a sense of loss that the country they once lived in and
nearly all physical objects related to this disappeared as many East German
products and objects quickly became exchanged for West German ones
after the unification. Many of the people interviewed found that they had
lost a lot of the material objects that could have reminded them about their
childhood, and in a way also reinforced their identity. This was not the
same as a longing for East Germany as such (Gerber 2011:153). The film
Sonnennallee was also mentioned by several of the people interviewed as a
nice reminder of what life was like in the GDR. One of these interviewees
claimed that the film reminded her of her childhood and that it made it
possible to talk about it to others (Gerber 2011:152). Another example of
such a film is ‘Goodbye Lenin’ produced in 2003. It is not my intention here
to go into a discussion about the subject of ostalgi as such but rather to
show how later views and perspectives, some highly personal, can have a
major effect on how people look at their history and how they form and
transmit this history, be it in meetings with others or through films or
books. In Sonnennallee the Berlin Wall became the backdrop as well a
reminder of the constant omnipresent ‘all seeing eye’, the East German
authorities, but it also helped to provide the setting for and portray a life
that no longer exists.
Historians Robert Rosenstone (2006) and Alun Munslow (2007) have
argued that film production as a way of writing history has to be taken more
seriously than it previously has been. They mean that film can “create experiential and emotional complexities way beyond the printed page”
(Munslow 2007:522). Historian Vanessa R. Schwartz emphasises the
importance of imagination when we try to understand the past, something
which has, she suggests, been aided by the use of film (Schwartz 2013:10–
11). She also suggests that although we are well aware of the way politics
affect “the methods, questions and problems of the historian and produce a
certain optic on the past, there has been almost no consideration of the
influences of mass culture and its media such as film on historians, historicity and the development of historical representation over the course of the
cinematic century” (Schwartz 2013:2). When dealing with remains in
periods closer to our own time this also has to be addressed in archaeology.
Just as Schwartz means historians need to adjust and add to their methods
in order to “making sense of the profusion of images that are so essential to
the record of modern life” (Schwartz 2013:5) so do archaeologists working
with modern material in order to understand how this affect the past that
we study. Historian Alejandro Baer has, for example, discussed how the past
is represented through commercial audiovisual media using the example of
the Holocaust. He suggests that in the history of the Holocaust traditional
boundaries between imagined and factual history has become blurred and
that, in particular the film Schindler’s List has “created new spaces within
which it has become possible to associate oneself to the past” (Baer 2001:
495) He even suggests, using studies of historian Loshitzky, that the film has
demonstrated that it is possible that “culture industry is capable of
preserving (or reintroducing) the events of the Holocaust in the collective
memory and historical consciousness of globalized audiences” (Baer
Archaeologist Cornelius Holtorf has discussed the importance of a so
called ‘experience economy’ in which it is the experience of something itself
that is becoming increasingly important. He means the importance lies in
“engaging people sensually, cognitively, socially, culturally and emotionally”
(Holtorf 2007:6). The medium of film can therefore also be seen as an
important part of this experience economy which helps people experience
the past in a more cognitive way. How these films are constructed and the
images they produce of an historical event, of an object or an era are then
highly influential in the way people view it. Baer is clear on how this is not
necessarily a bad thing as he suggests that it can help create a richer
understanding of history (Baer 2001:499). Whether we see this as a negative
or a positive, and surely it has an element of both, we need to understand
the impact popular culture has on the material we study and foremost the
ideas that people have of this material and the period it represents.
The images produced in media as well as in books and films affect us
more than we might think. In the article Views of the Wall – Allied
Perspectives archaeologist John Schofield, gives us some of his memories
of being a child in West Berlin in the early 1970s as his father Group
Captain Schofield was posted in the city as a Wing Commander for the
Royal Air Force (RAF). Schofield describes a situation during a visit in
East Berlin when he and his mother found themselves followed. He
describes the men that followed him and writes: “I remember upturned
collars but I’m not certain how far that this is memory or merely the
influence of the spy films that I have subsequently seen” (Schofield and
Schofield 2005:39). The images that we receive can therefore alter our own
memories as well as our perception of a situation or place. The way people
view the wall today is in a similar way dependent on a vast amount of
images of it that has been projected over the years. As our own memories
fade they are recreated through the images we receive from outside
ourselves. Many peoples’ view of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall is
solely built on second hand information never having seen the actual wall
during its existence. People who were never in Berlin at the time or those
too young to have seen the physical divisions throughout Europe can only
build an image of what this is through information through others,
through media, films, books and songs.
It is summer 2013 and I am walking through the Military Vehicle
Museum in Strängnäs, Sweden. The vehicles are presented chronologically
and on the walls along the exhibit there are information boards describing
the different historical events to give some context to the objects that I see:
First World War, World War II and then the Cold War. Here I stop and
look as the exhibit has included a couple of structures. The first one is a
replica of the 1960s Checkpoint Charlie hut and the other a reconstruction
of a section of the Berlin Wall. So dominant have these objects become in
connection with the Cold War that now, without any real discussion of why
they were chosen in this exhibit, they can stand here as a representation the
whole of the Cold War. If this was an advertising campaign someone would
be very proud of the product marketing achieved.
The image of the Berlin Wall today
In an article about the Berlin Wall and the traces that remain in the
landscape today, conservation architect Leo Schmidt explains how the
remains of the Berlin Wall today often do not meet the tourists’
expectations, “There are no situations left in Berlin today that resemble the
old press photographs of the Wall and watchtower type, therefore the
authentic remnants present a challenge to the tourists’ ability to review their
memory and the perception and to modify them by new insights” (Schmidt
2005:16). This demonstrates how the prevailing idea of what the Berlin Wall
was and what it looked like is still heavily dependent on those pictures
broadcasted during its existence. Schmidt is particularly critical to how the
area around the former Friedrichstraße crossing, also known as Checkpoint
Charlie, has been recreated after the fall of the wall and lost its authenticity.
It is true that the area here looks completely different now to what it did
when the wall first came down. Instead of the 1980s control hut a replica of
the 1960s hut has been erected where students often take turn to ‘stand
guard’ in American uniforms and pose together with tourists in their
holiday snaps. A line of recreated wall was also introduced here, although
now in a slightly different position a few metres away from its original
position which led to a lot of discussions and arguments. Next to the former
crossing area the museum ‘Haus am Checkpoint Charlie’ presents a history
that also very much corresponds to this image or idea that many people in
the West have about the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. This is also
highly successful and maybe the reason is, as Schmidt criticises, that it does
not require people to modify their image of the Berlin Wall as it represents
it in a way close to idea of the Iron Curtain which has been produced and
reproduced in the West since World War II, a process that is still going on.
It shows that some people come to Berlin to experience not just the Berlin
Wall but an already existing idea of what this wall should look like. Schmidt
is right in that a different history about the Berlin Wall can be found but for
many people the idea they have is sufficient and getting this image reaffirmed through the material, albeit a reconstructed image built on nonauthentic materiality is considered enough.
The image of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall has changed throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In particular the idea of the
Iron Curtain has become increasingly linked with that of the Berlin Wall. In
some ways it corresponds with the physical borders that existed but it has
also taken on a different life from its physical origin. This is the more
popular idea of the Iron Curtain which was portrayed in the media, both
intentionally and unintentionally. This image was also used in films and
media which helped to ‘stereotype’ the image. This idea of the Iron Curtain
has also, to a much greater extent than the physical borders, changed as a
result of political and historical developments and is still developing and
changing today. The physicality behind this idea is being more and more
forgotten and the image has taken on some sort of afterlife that is in one
way stereotyped and the use of it and the attitude towards it is changing (for
example it has changed in regards to ostalgi etc.) The Iron Curtain was first
‘created’ in words by Churchill, then physically created and then again
changed and recreated through words.
The materiality of the Berlin Wall
Methods and aims
As we have seen in Chapter 2, the Berlin Wall was very important to the
way we view the Iron Curtain. In many ways the two became synonymous
in people’s minds and this has affected how people think of the Iron
Curtain and the Cold War. I did not start my research here just for this
reason, because I wanted to get away from my own preconceived ideas of
what the Iron Curtain was, or still is. But the Berlin Wall was still present
even when I visited other places. People that I interviewed in my study
areas, particularly in Italy/Slovenia, would refer back to the Berlin Wall as a
sort of case of reference of what the Iron Curtain ‘should’ look like. The
reason this study is located ahead of my other studies within the thesis is to
help the reader get a clear background before embarking on my other two
case studies.
The aim of this study was to get a better understanding of the material
side of the Berlin Wall as Chapter 2 mainly focussed on the idea of the Iron
Curtain and the Berlin Wall and to get an understanding of what it used to
look like as well as what it looks like today. This was not a case study as such
and the fieldwork for this study was therefore not as detailed as for my two
other case studies but here I was able to use the report of an archaeological
study carried out by the Department of Architectural Conservation at the
Brandenburgh University of Technology, Cottbus, Germany. In combination with this study I made observations of my own during two visits to
Berlin in 2009 and 2010 during which the section of the former wall from
Friedrichstrasse train station to Kreuzberg was covered. This was not a
complete recording of all remains that endure from the former wall but
rather a way of getting an understanding of what the wall looks like today
and to help me understand what it may have looked like in the past. I also
visited other sites along the route such as the Documentation Centre and
the ‘reinstated’ wall at Bernauerstrasse, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie and
other sections of the former wall such as by Kieler Eck, where a former
command post is still located.
As the Inner German Border and in particular the Berlin Wall has been
written about extensively I was able to draw on a large amount of literature
in building the background information. My main means of recording was
through photography and notes on which this chapter is based.
On the edge of the western world
The fabric of the wall may have mostly gone but its ghost still haunts the
Berlin townscape. The areas of nothingness where the wall once stood echo
a past that many are trying to forget. Development projects are slowly
erasing the traces, filling the voids and gradually eating away, piece by piece,
the empty spaces. In other areas the memory of the wall is actively remembered: the tacky souvenir shops; the preserved wall sections and guard
towers or as black and white photos in the small corner restaurant where I
eat my lunch, previously located right on the edge of the Western world at
Axel-Springer Straße.
On the morning of 13 of August 1961 Berliners woke up to a new landscape, a speedily assembled wall brutally cutting off the city’s western
section from its surrounding areas, making it a stranded island within
communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). The border between East
and West Germany had already been closed since 1952 but the GDR leaders
saw the still open borders between East and West Berlin as a bleeding
wound making this a too obvious escape route through to the West.
Tension between the Western and Eastern blocs had been building for some
time and failed attempts to solve the ‘Berlin Issue’ between US president
Kennedy and Soviet leader Krushchev in June 1961 are likely to have
affected the decision to erect the Berlin Wall (Rottman 2008). Studies of
previously secret documents have demonstrated that between 1953–1961
the Soviets resisted repeated requests from East German leader Walter
Ulbricht to close the Berlin border claiming that it would be too disruptive
to Berliners as well as the peace keepers in the city (USA, England, France
and the Soviet Union) and would “place in doubt the sincerity of the policy
of the Soviet government and the GDR government, which are actively and
consistently Germany” (Harrison 2005:20).
Figure 3: East German Soldiers marking the line of the Berlin Wall on the 13 August 1961 to
protect the border while border fortifications were being erected. Photo: Steffen Rehm.
Krushchev, however, finally approved the plan, originally given the code
name ‘Rose’, a few weeks after his meeting with Kennedy. The north, west
and south sides of West Berlin had been closed since 1952 and it was now
time to close the border to the east, the section of the inner city of Berlin. At
2 a.m. troops moved into position to guard the eastern border and the
construction work. Traffic was stopped, as were over- and underground
trains that crossed the border. When the Wall was up and serving its
purpose, it was to cut through 192 streets and crossing could now only take
place through 14 official crossing points (Rottman 2008). The U-Bahn
trains were completely severed between the two parts of the town whilst the
S-Bahn still functioned but highly controlled to avoid illegal crossing. By 4
a.m. trucks had arrived with prefabricated concrete blocks and the first
sections of the wall were laid across Ackerstraße near Bernauerstraße. Other
materials were also used during this early building phase and the labour was
often poorly executed as speed was more important than thorough construction. Soon other structures were added such as watchtowers, antivehicle obstacles and searchlights. As time went on the Berlin Wall was
upgraded and updated, particularly in 1975 when a major reinforcement
operation was carried out. By 1989 it had become an almost impenetrable
barrier consisting of prefabricated L-shaped reinforced concrete slabs,
reaching 3,6 m high with sewage pipes cemented to its top, making
climbing almost impossible. It was accompanied by anti-vehicle obstacles
and ditches, control strips, patrol roads, trip flares, dog runs, signal fences
and an inner, 3–4 m high, wall (Rottman 2008) (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Berlin Wall at the Potsdamer Platz 1975. Photo: Edward Valachovic.
The days and weeks following the Socialist Party official Schabowski’s
announcement of the opening of the border on the 9th of November 1989
saw the start of spontaneous demolition of the wall. Pictures of people out
in force, chipping away at the Berlin Wall were broadcast over the world.
We connect these pictures with happiness, freedom and democracy. Few
times in history have people so clearly demonstrated their hatred towards a
structure and such a clear wish of its removal. The official demolition was
then started in June 1990 (Klausmeier 2009:97). At this point the goal was
to remove the wall in its entirety. After the wall came down and Germany
unified major discussions were started of how Berlin should be developed in
the future (see discussion in Huyssen 1997). A surge of redevelopment took
off, eradicating the scars left in the landscape from 20th century conflict.
What we see in Berlin today is what Huyssen calls the ‘desired identity’
(Huyssen 1997:68), the result of many conscious decisions of how Berlin
should look and how the past should be portrayed. The townscape was still
scarred by the destruction of World War II and how to handle the redevelopment of these scars was far from clear. Discussions were also generated
around the materiality of the Berlin Wall. What was to become of this
iconic but much hated monument? Most people just wanted it gone, but a
few voices of caution were raised, both from professionals and concerned
Berliners. A proposal to preserve sections of the wall was suggested by the
Berlin State Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments and
following investigations seven sections were put forward for preservation.
Strong feelings against its preservation by the general public and from
politicians, however, led to demolition (Klausmeier 2009:97). Since the late
1990s there has been an increased interest in the remains of the Berlin Wall
more than as a commodity and studies and research have been carried out
on the material that remains (Feversham and Schmidt 1999 and 2007,
Dolff-Bonekämper 2002, Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004, Harrison 2005,
Schmidt and von Preuschen 2005, Taylor 2006, Sheffer 2007 and 2008,
Rottman 2008 Klausmeier 2009,). These studies show that although great
efforts went into the demolition of the actual wall structures there are other
remains related to the wall still in situ. Although more and more of these
traces are disappearing several of them can still be seen in the landscape
today. A major archaeological study of what remained of the Berlin Wall
was carried out between 2001–2003 by the Department of Architectural
Conservation at the Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus,
Germany on behalf of the Berlin State Authorities. The aim of the study was
to record any remaining features of the former border structure. The results
were presented in Alex Klausmeier and Leo Schmidt’s book “Wall Remnants – Wall Traces”. Presented in the format of a guidebook this archaeological survey covers the full length of the inner city wall through Berlin
(Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:13). This study together with two visits to
Berlin, both in 2009, forms the base for my discussions about the materiality
of the Berlin Wall.
The Berlin Wall is closely related to the idea of the Iron Curtain as they
have developed together and often becomes synonymous. The Berlin Wall
is not one of my study areas but it is highly important, especially for the
idea of the Iron Curtain and for many people as a manifestation of the Cold
War. In the introduction to their book “Wall Remnants – Wall Traces”,
Klausmeier and Schmidt write that the Berlin Wall “was not an inevitable
product of the Cold War” (Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:10). It is true that
the Soviet Union only gave in to the demands of the leaders of the German
Democratic Republic (GDR) for a barrier to stop the exodus of refugees
from East to West Berlin (Harrison 2005:19). However, as discussed in
Chapter 2, it is clear that the Berlin Wall became one of the most visible and
tangible example of an East/West divide. The wall became a manifestation
of the Cold War division rather than a result of it. As many of the other
militarised borders across Europe at the time this was clearly visible to the
Western world and it caught the attention of the media which helped to
spread the image of the Berlin Wall across the globe.
The material
Berlin today
I turn a corner and a large open space suddenly opens up, a vast nothingness stretching out to my left and right. At this former death strip site grass
and bushes have done their best to reclaim their hegemony, only interrupted by a few occasional paths that cross the space. I follow the cobbled
line along the ground and as I walk along it I notice that all the buildings
around me look very new, many not yet finished. I walk on, and after
turning into Axel-Springerstraβe a series of art installations, colourful
sections of the Berlin Wall, greet me from the parking lot in front of an
office building. I keep following the cobbles, and am occasionally reassured
by signage that I am following the route of the former Berlin Wall.
Although I am close to the centre there are few people around. This soon
changes as I reach Zimmerstrasse and the site of former Checkpoint
Charlie. A bus pulls into the curb outside the Museum, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, releasing a hoard of American teenagers. A couple of giggling
girls break away from the rest of the group and walk over to have their
picture taken with the handsome ‘American soldier’ stationed by a replica
of the 1960s border checkpoint.
This large monument of the Cold War is still very much present in
Berlin today. Although most of what is generally seen as the Wall, i.e. the
concrete wall facing West Berlin, has been removed, much of the former
border infrastructure can still be seen throughout Berlin. Major work was
carried out in 1990–1991 to remove the wall but today many other features
that were part of the wall infrastructure are still visible. Although what was
most visible from the West was the final concrete wall this was only the final
part in a series of obstacles constructed to stop any attempts to escape to
West Berlin. When approaching from the East there would first be warning
signs informing of the restrictions of access ahead. These would be red and
white painted concrete pillars or low railings, also in red and white, delimiting the restricted areas where only those with authorisation was
allowed to enter. There were also signs in German, English, French and
Russian stating “Frontier area – Passage not allowed” (Klausmeier and
Schmidt 2004:22). Although no signs were recorded in the archaeological
survey many of the pillars and railings were found still scattered along the
border landscape. Some of these have been reused, for example incorporated into fencing to adjoining properties (Klausmeier and Schmidt
The so called ‘perimeter defences’ were located in connection with and
to reinforce the hinterland wall. This was the most eastern facing wall,
constructed with prefabricated concrete sections with a white oblong surrounded by a grey frame. The side of the hinterland wall facing westward
was painted white to make it easier to spot any unauthorised persons within
this restricted border strip. In some places already existing walls or sides of
buildings were incorporated into the hinterland wall. The perimeter
defences were located to reinforce the hinterland wall where the topography
was particularly difficult and consisted of extra walls, fences and various
obstacles such as the so-called flower bowl barricades, large concrete flower
pots placed so that it would be impossible to drive into the wall with a heavy
vehicle. There were also metal grids on windows located near the hinterland
wall and anti-climb features such as spiky objects.
Much of what remains of the wall in the townscape today is related to
either the perimeter defences or the hinterland wall. Large sections of hinterland wall can be seen in several places (for examples see Klausmeier and
Schmidt 2004:62 and 91). As this wall was not of interest to the so called
Wallpeckers, who with their pneumatic hammers chipped away at the border following its fall in 1989, many sections or remains have survived.
Although they may be harder to spot there are also many of the perimeter
defences still located throughout the former route of the border. As these
were much less obvious they also became less important to remove during
the clean-up operations in the early 1990s. These remains such as the steel
arrows located on top of a gate near the border defences by Ostbahnhof
Station in the area Mitte (Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:188) or the metal
rods barring the windows at a power station at Kopenhagener Strasse in
Pankow (Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:55) are important to show the
extent and the variety of the border fortifications.
The signalling fence was the next hurdle to get over after the hinterland
wall for anyone trying to escape this route. The signalling fence was more
elastic than other fences making it harder to climb (Klausmeier and
Schmidt 2004:22). These fences have been reused as garden fences and they
are still referred to by the garden owners as Staatsdraht, or government wire
(Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:35). Some traces of the electricity that was
required at the border strip have survived in Berlin (for examples see
Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:62, 173, 230, 267). The electricity was particularly important to keep the many floodlights in the border area going.
They made sure the border strip was always illuminated. Some of these
lights are still used today whilst others remain in the landscape without a
purpose (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Floodlight still present near the Bernauer Straße Berlin Wall Memorial no longer
connected or used. Photo: Anna McWilliams
Between the light strip and the hinterland wall were the control paths and
the dog runs. The long paths were often constructed in macadam or, more
commonly, asphalt. Many sections of these paths survive today and some
are reused for other purposes for example cycle paths (Klausmeier and
Schmidt 2004:60). These paths stretched along the border to facilitate patrolling but also functioned as access roads to bring troops to and from their
posts as well as bringing provisions to the watch towers and command
posts. The watch towers are often part of the western view of what the Wall
looked like as they were clearly visible from the West. They were located
next to the patrol paths and as a clear, physical reminder of the wall great
care was taken to remove these as well when the wall was demolished in the
early 1990s. Therefore there are only two of the command post style
buildings still in situ. These were box shaped and constructed of prefabricated concrete sections. They consisted of four levels with the command post on the second floor where large windows provided extensive
views. On the first floor there was a common room with bunk beds, the
ground floor housed prison cells whilst the basement held all the electronic
devices required (Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:135). The Kieler Eck command post located in the Mitte area has been given monument protection
status. The tower itself therefore remain as it was when it functioned as part
of the border infrastructure but its surroundings have completely changed
with a new suburban area having grown up around it (Figure 6). The
formerly tall-looking tower is now dwarfed by surrounding high rise blocks
of flats, left as a curious feature in the otherwise residential courtyard. The
second command post to remain is located at Schlesischer Busch in the area
of Treptow (Figure 7). Here a large area of what used to be the border strip
has been turned into a park, the tower located at its south-eastern edge. This
tower is of the same type as the Kieler Eck tower, an observation and
command station (Rottman 2008:27). There is none of the other type of
watchtowers, BT-11 (Beobachtungtrum 11-metre), still in in situ although
one is located near its original position near Potsdamer Platz (Figure 8).
These more slender types of towers had much less room inside them and
were used strictly for border guards to monitor the border fortifications and
the control strip.
Figure 6: New residential buildings have grown up around the command post at Kieler Eck
formerly located within the death strip. The tower has been given protection status and has
therefore been left in its original place. Photo: Anna McWilliams.
Figure 7: Command post at Schlesischer Busch. In the background is the former death strip which
has been converted into a park. Photo: Anna McWilliams.
Figure 8: Watch tower located near Potsdamer Platz having been moved from its original position
to give way for new construction. Photo: Anna McWilliams.
The control strip, also known as the death strip, consisted of a large strip of
sand that was raked so that any footprints or other marks would clearly
show if an intruder had walked across it. This was important not only to try
and stop the intruder crossing over the final hurdle which was the wall
facing West Berlin, the so-called ‘enemy facing wall’, but also to show where
there were weaknesses in the system and also, if the person had managed to
cross unnoticed, to punish the guard that missed the breach.
There are many other types of features visible in the townscape today
that were once connected to the former border fortifications, such as areas
for maintenance, iron bars in the canals and traces of demolished buildings
once considered too close to the border. All these features demonstrate how
the construction of the wall had to adapt to the changing topography. Other
remains demonstrate how the city around the wall had to change to adapt
to the division such as turning loops where the bus route were cut off by the
wall and closed down railway stations.
The ‘enemy facing’ wall
The wall facing West Berlin, the so called ‘enemy facing wall’ is often what
people refer to when they speak about the Wall. As large parts of this wall
were removed during 1990–1991 there is little left to indicate exactly
where the wall was located although some traces have been recorded
(Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:122) and in places only the foundations remain (Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:127). In some sections it has therefore been recreated such as within the centre of Berlin where a cobble
stone line on the ground indicates its route in a way that does not obstruct
or limit movement around it. I follow it through town, letting it be my
guide. Some of the new buildings constructed on the site of the former
wall have also incorporated the line in their interior. At the end of a day
walking along the former wall as I am resting my feet in a restaurant near
Potsdamer Platz I suddenly realise that I am sitting on the wall as the
Berlin Wall line is running straight under my table (Figure 9).
Figure 9: The course of the former wall is today marked through much of central Berlin, even in
this restaurant near Potsdamer Platz. Photo: Anna McWilliams.
This wall changed appearances several times in what is often referred to as
‘four generations’ of the wall. The first wall was hastily assembled in August
1961 and consisted of large square breeze blocks normally used for
residential architecture. Tall Y-shaped iron rods were holding barbed wire
in place on top of the wall. After some attempts at ramming the wall with
heavy vehicles the breeze block wall was replaced in some areas with heavy
concrete slabs. This is referred to as the second generation wall. From 1965
onwards the wall was replaced with a third generation wall of inserted concrete slabs into an H-shaped post structure of reinforced concrete. Sewage
pipes were placed at the top of the wall to make it harder to climb. In the
mid-1970s the co called ‘Border Wall 75’ was built. The result of several
studies and tests, this wall was put together from prefabricated concrete
sections, the L-shaped element UL12.41 (Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:15–
16). This is the wall that has received the most attention and that corresponds with most peoples’ idea of what the Berlin Wall looked like. It is
this wall we are used to seeing in media footage, the wall that Reagan
demanded Gorbachev to move as well as the wall that hordes of tourists
have had their photograph taken with since it’s erection in 1975. It is also
the wall that eventually came down, the wall that we have seen images of
being hacked down by crowds (Figure 10).
Figure 10: Detail of ‘Border Wall 75’ showing iron rods clad in concrete. Photo: Anna McWilliams.
Figure 11: East Side Gallery. A section of hinterland wall built in ‘Border Wall 75’ style. This
became an open air art exhibition in 1990. Photo: Anna McWilliams.
The materiality of the Berlin Wall is not limited to the city of Berlin itself
but actually stretches across the whole world. Many sections were moved
soon after the fall of the wall and scattered across the globe to be placed in
office buildings, at universities and especially popular, as part of memorials.
Sections of wall are today a commodity and in larger sections well-priced
collector’s items. Some people saw the potential in the materiality of the
Berlin Wall already as it was coming down and collected large amounts of
the concrete walls to sell on. Larger pieces are sold for considerable sums of
money to collectors all over the world. In 2008 an auction house in Berlin
reported to have sold one section of perimeter wall for 7,800 euros (BBC
News 2008). Smaller pieces of the wall are sold in souvenir shops or on the
internet and are often accompanied with a certificate to authenticate them.
As the smaller pieces are easily moved and there are no restrictions on
taking them out of the country they have contributed to the wall being
distributed all over the world.
The long section of wall, 1.3 km, which after an international spray and
paint event in 1990 became known as the East Side Gallery was actually a
hinterland wall even though the same material was used as for the ‘enemy
facing wall’, Border Wall 75. This was one of the only places where the
eastern side of the border defences were visible to any state visitors as well
as others who travelled on Mühlenstrasse which was the main route to
Schönefeld Airport. It was therefore made to look the same as the wall seen
from the West in order to play down the severity of the border fortifications
(Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:194). This wall is now one long, open air art
gallery with a large number of visitors every year (Figure 11).
Crossing over
As the wall blocked the majority of the routes between East and West Berlin
any traffic between the two had to be channelled through the official
crossing points. There were 14 crossings from West Berlin to the GDR of
which eight were located within the city centre. There were strict rules as to
who was allowed to cross at the different crossings and the infrastructure
put in place helped to control the flow of pedestrians or vehicles. The lanes
used to route traffic through the crossing were still visible when the
archaeological survey was carried out in 2001–2003 (Klausmeier and
Schmidt 2004:82 and 126).
The most famous crossing was the so-called Checkpoint Charlie located
at the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße. Only foreign nationals
and members of the allied forces were allowed to cross the border here
(Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:163). In October 1961 the crossing was the
site of a near confrontation between the Americans and the Soviets and
tanks were facing each other across the border (Taylor 2006: 412). Today
the site is a hot spot for Berlin Wall tourism. Although the wall and the
crossing infrastructure was removed here in 1990 a reconstruction of the
1960s US Army control hut has been located just inside what used to be the
American Zone complete with an American flag and bags of sand stacked to
create protection from enemy fire. A US army sign is also located near the
control hut stating “You are entering the American sector. Carrying weapons
off duty forbidden. Obey traffic rules” in English, Russian, French and
German. There is also a stall offering visa stamps. Two large photos have
also been placed on either side of the former border, a picture of an
American soldier looking into former East Berlin and an East German
border guard looking back from the other side. The line of the border, as in
most part of the inner city, is marked along the ground with a cobbled line.
Located here is also the Museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, something I
will return to later in this chapter.
I’m standing outside Friedrichstraße Station. People are rushing past,
all with a purpose and a place to be. During the division of Berlin,
Friedrichstraße station acted as a railway crossing between East and West.
A complex system of corridors, steps and platforms kept separated to
make sure people did not sneak across, a labyrinth of control. A structure
that was closely connected to the Berlin Wall during the Cold War period,
at least for those who used to cross it was the Tränenpalast, or Palace of
Tears, a large hall at the Friedrichstraße Station. This was one of the main
crossings between East and West Berlin both for Germans and people
from other nationalities. The name refers to the many tearful goodbyes
that were said inside the hall before those who were crossing over to West
Berlin went through passport control here. There were several different
windows for passport control, one for visitors, one for ‘Inhabitants of
capitalist states’, one for inhabitants of West Berlin and a separate window
for diplomats. After going through the controls in the hall travellers were
routed through a series of corridors underneath the station to get to the
train to West Berlin (Klausmeier and Schmidt 2004:146). The trains that
ran in East Berlin were made completely separate from the train system in
West Berlin. The train and underground system, which before 1961 had
been one for the whole city of Berlin, was severed and separated in two
parts so successfully that by the fall of the wall in 1989 they functioned as
two completely different systems. By keeping the different areas separate
and positioning passport control posts along the way it was almost
impossible to get on a train to West Berlin without permission. The
station has now been completely refurbished and looks like any other
station with no visible traces of its former segregated layout. The Palace of
Tears was used as a concert hall until 2006 and has since 2011 housed the
exhibition ‘Border Experiences – Everyday life in divided Germany’ by the
Stiftung Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. This
exhibition aims to provide “a vivid insight into life in the shadow of
division and the border” (Stiftung Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland website 2012).
When I interview Nina in London, where she now lives, some of her
clearest memories of the wall relates to the Friedrichstraße Station and the
Palace of Tears. This was the place where she used to help people escape
over from East to West Berlin. She was a student in Berlin during in the
early 1960s and through the university she got involved in helping people
cross the border. “I was given some passports that I needed to smuggle over
to East Berlin and then give them to those who were trying to escape”, she
tells me. Often they met in a flat where she handed the passports over and
explained how the crossing worked. The passports were of different nationalities such as West German, English and Swedish. “I remember one time I
turned up and the person looked nothing like the passport photo that was
meant to be used. The girl in the photo had blond hair while the East
German girl who was going to use the passport had really dark hair. We had
little time so we had to improvise and covered her hair in flour to make it
lighter. Amazingly it worked.” She laughs at the story now but remember it
being frightening at the time. The last time she went over to help someone
across she soon discovered that she was being followed. Zigzagging through
the streets around Friedrichstraße Station she managed to lose the man
following her in order to get through the Friedrichstraße passport control
and onto the train to West Berlin as soon as possible without being caught.
That was her last passport trip over to East Berlin (Nina 2008, pers. comm.).
Today the station looks just like any other station. Apart from the Palace of
Tears, which is actually located just next to the main station building, there
are no traces of the division. I try to figure out what platforms may have
belonged to what trains, east- or westbound and what corridors that were
out of bounds from those in the East but it is difficult. Not even the passage
between the station building and the Palace of Tears seems to remain. As I
walk away from the station building I wonder if this was the street Nina
rushed through to shake off her stalker and get to the station.
Memorials and Museums
There are also several memorials and museums in Berlin dedicated to the
Berlin Wall, serving a myriad of functions and purposes. They vary from
large structures and monuments to small installations or plaques. There are
different aims behind many of the sites dedicated to the Wall in Berlin
today. Many are aimed to accommodate the remembrance of the Wall itself
as well as the period and the people that were affected by its presence. In the
Documentation Centre by Bernauer Straβe I find the names of the confirmed 70 people that were killed trying to cross the border area, at Strelizer
Straβe I find plaques commemorating the tunnel that was built in 1962
bringing 59 people over whilst 1 was killed and by Tempelhof Airport I
encounter the Berlin airlift monument. Near the Reichstag building the
memorial Weisse Kreuze, White Crosses, has been installed to commemorate some of the people that died trying to cross the border. Other
sites are have more of an art character such as the Parlament der Bäume,
Parliament of Trees, and these often reuse the material of the wall itself as
part of its fabric.
Figure 12: A reconstructed section of the Berlin Wall at Bernauer Strasse Memorial at the
Documentation Centre. Photo: Anna McWilliams.
Many sites also aim to inform visitors and the younger generation that never
experienced the wall themselves about the period, the political circumstances
and the border itself. There are two main museums: the Documentation
Centre at Bernauer Straβe which is Berlin’s official museum of the Berlin Wall
and the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, which is a private museum. The stories
told in the different places range between factual information about the wall
itself and personal stories of people affected by the wall. The Documentation
Centre, where research is also carried out, has a more academic background
whilst the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie is based more on commercial
grounds. Although some of the stories told at the different museums are based
on the same facts the different approaches makes for two very different
museums. At the Documentation Centre we find an exhibition where the
visitors are allowed a lot of their own space and thoughts in order to process
the information provided through information boards, photos and films. The
reconstructed sections of Berlin Wall in their original place also help make the
wall seem more real here (Figure 12). The site appeals to both people who have
personal memories of the wall as well as visitors. “Sometimes I go to
Bernauerstrasse just to remind myself of how it really was” I was told by one
woman from the former GDR at the site. But others are critical to the
reconstruction here. Axel Klausmeier, the director of the Documentation
Centre, explains how people have such different experiences of the wall that it
is difficult to create a memorial that will please everyone. He also says that for
many people in East Berlin the wall was so inaccessible to people during its
time as a divider that memorials connected to the wall itself does not really
hold much importance to them (Klausmeier, 2009, pers. comm. 16th February). At the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie the emphasis lies on the
experience of your visit (Figure 13). The stories here may be sold to you in a
more sensationalistic way but the impressions you get here stay with you. This
aim of providing an “experience” of the Berlin Wall may not always consider
complete authenticity, especially in the exhibited material, but is more aimed
at selling the stories to the visitors. As I walk through the Haus am Checkpoint
Charlie I suddenly find myself amongst a group of American teenagers,
probably around 14–15 years old. They move through the museum at a
quicker pace than me and I decide to tag along, curious of their conversations
as they experience the wall history. They are preoccupied with the exhibition
and take no notice of me, in fact it is quite interesting to see how much the
exhibition catches their interest. As they move along they pick up information
from the different boards but in particular they look at the large scales photos
of people escaping, or failing to do so, across the Berlin Wall. As we go along,
with me now studying both the exhibit and the effect it has on these teenagers,
their jolly chitter-chatter quietens down and they start looking around more as
individuals than a group. At the exit they stop for a moment, make sure they
are all there. “You know we’ve read all about this stuff but now I can really feel
it!” says one of the boys in the group to his friend.
Figure 13: Checkpoint Charlie in
2009 with Haus am Checkpoint
Charlie and a replica of the 1960s
border checkpoint in the
background and an image of an
American soldier staring into
former East Berlin in the
foreground. Photo: Anna
Back to nothing
After days spent in the city centre where memorials and recreated wall
heritage have informed me almost every step of the way I find myself back
in the nothingness, the voids where the wall has been ripped out of the
ground but yet not been replaced. This is the situation in several areas
outside the centre. In many areas, even close to the centre of town, large
areas of the death strip have not yet been developed but run like a
wilderness straight through the townscape. During the Cold War these
areas were kept under total control, as was the vegetation within it. This has
kept larger vegetation such as trees at bay but the complete lack of attention
here since 1989 has since created ‘green corridors’ where greenery has now
established itself. These corridors through central Berlin are now slowly
being developed and will soon be eradicated as a material reminder of the
Wall. When the wall came down the area between Brandenburger Tor and
Potzdamer Platz was largely open space due to the bombings during World
War II and the building of the Wall. Huyssen described this area of Berlin
as a “prairie of history […] a void filled with history and memory, all of
which will be erased” (Huyssen 1997:75). Today this area has been developed but the line of the Berlin Wall is still visible in the cobbled line
along the streets and through collective memory. Although redeveloped
after 1989 the wall is still apparent at the Brandenburg Gate. The Berlin
Wall brutally cut off this historical monument from West Berlin and the
wall in front of the gate became one of the most common images in the
West of the division. The city continues to develop but the absence of the
wall is still apparent, still making this an important place for the memory of
the wall and to people who come to remember it (Figure 14).
The wall that kept the two parts of Berlin may have gone but in some
ways it is more present than ever. The many different sites of border
remains, memorials, information points, museums and voids left behind are
all reminders of a divided Berlin, a piece of history kept alive through the
materiality it has left behind.
Figure 14: Space on Alte
Jacobstraße left open after the
border infrastructure was removed
and still undeveloped in 2009.
Photo: Anna McWilliams.
Case study 1
The Italian/Slovenian border
I started my research in what might appear an unexpected place, the border
between former Yugoslavia and Italy. What does this have to do with the
Iron Curtain, many people have asked me. I would say that it is as relevant
as the Berlin Wall. It opens the question for what the Iron Curtain actually
was, or what it is today. During my research, whilst discussing this border
with people from Italy, former Yugoslavia and from other parts of Europe
as well as the US several criteria have arisen as to what people consider the
Iron Curtain to be, often unintentionally. For example I have heard comments like: “It was the Iron Curtain because they were communist on that
side whilst we were capitalist on this side” (Maria and Antonio, 2008, pers.
comm. 5th September) or “It was not part of the Iron Curtain because it was
not impossible to cross” (Group interview Škofije 2008, 6th September). All
these criteria that are expressed about the border between Italy and
Yugoslavia being or not being part of the Iron Curtain show very clearly
what people consider it to be. In this sense, studying a border that many
people think was never even part of the Iron Curtain has therefore been
vital to understanding what people think it is.
Apart from general research along the former Yugoslav border with
Austria and Italy I have carried out a more detailed study in the area in and
around the two cities of Gorizia (in Italy) and Nova Gorica (now in
Slovenia), located directly on the border approximately 45 km north of
Trieste. I first became aware of the two towns when a colleague asked me if I
had heard about the “Berlin of the south”, a city that, like Berlin, became
divided by national borders after World War II. I had not heard about it
and set out to investigate. As it turned out it was not exactly one city that
had been divided into two as such, rather one city, Gorizia in Italian and
Gorica in Slovenian, which after the new border was drawn following
World War II ended up on the Italian side with a large part of its hinterland
falling within the Yugoslavian territory. A new city, Nova Gorica, was built
on the Yugoslavian side to provide a new centre for the surrounding areas.
The two towns developed side by side, divided by an international border
and the effects of local and global politics (Figure 15).
Methods and aims
The aim of the research of the Italian-Slovenian border was to study the
border between Italy and Slovenia to understand what this border looked
like during the Cold War period as well as what it looks like today. The
information gained during the research was then to be used in a discussion
of this border’s role within the Cold War division of Europe as well as
people’s attitude towards it today.
Two fieldwork trips were carried out, the first in September 2008 which
consisted of a survey of the Italian-Slovenian and the Austrian-Slovenian
borders. The second fieldwork, carried out in August 2011, focussed on the
area in and around the towns of Gorizia and Nova Gorica. The length of the
border from Šempeter to Solkan was subjected to a walkover survey, as was
the southernmost section of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin. Archival research
was carried out at the Goriški Musej Archive, Solkan, Slovenia, the Archivio
storico – Biblioteca provinciale in Gorizia, Italy and the National Archives,
Kew, UK. These studies were not meant as a full archival and documentary
study but rather the documents obtained were a way to help understand the
material discovered during the fieldwork. Of particular use were maps and
photos as these helped to provide an understanding of the kinds of material
that had existed along the Iron Curtain and how the border’s different areas
had looked in the past.
Recording was carried out through photographing and taking notes.
Drawings were also produced wherever necessary to clarify certain features.
Maps were studied both in advance and during the research in order to help
direct further investigations. Remains in the landscape were recorded on
maps to document their location and to help understand their distribution.
Interviews were carried out both with people working with the area’s
history (museum personnel, historians) as well as citizens living in the area,
either currently or in the past. Some of these interviews were taped whilst
others were recorded through taking notes. I interviewed 14 people during
my fieldwork in the area of which seven were women ranging in age from
their 30s to their 80s and seven men ranging in age from their 40s to their
80s (see discussion in Chapter 1). I got in contact with most of the people
before and during my trip by contacting museums or organisations that
may be of help (such as the Swedish-Slovenian Friendship Association in
Stockholm) and these in turn referred me on to other contacts. The
interviewees were from different backgrounds both ethnically and socially
and consisted of people who were working in the heritage and museums
industry as well as people living, or having previously lived, in the area.
One distinctive feature of the study area, as with many other border
areas, is the duality in language which is reflected also in place names as
often both the Italian and Slovenian names are used. Where this is the case I
will refer to these places first in Italian and then Slovenian. For the town of
Gorizia/Gorica I am using both until the Second World War as after that
the situation changed and the one town became two.
The borders between Italy, Slovenia and Austria have had a turbulent
history and the borders of the changing regimes have shifted dramatically
over the last centuries.
The town on the hill
Gorizia/Gorica was first mentioned in 1001 together with the village of
Solkan (Vecchiet 2008). The word is believed to derive from the Slavic word
for hill (Jacob Marušič, 2008, pers. comm. 2nd September). The original
town also centred on the hilltop castle from which it expanded. The town
and surrounding areas have a fortunate position benefiting from the
surrounding areas’ different types of terrains such as the Alps, the karst
plateaus and alluvial plains, all with very different types of economy. As a
central point the town therefore became the meeting point and an important market between these different economies which led to a development
of road networks and later also railways (Moodie 1950:89). The Habsburg
Empire saw the significance of the location of Gorizia/Gorica, or Görz in
German, and in the early 16th century, when they took control of the area,
established administrative and military functions here (Moodie, 1950:89).
When the Transalpine Railway was constructed at the turn of the 20th
century Gorizia’s position as part of a network was strengthened as it was
now located on the route that connected Vienna with Trieste, the Habsburg
imperial port. The station, which was opened in 1906, was built at the
north-eastern outskirts of town which caused the town to expand in this
direction. Postcards of the newly opened railway station shows how it was
located in an area that mainly consisted of farmland (Figure 16). The town
therefore developed to provide for the high society who enjoyed the town,
much due to its clement climate, and several hotels were also built to
provide for travellers stopping on their way to the coast (Edizioni Della
Laguna 2006:7). Gorizia’s older railway station, located at the southern part
of the town, provided an access point to cities further east and a tramline
between the two stations was built in order to provide transfers for
Darker times were to come when Gorizia became part of the frontline
during the First World War. The border with Italy had previously run
approximately 11 km west of Gorizia/Gorica near the town of Cormons. As
the Italian army advanced the frontline moved further east and a series of
particularly fierce battles, called the Twelve Battles of Isonzo, was fought in
the Isonzo/Soča valley between 1915–1917. During two years the Italian and
Austrian forces fought each other in a frontline stretching from the Alps
down to the Adriatic, a fight eventually won by the Italians but at a high
cost with 1,100,000 Italians dead or wounded at the end of the war. The
Austrians, whose army was made up of people from all over the Habsburg
Empire, lost 650,000 soldiers (Schindler 2001:xii). During the ‘Secret Treaty
of London’ in 1915 Britain had offered large areas, including Trentino,
Trieste, Gorizia, Istria as well as the Dodecanese and African colonies, to
Italy after the war if they fought on their side (Sluga 2001:26).
Figure 15: The towns of Gorizia and Nova
Gorica after World War II. Map: Chris Beach
Figure 16: Postcard of the newly opened Transalpine railway and station after it was built in 1906. The fields to the
right of the station mark the location of the current town of Nova Gorica with the line of trees following the road now
called Erjavčeva ulica. Property of Goriški Muzej, Nova Gorica, Slovenia.
Between the wars
After the First World War and the fall of the Habsburg Empire the southern
part of the empire declared itself independent: the Kingdom of Serbs,
Croats and Slovenes, later named the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The border
towards Austria was settled through a referendum in 1920 when Austria
gained the northern sections of Carinthia. The border with Italy was settled
in the Rapallo Treaty in 1920 (Medved 1993:136). In this treaty Italy
acquired 8768 km² of territory extending east and south-east, including the
ports of Trieste and Fiume (now Rijeka) which were the two main ports of
the Habsburg Empire in the Adriatic, becoming the new province of
Venezia Giulia (Moodie 1950:84–87). The population in these areas were a
mixture of Italian, Slovene, Croatian and German. As fascism and its
progressively heavy emphasis on nationalism grew stronger in Italy times
became increasingly difficult for non-Italian groups within its territory.
Even if the official line, expressed by Prime Minister Nitti in 1919, was to
treat people of minorities with justice and sympathy, reality showed that
treatment of minorities were highly inconsistent and depended on the
attitudes of the local authorities (Sluga 2001:42). After 1922 the Fascist
government started a more active policy of Italianising Venezia Giulia. As
part of the nation-building process a renaming operation was carried out
where street names, monuments and persons were given a new Italian
identity through new Italian names, this was not an uncommon tactic used
as part of nation building both in Italy and in other parts of Europe (Sluga
WWII and new borders
Yugoslavia was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941 and in 1943 when the
Italians capitulated the Germans also took the area around Trieste and the
study area, which became included in the so called Operational Zone of the
Adriatic Littoral. In Trieste a concentration camp was established, the
Risiera di San Sabba, on the outskirts of town in a previous rice husking
plant. The camp had a purpose-built cremation oven which was blown up
by the Germans late April 1945 to hide the evidence of their crimes when it
became clear that the Yugoslavian partisans were about to take over the
area. It has been reported that as many as 25,000 Jews and Yugoslavian
partisans may have been interrogated and tortured here and 3,000–5,000
people are believed to have been killed at the camp (Aktion Reinhard
Camps 2011).
As the Germans were governing the Adriatic Littoral it was subjected to
bombing by the allied forces although Gorizia/Gorica survived relatively
unscathed. Several resistance groups worked in the area during this period,
such as the Yugoslavian Partisans, a communist and antifascist group led by
Marshal Tito. It was suggested by the British foreign minister, Anthony
Eden, at the Yalta conference in February 1945 that the military
responsibility for Gorizia/Gorica and Trieste should fall to the Americans
and British and that Yugoslavian Prime Minister Joseph Tito’s forces were
given the responsibility to the east of these areas. On the 1st of May 1945,
however, the Yugoslav army took over the majority of Trieste, soon followed by New Zealand troops. Trieste was held under Yugoslav control
until the 12th of June, something called the “Forty days of Trieste” in Italian
history (Sluga 2001:83–85). During this period there were many reports of
partisans seeking out former fascists and any kind of nationalist manifestation was banned (Sluga 2001:89). Arrests and deportation of Germans
and Italian fascists were carried out but there were also reports of executions by the Yugoslav army with some sources claiming that 6,000 people
had been arrested in Gorizia/ Gorica and Trieste of which 4,150 were
released, 1,850 were deported and 1,150 went missing. Later studies of these
claims have suggested that the number of missing people was much lower
but it is very difficult to know exactly what happened during the first
chaotic days following the area’s liberation (Sluga 2001:91).
During negotiations in May and June 1945 it was decided that the area
around Trieste would be divided into two sections Zone A, which included
the city of Trieste, which would be run by the Allies, and Zone B, including
the Istrian coast, excluding Pula, would be under Yugoslavian government.
The border between Italy and Yugoslavia that was agreed upon was to be
known as the ‘Morgan Line’, proposed by British General William Duthie
Morgan and this was the international border between Italy and Yugoslavia
from 1945 to 1947 (Bufon and Minghi 2000:122). Establishing the location
of the southern section of the Slovenian/Italian border, especially around
Trieste, was highly complex and this remained an unsettled area for several
decades. The location of the Italian-Yugoslavian border was established at a
high political level by the allies. The idea was that this section of the border
was to be established following ethnic distribution and ethnicity was mainly
decided through language. In many areas, such as around Gorizia/Gorica,
the border was therefore established between Romance (Italian) and Slavic
(Slovenian and Croatian) speaking population (Bufon and Minghi 2000:
120, for a discussion on how this division was portrayed in the media at the
time see Mihelj 2012). At the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947 it was decided
that Trieste would remain a free port, called the Free Territory of Trieste,
which would continue to be run as two zones: Zone A under AngloAmerican military administration and Zone B under Yugoslavian as a
temporary solution (Sluga 2001:141) (Figure 17). After several years of
tension between Italian, Slovene and Croatian groups, a permanent solution
was reached in 1954 where the border was adjusted in some areas. Zone A
that had so far been governed by the allies was assigned to Italy and the
allied troops that had been a part of everyday life in the zone left in 1955. It
was, however, not until 1975 that the border was officially accepted by both
Italy and Yugoslavia through the Treaty of Osimo (Bufon and Minghi
Following the change of borders after World War II large, previously
Italian, areas fell within Yugoslavian territory and around 100,000 people
who considered themselves Italian emigrated to Italy from Istria (Ballinger
2003:89). Many ended up in Trieste and refugee camps were established
here to house people coming over the border.
Figure 17: The Free Territory of Trieste.
Map: Chris Beach.
One city becomes two
After the location of the border had been established a commission was
given the task of physically marking the new borderline on the ground. This
was done by painting a line or through staking out poles (Figure 18–19).
Although some consideration was shown to keep villages and cities together
this did not always work in practice and villages and sometimes even single
farms were cut through by the new border. In the study area many local
stories tell of how landowners would go out during the first few nights after
the border was marked and move the border markers in one direction or
other so that their property would fall within one country. Soon, however,
both Yugoslavian and Italian military arrived to patrol the borders making
further changes impossible. Further border structures, fencing and even
mines in places were soon installed to make crossing more difficult
(Velušček and Medved 2002).
Figure 18: Poles marking the new
border line are erected by a group
of workers in front of Nova Gorica
railway station, 1947. Property of
Musei provinciali di Gorizia, Italy.
Figure 19: The new border line
between Italy and Yugoslavia is
being painted by an American
Soldier near in the village of
Šempeter, 1947. Property of Musei
provinciali di Gorizia, Italy.
When Gorizia/Gorica fell within Italian territory a large section of its
hinterland, now within Yugoslavian territory, was suddenly without a
centre. Apart from Solkan and Šempeter, which were only small villages, the
majority of the land within the now Yugoslavian territory consisted of
farmland (Figure 20). The railway station, the northern of Gorizia/Gorica’s
two stations, was the only infrastructure that had been given to Yugoslavia.
A new Gorizia or Nova Gorica as it was called in Slovenian was to be built.
Youth groups were brought from all over Yugoslavia to help with the
building of this town. Many of the local people also took part in the work.
According to the information and reports presented in the papers about the
project at the time the workers were helping out as volunteers due to their
conviction and belief in the socialist system. Historian Drago Sedmak, who
works at the Goriški Musej Archive, explains however that for many it was
more of an opportunity to work as food and three meals per day were
provided (Drago Sedmak, 2011, pers. comm. 1st August). Pictures from the
time show how the open fields were drained and how streets, streetlights
and buildings etc. developed into what was to become Nova Gorica. In the
period after the new border had been established times were difficult also in
Gorizia as many of its producers of goods or customers no longer could get
here. Over time new networks were developed on both sides of the border
which came to separate the two towns more and more until they operated
almost independently of each other.
Today a walk through the towns of Gorizia and Nova Gorica demonstrate
their very different development. Gorizia with its windy, cobbled roads and
sometimes highly narrow alleys demonstrates the slow, organic development
the town has had. Old maps of the town show how the city started on the
fortified hill above the current town and slowly spread downwards and
outwards. Nova Gorica, on the other hand, shows all the signs of a planned
town with its straight and broad streets crossing each other at straight angles.
Nova Gorica is laid out in a grid with roads running in straight lines from
north to south and from east to west. The exception is Ejavčeva Ulica which
stretches from the San Gabriele crossing and Gorizia into the heart of Nova
Gorica in a southwest–northeast direction. This was the original road heading
out of Gorizia/Gorica eastwards and out to what used to be the town’s former
cemetery. This older road stands in contrast to the rest of Nova Gorica’s
planned and organised layout. The roads in Nova Gorica are not narrow and
windy as in Gorizia but straight and wide. Over the decades since it was
established the town has stretched out in all directions, the different building
phases visible within its fabric: the municipal building, the first to be built,
together with its immediately surroundings by the road Kidričeva Ulica; the
first high rise blocks built in the 1960s to the south of the original cluster; and
the recent suburbs expanding along the edges of the city all represent parts of
the towns short history. I do not get lost in Nova Gorica but in Gorizia I lose
my way all the time, taking a shortcut that leads somewhere completely
different. The different stories of these two towns are apparent in their
composition and their differences are the consequence of the border imposed
on the area in 1947.
Figure 20: Picture of the area soon to become Nova Gorica photographed in 1947. The crossing in
the picture is today the corner between the streets of Erjavčeva ulica and Škabrijelova ulica.
Property of Goriški Muzej, Nova Gorica, Slovenia
A border in constant change
“A soldier is a soldier, fear is fear and life is life”
(Velušček and Medved 2002)
Between 1946 and 1948 security was at its highest with Yugoslavian authorities establishing a 5 km security zone along the border. The border was
patrolled and soldiers had orders to shoot at anyone trying to cross. Mines
and signals were placed by the border in the evenings and were removed in
the mornings. Often both the people trying to cross illegally and the guards
patrolling the border were armed which created a major insecurity on both
parties and a risk of being shot or shooting someone yourself. Often just the
insecurity itself led to shootings. It was not unusual for gunfire to be heard
near the border, particularly at night and in the mornings bodies were
removed by the guards (Velušček and Medved 2002). The borders were
heavily guarded on both sides and even if particular passes and visas were
given to people who lived near the border these crossings were heavily
regulated. People from other parts of Yugoslavia or from further east in
Europe were often denied visas to cross. In 1948 Yugoslavia was expelled
from Cominform, the organisation of communist parties dominated by the
Soviet Union, following a resolution in Bucharest on the 28th June (Benson
2004:94). After the break with the Soviet Union in 1948 there was some
relaxing of the border security, however, during the 1950s the border was
still intensely patrolled and those people within the area who were considered suspicious were often brought in for questioning. This could
include people working in the area who had to be able to identify themselves when asked. Many people used the border to Italy as an escape route
from the Eastern bloc. During the 1960s and onwards the security at the
border was slowly toned down. This coincided with the economic upswing
seen in Yugoslavia during the 1960s which led to more open borders and
increased trade and exchange with Western Europe.
The Osimo Treaty that signed on 10 November 1975 in order to finally
settle the border between Italy and Yugoslavia and deal with several problematic areas where tension had been rising along the border established in
1954. Although the border had been recognised and established at the
Memorandum of London, in which Zone A, previously under allied government, was handed over to Italy there had been many disputes regarding the
validity of the border. Its problematic route through mixed ethnic areas
made it subject to constant challenge from both Italian and Yugoslavian
sides (Ballinger 2003:92). Through the Osimo Treaty Italy and Yugoslavia
agreed to a few adjustments to the border line to solve particular problems
caused by the border. Examples of two of these changes can be seen in the
study area. The first was of more practical nature along the border by Nova
Gorica railway station where the border was moved a few metres eastwards
in order to create more space on the Italian side. This was to make the
streets here more accessible to larger vehicles, such as emergency services.
The second change was seen on the top of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin where
the border was again moved eastwards in one section so that it ran along the
top of the mountain. This was a trade in order for Yugoslavia to be granted
the rights to build a road corridor through a small section of Italian
territory. This road was to be called Strada di Osimo in Italian and Osimska
cesta in Slovenian and was opened in 1985. Apart from a better view to the
east of the mountain, there were no great advantages to Italy gaining the
extra land, however, Mount Sabotino/Sabotin has been of great symbolic
importance to Italy since the First World War when their troops fought
here. The change in border position was therefore not of great strategic
importance here but had more of a symbolic value (Drago Sedmak, 2011,
pers. comm. 1st August).
Even though conditions changed throughout the 20th century and
security was subsequently scaled down this border remained more guarded
and controlled than most of the borders in Western Europe until the 1990s.
The security along these borders therefore changed gradually throughout
the latter part of the 20th century. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the
opening of the former Iron Curtain in many other parts of former Eastern
Europe in 1989 meant that Yugoslavia’s position as “straddling the fault line
between east and west” became even more clear (Benson 2004:155). While
other newly formed states in former Eastern Europe experienced a peaceful
transition to independence, the so called Velvet Revolution, the Yugoslavian
path to independence was reached through conflict and war two years later.
1989 was a defining year which brought major changes to borders between
Eastern and Western Europe and therefore had very little effect on the
border between Italy and Yugoslavia. Although Slovenia gained independence in1991, the border’s character did not change much at this point,
instead the largest changes were seen in 2004 and 2007 when Slovenia
joined the European Union and the Schengen Convention respectively.
On the 14th of February 2004 BBC News reported on the Cold War fence
being removed between Italy and Slovenia which referred to the removal of
fences between Nova Gorica and Gorizia two days earlier. Large crowds on
both sides of the border watched as the mayors of both towns dismantled
what BBC referred to as “One of Europe’s last symbols of Cold War-era
division” (BBC News 2004). The border was removed under major festivities. Gorizia’s mayor stated “Today we are tearing down a real wall, but
our hope is that a mental barrier will also be knocked down” (BBC News
2004). When Slovenia joined Schengen on the 21st of December 2007 the
mayors of the two towns met yet again on the border to celebrate the
abolishment of barriers between the two countries. Although checks had
been carried out on people crossing the border right up until midnight, as
the clocks turned twelve the mayors lifted the barrier at the Casa Rossa/
Rožna Dolina crossing, removing a barrier that had divided the town for 60
years. For the first time since WWII it now became possible to cross this
line without showing any documents (Figure 21).
Figure 21: People at the international border crossing in Rožna Dolina on the night between 20th
and 21st of December 2007 celebrating the end of border controls as Slovenia entered Schengen.
The boy holds up an obituary of the border stating: After being a way of life this border, ours and
yours (Italian and Slovenian) has, seized to exist 1947 – 2007. We say goodbye on Thursday, 12.22.
at 00:00. Left mourning are: smugglers, refugees, border guards. Property of Goriški Muzej, Nova
Gorica, Slovenia.
The material
Remains of the former militarised border
I travel along the border of Italy and Slovenia. I drive along it, at times I
walk along it. I cross it, both by car and on foot. I photograph it, I draw it
and sometimes I sit down and just look at it. Nobody takes any notice of me
and I am never stopped in my work by any representatives of any official
body. Generally I do not see any people around the border at all unless
someone is in the process of crossing it themselves. There is a sense of
quietness and calm resting over the border areas; nothing is really going on
here. They are places of very little interest to people. This is an interesting
contrast to the previous high levels of interest in these borderland areas,
especially when they were created after World War II, and the surveillance
they and any people moving near them were subjected to. In the study area
the border passes through both the valley created by the Isonzo/Soča river
and Mount Sabotino/Sabotin that rises to a height of 609 m above sea level
just north of Solkan, once a village and now a suburb to Nova Gorica. The
border runs through urban areas, in and around the two towns of Gorizia
and Nova Gorica, and rural areas. The border passes through industrial
areas, agricultural areas, woodlands and steep cliffs. The character of the
landscape changes but the white border stones persist along the route.
Although the white border stones have stayed consistent since the border
was established after World War II the character of the border areas has
changed considerably. These areas, at least on the Yugoslavian side, used to
be under high surveillance. In some areas, such as urban areas, fences and
barriers were used to help guard the border. As time went on and
requirements changed, so did the materiality of the border. So are there any
traces of these changing landscapes visible to us today?
In the company of saints and bunkers
The road to the top of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin twists and turns up a steep
incline like a serpent, climbing higher with every bend. Thick woodlands
cover large areas but at times the landscape opens up to reveal some
extensive views before the road becomes enclosed by woodland again. Small
villages surrounded by farmed terraces are dotted along the road. To get
from the town of Nova Gorica to these hill settlements you have to cross
Italian territory. A road corridor was built here in 1985 to aid access before
which people had to go around the other side of the mountain making the
road substantially longer. A section of the Slovenian hinterland was cut off
after World War II by a barrier of Italian territory making it highly remote.
Only after the Treaty of Osimo was signed in 1975 could negotiations of a
road corridor through Italian territory start. Although it took several years
for these negotiations to be finalised, ironing out issues such as how to deal
with accidents or breakdowns within the road corridor, it was finally
opened to traffic in 1985 (Figure 22). Still today this road is completely cut
off from the surrounding landscape by high concrete walls on both sides
making it impossible to divert at any point until inside Slovenian territory.
The purpose of this corridor is to get people from one side to the other with
no distractions. The high walls on the side allows no views into the surrounding landscape but channels sight as well as movement straight ahead
through the corridor to Slovenian territory on the other side. No stopping is
allowed. This whole section of road is, in fact, completely designed to move
people along and only once inside Slovenian territory does the landscape
open up, again allowing for views and free movement.
During the Cold War the section of the mountain closest to the border was
a closed military area both on the Yugoslavian and the Italian side. Soon
after the village of Gonjače a road leads up to the top of the mountain and
large concrete roadblocks that were once part of a barrier system here to
control movement of vehicles in and out of this closed area are now placed
on the side of a car park to make sure nobody drives too close to the steep
mountain edge.
At the end of this road, near the ridge of the mountain, former
Yugoslavian barracks are located 266 m from the border with Italy. No
information about these barracks are available in local archives and as
most of the guards who were stationed here came from other parts of
Yugoslavia not much is known of the place by people living locally. On
the side of the entrance to the barracks I find a gate barrier discarded on
the ground. It is blue, white and red with a faded red star on the square
weight (Figure 23). In its original place there is now an iron gate, stopping
any approaching vehicles.
Just on the other side of the gate there is a small guard hut, now without
direct purpose. The compound is not very large and consists only of two
buildings, 12x16 m and 9x15 m, and a large platform, 80x25 m at the widest
point, out front where several commemorative stones to the First World
War are located. The former Yugoslavian military barracks near the border
are not big enough to have housed a large group of border guards but
facilitated a constant, small scale border control force. Facilities to entertain
the guards can be seen in the basketball court still painted on the forecourt
to the barracks suggesting they spent time here when they were not in
service (Figure 24). The basketball nets have been removed but their
position is still clear in the ground where the metal poles have been cut off
and are now rusting into the tarmac. On the side of the basketball pitch
seats for viewers have been built into the slope behind it. A small museum is
held in one of the buildings with some objects relating to the First World
War history in the area but it was closed during my visits, both in 2008 and
in 2011, and therefore not possible to gain access to.
Osimo road corridor
Country border
Minor road
Major road
SCALE 1 : 100 000
3 Km
Figure 22: Map of Osimo corridor. Map: Chris Beach.
Cartographer: Chris Beach
Figure 23 a and b: Discarded road barrier and close- up of red
star painted on its weight by the former Yugoslavian border
guard station on top of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin. Photos: Anna
McWilliams 2008.
Figure 24: Former Yugoslavian border guard station with basketball court in the foreground and
buildings in the background. First World War memorial stones can be seen at the back by the
flagpoles. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Directly north of the compound, where the ground slopes downwards in a
steep decline large systems of trenches from the First World War are
located. To the south there are several paths leading up towards the top of
the mountain and the border. The border is marked by white border stones
which in part follows the ridge of the mountain following the 1975 Osimo
Treaty when the border was moved here. They are located at a close distance from each other, sometimes as close as 10 m as the direction of the
border, and the ridge of the mountain, constantly changes. Two tracks run
here, one on each side of the boundary, created by Italian and Yugoslavian
border guards patrolling their side of the border, not allowed to cross the
border even by a step (Figure 25). The duality of the paths are still visible
but are soon disappearing as the tracks now have a different purpose,
allowing ramblers to climb the mountain with no restrictions of what side
of the border to walk on. These tracks, created by the actions of people
demonstrate that high fences do not always have to be present in order for a
clear boundary line to exist. It is intriguing to imagine how patrols were
carried out as the guards would have to walk so very close to each other. It
was important to keep the sides at peace and not risk any confrontations of
the border guards whilst working in such proximity. It was therefore, at
least during the latter part of the Cold War period, a well worked out
schedule, agreed by both sides, of when the different patrols were carried
out. That way run-ins could be avoided (Drago Sedmak, 2011, pers. comm.
1st August).
Mount Sabotino/Sabotin shows the layers of different eras like nowhere
else in the study area. On its southern most point, on what is called Saint
Valentine’s Peak, I find the ruins of a 14th century pilgrimage church run
by Franciscan monks. This church was used for worship until 1782 when it
closed down. After this the church was abandoned and left to ruin. Many of
the walls of the complex were, however, still standing at the start of the First
World War but the fierce battles here accelerated its ruination and little
remained of the pilgrimage church after the troops left. In 1999–2000
excavations were carried out on the site and parts of the former church have
been restored to better demonstrate what it used to look like (Andrej
Malnič, 2011, pers. comm. 5th August). The border runs through the church
complex leaving the church buildings in Slovenian territory whilst the
monks’ residential premises are located in Italy.
Mount Sabotino/Sabotin was a strategic point during the First World
War as it was part of the Isonzo front, a natural obstacle reinforced by the
Austrians to stop the Italians from reaching the river directly to its east. The
Isonzo/Soča river has its starting point further up in the Alps and runs at
the bottom of the Mount Sabotino/Sabotin before it heads south through
the Italian countryside and eventually finds its way out into the Adriatic sea
near the town of Monfalcone. During the twelve battles of the Isonzo the
Italian army slowly took the mountain into possession. The armies used
natural cave formations in the mountain but also built extensive trench systems along its ridges, many of these are still visible today. Also the remains
of the pilgrim church was used which can be seen in a cave just underneath
the church which has a reinforced entrance of concrete. Most of the
bunkers located on the mountain date from this period even though a few
of them have been improved for use much later. The Habsburg army’s
defences were often more substantial in their construction, often reinforced
with concrete. This is not surprising as they had more time to construct
their defences in contrast to the Italian army which advanced forward into
enemy territory. The Austrian defences and trenches were, however, often
used by the Italian troops as they had taken over an area. When advancing
the Italian army used many of the trenches and defences that had previously
belonged to their enemy.
Many of these constructions, especially some of the reinforced caves,
bunkers and lookout posts were later used by the Italian and Yugoslavian
border guards as they patrolled the border on the mountain. Messages from
these guards can still be seen in the many of the structures today in the
names and number of days of service remaining that are scratched into the
walls and ceilings of the bunkers or even painted in red paint inside one of
the reinforced caves (Figure 26).
Figure 25 (left): Dual paths on Mount Sabotino/Sabotin. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2008
Figure 26 (right): Graffiti painted and scratched into the sides of a reinforced entrance to a natural
cave underneath the remains of a 14th century pilgrimage church, Mount Sabotino/Sabotin. 2011.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Four bunkers were recorded during the survey on the mountain. One
bunker, located inside Slovenian territory, is square in shape, approximately
2.5 by 3.5 m in size, constructed from red bricks with a cement bonding.
The outside is plastered with white cement whilst the inside is grey. The
ceiling is made out of a coarse pebble mortar. The door to this lookout post
faces north. Two of the bunkers, one located on Slovenian and one on
Italian territory are hexagonal in shape, also constructed out of red bricks
with a grey coarse cement cladding on the outside and painted white on the
inside. All three bunkers have rectangular windows at the top part of the
structure with the remnants of a wooden frame still present. The window
frames have traces of hinges still attached to them suggesting some kind of
window or shutter was once present. These have subsequently been
removed. One bunker is more recent than the others and has had electricity
installed, something not available in the others (Figure 27). This bunker
dates to the Cold War period. It is round in shape and has three windows
facing north, east and south whilst the bunker is entered from a west-facing
door. On the concrete steps the year 1977 has been scratched whilst the
concrete was still supple enough for such treatment. Although this date
cannot be completely trusted as it could have been added later other facts
do point to this being a likely time for its construction. The bunker’s location is of major importance as this section of the mountain belonged to
Yugoslavia until 1975 when it was handed over to Italy as part of the Treaty
of Osimo. This structure was likely to have been built to provide shelter for
the soldiers closer to the border and as a lookout point closer to the new
outline of the border, however, being so visible to the Yugoslavians would
also suggest that it was a way of marking their new territory.
Figure 27: Italian bunker
located on Mount
Sabotino/Sabotin dating to
the cold war period. Photo:
Anna McWilliams 2008.
150 m down the mountain from this newer Italian bunker was the Italian
military headquarters on the mountain. It was not possible to access this site
and therefore it had to be viewed from a distance. Being smaller than the
Yugoslavian headquarters it could only have hosted a small number of
border guards. This complex was much easier to reach from the town than
the Yugoslavian barracks, which until the road corridor was built through
Italian territory had to use the longer road on the eastern side of Mount
Sabotino/Sabotin. Therefore the Italian border guards would have been able
to reach their barracks much faster from the town than the Yugoslavian
guards, making less of a necessity to house any more than a small number
of soldiers here.
Patrolling the city
Evidence of military and border police surveillance is also visible in the
urban areas of the study area. The absence of structures near the border also
demonstrates surveillance infrastructure. This is apparent on the former
Yugoslavian side of the border in the town of Nova Gorica where a strip of
land, directly east of the border to Italy, has been kept open within this
urban area. Some of these strips followed former roads as well as a disused
railway track of the former Transalpine Railway. Keeping an area open
directly by the border by preventing any construction here made illegal
crossing more difficult and helped to facilitate the patrolling of the border.
These long, former patrolling tracks have now been made into cycle paths
stretching almost the entire length of the town (Figure 28).
Figure 28: Cycle path along the
border between Gorizia and
Nova Gorica. Borderline runs
along the brick wall to the left of
the path.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2008.
If you follow these former patrol paths south from Nova Gorica, past
Šempeter you reach a watchtower approximately 10 m high, constructed of
red bricks and cement (Figure 29). It stands 115 m back from the border
surrounded by fields. The landscape around here is very flat. The director of
the Goriški Musej, Andrej Malnič, and two local historians, Ingela Brezigar
and Jacob Marušič, explain that they do not know the date of when the
watchtower was built as this was classified information and they still have
not been able to find any official records about it. It is believed it was built
during the 1950s. The watchtower has now been made into a museum
about the border. A spiral staircase has been added for the safety of visitors
but the original steps, sticking out from the wall, still remain. Pictures of
American soldiers marking out the border line, border guards patrolling the
border or of signs and barbed wire now cover the inside of the walls in the
tower as part of the museum display. The viewing platform has been left
largely as found. Also in this place graffiti has been left by Yugoslavian
soldiers, counting down the days left of their one year service. Watchtowers
can be found along the border although they are not a common feature.
Within the study area there is only this one structure purposely built as a
watchtower remaining. Lookout points housed in already existing buildings
and structures were common, many of which may still be standing but as no
official documents are available and the buildings take on new functions the
knowledge of them is disappearing. Natural heights, such as the surrounding hills were also used as lookout points (Figure 30).
Figure 29a (left) and 29b (right): Watchtower
south of Nova Gorica with graffiti left by soldiers
still visible.
Photos: Anna McWilliams 2008.
Other military functions and facilities were housed in already existing
buildings. On the transalpine square where the border went right across the
square in front of what is now the Nova Gorica train station, the Italian
border police installed a head quarter in what was previously a residential
building. Photos from the late 1940s when the building was used as headquarters show that no major changes were made to this building, at least on
the outside (Figure 31). The building has since been converted back to a
residential building and today it does not show any traces of its military
history within its fabric.
Figure 30: A Yugoslavian border
guard of the partisan of the Border
Units of the Yugoslav national
army, on guard duty on
Kostanjevica hill. Property of
Goriški Muzej, Nova Gorica,
Figure 31: Headquarters of the
Italian Customs Service at the
corner of the streets of Caprin and
Percoto towards at the end of the
1940s. Two guards and a piece of
the barbed wire at the State border
between the Federative People’s
Republic of Yugoslavia and the
Republic of Italy can be seen to the
far right. Property of Musei
provinciali di Gorizia, Italy.
The physical border
When you move around in the borderland terrain it is generally fairly easy
to see where the border is with the boundary itself still clearly marked in the
terrain through white painted, concrete blocks, as in fact along many borders across Europe. Many of these stones show signs of modification as the
name of the country has been changed to adjust to new political conditions
(Figure 32).
Figure 32: Border stone where the
name of the country has been
modified using cement following
the independence of Slovenia.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2008.
Maps dating to the 1950s which have the stones’ number and location on
them show that the stones have not changed position. In some places they are
more frequent, like on Mount Sabotino/Sabotin near Nova Gorica, where the
stones are located about 10 m from each other (Figure 33). This can be
compared to the border near Trieste where the border stones are much less
regular. This is due to the fact that the border stones are located where the
border changes direction. The border stones are markers to demonstrate
where the limit of one country’s territory stops and another starts. In contrast
to the signs often placed along borders, to inform a person that they are about
to step into another states territory or possibly a prohibition of doing so, the
border stones are intended just as a marker. The border stones are the
physical manifestation of land agreements reached in negotiations when new
boundaries are established. They mark these borders in the terrain to make
sure there is no ambiguity of where one country’s territory ends and another
begins. As the border areas in the study area, especially on the Yugoslavian
side, were restricted areas for most people, it was mostly the border guards
that would see the border stones. In some places, such as on ridge of Mount
Sabotino/Sabotin where space was limited on either side of the border, the
stones could guide the guards, making sure they did not step over the border.
In areas that were not restricted they helped people to make sure not to cross
the border by mistake.
Figure 33: Border stones along the ridge of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2008.
When the border was first established it was marked by barbed wire which
was kept until 1955 when the border became more permanent. It was later
replaced by metal mesh fencing between the towns of Gorizia and Nova
Gorica. In some places the border followed already existing walls of houses or
land boundaries. These were occasionally reinforced by metal or barbed
wiring where the border was considered weak, such as near the Rafut/
Pristava crossing where remains of wire fencing on top of an approximately
1.5 m stone wall are still visible. There is also metal fencing topped with, now
decaying with rust, barbed wire along the border between the Rafut/Pristava
and the San Gabrielle/Erjavčeva ulica crossing (Figure 35). The barbed wire
still continued to be used as a border marker in more rural areas.
Figure 34: Barbed wire across the roads San Gabriele/Erjavčeva ulica in the 1950s. Property of
Musei provinciali di Gorizia, Italy.
Even in places where material remains of the border itself do not linger to
inform us about their previous presence we can still be reminded of its
location through the imprint it has made on the landscape. Looking at Google
Earth it is often easy to trace the line of the border even without the actual
borderline superimposed. The cut-off point between two states can in this
way often be seen through the changes it has made in the landscape, for
example through different agricultural use. The agricultural fields around San
Pietro/Šempeter, for example, clearly show the variation between the fields on
the Slovenian and the Italian side where the border cuts through what was
previously larger fields creating smaller and less regular fields around the
border line itself. In other places it is represented by a previous road since
discontinued on the other side of the border. This is the case near the village
of San Pietro the Italian version of Šempeter, located just across the border.
The two parts of what used to be one village was previously connected with a
road that has since become redundant (Figure 36).
Figure 35a (above left) and 35b
(above right): Barbed wire along
the border near the San
Gabriele/Erjavčeva ulica crossing.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2008.
Figure 36 Picture of discontinued
road between Šempeter in Slovenia
and San Pietro in Italy once the
same village. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2011.
As we have seen border stones and signs had different purposes with signs
aimed at informing. As movement along the borders in the study area was
highly controlled it was important to inform people of what areas were
restricted and which areas could be accessed. Also it was important to inform
people on how to behave within the areas they could access. Although more
abundant in the past the presence of signage is still apparent in the landscape
and often demonstrates attempts to keep people out of the border area. These
signs were installed to inform anyone approaching of the distance to or the
exact location of the borderline and were more common in some areas than
in others. Especially in areas where people came closer to the border, for
example where the border ran near towns or villages, there was an increased
need to inform people. From studying photographs from the area at the
Goriški Musej Archives it becomes clear that the signs also changed throughout time. During the early period between 1947–1954 when Anglo-American
forces were present as peace keepers in the area many of the signs within
Zone A were written in English as well as the standard Slovenian and Italian.
Later as the Anglo-American forces were removed from the area there was no
need for English signs. Although the signs were much more frequent in the
past several of them still remain. On the Carso/Karst area near Trieste a sign
with information in both Italian and Slovenian and with an empty space
where a third, English, sign had been removed is still in situ (Figure 37). On
the Italian side there were also many signs scattered across the border
landscape forbidding photography, filming, drawing or the use of binoculars
within the border areas. These signs were written in Italian and had a map to
demonstrate the area that was off limits for photographing, filming, drawing
or using binoculars (Figure 38). At border crossings there were signs informing on the presence of police and customs and how to approach these.
At the border museum located in Nova Gorica railway station several signs
that used to be located on the Yugoslavian and subsequently the Slovenian
side are displayed. The signs on the Yugoslavian side were mostly written in
Slovenian, apart from signs by border crossings. The most common signs
along the border were those warning about the border or indicating the limit
of a military area, such as those located by Nova Gorica Railway station. After
Slovenian independence the Slovenian coat of arms at the top of the sign was
placed on top of the Yugoslavian. The main difference between the signs
available today and those in the past is that today there is no need to discourage people from crossing the border. Instead signs are used to inform
those crossing of the rules and laws within the territory they are about to
enter, such as speed regulations and toll requirements for the motorways. To
the contrary many, unofficial signs, from casinos and shops are now encouraging people to cross. Away from the border crossings there are very few signs
today informing on the border’s presence.
Figure 37: Sign in the Carso/Karst
area near Trieste. The former
English sign in the middle has
been removed.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2008.
Figure 38: Italian sign warning
against photography, filming,
drawing or the use of binoculars.
Property of Musei provinciali di
Gorizia, Italy.
Crossing over
The border crossings were the most commonplace where people came in
contact with the border. No matter if the crossing was an indefinite one or if
it was only crossing for a few hours, any legal crossing had to go through
these points. The layout of the border crossings entitled the guards to investigate documentation and search cars before letting people pass or making
them turn back. Apart from checking papers and passports the border
guards also checked the vehicles to make sure they corresponded with the
paperwork presented through inspecting and registering the chassis number
of the cars (Figure 39).
Figure 39: Car being checked before crossing the border at Casa Rossa/Rožna Dolina. Both
registration number and chassis number is being checked. Property of Goriški Muzej, Nova Gorica,
When the border was established in 1947 two types of crossings were
opened, one for farmers who owned land on both sides of the border and
one for international crossings. In 1955 agreements were reached between
the Italian and Yugoslavian governments which allowed people living in a
10 km radius of the border to cross on a more regular basis using a
particular pass, Lasciapassare/Prepustnica (Bufon 1996:249). This meant a
third type of crossing was created for local traffic. The earliest crossing
points consisted of barriers across existing roads with often just a small
wooden hut or structure for the guards. At the international crossing points
these stations usually had many buildings to house offices, customs and
border guards and often several lanes to route traffic through as demands
on these crossings were higher. At smaller, local crossings, there was often
just one structure with a roofed area extending over the road so that inspections could easily be carried out in any type of weather. Gates and roadblocks were placed in the road.
San Mauro/Šentmaver
Crossing for farmers
Salcano/Solkan 1
Crossing for farmers
Salcano/Solkan 2
Local crossing
San Gabriele/
Erjavčeva ulica
Local crossing
Crossing for farmers, after
1955 also Local crossing
Casa Rossa/Rožna Dolina
International crossing
Until 2007 only
possible to cross on
foot or bicycle
Opened in September
San Pietro/Šeptember
Crossing for farmers, after
1955 also Local crossing
San Andrea/Vrtojba 1
International crossing
San Andrea/Vrtojba 2
Crossing for farmers
Crossing for farmers, after
1955 also Local crossing
Opened in 1985
Figure 40: Table of crossings in the study area.
In the study area there were ten crossing points of these three different types,
two international, five local crossings and three crossings especially for
farmers who owned land on both sides of the border (Figure 40). Until 1985
Casa Rossa/Rožna Dolina was the largest border crossing as it was the main
thoroughfare for international traffic in the area. This meant that it was the
busiest border crossing and at times, particularly in the late 1940s and the 50s
there could be long queues of cars waiting to cross. On the Italian side of the
Rožna Dolina crossing, several restaurants and cafes grew up to cater for the
people waiting to cross (Figure 42). Since the development of the crossing St
Andrea/Vrtojba 1 (Figure 43), which was ready to receive traffic in 1981, created a much more effective link between the major roads of Italy with those in
Slovenia, the interest in the area around the Casa Rossa/Rožna Dolina crossing much declined. After the crossing policies changed with Slovenia’s entry
to the EU and Schengen the traffic that goes through this crossing now pass
without any obstacles. What was once a busy place with many travellers
passing through is now quiet. Many of the businesses have closed down or
moved to more attractive areas.
Figure 41. Border crossing at
Salcano/Solkan 1 in the 1950s.
Picture taken from Italian side
with Mount Sabotin/Sabotino in
the background. Property of
Musei provinciali di Gorizia, Italy.
Figure 42: Casa Rossa/Rožna
Dolina crossing.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2008.
Figure 43: Site visit to San
Andrea/Vrtojba 1 during its
construction in 1981. Property of
Goriški Muzej, Nova Gorica,
Many of the buildings at the crossings remain today but their usage has
mostly changed. Most appear abandoned while a small number have been
converted for domestic or official use. At the former crossing points in the
study area the buildings are still standing but are no longer used. At the
crossings by Casa Rossa/Rožna Dolina and San Andrea/Vrtojba 1 the
border police still have a presence but it is much scaled down and the
majority of the time there is no staff to be seen. During my two fieldwork
visits to the area I passed the border numerous times and was never
stopped. Only on a couple occasions did I actually see any border staff near
the border. At the Casa Rossa/Rožna Dolina crossing the cars are still
directed through lanes but all road blocks and barriers have been removed.
At San Pietro/Šempeter most of the crossing infrastructure has been removed on the Slovenian side and the only traces that remain are marks in
the ground from the roof that previously stretched across the road here. The
building that was previously used for the border guards here now look like
any other building in this domestic neighbourhood. On the Italian side the
previous customs building is abandoned and deteriorating. The roof that
previously covered the road on the Italian side has also been removed. The
smaller buildings that functioned as customs and border police headquarters at the two Solcano/Solkan crossings, Rafut/Pristava and Merna/Miren
are still present but there is no longer any activity here. At Rafut/Pristava
there are still barriers on the Italian side (painted in the Italian colours) to
stop traffic getting through at what is now a pedestrian crossing. At the San
Gabrielle/Erjavčeva ulica crossing there is still a high roof over the Italian
side customs buildings (Figure 44). At this same crossing only one of the
previous three small huts placed in between oncoming and going traffic
remain on the Italian side. Traces of the two other huts can still be seen in
the ground where the tarmac has been patched together. All barriers have
been removed and the signs that instruct people to stop for customs have
been replaced with signs about the speed limits within Italy.
As the border between what is now Slovenia and Italy is more open, crossing the border has become easier and is also encouraged in places. Many
border crossings are now unmanned and vegetation is slowly taking over the
structures and tarmacked areas. Shops and amenities such as petrol stations
and casinos located near border crossings demonstrate how other actors have
moved in to supply a new demand as one actor’s control of the border
decrease and other actors now influence the behaviour by the border.
Figure 44: San
Gabriele/Erjavčeva ulica
crossing. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2008.
Many smaller, portable items related to the border have been put on display
at the border museum in Nova Gorica. The majority of the items are
connected to the border crossings such as uniforms of the border guards,
technology used to check people as they crossed the border such as a ray
control device for luggage used until 2004. Most of these actually date from
after Slovenian independence suggesting that the border is not just
something that is connected with the Yugoslavian period. In fact the border
guard stations with Italy and Austria became an important stage in the war
for Slovenian independence. On the 25th of June 1991 Slovenian guards
raised their own flag along the border and took control of the border
crossings starting what was to become the ten-day war that was to end with
Slovenia’s independence (Benson 2004:161). Many pictures of the new flag
being raised at border crossings, such as San Pietro/Šempeter as well as on
top of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin, at the Goriški Musej Archives demonstrates the importance that is given to this event. Although drastic changes
occurred along the borders further north in 1989 the border here stayed the
same until 2004 when Slovenia joined the EU. The border control was,
however, much scaled down at this point as a photo of a volleyball game
over the border fence taken in 1995 demonstrates (Figure 45).
Figure 45: Volleyball game
played over the border fence at
the Transalpine Square in 1995.
Property of Goriški Muzej, Nova
Gorica, Slovenia.
The border as an advertising point
It was not only in 1991 that the border was used as a stage to broadcast
political messages. Along the border between these two towns people have
used the border to express their views also in the past. You could almost say
that the border became a kind of an advertisement board for ‘the other
side’. Many photos show how during the period directly after World War II
different affiliations were clearly demonstrated. Some people showed their
wish to belong to either Italy or Yugoslavia very publicly. This was done
through erecting signs and placards and through graffiti on buildings. Some
of this graffiti survives today although is now uncommon as houses have
been torn down or refurbished (Figure 46). Ethnologist Jonas Frykman has
recorded similar messages in today’s Croatia (Frykman 2007:91). Pictures
found in the Goriški Musej Archives also demonstrate that political
messages were also written on the roofs of buildings (Figure 47).
Figure 46: Writing displaying
affiliations with Yugoslavia still
visible on building in 2011.
Writing on the front of the
building stating: ‘This is
Yugoslavia’ and writing on the
side of the building saying:
‘Long live Marshall Tito’.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Figure 47: Construction of
buildings in Nova Gorica and
building with writing on roof in
the background stating ‘Tito’s
Party’. Property of Goriški
Muzej, Nova Gorica, Slovenia.
The border also became a place to advertise ideological messages. As a
symbol of socialism a red star depicting the hammer and sickle was placed on
top of Nova Gorica railway station facing Gorizia soon after World War II.
The hammer and sickle was subsequently removed as Yugoslavia turned away
from the Soviet bloc but the red star remained until the late 1980s. When
Yugoslavia’s socialist government was no longer in control the red star went
through another transformation. During the Christmas of 1991 the star was
painted in gold to represent the Star of David, and complemented with a
comet by its side. As Christmas was discouraged by the communist
government this became a way for people to disassociate themselves with
communism and to reclaim Christmas. The star has again been painted red
and is now located in the Nova Gorica border museum having found new life
as a showpiece of the communist era (Inga Brezigar, 2008, pers. comm. 2nd
September) (Figure 48).
Figure 48: Picture of red star
formerly placed on top of Nova
Gorica railway station, now
located in the railway museum.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2008.
When I first looked at Google Earth of the area around Nova Gorica I came
across an intriguing feature on top of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin, directly
inside Slovenian territory. It looked like writing and I thought I could make
out the word Tito although it was not very clear. I found this very curious
and on my first visit to the area I was given the following explanation.
During the socialist period an area on the top of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin
was cleared of vegetation and large white stones were used to spell out the
words ‘Naš Tito’, Our Tito. This was positioned to be seen far into Italian
territory as well as in Yugoslavia. Later Italy projected a large Italian flag on
the mountain, inside their territory but where it could be seen also in
Yugoslavia. After the independence of Slovenia a further battle has been
fought within Slovenian territory where supporters of the old regime have
on several occasions reconstructed the words Naš Tito. At one point some105
body changed the words to Naš Fido, a common name for dogs in Slovenia,
in order to make a joke of the original text and of Tito himself (Anja, 2008,
pers. comm. 3rd September). This type of expression of views or propaganda
was not only directed outwards but also towards the own population. This
can be seen near the village of Branik, approximately 15 km south-east of
Nova Gorica where the name ‘Tito’ is still very clear on the side of a hill
facing east towards Slovenia (Figure 49).
Figure 49: The name ‘Tito’ written on side of hill near the village of Branik, Slovenia. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2008.
Resisting the border
Walking along the border north of Gorizia/Nova Gorica the border takes a
turn through the edge of the village of Solkan. I had already spotted this on
maps and Google Earth before my visit but it was also very clear in the
terrain. Rather than following a straight line across the fields and across the
Insonzo/Soča River the border suddenly heads east causing one of the properties to be separated from the rest of the village. A high concrete wall runs
along the border here and as I walk on the Slovenian side I can barely see
the building behind it. The occasional openings in the wall are closed with
iron rods and on top of the wall an old string of barbed wire is meant to
stop anyone from climbing over. I wonder what has caused this situation
and start asking around. It turns out there is a local story about this place
and the border here, the story about Countess Liduška. She lived on the
estate that this rather grand building belonged to. Towards the end of
World War II American soldiers arrived to the area and built a series of
barracks near her property. The Countess threw many lavish parties at her
estate which many of the soldiers attended. After the war when the new
border was drawn the entire village of Solkan fell within Yugoslavian territory, so also the property of the Countess. She, on the other hand, had
hopes to remain an Italian citizen and used her influences within the
American army to make sure that she did. Consequently the border here
was redirected around her property separating it from the rest of the village
of Solkan (Anja, 2008, pers. comm. 3rd September). Looking at maps of the
area it becomes clear that the border has taken a detour around the property, marked on the map below as Villa Nordis (Figure 50).
There are also other stories of locals in one way or another influencing
the location of the border, with many through going out in the night and
physically moving the poles set out during the day to mark the new border.
Looking at old photographs taken by what is now the Rafut/Pristava
crossing within Gorizia/Nova Gorica we can see the differences in the
location of the border from the first line was drawn to what it looks like
now. Looking at it we can see that a farm has been divided in two which is
obviously something the bull is ignoring standing with his head in
Yugoslavia and his rear end in Italy (Figure 51). Looking at the site today it
is possible to see that the border has actually been moved a distance of
approximately 50 m to the east. How this was done is not known but it
demonstrates that adjustments on the ground were possible as the border
was established.
Figure 50: Map demonstrating the borderline (in red) as it runs
around Villa Nordis, Countess Liduška’s estate. Property of Goriški
Muzej, Nova Gorica, Slovenia.
Figure 51: Farm near the Rafut/Pristava crossing divided by the border, 1947.
Property of Dino Altran, Gorizia, Italy.
Figure 52: American soldiers marking the new border across Merna/Miren
cemetery. Property of Goriški Muzej, Nova Gorica, Slovenia.
Another example of where the new border had almost ridiculous consequences is the village of Merna/Miren, located approximately 2.5 km south of
Gorizia. The village was to fall within the Yugoslavian territory but its
cemetery, which lay right on the edge of the village, was to be divided. After
the new border had been determined a line of barbed wire stretched across
the cemetery (Figure 52). One of the stories told here is about a man who
lived and eventually died on the Italian side of the border. As he was buried in
the cemetery his daughter, who lived over the border in Yugoslavia was
allowed to attend the funeral but only if she stayed on the Yugoslavian side
(Andrej Malnič, Ingela Brezigar and Jacob Marušič pers. comm. 2008). The
border has since been changed here and the whole cemetery now belongs to
Slovenian territory but the angle of the former border line is still clear when
looking at the markings outside the cemetery. After a period the barbed wire
was removed and a system of visiting hours were worked out so that people
from Italy could visit during certain times and people from Slovenia during
others. One time of year, during All Saints’, people could be let in at the same
time and these occasions turned into reunions where family and friends met.
People also took the opportunity to buy and sell goods (Andrej Malnič, Ingela
Brezigar and Jacob Marušič, 2008, pers. comm. 2nd September). Even though
the border zone during these times was much more regulated and controlled
than it is today it was also, at least at times, a meeting point and a place for
people to react against this control. This resulted in there being more activity
in the border area than there is today, not just by the military but also by
other actors that had an interest here. Wherever you have a border, or any
area of control, there will always be people trying to defy that control and
push the boundaries. In the study area the new border in 1947 severed a
previously homogenous society and caused major difficulties to the people
within that society with many trade routes, markets, family ties, and areas cut
off. Many people did not let this development happen without pushing the
boundaries, sometimes literally, and constantly working towards a more
easily manoeuvred border landscape. Sometimes living by a border could be
an advantage. When it became easier for locals to cross the border after 1955
people could cross to buy products that may not be available in their own
country. Also differences in prices might mean it was cheaper to buy on the
other side of the border or to cross it to sell something. For farmers in
Yugoslavia, for example, it was more profitable to cross the border and sell
their produce in Italy where prices were higher (Janez, 2008, pers. comm. 6th
When I meet with Anja at a café in Solkan she tells me about her own
experiences with the border. She was brought up in Nova Gorica and tells
me that when she was young in the 1980s her and her friends would always
go over to Gorizia to go shopping for branded clothes. This was before
outlet shops became common but she tells me of a Benetton store in Gorizia
where a lot of the last seasons clothes were put on sale, brought from other
Benetton stores in Italy, as people often came over from Yugoslavia to buy
them. Shopping is a reoccurring feature when you discuss the border with
people and sometimes it appears that the border was a highly useful feature.
Cheaper shopping and access to products that would normally not be
available is often what people remember. This behaviour is also a type of
resistance and manipulation of the border and the authority of the state.
I sit in my hotel room located about 15 m from the border, by the Transalpine Square. The clock has just turned 10 p.m. when I hear tango music
drifting into my room. I look out the window and down on the square I see
maybe 20 couples dancing to the tango tunes. I walk down to the street and
sit down on the curb to enjoy the music and the view of the skilful dancers.
“What is this? Why are they dancing here?” I ask a girl next to me. “This
border divided people for such a long time”, she explains, “We want to
show that through peace and passion you can overcome any division of
people”. A young man comes up and whisks her away to the border that has
now been transformed into a dance floor. I realise that resisting the border
is not just something of the past, it is still going on.
People and the border
My father was born under Austria, my mother under Italy, me under
Yugoslavia and my daughter under Slovenia. We use the word under,
not in, as it is meant as being under the rule of. This way of saying under
rather than in or from is very typical from this area.
(Andrej Malnič, 2008, pers. comm.2nd September)
These are the words of Andrej Malnič, director of the Goriški Musej who
has grown up in this area. His words demonstrate the mixed background
this area has. Looking at the remains of the border structure here I
understand that the border has played an important role in the lives of the
people in its proximity. I am curious to see what people have to say about it
and I meet with Maria and Antonio in Trieste. When I meet Maria she
brings along her friend Antonio. They are both Italian and in their 40s.
They are both ‘Triestini’ and know the area well as they were brought up
here and they take me to a recreational area near the Slovenian border, on
the Carso/Karst, not too far from the town. Their families have very
different backgrounds and I notice how that has affected how they speak
and think about the border and about Yugoslavia. Maria’s family moved
here before she was born and although she feels a strong connection with
the area she claims not to have the ‘hang ups’ that she suggests Antonio and
many others with a long history connected to the border have. His family
had a large farm in what is now Croatia but after World War II they lost
everything when they left it all behind and moved to Trieste. He remembers
going to visit family in Croatia in the 1960s. “It was about 100 km to get to
the town and we only met three cars. It was so poor in Yugoslavia that they
did not have cars. Also if you drove in the night it was completely black as
there were no streetlights. We brought sugar, spaghetti and coffee with us.
They had nothing” (Maria and Antonio 2008 pers. comm. 5th September).
Maria’s memories about the border are more connected to crossing it in
order to buy cheaper food or for example jewellery that was a bit different
from what you could buy in Italy. She remembers how their car was always
searched when they crossed the border in order to check how much goods
they were taking with them. After Slovenia’s independence however the
situation changed, she says: “when capitalism came into these places it was
no longer cheap for us, and there were no good things to buy. The shops
were empty so we stopped to go [sic]” (Maria and Antonio 2008 pers.
comm. 5th September 2008).
Maria’s story, as well as Anja’s mentioned above, is not unusual and
often told on both sides of the border. This demonstrates that as well as
being a divider the border also presented opportunities. People had different relationships with the border. Often people who were affected by the
border had to work out a way to relate to it. For example when we walk in
the border area of the Carso/Karso, Antonio tells me how people walking
on the Italian side sometimes accidently crossed over into Yugoslavia and
got caught and questioned by the Yugoslavian border police. He starts
laughing and tells me the story of a man who lived near the border here.
One day one of his chickens ran away and crossed the border. The man ran
after him and was arrested by the Yugoslavian police and put in prison for a
while. The fate of the chicken is not explained in the story. Maybe the
Yugoslavian authorities were more tolerant towards animals. Similar stories
are told in other places along the border. Like a fable or story that projects
some kind of moral lesson, it is not the content of the story itself that is
important but rather what the story stands for, a way to relate to the border
and to people on the other side. For Antonio it is also, most likely, a way to
deal with his and his family’s traumatic past in relation to the border.
Others have not felt the same need to relate to the border at all. For
Angela, a woman in her early 30s brought up in Gorizia whom I also got in
contact with through common friends, her interest and focus was always
directed westwards, “…my feeling when I was young was to live at the end
of something. Our region is at the ‘periphery’ of Italy, far away from the
capital. My attention was all focussed towards the west, towards the rest of
Italy, the rest of Western Europe and the ‘western world’” (Angela, 2008,
pers. comm.). At a group interview conducted in Skofije 2008 with three
women and four men in their late 70s and early 80s the early years of the
border came back to life through their memories and stories. Many funny
anecdotes were told and one of the ladies sang a song about American
soldiers. There was a lot of laughter and only the occasional sad story. I
wonder if the events were really this uncomplicated or if time passed had
soften these people’s memories. I ask how they felt when the new border
was installed after World War II. They were not worried or upset but they
told me that compared to the Iron Curtain this was nothing. It was still
possible to cross and there were no high concrete walls. Without reflecting
on it they project the image of the Berlin Wall as being synonymous with
the Iron Curtain. There were no such thing here, hence, they do not consider this to be part of the Iron Curtain.
Antonio thinks the Italian/Yugoslavian border was part of the Iron
Curtain, he says they were poor on the other side, and that they were
communists, but Maria is not so sure. Andrej has a complex way of looking
at the border in relationship to the Iron Curtain. For two days he drives me
around the border areas. He stops and shows me different structures and
sections of the border. He uses the term Iron Curtain a lot. He says things
like “that watchtower was part of the Iron Curtain” or, “that’s where the
Iron Curtain ran”. When our two day tour of the border areas is finished I
ask him if he thinks this border was part of the Iron Curtain and he
immediately answers no. I realise that Andrej in his capacity of museum
director sees the Iron Curtain as something that sells from a heritage point
of view but which also conflicts with his own experiences growing up by the
border. The tourist value that is attached to the Iron Curtain is not farfetched. On the internet there are plenty of travel descriptions of people
claiming to be crossing the former Iron Curtain when they cross the
Italian/Slovenian border.
A group of British cyclists are hanging out in the Transalpine Square
outside the Nova Gorica railway station waiting for a train. They take
pictures of each other jumping over the border and standing with one foot
in Italy and one in Slovenia. I ask them what the significance of the place is.
“It’s pretty awesome that you can now just cross over what was once the
Iron Curtain,” says one of the guys and makes an extra jump over the
border line as if to enforce his point.
Some concluding points
The materiality of the border shows the different layers of its history. It
provides an understanding of times of division but also of cross border
contact and reunion. First and foremost the materiality of the border
shows the interaction of people in a highly controlled environment. It also
shows the struggle for control in the border landscape by the military but
also by other actors connected to the border whether for single crossings
or regular interaction. The remains of the military within the border have
to a large degree disappeared and at a first glance they may appear nonexistent. On closer scrutiny, however, the traces can be seen and different
characters appear. The most apparent information gained from the materiality of the border is about its different functions. For example, some
remains are more defensive in character, such as bunkers or military stations that are built to withstand attack and supply troops. Related to these
are also the remains that point to surveillance activities along the border.
Here we see watchtowers, such as the one near the village of Šempeter or
the long paths along the border in Nova Gorica. Perhaps most obvious is
the surveillance along the ridge of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin where the
double paths run along the border.
One of the places where the material of the control exercised at borders
is most clear and still remains is at the border crossings. Here many of the
buildings, lanes and road barriers still stand, but are now abandoned. With
the air of a ghost town the Casa Rossa/Rožna Dolina crossing complex is
now quickly passed by traffic no longer held up by congestion caused by
rigorous checks. Besides controlling the movement of people these crossings were also part of an important administrative border infrastructure
where pre-EU regulations required control of goods in a stricter fashion.
Trade across border was of importance to both sides and was encouraged to
some degree as it helped keep these border areas economically active. Trade
was, however, regulated and as such the border crossings had an important
function both for controlling people and goods. It was therefore important
that the infrastructure functioned in a way to allow for smooth day to day
running of the border.
Looking at the material remains in the landscape helps us to understand
how this border has changed over time. Through these observations it
becomes clear that although the military character of the border itself was
severely toned down, for example barbed wire was removed in many areas
and replaced by fences in urban areas and mines completely removed, the
surveillance was still high. It was higher on the Yugoslavian side but patrol
paths also found on the Italian side, such as on Mount Sabotino/Sabotin,
show a high presence also from the Italian side. What is interesting here is
that we can see the different layers of history so clearly and that they mix
more than one might have expected. The lengthy use of Mount Sabotino/
Sabotin is demonstrated in the different remains found here but also in the
way that remains are reused again and again. Like the monastery on top of
the mountain which was not only used by the monks but also by fighting
troops during the First World War and again by Yugoslavian soldiers
during the Cold War period and tourists today. Now partly restored it is a
place that has been reactivated again and again over the centuries.
For people who did not have the possibility of crossing the border
legally, other routes had to be found. Due to the border here being more
permeable many people chose this route to get to the west. Due to the less
militarised character of this border during its latter history it did become
a route for people from other parts of Eastern Europe to cross over to the
West. In many countries in the Eastern bloc it was often fairly easy to get a
visa to travel to Yugoslavia, being a socialist country and not seen as part
of the West. The less militarised border here, compared to for example the
inner German border or the border between former Czechoslovakia and
Austria, made it easier to cross. A ski resort near the village of Bovec was,
for example nicknamed the Czech Doors, as many people from Czechoslovakia were given permission to go on holiday to Yugoslavia, drove here
and took the ski lifts up the mountain and simply skied down on the other
side of the mountain to the Italian ski resort of Sella Nevea. By the end of
the ski season many cars remained, abandoned at the car parks on the
Yugoslavian side (Janez, 2008, pers. comm).
Through this case study we also gain a glimpse of the people who helped to
keep the control here through surveillance. The graffiti scratched, drawn or
painted inside watchtowers, lookout points and shelter structures along the
border reminds us of the soldiers’ presence and their wish for their service
to come to an end. From the material we can also learn something about
how these guards spent their time off duty, such as in the basketball court at
the Yugoslavian border guard station on Mount Sabotino/Sabotin. Apart
from a few photos there are few documents about these border guards and
the information available from the materiality they left behind therefore
becomes all the more important to understand something about their lives
here by the border. Other aspects of the surveillance are also dependent on
the material traces left such as watchtowers, patrol paths and bunkers as
information relating to the Yugoslavian soldiers activities in the area have
so far not been possible to access.
Looking at how the new border developed in the landscape after World
War II makes an interesting connection between local history and world
politics. The route of the border was the result of discussions and decisions
on a high political level, worked out as one part of a gigantic puzzle of what
post-war Europe was to look like. The local views were officially of importance but in reality the local people had little influence on the decision of
where the new border was drawn. The resistance shown on the local level
did however have an impact on the physical border and this can be seen in
the landscape still today, for example in the detour the border takes around
what was once Countess Liduška’s property and the previously divided farm
near the former Rafut/Pristava crossing. It is interesting that we can still
today connect this local history with the world events of the time in such a
clear way through the physical remains. This is also something that is done
actively by locals in order to connect themselves with a larger historical
Another way that the material shows interesting links between the local
and world history is the display of political and ideological views that has
taken place along the border, both before and after its exact location was
decided. Although only a few of these survive today pictures from the late
1940s show how people publically demonstrated political and ideological
views. Mount Sabotino/Sabotin might not have been strategically important
at this point in history but had symbolic value that appears to have been
important to both sides. Actions that can be seen as marking the territory
seems to have been particularly frequent here, both in projecting national,
ideological or political statements or through building bunkers as part of a
military statement.
Through this study we can see that the post-World War II border between
former Yugoslavia and Italy had a traumatic start and that its beginning
stages had a lot of similarities to what can be described as more ‘recognised
Iron Curtain-style’ borders further north, such as the inner German border.
Photographs, documents and local stories provide a picture of how the new
border was formed and what it looked like. The barbed wire that was first
rolled out along the border accompanied by strict surveillance on both sides
demonstrates the military character this border had at these early stages. In
some places there were even mines (Velušček and Medved 2002). One of the
important results of this study has been the discussions that it has created of
what we consider the Iron Curtain to be, or to have been in the past. The
material and other sources show us a highly complex border that has changed
over time. It was never the purpose of this study to establish if this was or was
not part of the Iron Curtain but rather it was meant to be a starting point for a
discussion of what an Iron Curtain is, or was.
This study has demonstrated that people have very different idea of what
would constitute an Iron Curtain. A few points are similar in many people’s
views though and they suggest an Iron Curtain is: high fences or concrete
walls; presence of barbed wire; a border impossible to penetrate; a dividing
line between capitalist and communist ideologies. This image is very much
based on the image of the Berlin Wall. How people see an Iron Curtain and if
they see the former Yugoslav-Italian border to be part of one or not is highly
dependent on factors such as their own and their family’s relationship with
the border, or where they are from. Many of the people I have spoken to in
Italy claim that people on the Yugoslavian side where much poorer and much
more controlled by the authorities than themselves, something they think of
as Iron Curtain-like features. For many Italians there is just not much of an
interest in looking eastwards, their focus has for such a long time been
towards the rest of Italy and Western Europe. This feeling is generally not
recognised by people from former Yugoslavia who claim to have, at least in
some ways, benefitted from the proximity of the border. You therefore often
find that people in Italy are much more likely to consider this border to have
been part of the former Iron Curtain than people in today’s Slovenia.
The views of what an Iron Curtain is and if the Italian-Yugoslav border
was part of it also changes with time and with changing political climate. In
what is now Slovenia the use of the term Iron Curtain has in more recent
years been connected to politicians for more right wing parties who by
claiming that Yugoslavia lay inside the Iron Curtain want to connect
socialism and current more left wing parties with a former totalitarian
Yugoslavian government.
The term Iron Curtain is also increasingly used by the local tourist and
heritage industry, especially in Slovenia, for example at the Railway
Museum at Nova Gorica train station, for the advertisement of the watchtower just inside the Slovenian border or proposals of opening a new
Border Museum in one of the abandoned crossing buildings. The border
here is an important part of the history of the area, the importance of which
has only recently been acknowledged and which has led to an increase in
interest to the border history and sites related to it. What is interesting
though is that the use of the term Iron Curtain has started to make its way
into stories, sites and the general history about this border which was not
necessarily seen in the past.
Reference plan and gazetteer of sites
Gazetteer Italy/Slovenia
Figure 53.
Cement blocks
Anti-vehicle blocks located on the road
leading up to Mount Sabotin/Sabotino.
Gate barrier
Barrier located on the ground next to the
former Yugoslavian border guard
barracks. Barrier is painted red, blue and
white with a red star.
Former border
guard station
Two buildings that were formerly used as a
border guard station for the Yugoslavian
guards. Now used to house a small
museum for First World War history in
the area (could not be accessed). In front of
the buildings a basketball court and several
memorial stones commemorating the First
World War.
23, 24
Trench system
A series of trenches created and used
during the First World War.
Bunker/hut 1
Square structure located just inside
Slovenian territory. Constructed of red
bricks with cement bonding and covered
in white plaster.
Dual paths
Two paths running parallel on either
side of the border almost the entire
length of the ridge of the mountain. In
some places the two paths have merged
into one broad path.
White border
As along the entire border there are
white border stones also here. As the
border follows the ridge and changes
directions often the stones are
particularly frequent here.
25, 32,
Bunker/hut 2
Inside Slovenian territory. Octagonal in
shape. Constructed of red bricks with
cement bonding and a grey course cement
cladding. The inside is painted in white.
Bunker/hut 3
Inside Italian territory. Octagonal in shape.
Constructed of red bricks with cement
bonding and a grey course cement
cladding. The inside is painted in white.
Bunker/hut 4
Inside Italian territory. Round in shape
and appears more recent than the other
bunker/hut structures. It is constructed in
concrete with a cladding of stones. The
year 1977 has been written in the concrete
steps leading into the structure.
Italian military
A small station consisting of one, single
story, structure. Could not be accessed.
Memorial stone commemorating the lives
lost in the First World War.
Information plaque
Plaque informing about the nature park on
the mountain top and its flora and fauna.
Ruins of monastery.
Ruins of a 14th century monastery run by
Franciscan monks. Closed down in 1782.
Church structure, now located inside
Slovenian territory, was partially restored
in 1999–2000 whilst residential structures,
inside Italian territory, are more
fragmented and in state of decay.
Natural cave under monastery reinforced with concrete and used during
the First World War and by Yugoslavian
border guards.
Flag pole
Flag pole. This was used to declare
Slovenian independence on the 25th June
“Naš Tito” written in white stones
Changed borderline
Borderline here changed after the Treaty
of Osimo in 1975. It was moved closer
into Yugoslavian territory.
Osimo Road
The road corridor here was part of the
Treaty of Osimo in 1975 to allow quicker
access to Yugoslavian land on the north
side of Mount Sabotino/Sabotin. It was
built in 1985.
San Mauro/Šmaver
border crossing
Crossing for farmers.
Barrier gate and
stone blocks
Road gate across a path leading to the
border from the Slovenian side and old
cement road blocks discarded directly
north of the gate itself.
Former property of
Countess Liduška.
The border was changed in order to
include this property within Italian
territory after pressure from the owner
who wanted to remain in Italy. The
property wall, with iron bars across
openings and barbed wire on top,
therefore became part of the border.
Salcano/Solkan 1
border crossing
Crossing for farmers.
Salcano/Solkan 2
border crossing
Local crossing.
Former American
American barracks used at the end of
World War II. According to several oral
accounts this was also used as a refugee
centre in the years following the new
border position. A photo in the archive
40, 41
may be from here but it was not possible
to verify. This site is now closed off and
the buildings in a poor state of repair.
Transalpine Square,
This square outside the Nova Gorica
Railway station was created after Slovenia
entered Schengen in 2007. The fence that
once divided the square was removed and
several memorials and commemorations
have been added here as a sign of a united
18, 31,
Nova Gorica
Railway station and
Railway museum
The railway station was originally built
here as part of the Transalpine Railway
from Vienna towards the Trieste Coast
which opened in 1906. A museum
dedicated to the background and history
of the border between Nova Gorica and
Gorizia is now located within this
18, 19,
Residential building
previously used as
Italian border police
Originally built for domestic purposes
and has since reverted back to domestic
Transalpine Hotel
Hotel originally built here for those
travelling on the Transalpine Railway
from Vienna towards the Trieste Coast.
Changed border
Changed border line following the 1975
Osimo agreement to make more room for
the road on the Italian side.
ulica border
Local crossing. Until 2007 only possible to
cross on foot or bicycle.
Former patrol path,
Originally a second railway track for the
34, 40,
made into cycle
Transalpine railway since disused and
instead utilized as a patrol path for border
guard. Now the path has been made into a
cycle path.
Barbed wire along
A segment of barbed wire is located here.
Wall enforced with
barbed wire
The border here is marked by a garden
wall which has been reinforced with
barbed wire.
border crossing
Originally crossing for farmers but after
1955 also local crossing.
40, 51
Casa Rossa/Rožna
International crossing.
39, 40,
San Pietro/Šempeter
border crossing
Originally crossing for farmers but after
1955 also local crossing.
19, 40
Former road
A former road between San Pietro and
Šempeter, once the same village, severed
by the border and hence discontinued.
San Andrea/Vrtojba
1 border crossing
International crossing
40, 43
San Andrea/Vrtojba
2 border crossing
Crossing for farmers.
Change in field
The different uses of the fields here create
a pattern which demonstrates the line of
the border even though no other
markings are used.
A former watchtower used by
Yugoslavian border guards. The
construction date of this structure is not
known. It now houses a museum about
the border guards. Contains graffiti made
by border guards.
border crossing
Originally crossing for farmers but after
1955 also local crossing.
Miren cemetery
Cemetery previously divided by the
border. Was divided down the middle
with barbed wire but this changed and
instead access was controlled so people
from Yugoslavia and Italy could only visit
at certain times. Border was later moved
so cemetery is now fully located within
Slovenian territory.
Case Study 2
The Czech/Austrian border
The area with the remaining fortifications felt very lonely – we were the
only visitors apart from a Czech police vehicle which drove up the road
and looked surprised to see us. Although it was bleak, it was also very
compelling – to see the effect on a community of trying to shut the rest
of the world out.
(Emma, Australia)
My first encounter with the Podyji National Park, in the southwestern part
of the Czech Republic, was through the eyes of someone else. I had been
searching the internet and stumbled upon some pictures from the village of
Čižov that caught my attention. A line of single barbed wire fencing
stretched along the top of a hill and a watchtower stood tall next to it. I
contacted Emma who had taken the photos and she explained how this
place and its history had fascinated her since her first visit and how she has
kept coming back ever since. During the Cold War the area of the park was
part of the forbidden zone that stretched along the border between what
was then Czechoslovakia and Austria. I first visited the area on a cold
December day in 2009. Tourist season was over but occasionally I bumped
into a cyclist or a couple of ramblers greeting me with a polite ‘Dobrý den’.
During season the park is a popular recreational area and with many well
marked paths for cycling, walking and horse riding the park draws a lot of
visitors. Maps and information points inform the visitors about the vast
variety of flora and fauna thriving in the park and how best to experience
them. The fact that the area had very limited access during the Cold War
made it into a safe zone for many animals as well as for vegetation. This has
created a unique flora and fauna that the park is aiming to maintain. Few
people that come to the Podyji National Park reflect on the area’s turbulent
20th century history. Apart from the fence and watchtower that are left in
the village of Čižov there is little indication at a first glance that this area
was a closed off military zone. At a closer look, however, there are many
scattered traces in the landscape still today. The major infrastructure and
manpower required to keep this zone closed from intruders and to stop any
attempts of escapes over to Austria have mostly been removed but remains
of it still linger occasionally as a reminder of a less peaceful time.
When I first started my research here I assumed that, like in other areas in
Europe where I had been working before, the secrecy about the military past
would have gone. I had already been to the archives to get the, previously
secret, military maps of the area without any problems. I wanted to ask people
about the area’s past, about how life had been living so close to the border, so
close to the Iron Curtain. But interest was low, almost non-existent in fact. I
got the feeling I was trying to bring alive a memory that had already been
dead and buried for a long time by all involved parties. Occasionally I would
be told small bits of information or stories involving the forbidden zones or
the border guards but as soon as someone started to open up, they just as
quickly shrug their shoulders and said ‘Well that’s all I know really’. But as the
focus of my research centres on the material remains I turned to the park
itself to investigate if the materials had a story to tell.
Methods and aims
As with the study area in Italy and Slovenia the aim of the research of the
Czech and Austrian border was to understand what this border looked like
during the Cold War period as well as what it looks like today. The
information gained during the research was then to be used in a discussion
of this border’s role within the Cold War division of Europe as well as
people’s attitude towards it today.
On two different occasions I spent time at the Podyji National Park, in
December 2009 and in October 2010. Due to the size of the park I had to
limit myself to its northwestern section between the villages of Podmyče,
Vranov nad Dyji and Lukov. My main method of investigation was
walkover surveys in targeted areas in the park itself, and in some surrounding areas, such as the border guard station at Šafov. These areas were
chosen after studies of military maps from the 1950s and 1980s, information through written sources and from people having visited the park as
well as people currently living in the area. The former fence line was
surveyed in its entirety through the park between the villages of Podmyče
and Lukov.
Archival research was carried out both at the Military Archives, Brno, Czech
Republic and at the National Archives, Kew, UK. As with my research in Italy
and Slovenia these studies were not meant to be a full archival and documentary study but rather the documents obtained were a way to help understand
the material. Language was a problem with the archives in the Czech Republic
as I do not speak Czech but this was mitigated to some extent with archival
staff translating and explaining some of the material. These studies, however,
made it possible to understand the type of material produced about the
former militarised borders. I was offered help and information by Czech
historian Prokov Tomek at the Military History Institute in Prague and by
Pavel Vanek, curator at the Military Archives in Brno.
Another source for this study has been the Army Forum Website. Here
former soldiers can discuss and remember their time in the army and as
border guards, they can upload photos and images both recent and from their
time of service and arrange reunions with soldiers that served at the same
time as themselves. This was a useful source as it provided photos taken at the
border guard stations that are not available elsewhere as photography was
officially not allowed in the border zone. Through this website I was able to
get in contact with three former border guards previously stationed at
different border brigades along the Czechoslovakian border.
Apart from interviewing people during my fieldwork in the area I have
also conducted interviews via email correspondence with three former
Czechoslovakian border guards and one Austrian man who had travelled
extensively along the border since the early 1990s. The interviewees in this
study area were almost exclusively male, ranging in age from their 30s to
their 60s, and this is a reflection of the fact that most of the people that were
willing to talk to me were those that had a connection with the former militarised border here. Getting in contact with people here I was mostly relying
on responses from the Army Forum and through my guide whilst visiting
the area, a person who also turned out to himself be a great source of
personal stories and knowledge about the area.
My main methods of recording were primarily photography and taking
notes occasionally supported by drawings where I felt I needed to make
things more clear or put some features in relations to others, for example
over the buildings at the border guards stations. Remains in the landscape
were recorded on maps in order to document their location and get an
understanding of their distribution throughout the area.
Figure 54: Czechoslovakia 1948–1990. The study area is located
by the town of Vranov nad Dyji. Map: Chris Beach.
Figure 55: Bunker near the crossing to Hardegg. Photo: Anna McWilliams.
Figure 56: This map from 1952 shows the different zones. The start of the
outer zone being marked in blue and the start of the second zone marked in
yellow. The actual border is marked in red. Military Archives Brno.
Figure 57: Photo from 1952 of the first
type of fence. Military Archives Brno.
Figure 58: Picture of Jozef as a border guard.
Published with kind permission of Jozef.
Figure 59: Military map from 1980 of the western part of the
study area. Military Archives Brno.
Figure 60: The symbol of the border guard, a dog, on a display
stone outside the entrance to the Hajenká border guard station.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2010.
The castle on the rock
The area in which this study has been carried out lies within the Podyji
National Park, located in the southwestern part of the Czech Republic right
on the Austrian border. The park has a long history of nature management
although the motivations behind it and the type of management have varied
greatly throughout time. The town of Vranov nad Dyji developed around
the castle built on a high rock above the current town as part of a defence
system along the river Dyji. It is first mentioned in written records in the
year 1100 AD. During the medieval period Vranov was located right on the
edge of the Margraviate of Moravia where the river Dyji (in Czech) and
Thaya (in German) marked the border with the Duchy of Austria. The
castle here as well as the castle at Hardegg on the Austrian side of the river
were established as a defence against threat across the border. These areas
therefore have a long history of being borderlands, protecting themselves
against possible threat from the outside. In 1526 the Czechs joined the
Habsburg Monarchy which put Vranov nad Dyji close to the heart of the
empire in Vienna only 70 km away. In 1645, during the Thirty Year War,
the town of Vranov was seized and looted by the Swedish army but despite
several months of trying to invade the castle itself they never succeeded and
had to leave Vranov (Vranov Castle website 2010).
Vranov castle was severely damaged by fire in 1665 and was rebuilt into
a large Baroque chateau. The study area was part of the large Vranov Castle
Estate and became part of the castle’s large Forest Park that developed from
the middle of the 18th century onwards. One of the first features to be built
in the park was a folly located near the village of Čižov which was followed,
in the 1780s, by extensive developments of the landscape building the
Braitava folly, an English park with pavilions as well as temples and grottoes
on Rose Hill, located on the northern side of the Castle. Extensive work was
also invested in forest management and cultivation plans. Further development in the 1790s included a wild boar reserve around the already mentioned Čižov folly, a game reserve and a pheasantry. Over time adjustments
were made to the park and lookout points and monuments were added,
several for and by Helena Mniszek-Lubomirski, Lady of the castle in the
mid-19th century, but the character of the forest park stayed similar until the
early 20th century. After the 1930s, however, the park suffered neglect and
the buildings and monuments within it fell into disrepair (Vranov Castle
website 2010).
World Wars
The area was part of the Habsburg Empire until maps were redrawn
following the First World War when Vranov nad Dyji and Hardegg yet again
became border towns with the river Dyji/Thaya forming the border between
them. Following the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire and the defeat of
Austria-Hungary and Germany, as well as the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia
in 1917 led to great insecurity and the need for new states to be established
(Leff 1997:20). The first Czechoslovakian Republic was established in 1918
following the breakdown of the Habsburg Empire. It was felt that the two
states were unlikely to gain independence on their own and there was a lot of
international pressure on such nation collaboration (Innes 2001:4). The new
state consisted of the more industrialized Czech areas of Bohemia, Silesia and
Moravia as well as the more agrarian Slovakia. The more economically
advanced Czechs took the lead and the first president was the Czech T.G.
Masaryk. The Czechs, who had been governed by the Austrian side of the
Habsburg Empire, had experienced more independence during this period
than Slovakia who, under Hungarian rule, had been much more repressed.
Particularly during the 19th century Hungary forced the Slovak minority to
assimilate into Hungarian culture and language (Innes 2001:2). In the border
areas of Czechoslovakia there was a large German speaking population, the so
called Sudeten Germans. In 1919 a large portion of this population demonstrated and campaigned for gaining independence or self-government but the
demonstrations were violently fought and the areas stayed within the
Czechoslovakian state. Many German speakers continued to live in the
border areas of Czechoslovakia. This was also the case within the study area
(Zimmermann 2008:11–12).
Following the First World War the Republic of Austria was created, greatly
reduced in size from the previous Austrian Empire and the Habsburg Empire
before that. Fascism increased its hold in Austria during the early 1930s
which led to the installation of the authoritarian rule of an Austrofascist
government in 1934 which lasted until Austrian Nazis gained power in 1938
only two days before Hitler established a union with Germany in April 1938
in which Austria was incorporated into the Third Reich.
In Czechoslovakia the increased threat from the Nazis caused the
creation of a new defence line built along the borders towards Germany and
Austria in the years 1935–38. This defence line of made up of a series of
bunkers was modelled on the French Maginot Line. It was especially
Czechoslovakia’s northern border towards Germany, between the towns of
Ostrava and Nachod, where the heaviest defence was built but also the
western border towards Germany and Austria was included in the defence
line (Kaufmann 1999:240). In the study area 17 bunkers were installed at
strategic positions, such as by the crossing over the border river Dyji (Thaya
in German), in order to halt any attacks (Figure 55).
In 1938 the French, Italians and British signed the Sudetenland areas
over to the Germans in the Münich Agreements, forcing Czechoslovakia to
hand these territories over to the Nazis (Shepherd 2000:15). Even though
the majority of the Sudeten Germans were socialist and ready to fight
against the Nazis they were sacrificed in hope that this would avoid another
war. On the 29th of September 1938 the Sudeten German areas were handed
over to become German nationals (Zimmermann 1938:16–18). This deal
also meant the majority of the Czechoslovakian defence line now came to
lie within German-Austrian territory causing the Czechoslovak state to
become completely unprotected against Hitler’s troops.
With the Czechoslovakian state in a vulnerable situation Slovakia’s
demands of autonomy had to be met and on the 6th of October 1938 a
second Czecho-Slovak Republic was declared. This was not to last long,
however, with pressure from Germany mounting, giving Slovakia the ultimatum of declaring itself an independent state, with Germany’s support, or
being taken over by Hungary. On the 14th of March 1939 Slovakia declared
themselves independent from the Czechs and with that became a Nazi
puppet state. It was then easy for the Germans to occupy the Czech lands
and making it the ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’, a part of the Nazi
Reich (Innes 2001:14). During German occupation many of the Jewish
populations were deported to concentration camps. When I visit the town
of Šafov, just on the edge of the study area, the old Jewish graveyard
demonstrates the large Jewish community that once thrived here.
A new political order
After World War II the allies, who wanted to restore the Czechs and
Slovaks as they had been before the war, created a third Czechoslovakia.
Through round-table discussions in Moscow, representatives from the
Soviet Union and Britain discussed the future of the new state. As the Czech
communist party had created strong ties with the Red Army during their
strong presence in the country during 1944–45 they found themselves in a
fortunate position during the negotiations in Moscow and subsequently in
the running of the new Third Czechoslovak Republic (Innes 2001:21).
The fact that the communist groups played an important role in the
resistance movements during the war also seemed to give them a moral
advantage and respect (Shepherd 2000:21). This combined with general
feelings that they had been let down by the West in Munich and the Red
Army’s liberation of the country helped to spread support for communism.
During elections in 1946 the Communist Party won 38 percent of the votes
and became the largest party and with that gained the most important posts
within the government. Edvard Beneš was elected president. Ahead of the
1948 elections, however, the support for the communists appeared to have
fallen and in order not to lose the election the party managed to stage a
coup d’état which resulted in a 90 percent win for the party. Beneš retired
and Klement Gottwald took on the role as president (Lund 1992:17, Leff
1997:49) The Communist Party soon took control of many of the state’s
functions such as the police, security forces and the media. Political opposition was brutally fought with tens of thousands sent to prison or work
camps during the 1950s. Travel outside the country became strictly
controlled and for many impossible (Shepherd 2000:22–24). Following
Stalin’s death and the condemnation of his politics by Khruschchev at the
Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR in 1956 there was
a general thawing of communist policies throughout the Eastern Bloc. This
also happened in Czechoslovakia although at a slightly slower rate than in
other states. 1961 saw the release of thousands of political prisoners and
censorship was somewhat relaxed (Shepherd 2000:24–26). The election of a
Slovak as First Secretary of the Party, Alexander Dubček, in 1968 and the
following line of reform which declared a new political climate of “socialism
with a human face” was presented in April 1968 (Lund 1992:17). The
reforms, referred to as the ‘Prague Spring’, were to include freedom of
media and speech and a move away from planned economy and Stalinism.
But these reforms put strain on the relationship with Soviet and on the 21st
August 1968 Soviet tanks rolled onto the streets of Prague in an invasion
aimed at reeling the power back in. The so called ‘Normalisation’ that was
imposed on Czechoslovakia forced the reformists out of the party and led to
a more totalitarian system (Shepherd 2000:30–31). This normalisation
which was dominant in the 1970s and 1980s meant a return to the policies
that the 1968 reforms were to change. Many of the people at the party’s top
were forced to resign and given other jobs. Dubček, for example, was given
the job as forest worker in Slovakia (Lund 1992:18). A resistance movement,
called the Charta 77 after a document published in Western Media
criticising Czechoslovakian government, started to take form in the 1980s.
The organization was led by, amongst others, Václav Havel. It was their aim
to make public the breaches to human rights within Czechoslovakia and its
members were constantly under threat and persecution from the
Communist Party (Lund 1992:18).
Communism was brought to an end in Czechoslovakia during the so
called Velvet Revolution in November 1989. This peaceful revolution,
started as student demonstrations, led to the collapse of Czechoslovakia’s
Communist Party. This followed the announcement of a new Soviet defence
doctrine by the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO) in May 1987 which
stated that global peace was now considered of higher importance than
ideology (Tůma 2006:2). Without the threat of Soviet intervention demonstrations were carried out in many of the former Eastern Bloc states and
eventually led to the fall of communism in many of these countries.
Following the Velvet Revolution the cracks between Czechs and Slovaks
started to become obvious. While Slovaks campaigned for a looser
federation with more power given to the two republics the Czechs argued
for a central government. These issues intensified during elections in 1992
and eventually led to a peaceful split of the two republics into two states,
Czech Republic and Slovakia, on 1st of January 1993 (Leff 1997:129–142).
Both countries joined the EU in 2004 and Schengen in 2007 opening up the
borders towards Western Europe allowing for free travel and much reduced
controls at border crossings.
With the new Czech government defence policies changed away from a
focus on possible warfare against NATO towards a reorganization which
was aimed at eventually joining NATO. Prior to the Velvet Revolution the
Czechoslovak People’s Army (CSPA) was controlled by and highly loyal to
the Communist Party, with 82 per cent of the professional officers being
Communist Party members (Tůma 2006:6). Following a major survey of
individual officers’ attitudes towards the new government led to the
removal of almost all generals as well as other staff. Another priority of the
new government was also to work towards the withdrawal of the Soviet
forces within the country which were finalized by June 1991 when all Soviet
forces had left (Tůma 2006:14).
Austria faced other difficulties following World War II. Similarly to
Germany the country was divided between the allies: the Soviet Union,
United Kingdom, France and the US. Like Berlin, Vienna was also divided
into zones. The difference with the case of Austria compared to Germany
was, however, that an Austrian government could soon be established even
though it took some time to convince the Western Allies who were worried
it would become a Soviet puppet regime. During elections in 1945 the
conservative party held the majority with the communist party only
receiving 5.42 percent of the votes and during the following years the
government was to orient its policies more towards the West (Jelavich
1987:249–253). The type of tensions that arose between Western and
Eastern zones in Germany therefore never quite happened in Austria.
Receiving great assistance and aid from the West, especially the US, in the
years 1945–1955 helped to position Austria even further on the Western
side of the Cold War divide. In 1955 allied occupation of Austria was ended
and the Austrian parliament adopted a policy of neutrality which placed it
outside any Cold War engagement. The Austrian Army was only to be used
to protect this neutrality and not to engage in other affairs (Jelavich
1987:255–269). Although defence of the state’s border was a large part of
the army’s task, border operations were on a much smaller scale than on the
Czechoslovakian, Hungarian and Yugoslavian sides. In the majority of the
border areas there was no regular military presence but only at times of
uncertainties in the neighbouring countries such as in 1968 or in 1991
during the Slovenian Independence War.
Militarised border in the study area
After World War II the towns and villages closest to the border in
Czechoslovakia became heavily monitored and only people that were considered safe, i.e. not likely to attempt escape across the border or help other
people across, were allowed to live here. These areas were also severely
depopulated after World War II as the large German speaking population
living in these areas was forced out of Czechoslovakia as a vengeance against
atrocities carried out by the Germans during the war. In total nearly three
million people were forced out of areas on the Czechoslovak borders where
their families had lived for generations in the 18 months following the end of
World War II in what can only be described as ethnic cleansing (Shepherd
2000:16–17). The study area became increasingly militarized and difficult to
get through and was soon cut off from its western neighbours. The previously
frequent local interaction across the border was brought to an end. The
border areas were divided into several different zones with heavier security
closer to the border. The outer zones stretching around 3–4 km from the
border were restricted to anyone who did not hold a permit to work or visit
the area or to people living here. The boundaries of these zones were marked
with signs and traffic in and out of here was heavily monitored. For example,
the village Vranov nad Dyji within the study area had restricted access during
the Cold War period. The main road leading into Vranov nad Dyji from the
east was monitored by two watch towers near the village of Onšov and with
the help of binoculars the number plate of every vehicle approaching the
town was scrutinized. If any unknown vehicles were detected here the soldiers
would report this immediately so that they could be investigated on arrival in
Vranov nad Dyji (David, 2010, pers. comm. 12th October).
The second protection zone before the border was around 1–2 km wide
depending on the landscape and nearby villages (Figure 56). In some areas,
such as directly south of the village of Podmyče, the existing road ran only
250 m from the border and the second zone was therefore very narrow here.
These kinds of areas were considered weak parts of the defence system and
as a result security was particularly high in these places. If single houses
were located within this second zone the inhabitants were often moved
whilst the houses were either used by the military or raised to the ground
making it harder for people to hide within this zone.
The actual border was only marked out in the terrain with white border
markers and occasional signs. On the Czechoslovakian side no unauthorized persons were expected to reach as far as the borderline. Two to three
lines of fencing were raised sometimes several hundred metres in from the
actual border in order to stop any people trying to get through. The first
fences that were put up in the early 1950s and from 1952 they were
reinforced with mines, first located on the wire of the fence itself and then
placed on the ground, in areas that were considered more vulnerable. The
first mines on the ground were placed in wooden capsules approximately 6
m apart whilst they soon changed to being placed in concrete capsules
which were more explosive. These were located approximately 9 m apart.
The mines were dangerous for soldiers that had to keep the fences clear of
vegetation and snow and caused many accidents. Consequently, in 1956,
they were taken out of service (Vaňek, 2010, pers. comm. 7th December).
The fences had high voltage electricity running through them. These
fences were of course highly dangerous and injured not only the people
trying to cross but also the border guards who had to keep them clear of
obstacles (Figure 57). By the end of the 1950s fences had to be replaced as
many sections had been damaged by factors such as weather or mines. The
new fence was built in two rows, the first with barbed wire and the second
with high voltage current running through it. In order to produce the high
voltage current required in these fences transformers were installed and
extensive electricity infrastructure had to be developed along the fences. In
1966 the high voltage current was turned off and a signalling fence system
replaced it. There is likely to have been several factors for turning off the
high voltage current. One was that it was very dangerous to the soldiers
maintaining the fences causing many accidents, several with a lethal
outcome. The cost of the electrical fences was also very high, for example
copper had to be sourced and bought from Hungary, and the government
wanted to prioritise other areas of spending (Vaňek, 2010, pers. comm.7th
December). It is also of note that the move away from electrical fence
towards using a signalling one happened during the period of political
thawing when policies were somewhat more relaxed.
Guardians of the border
Keeping the border zones under complete surveillance required large
amounts of manpower. The border was constantly patrolled by border
guards and border guard stations were located along the entire
Czechoslovakian border. These were established in the early 1950s and
although they varied somewhat in size they all had a very similar set-up.
Some border guard stations were housed in already existing buildings whilst
others were built new. In the study area there were three border guard
stations: Hájenka, Čižov and Lukov. The compounds had several functional
purposes. There were kitchen and storage areas, offices, garages and
workshops at the compound. Dogs, mostly German Shepherds and
Rottweilers, were used as part of the safeguarding of the borders and the
dog kennels were usually located slightly away from the other buildings.
There were also sleeping quarters for the soldiers as they stayed at the
station during their service. Officers were given accommodation off the
compound in nearby villages. Border guards were often placed at a station
located far away from their home so that they would not know the local
people. Most of the soldiers from Slovakia served in the army in what is
now the Czech Republic. Service was part of the obligatory two years of
service that had to be served in the army. Service commenced around the
age of 18–20 depending on a person’s studies. There were two dates to join
each year, 1st of April and 1st of October. Special military trains took the
men to their place of service.
Jozef, a man in his early 60s answered my note asking to get in contact
with former border guards on the Army Forum website and subsequently
shared his experiences with me. He was a border guard between 1972 and
1974. He remembers: “A military train left the station in Presov [Slovakia]
on the 1st of October in the evening. The station was full of soldiers to be, all
saying goodbye to their family and friends. The train took off and stopped
in several places along the way letting soldiers on and off. My destination,
Budejovice, was around 700 km away and we arrived here in the afternoon
of the 2nd of October. At the station there were buses and military lorries
waiting for us. A short time later we were behind the barrack gates. Our
civil clothes were sent home, our hair was cut, after which we showered and
were given our military clothes and equipment. We were also trying to get
to know the other new soldiers. We were then divided into groups such as
dog handlers, drivers, and cooks or, such as I was, a telephone and radio
operator. In the evening we put our clothes and things into the lockers and
our first night in green was about to commence…” (Jozef, 2010, pers.
comm. 14th November) (Figure 58).
There were different specialisations of border guard such as gunners, dog
handlers, drivers, radio operators, engineers, surveillance technicians and
cooks. Initial training was given at several training facilities such as in
Jemnice which was the training facility for the border guards in the study
area (Tomas, 2010, pers. comm. 14th October). Here the future border
guards were trained in physical exercise, shooting and gun handling,
military tactics, special border training, political schooling (communist
propaganda) and particular training required for the different specialisation. This training lasted around 3 months (Marek, 2010 pers. comm.4th
November). If you were given more specialised training such as to become a
radio and telecommunication operator the training was usually around 6
months (Jozef 2010, pers. comm. 14th November 2010).
A border guard had approximately 10 days off per year with an extra one
to three days off in order to travel home depending on the distance. The pay
a border guard received was not much more than pocket money but the
guards that served directly on the border were paid a bit extra. This did not
include people at the border guard station, for example cooks that were not
out by the actual border. Work as a border guard could be hard. The guards
schedule followed the following pattern: two days on duty then one day of
training followed by one day off and then it stated all over again. If,
however, the area was under high alert (due to circumstances such as
political disturbances in the country or an important political visit) there
would not be any days off or time for training at all. A working day was 10
hours and 12 during periods of high alert. Work was not, however, limited
to these hours. Marek who worked as a driver with the 12th Company, 5th
Brigade at the Chebská border guard station near the border to GDR
between 1989 and 1991 had to respond immediately if there was an alarm,
day or night. One of the things he remembers most clearly from his time as
a border guard was the lack of sleep during his shifts and he often did not
get to sleep much for the three days he was on duty (Marek, 2010, pers.
comm. 4th November).
The relationship between the soldiers and the officers varied greatly from
place to place but was always based on a superior-subordinate relationship.
To demonstrate the character of one of his officers who was responsible for
political schooling (propaganda) Marek explains how he and the other
soldiers were told that they should be proud to be border guards as that
meant they could kill a man without any risk of being prosecuted (Marek
2010, pers. comm. 6th November). A previous officer at the Šafov border
guard station, Tomas, however, stressed the importance to keep on a
friendly foot with the soldiers as this would enable work to run more
smoothly. Generally the border guards were conscript soldiers whilst the
officers were military professionals (Tůma 2006: 12). There was some possibility of advancing to higher grade also for the soldiers but few border
guards were interested in taking this opportunity. The majority of them just
wanted to get their service out of the way so they could go back to their
regular lives. The border guards could receive awards for good conduct
either in the form of a present (a book, diploma, or a photo taken in front of
battle flag or wrist watch) or as praise in front of the rest of the unit. The
most sought after award was an extra day off but this was very unusual
(Marek 2010, pers. comm. 4th November).
All border guard stations were closed in 1991 although border guarding
had become much more scaled down and relaxed following the velvet
revolution in 1989 (Marek 2010, pers. comm. 4th November). A working
day was now reduced to 8 hours per day and 10 if there was an alert. The
soldiers were trained to remove the fences at training stations, such as at
Jemnice, before they were set to work on removing the actual fences along
the borders. Border police took over some of the former border guard
stations after their closure, for example in Lukov, but their operations were
severely reduced. Most border guard stations were left to decay and the 20
years since their closure have left them in a poor state. The exceptions are
those buildings that have been taken over for other purposes.
The material
A changing landscape
My guide David, an official guide at the Podyji National Park, knows the
area like the back of his hand. He is now in his mid-30s and since the age of
11 he lived just within the second forbidden zone as his stepfather was a
forest ranger managing the woodlands in what is now the Podyji National
Park. He takes me to areas that would normally be closed to the public as
the woodland is particular sensitive here and to places so well hidden I
would never have found them on my own. We talk as we travel around in
the park and I ask him about the former border guards but he tells me that
he knows nothing about them. They lived separate lives and he only saw
them when they came into Vranov nad Dyji to go to a bar on their days off.
He shows me patrol paths, a small soldiers hut in what seems like the
middle of nowhere, 19th century monuments that have been restored after
years of neglect or even vandalism during the Cold War period and border
guard stations where soldiers worked, trained, ate, slept and spent their time
off trying to entertain themselves until their two years of service was
finished. For days we go around the park and although he claims not to
know anything of the soldiers that once controlled this area he shows me
their history through the traces they have left behind. It is only after a few
days he tells me that he as a child with some of his friends visited the
Hájenka border guard station a few times. For a young boy there was
something exciting about soldiers and the border guards were bored and
appreciated the visits from the local children. I ask him what it used to look
like and what the soldiers were doing but he says that he does not
remember. We walk around the border guard station and he stumbles
across materials that are barely visible anymore, such as two cement blocks
decorated with yellow dogs, the symbol of the border guard (Figure 60).
Although the paint has peeled in places, the yellow colour of the dogs is still
vibrant and show little evidence of having spent 20 years slowly
disappearing into nature. The cement blocks, which were part of a larger
display arrangement, are tilted so that the pictures could be better seen.
Between the two cement blocks are several other cement blocks with holes
in the middle to support poles of sorts. It is easy to imagine the two bright
paintings of the dogs flanking a sign displaying either the name of the
station itself or a socialistic slogan to reinforce the importance of the border
guards themselves. Placed opposite the main entrance to the border guard
barracks this message would have been seen every time a soldier left the
building. I suggest to David that he must have known the signs were there
as they were so hidden by grass and the overhanging branches that it was
not possible to see them. But he claims he did not. He merely stumbled
across them now.
The area of what now contains the Podyji National Park has changed
dramatically since the end of the Cold War. The material landscape in the
area today holds information of a long series of changes that have occurred
during the last couple of hundred years. The layout of former Castle Park
with its landscaped gardens and woodlands with paths, monuments and
viewpoints scattered across it still remain, even though its maintenance has
a different goal today, when sustainability and protection of rare species are
of more importance than pure aesthetics. The monument, Felicia’s well, is
one of the monuments that survive from the earlier designed park (Figure
61). It was placed here in what is called Felicia’s Valley by count Stanislav
Mnizek as a memorial for his mother Countess Felicia in 1806. The white
memorial built in neo-classicist style stands out against the green backdrop
of trees. The frieze at the top of the structure shows women dancing with
amphorae in their hands. The monument was restored in 2001 and there
are no traces of the deterioration that took place after the area was closed off
after World War II. When the park administration took over the park,
however, the monument was in a very poor state from the lack of care for
over half a century. The monument had also been used for target practice by
the border guards and almost all of the dancing women at the top had had
their heads damaged this way (David 2010, pers. comm. 13th October). On
this October day when I visit the area the fallen autumn leaves around the
monument and in Felicia’s Valley, forbidden zones and patrolling border
guards certainly feel a long way away.
Fence line
On the hill stretching eastwards from the village of Čižov towards Lukov a
330 m section of the former fence line is still standing in situ. The fence that
remains is made up of wooden poles and barbed wire and is part of the
fence installed in the late 1950s. The second signalling fence that would
have been located beyond it has been removed. It took me quite some time
to find out why this was still here. I had been shown the order to remove all
the traces dated 5th December 1989 by military historian Tomek Prokop
(Prokop, 2009, pers. comm. 4th December). Discussions with this historian
gave little information as he was not aware of it still standing. Only on my
second visit to the study area was I told by one of the staff of the
administration office that one of the park rangers who was working in the
park as it was handed over from the military had thought it should be kept
as a reminder and therefore made sure it stayed.
A watchtower on the top of the hill in Čižov was also kept. Along the
fence line in the study area 15 watch towers were located but this is the only
one that still remains today (Figure 62). The watchtowers were prefabricated and were assembled on site. A series of photos and plans found in
the Military archive in Brno demonstrate how the structures were to be
assembled (Figure 63–64).
Figure 61 (left): The monument, Felicia’s
Well, in Felicia’s Valley near Vranov Castle.
Figure 62 (below): Fence, Watchtower and
anti-vehicle cement blocks at Čižov.
Figure 63–64: Examples of photos and plans
from the instructions used when erecting the
prefabricated watch towers on site. Military
Archives Brno.
Apart from this fence the most obvious mark the fence line has made in the
landscape is its effect on the vegetation. Large quantities of pesticides and
herbicides were used along the fence line as the ground here and the immediate adjoining areas had to be kept clear to aid visibility (David 2010,
pers. comm. 12th October). This has created toxic conditions, not only for
the vegetation but also for the park rangers that now look after the park and
it is only very recently that it has been possible to plant new trees here. The
rangers now take great care to plant and protect trees in these areas in order
to erase these low vegetation corridors. An interesting phenomenon has
occurred as a result of this in one section of the former double fence line in
the park. In sections between the towns of Podmyče and Vranov nad Dyji a
new double fence now follows almost exactly in the same line as the former
militarised fences, only this time the fence is constructed out of wood and
its purpose is to keep animals from eating the new trees, stunting their
growth (Figure 65). A dividing fence has now become a protective one. In
most sections along the former fence line, however, typically demonstrates
an approximately 3–4 m wide corridor of younger trees and lower vegetation compared to the ones growing beyond it.
Figure 65: A protective double fencing around newly planted trees in a corridor of stunted tree
growth along the former fence line caused by pesticides. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2010.
The militarised border and the infrastructure that was required to keep it
going took advantage of the former layout of the park and used some of the
paths and roads that already crossed the landscape. The fence line followed
to a large extent already existing roads such as the old road between Vranov
nad Dyji to Čižov as well as the former road between Čižov and Lukov. That
way the former roads became the patrol paths that followed the fence line.
The length of these paths along the former fence line were tarmacked apart
from two sections: one on the slope directly west of the river Dyje and one
section between Čižov and Lukov. At this latter section 8 cast iron rods,
0.11 m wide, were discovered along the path at the steep slope through the
valley between Čižov. The rods either functioned on their own to provide
grips for safe walking up and down the slope when the ground was wet or
they were part of a larger step construction. One suggestion that there had
been iron steps up and down these hills could not be confirmed and no
other traces were found.
Figure 66: Sawn off electricity or telegraph pole located along the former fence line. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2010.
In some areas the fence line was diverted from the earlier roads in order to
reach a more direct route. Although a large section of the fence line between
Vranov nad Dyji and Čižov follows an older road in one section it takes a
more direct route, rising sharply upwards until it again meets the old
Vranov to Čižov road again at the top. Today there are some stone boulders
placed at the start of this path trying to discourage people from using it.
This direct route up the hill is also not indicated as a path on the park’s
official tourist map. As with most of the former patrol roads along the
former fence line this path has been reinforced by asphalt. On my right side
as I walk up the hill is the by now so familiar corridor of younger trees
stretching out 3–4 m until more mature trees take over. Two faint ridges
run parallel with the path in the middle of this corridor. These were created
as the fences were pulled up and out of the ground, subsequently keeping
their form due to water running down the hill. Directly at the start of this
path at its bottom there is a drain constructed in concrete with a wire frame
over it to guide the water coming down from the hill away from the patrol
path. As I walk up the hill concrete supports for poles or fences and former
electricity or telegraph poles cut off near the ground start to appear. It takes
me a while to spot the sawn off poles as they have started to assimilate into
the background, their colour similar to the trees around it and the moss
slowly growing in the circles middle (Figure 66).
On the opposite slope as the fence line ran westwards from the river Dyji
towards Podmyče I encounter a completely different picture. This is the
second section of the former patrol path along the fence line that does not
appear to have been tarmacked. Here the stunted growth of trees is the only
sign of the former fence line. There are no signs of a path. A single section
of an electricity or telegraph pole is lying on the ground here (Figure 67).
Figure 67: Part of electricity or telegraph pole located along the former fence line. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2010.
At the bottom near the edge of the river there are more traces from the
former fence line. Two large electricity poles reach several metres above me
but are no longer connected to any electricity network. A remnant of a
former electricity supply, now no longer required in the remote woodlands.
A lone wire hangs from the pole’s outstretched arms, cut off and ending on
the ground close to the pole (Figure 68).
Figure 68a and 68b: Electricity pole and connecting wire. Photos: Anna McWilliams 2010.
Close to this electricity pole, right on the edge of the river is the remains of a
former bridge. It looks like a slightly raised river bank and could just seem
to be a natural phenomenon but a closer look reveals that this bank is
constructed by wood. Tall grass covers most of the bank but stretches of
barbed wire twist their way in and out around wooden poles. This is part of
the footing of the former bridge that crossed the river at this point but was
swept away when the river flooded in 2002 (Michael 2011, pers. comm. 15th
January) (Figure 69). This bridge followed the line of fencing that stretched
across the river and allowed the soldiers to easily cross to the other bank.
On the other side of the river there is no constructed bank and the remains
of the former bridge are less clear here but a cement footing which served to
secure the bridge is visible in the ground. A new footbridge has since been
built slightly north of the former bridge. No photographic evidence of the
former bridge has been found.
Figure 69: Traces of cement footing of old bridge on the western bank of the river with new bridge
in the background. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
A shooting range was located in the vicinity of the river and the former
bridge. Today the range consists of a large open L-shaped grassy area. One
section is used by a botany university whilst the rest is a large meadow
with several rare types of lizards. The fence line previously followed the
side of the shooting range and the patrol road, the old road between
Vranov nad Dyji and Čižov, is now used as a tourist trail. In the park there
are several signs with emergency contact information in case of emergencies, clearly marked with the name of the location. One of these signs
has been located at the side of the previous shooting range, its location
named Střelnice meaning ‘Shooting range’ (Figure 70). Although little
survives of the shooting range itself the name still prevails. Next to the
shooting range there is a reinforced ford across the river Dyji, built in
coarse concrete, which was used to get military vehicles across the river
(Figure 71). The closest crossing over the river here, the above mentioned
bridge, was located on the other side of the fences and facilities to cross
the river also in other parts were necessary in case an unauthorized person
managed to get across.
Figure 70: Sign stating the site’s name: ‘Shooting Range’. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Figure 71: Ford reinforced by concrete slabs. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Searching the landscape
My guide has promised to show me a soldier’s hut hidden in the woodland
and we are charging through the terrain, jumping over streams, climbing
over large, fallen tree trunks and balancing to keep ourselves steady on the
sides of the hill. The terrain here can be difficult to manoeuvre around but
eventually we reach our destination. Here, along the Dyji River, into the
woodlands and away from the tourist trails, is a small guard hut at the base
of a slope (Figure 72–74). It is located along an old road between Vranov
nad Dyji and Hardegg that is barely decipherable in the landscape today.
The small hut was used by soldiers but is now in a poor state. It consisted of
only one small room and was kept warm in the winter through the use of a
small wood burner. With the exception of the floor the entire hut is covered
by graffiti. Most of the writings refer to the end of the soldier’s service with
many stating how many days they have left. Some of the numbers also have
a name and a date next to them. The dates range from 1978 to 1990. The
floor of this hut consists of the same tiled floor as at the border guard
stations suggesting they were built at the same time. The door has been
taken off the hinges and left leaning against the back of the building. There
is one window opening but the actual window has been removed from the
site. Outside the hut the ground is littered with concrete slabs and iron rods.
It is not possible to say exactly what these have been used for but they are
likely to have been part of a vehicle obstacle.
Figure 72: Small guard hut
located along the river in the
study area. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2011.
As we can see from these remains it is not just traces of the actual fences
that help us understand how the former militarised border functioned but
also other features that were also important parts of the border
infrastructure put in place to keep any unauthorised persons out. There are
also many of these other types of remains still visible in the landscape today
such as guard huts, steps and training facilities.
Figure 73: Wall inside guard hut demonstrating graffiti left by border guards. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2011.
Figure 74: Part of concrete and iron object outside the guard hut. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Border guard stations
One of the most obvious remains of the former militarised border is the
many border guard stations that were located every few kilometres along
the route of the border. These were sometimes housed in already existing
buildings but most of them were built for this particular purpose. Although
they varied in layout and size they often had similar requirements and
therefore similar features and functions.
Figure 75: Hajenká border guard station. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
In the study area there were three border guard stations divided into
groups, so called rotas (rPS): Hájenka (4. rPS) (Figure 75), Čižov, and Lukov
(both part of the 5.rPS). These border guard stations all belonged to the
Znojmo district, the 4. bPS (Znojemská brigade). The station at Čižov was
housed in an already existing building which had previously been used as a
mattress factory. Hájenka and Lukov were built new. Čižov has been
completely renovated and now houses an information centre and a small
museum for the Podyji Park. Lukov former border guard station has also
been refurbished and has been made into a block of flats but a small
structure within the building complex still houses a small police station.
Hájenka border guard station, however, was taken over as the premises of
the park’s maintenance team. As only parts of these premises are used for
maintenance purposes a large portion of the buildings here have been left
unaltered. It was located only approximately 500 m from the border inside
what is now the Podyji Park. It now belongs to the Park Administration and
is used for storage and maintenance for the park staff. It is still surrounded
by the original fences, the same barbed wire type as the late 1950s fence
lines. One section of the complex, the former training ground, is now used
as a nursery to cultivate trees before they are planted in the park itself. In
the early 20th century a game lodge belonging to the Vranov Castle Park
existed in the same location (Anderle and Schmidt 2002:22). The name of
the border guard station ‘Hájenka’, meaning lodge, also reflects this. The
border guard compound has been redeveloped and rebuilt during its period
of use with the earliest building dating from 1956 (building 4). The
buildings varied depending on how many soldiers it needed to house and
the different functions they were used for. Although slightly outside the
Podyji Park itself I have also looked at Šafov border guard station, 3.rPS,
also part of the Znojemská brigade, as it has not been reused and although it
has fallen into a poor state of repair it still gives an understanding of how
the border guards lived and worked during their service (Figure 76).
Figure 76: Šafov border guard station. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Similar to the Hájenka border guard station a solider entering the Šafov
border guard station was greeted by a message painted on the opposite wall
to the main entrance. On the painting’s left side we see a man dressed in
what appears to be some kind of traditional clothing standing with a
German shepherd dog in a rural, tranquil environment. On the right side of
the painting two men are standing on a road, one soldier and one man in
civil clothing, in the background a watchtower. The text across the top
states “We protect the socialist way of life” (Figure 77–78).
When entering the border guard stations now the sense of ruin and
abandonment creates an eerie feeling. The grass grows high and bushes and
trees are taking over. Nature is reclaiming not only the outside areas but
also inside the buildings where fungus, mushrooms, plants and even bushes
are gaining grounds. Windows are broken, paint is peeling off the walls and
bricks and mortar crumbles under one’s feet when walking along the corridors. Most of the furniture, equipment and personal effects have been
removed, however there are still enough traces for us to get an understanding of the activities that took place here and the people that inhabited
these buildings.
The two border guard stations that were investigated for this study, Šafov
and Hájenka, had a similar U-shaped layout with two main buildings
connected by a corridor (Figure 79). Different types of areas were distinguished from each other, divided into private and official use. Sleeping
quarters, offices, storage areas and kitchens were kept separate from each
other. Furthermore dogs were kept in kennels away from the main buildings.
Figure 77–78: Painting inside the front door at Šafov border guard station.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Figure 79: Hajenká border guard station, entrance to building 1.
Figure 80: Site plan of Hájenka border guard station drawn during
site visit. Plan: Anna McWilliams 2011.
At Hájenka the compound consisted of 5 buildings of varying sizes (Figure
80). The main building, building 1, was built along two main corridors
connected by a central corridor. The eastern section of the southern section
of building 1 was the kitchen area. This section contained the kitchen, with
adjoining storage areas and a canteen. The canteen was connected to the
kitchen through two large hatchets which are now walled up (Figure 81).
Figure 81: Closed up hatches to
the canteen seen from the kitchen
at Hájenka border guard station.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Figure 82: Site of former wood
burner in the kitchen, since
removed at Hájenka border guard
station. Photo: Anna McWilliams
Signs are much more frequent in the kitchen than in the other parts of the
building differentiating between different storage and cooking areas, such as
distinguishing between different sections for raw and cooked meat as well
as signs explaining how to use the equipment. A wood burner, since removed, heated water for a large water tank (Figure 82). It is possible the
wood burner had at some point been used also for cooking but instruction
signs on the walls show that an electric fryer and an electric oven were
available when the kitchen was last used. The walls in the kitchen had been
decorated with labels from among other things canned fruit, beer and
bananas (Figure 83).
Figure 83: Labels from food jars on the kitchen wall at Hájenka border guard station. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2011.
Figure 84: Wall in the ‘propaganda room’ at Hájenka border guard station. The square hole in the wall
for the projector located in the adjacent room has been blocked. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
The western section of this southern building was used for official purposes
as offices, communications rooms and for admin purposes. Some of the
rooms are likely to have been used as archives. Seeing the vast amounts of
papers generated by the border guard at the Military archive in Brno,
storage must have been required for at least some of these reports,
something that is easily forgotten in today’s digital world. Little evidence
survives here to be able to give us an indication of exactly what the different
rooms were used for. Between the official and the kitchen areas a communal
room was located where official meetings were held. A square hole in the
wall and the mountings for a projector in the adjacent room indicates that
films were shown here (Figure 84–85). When I enter this room with my
guide he refers to it as a ‘Propaganda room’ as if it was obvious there would
be one of those. He explains how most official places and institutions had
these types of rooms to show communist propaganda, or ‘political
schooling’ as the official term was (David 2010 pers. comm. 13th October).
Figure 85: Mounts for a projector
in room adjacent to ‘propaganda
room’ at Hájenka border guard
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
The northern section of building 1 was mainly used as sleeping quarters
with at least four of the rooms here used as dormitories (Figure 86). A
picture taken in one of these rooms in 1988–1990 shows a minimum of six
bunk beds in this room (Army Forum Website Image 1) but it is possible
that there were more that could not be seen on the picture. A total of 40
soldiers were housed here at any one time. Only the soldiers lived on the
premises with officers provided with houses for them and their families in
Vranov nad Dyji (Tomas, 2010, pers. comm. 14th October).
Figure 86: Corridor of sleeping
quarters at Hájenka border guard
Anna McWilliams 2011.
Graffiti found in two of the dormitories show how the soldiers were
counting down the days until they were to finish their service. One of these
was written in English, stating ‘I very look forward to civilian’. Written in
another room was the suggestion “burn the officers’ nest”. There is also
graffiti comparing time spent at the station as being in jail. The dates in the
graffiti indicate that the majority of it was written towards the final years of
the compound’s period of use during the late 1980s and 1990s. In one
dormitory some kind of score sheet was kept between people from both the
Hájenka and the Šafov stations (Figure 87). It is not clear what the scores
were referring to but it does show that there was interaction between the
different stations. There were also pictures put up by the soldiers in several
of the rooms, especially on the back of the doors. These were typically
clippings from papers of half-naked or naked women but there were also
numbers counting down the days, action heroes holding guns, as well as
stickers from cigarette and filter packages. Some attempts to clean up and
remove some of these clippings have been made but many still remain
(Figure 88–89).
Figure 87: Graffiti of a score sheet located on the wall in one of the dormitories at Hájenka border
guard station. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Figure 88: The inside of a cupboard door left leaning against a wall in a corridor at Hájenka border
guard station. Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Two larger rooms were located at the western end of this building which
could have been used as communal areas. Pictures on the army forum show
communal areas that were less official that contained comfy seats, pool table
and a TV and it is likely some of the rooms also at Hájenka were used for
leisure (Army Forum Website Image 8). Dominik who were placed at the
Šafov station as chef during two months in November and December 1986
confirms that there were one or two rooms for more unofficial gatherings.
He remembers getting permission to watch Green Ice with Omar Sharif at
the station over Christmas. He explains how he saw the film five times
during the Christmas days (Dominik, 2010, pers. comm. 17th December). At
the other end of this building were a wet room with six showers and six
sinks located (Figure 90). Adjoining to the shower room was a room with
toilets with seven cubicles and 8 urinals (Figure 91). No space provided for
the private or the individual and probably rather cramped at times with 40
men. It is clear in everything from the layout of the building, the way many
soldiers were forced to share a very limited space, to the uniforms and
uniformity of the way the soldiers were expected to act that there was very
little room left for any personal space.
Figure 89: The inside of a door to
one of the dormitories. Photo:
Anna McWilliams 2011.
Figure 90: Shower room at
Hájenka border guard station.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Many of the other buildings within the compound, as well as the basement
of the main station building, were also used for storage as well as garages,
workshops and maintenance. Some of these buildings are used by the park
rangers today for storage and to carry out maintenance. The majority of
building two would have been used as workshops but to the eastern end of
this building another entrance leads into the smaller section of this building
containing one large room and two small rooms (Figure 92). This is likely to
have housed communications rooms for technical surveillance as the views
from this building extend out across the approaching road. It is also close to
the edge of the compound and therefore a suitable place for incoming
cables and technology to be placed. This section of the building has no
adjoining access to the other part of the same building used as workshops.
Figure 91: Toilettes at Hájenka
border guard station. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2011.
Figure 92: Eastern part of building
2 at Hájenka border guard station.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Building three consisted of two large garages now used by the parks
administration staff (Figure 93). Building four could not be entered as it was
locked whilst at building five, only one section could be entered (Figure 94).
Building five is a small structure at the south-west corner of the compound
used as part of the dog kennels (Figure 95). No room inside building one or
two appeared to have been used for dogs. In old pictures, building five, on
the other hand, can be seen with fencing around it (Army Forum Website
Image 2). Old pictures also show that at least two watchtowers were located
just inside the fencing at the western edge of the compound but there are
likely to have been more located at the other side of the compound
providing views to the east (Army Forum Website Image 3).
Figure 93: Building 3 at Hájenka
border guard station. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2011.
Figure 94: Building 4 at Hájenka
border guard station. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2011.
Figure 95: Building 5 at Hájenka
border guard station. Photo: Anna
McWilliams 2011.
The buildings are now in different states of preservation with building 1 in
the best condition. Being maintained by the administration staff has made
this border guard station slightly better kept than the one at Šafov.
The Šafov border guard station has a similar setup to that at Hájenka with
division of areas for private and official use. Here there was, however,
somewhat less of a division between the sleeping quarters and the many
storage areas both housed in the same wing of the main building. An extra
storage section was added to this wing at a later stage. In one of these
storage rooms there are traces left of wire fencing within the room which
suggests that this was an extra secure storage area, possibly for weapons. In
the soldiers’ bathroom at Šafov 31 stickers from tins of shoeshine have been
stuck to the wall together with a handful of stickers from cleaning products
such as toilet cleaner, attesting to the orderly and clean existence expected
by the soldiers (Figure 96).
Figure 96: Two low sinks with stickers from shoe
shine jars and cleaning products stuck to the wall
above at Šafov border guard station.
Photo: Anna McWilliams 2011.
Looking through the photos and drawings posted on the Army Forum one
frequently comes across some sort of ‘graduate drawing’. It appears that
many if not all of the groups of soldiers created one of these drawings when
they finished their service. These types of drawings can be seen as having a
vague similarity with school graduation materials such as yearbooks, signed
T-shirts or school uniforms in which the group identity, friendship and
solidarity are confirmed and often kept as a memento. These drawings are
produced to varying quality, no doubt depending on the artistic skills of the
‘graduating’ soldiers. Usually the drawings include pictures or drawings of
the soldiers, part of a particular two-year group of soldiers, the years the
soldiers were at the site and the name of the border guard station. Almost
all drawings have images symbolizing everyday life at the station, such as
watchtowers, the border guard symbol of a dog, fences and trees. Some of
them even have the castle at Vranov nad Dyji included. From the mid-1980s
until the last drawings in the early 1990s the style is changing and there no
longer seem to be a great importance attached to including all the soldiers’
names and pictures. Instead there is a focus on the artistic, often with a
strong, male character included as well as images from the site, such as
watchtowers or the border guard station itself. It is not uncommon to also
find images of women dressed only in underwear or not wearing anything
at all in the drawings. These motifs mirrors the images displayed in the
dorms at the stations. Other drawings are also posted on the Army Forum
website but it is not as clear if these were drawn as part of the ‘graduation’
or not (Army Forum Website Image 4–7). Through the materiality left
behind by these soldiers, both at the actual site as well as on the Army
Forum, gives some insights to the people who worked and lived here.
Although asking people in the area was not very fruitful as few people were
interested in talking to me but I occasionally met some people who could
give me more information.
We walk along the main thoroughfare of Šafov village and at first it
seems to be deserted. We have been tipped off that there is a former
officer to the Šafov border guard station that still lives here and we have
come to see if we can find him. We see a couple who are raking leaves in
their garden and we decide to ask them. After the usual Dobrý den and
references to the weather they confirm that the man next door to them
used to be an officer. Excited by our progress we walk through the front
gate and around the house to the entrance. The garden is small but the
space is well used and vegetables and flowers take up a large part of its
area and a few geese waddle around in the back of the garden. A woman
answers the door and when she hears of the purpose for our visit she calls
for her husband Tomas to come out. He confirms that he used to be an
officer, right up till the closure of the border guard stations in 1991, and
invites us in and says he’ll try to answer my questions although he does
not seem sure that this information can be of any interest. As his wife
serves us strong coffee from bright yellow mugs he tells us that his house
was built by the soldiers. Although the soldiers were staying at the border
guard station the officers and their families were offered accommodation
in the village. He himself came here with his family in the early 80s and
his wife shows us some pictures from the family album of their first years
in the house. “About half of the vehicles used by the army were Russian
whilst half were Czech”, he explains. “Our car was Russian” he continues
and points to a picture with the family gathered around a car. I cannot tell
much about the car as it is mostly hidden behind people posing on and
around it, children as well as adults, but it is clear from the people that
this was not a car to be ashamed of.
“It was important for me as an officer to keep on a good footing with the
soldiers. Everything worked much more efficient if there was a friendly
atmosphere”. He thinks back and starts laughing a bit to himself “Have you
seen all the pools around here?” I nod as I have seen the many natural pools
in the area and he carries on “sometimes when they were out on their
patrols they stopped to have a swim. They thought we didn’t notice”. It all
sounds more like a holiday camp then the army. Almost as if he can read
my thoughts he flicks in “Of course it was all serious business but I think
compared to other jobs in the army, a border guard had a fairly easy time”.
He emphasises the fun that was had by the boys and maybe these are the
memories he has taken with him.
He explains how the place looked very different then when 50 soldiers
were staying at the Šafov station as well as several guard dogs. Many of the
soldiers were scared of the dogs but of course they were trained to attack.
There were even pigs kept in the yard which were used for food. “Now the
place is falling apart”. There is no nostalgia or regret within this sentence
but merely a statement.
I try to put a few more questions forward but he seems to have lost
interest. Instead he shows me some photos of the time all taken at the
training facilities in Jemnice. “We were not allowed to take any pictures at
the actual border or at the stations. No cameras were allowed.” I am allowed
to photograph some of his pictures however, and he explains them as I go
along. There are pictures of him posing with a small group of soldiers, then
one picture with a larger group of soldiers posing in front of a barbed wire
fence. Some of the soldiers are holding long poles with double hooks at the
end, he explains: “For clearing the fences”. I ask about a picture of a boy in
uniform posing with a dog and the wife answers that this was one of the
soldiers that were originally from Slovakia. They do not know anything else
about him. There are also pictures of the officer and the soldiers being
instructed in how to dismantle the fences (Figure 97). “The beginning of the
end” he says and laughs. This is also the end to our interview and l
understand that although he does not so much mind sharing information
about his time as an officer this is a chapter of his life that is over and there
are many other things he would rather do with his time that dwell on the
past. He accompanies us to the door. As we leave the house one of the geese
is splashing around in a bucket of water. I look around and to my eye there
is little here that would distinguish this house built by soldiers for army
purposes from the other houses in the village.
Figure 97: Learning to dismantle of the fences at the Jemnice training facility. Published with kind
permission of Tomas.
Archive studies
In the record office at Brno I search through file after file of official reports,
maps, photos and best practice guides. I have been told that the files of the
border guards stretch 1 km of archive shelves. I have been given the files of
what is thought to be roughly the area I am interested in as the files have
not been fully sorted. Many people would consider my attempts to
understand this material without speaking the language futile. But just
seeing the vast amounts of paperwork produced in order to keep the
borders secure says something in itself. The constant need for upgrading,
for reporting and to train and support the guardians of the border is almost
beyond comprehension.
A best practice manual from 1978 demonstrates how soldiers were to
respond to an attempt of escape through the border areas (Figure 98). The
manual, of 10 pages, of a mock escape situation has some written instructions but is mainly made up of 34 black and white photos glued into the
folder demonstrating information like: what equipment to be used, such as
weapons, dogs and vehicles; how to trace an escapee, showing soldiers
looking for footprints, recording a hat lost by the escapee and allowing dogs
to follow the trace; recording the information and reporting to headquarters
and eventually the discovery and arrest of the escapee, a scene demonstrated
in the picture by a soldier, with a dog at his feet, pointing his gun at a man
with his hands up in the air.
Figure 98: Page from Best
Practice Manual. Military
Archives Brno.
Some of the material does not need any words. More pictures than I like to
remember have showed the failed attempts of people trying to cross the
border. Although I find none of these pictures from my study area they
appear at times in the archive materials of other parts as I sift through the
documents. Their bodies sprawled across the ground or stuck in a fence,
arms and legs in awkward angles, dead eyes staring into nothing. The
pictures are taken in all directions to make sure not to leave any clues out.
These pictures of dead accompanied by detailed maps and descriptions of
the persons movement across the landscape in order to upgrade and
improve security in the apparently weak points these files were then circulated and eventually ended up in this archive. I have not included any of
these pictures as I do not think they would add anything to the study and
therefore I do not consider it to be ethically correct. Here I think there is a
difference to how we instinctively approach a material that is more recent
rather than if we were to excavate or use pictures of an older skeleton where
one can question if it is at all unethical to publish photographs of the dead.
With prehistoric skeletons it is simply easier to distance oneself (Nordström
2007:20). That we have a complicated relationship with death becomes clear
in archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson’s example of two news stories
published on the same day (24th May 1991): “One is from the Guardian, a
national newspaper, about the discovery of a 1200–1500-year old skeleton
in Southwark in south London, found during archaeological excavations in
advance of development. Alongside a close-up photograph of a trepanned
skull, the article enthuses about the discovery and what may be learned
from it. The other report is from the local North Norfold News about 5001000-year old human bones from a ruined medieval churchyard eroding
out of the sea cliff at Eccles. There appears to have been no archaeological
involvement but some of the bones had been taken by souvenir hunters.
The manager of a nearby holiday camp is quoted to have said that people
who took the bones ‘must be sick’” (Parker Pearson 2003:183–184). This
demonstrates the difficulty we have in our approach to death. The added
complication of portraying death in more recent times is the issue of the
possibility of friends or relatives of the deceased that can recognise and take
offence to the publication of the picture. My approach has, therefore, been
to think if a picture would add something imperative to the discussion and
on this occasion I found that it would not. This does not mean they did not
affect me and the way I looked at my research. The stories of those who did
not make it over the border are as important as any other stories that have
arisen out of this material. Occasionally, however, I came across a report
where a person had actually got through the fine-tuned safety net of the
Iron Curtain. The reports contained long descriptions and maps demon174
strating the route the escapee are likely to have used (Figure 99–100). But
the reports of failed crossings are in the majority. The net was often too
difficult to get through.
Figure 99–100: Map and photo
which were part of a report of a
breach through the border zone
between Čižov and Lukov in 1968.
The person or persons, who scaled
the fence using a window frame,
made it across to Austria. Military
Archives Brno.
Voices from Austria
As the fence line was generally placed several kilometres within Czechoslovakian territory it was often not seen from the Austrian side. The
knowledge of its presence was however widespread. From the Austrian side
there was generally little interest in the communist neighbour hiding
behind secure fencing. As in many other border areas crossing over to buy
cheaper products was done occasionally but it depended on the political
situation and often it was difficult to cross.
Michael was brought up in Vienna, around 50 km from the border to
Czechoslovakia. He is a lawyer by profession but it is in his spare time that
he has developed an interest for the former militarised border. He answers
my advert on the border guard website for information about the former
militarised border as he has always found it interesting. He explains how
visits to Bratislava in 1984 and East Berlin in 1987 gave him an insight to
the “bleak everyday life in the Eastern Bloc” (Michael 2011 pers. comm. 10th
January). He continues to explain the effects this had on him: “This of
course left a particular threatening impression on me, but then also
certainly some form of fascination, when standing only a few hundred
metres away from the fences, the watchtowers and the foot patrols”
(Michael 2011 pers. comm. 10th January). In 2008 when Schengen had been
extended and the borders of many of the former Eastern countries were
open he decided to investigate these areas that had tickled his imagination
for such a long time. During weekends and holidays he started walking
along the paths following the former fence line to investigate what remained
of the border guards. He found small sections of the former fencing at
Čižov, at Navary in South Bohemia, Czech Republic, and along a cycle path
between Breclav and Potok, near the tripoint of Austrian, Slovakia and
Czech Republic. He came across many border guard stations in different
stages of ruin. Some have been reused, one even as a brothel, whilst the
majority of the sites have been left to deteriorate (Michael 2011 pers. comm.
10th January).
At the National Record in Kew Garden, London I find a story told by a
South African woman feeling powerless to help her husband held in
captivity by the government on the other side of the border. From the
Austrian side she is trying to make the diplomats of the West understand
the disastrous results a national border can have. In her letter she writes
about her husband who left Czechoslovakia in 1969 because of the political
situation and settled down in South Africa. Whilst in Austria in 1972 he
went to the border near the town of Mikulov in order to wave to his parents
whom he had not seen since he left three years earlier. The wife is
suggesting that the phones must have been bugged when arrangements
were made with the parents as there were several soldiers at the ready when
he turned up. Although he stayed within Austrian territory he was shot and
dragged by force over the border. She recalls the event:
On the road left of my car I noticed a cap belonging to one of the
frontier police lying on the ground. Immediately afterwards I heard one
single gunshot and then a series of gunshots as if from a machine gun.
By this time I had reached the bridge which spans the small canal which
is the border and I looked over to the left to see two or perhaps three
Czech soldiers dragging my husband, who was at least 15 or 20 meters
inside Austria, towards the border… By the time I reached him the
soldiers had him only a few meters away from the small canal. I grabbed
my husband’s leg (the soldiers had both his arms) and attempted to pull
him back towards safety. My husband had a bullet wound on his left leg
(thigh) but I was terrified to let go [of] this leg and pull the other leg in
case the soldiers jerked him away whilst I was changing legs. The soldier
dragged both of us down the back into the canal where I managed to
wedge my leg into the side of the canal. Another soldier grabbed my hair
from behind and attempted to pull me away from my husband. We
battled in the water for what can only have been a few seconds but
somehow seemed like a lifetime, and then suddenly my husband was
jerked out of my hands up the bank into Czechoslovakia.
(National Archives, London)
It is unclear what happened to the woman and her husband but the incident
demonstrates the brutality of the Iron Curtain and the devastating effects it
could have on the people around it.
Some concluding points
The Podyji Park is an area of great beauty and it is easy to understand that
tourists keep coming back here to enjoy the nature through hikes, bike rides
and horse rides. It is difficult to imagine how different the area would have
been with fences, watch towers, mines and patrolling soldiers. This study
has helped to understand how this area has looked and functioned
throughout its history, from Castle Park, to military zone to national park.
It has been possible to gain an understanding here of the monumental
infrastructure that was the Iron Curtain and an appreciation of the difficulties getting across this landscape as an unauthorized person. Even more
than along the Italy/Slovenia border the need for control here was intense.
Instead of making sure traffic across the border was controlled the aim here
was simply not to have any traffic across at all. Mostly, however, this study
has shown an insight into the lives of the many soldiers who served here.
When you walk around a site, such as the border guard stations, where so
much remains although in a state of ruination it becomes clear that the once
major feature of this place, the soldiers themselves, have all long gone.
Reading ethnologist Susanne Wollinger’s study of a brigade in Sweden
(2000) it becomes very obvious how silent the sites I visit are. Wollinger
explains how the noises of TVs, record players and conversations would
flow through the corridors in the evening, the sound of military boots
against the flooring and the sound of Velcro as someone opens their
uniforms as they enter a building (Wollinger 2000:75 and 62). She also
speaks of the smellscapes of the corridor, particularly on Wednesday
evenings, the usual time for a night on the town, when the smell of deodorant and aftershave hung heavily in the air. The sites I visit are silent and
where smells are involved they are more likely to be connected with the
buildings’ degeneration than their previous occupants. But there are still
traces left of those who once spent two years of their lives here. Those who
patrolled, monitored and guarded the borders but also lived here and
carried out their everyday duties, both official and private. Their lives here
both on and off duty have come to linger through the remains they have left
behind, both at the site itself and through their memorabilia displayed on
their website and these things speak loudly. In the absence of people the
things themselves become more clear.
Although a lot of the buildings have fallen into disrepair and most of the
furniture has been removed walking around in this former guard station
still gave a sense of how life here would have been like. It is obvious from
graffiti in which soldiers were counting down the days that if they had been
given a choice many of them would not have been here. This was part of the
obligatory two year military service that all Czechoslovakian men had to do
in their late teens and early twenties (conscription to the army took place
after they had finished their studies and therefore the age of the soldiers
varied somewhat). After an initial month of training at the Jemnice facility
the soldiers spent the remainder of the time in one place, transfers being
unusual. It is clear from the graffiti but especially the “graduate drawings”
that were produced by the soldiers themselves and the many photos
displayed on the army forum that a real sense of camaraderie developed and
that contacts have been kept also after the soldiers left the camp (Army
Forum Website). Of course, one has to remember that the people displaying
these pictures and keeping up contacts on this website are a very small part
of the all the soldiers that came through these border guard stations. Many
of the former soldiers that are not taking part in these kinds of forums may
not feel the same. There is a great stigma attached to any act that is related
to communism or former communist activities.
The different areas within the study area also display slightly different
pictures of the soldiers. What is interesting is that the guard hut located
along the river fairly far into the woodlands had a much larger amount of
graffiti in it than the structures at the stations. In fact there were few
sections of the walls and the ceiling that did not feature writing by soldiers.
The writing here also had a much wider spread through time with a lot of
much earlier dates. This suggests that the hut in the woodlands were barely
visited by higher ranking staff and therefore were considered more of a
soldiers’ ´free zone´ where they could get away with a less strict behaviour.
It also suggests that writing on the walls was generally not an accepted
practice as there is a relatively small amount of writings on the walls in the
dormitories, which could easily be inspected by higher ranking staff. The
fact that the writing that we do find in the dormitories is of a later date, not
too long before the border guard station was closed down in 1991, suggests
that there was less importance placed on strict behaviour or that defying the
rules had less consequences.
Different sources – different stories
Three pictures emerge of the border guards: the first of soldiers as defenders
and keepers of the socialist ideals, the official line, which becomes clear
from paintings, signs, the “propaganda room”, the orderly soldier that
polishes his shoes; the second image being of border guards as young lads,
the private line. Lads who cannot wait for the end of their two year service,
as seen in the graffiti left behind, who have pictures of naked ladies on the
wall and who, years later, reminisce about their time together on an online
forum. But there is also the more brutal view from other sources, of guards
shooting people trying to escape over the border. I cannot help but feel that
the different images of the border guards clash in my head. On the one
hand you have the brutal stories of border guards dragging people into the
Czechoslovakian side of the border in order to arrest them, as well as
pictures of those they killed and on the other hand you have the images of
young men doing their military service counting down the days until they
can go home, trying to entertain themselves best they can until that day
comes. The different stories that emerge from the different sources do not
match but are all equally valid.
Today the area of the Podyji Park is mostly used for recreational
purposes and to create a ‘utopia’ for animals and vegetation. The landscape
we see today is the result of many different phases of history. Today a lot of
emphasis is put on remembering the days of the area as part of Vranov
Castle Park. The monuments from this part of the history has been restored,
renovated and given a new lease of life. What material that has survived
from the militarized phase of the park’s history has been more by accident
than by choice. In fact in areas where there are more tourists there has been
more of a ‘clean up’ whilst in areas that are less used or where access is
prohibited things have survived better, for example soldiers huts. The park’s
aim is stated on their website: “The target for a protected land, which is
awarded the statute of a national park, is primarily to develop the natural
values towards a near-natural state and the protection of biodiversity”
(Podyji National Park Website). It is clear that the emphasis for the park is
on the nature aspects rather than the history. They are however strongly
linked with the last two centuries history having created the park as it is
today. In fact, had it not been for the militarised borders here nature would
probably not have been left as undisturbed as it was. The only part of the
former militarised landscape that has been left alone on purpose is the fence
and watchtower at Čižov although this appears to have been done not
through an official decision but rather through the initiative of one
employee. Through new usages of the park as a recreational area and a
protected natural zone the everyday actions of new users, tourists, guides,
locals, park rangers, create a new landscape by reusing the old, walking the
old Castle Park paths walked by border guards, peeking into World War II
bunkers, or resting by the former shooting range.
Apart from the material remains that we found in the park itself which
tells us of the practical everyday running of the former militarized border
we have other sources that sometimes tell a rather different story. The
stories may not contradict each other as such but they do show very
different aspects of the Iron Curtain, for example between Austria and
Czechoslovakia. The physical remains tells us the story of the practical,
everyday running of a highly militarized area where the main aim was to
stop anyone trying to get through. The memories of former officers and
soldiers, both in direct communication and through the Army Forum, tell
the story of lads doing their military service, making the best of a time when
they would probably have rather been somewhere else. The archival sources
in turn also has a different story to tell and here it depends somewhat on
what archives one looks at – are we getting the view from the East or the
West? From the vast information from archives in the Czech Republic and
reports produced by the communist regime we see a rather cold representation of people trying to cross and how to avoid this. We have best
practice manuals and a large proportion of escape reports, both successful
and unsuccessful. These reports included description of the events, photos
and maps in order to learn from every escape attempt and tighten up the
security. In archives from the West, such as those examined from the
National Archives in London, another story emerges which often tells of
border incidences and of the often frightening behaviour at the border.
These different stories are difficult to reconcile into one history but they all
help us understand the many faces of one monument.
Reference plan and gazetteer of sites
Gazetteer Czech Republic/Austria
Figure 101.
Šafov border guard
Part of the 3.rPS Znojemská brigade.
Still holds part of its original fencing.
Buildings in varying degree of decay.
Remains of gate
Formerly located across former access
Former road to Felling
This former road to Austria was cut off
by the Iron Curtain after World War II
and could not be crossed.
Hajenka border guard
station, officially
referred to as 4bPS.
Now used by the park administration.
Still fenced off with original border
fencing. Buildings in varying degree of
Electricity transformer
along the former fence
No longer connected to anything.
Storage facility built
into the ground.
Storage facility of unknown origin.
Likely to pre-date WWII.
Felicia’s Well
Built in honour of Countess Felicia in
1806. Used by border guards for target
practice and was much deteriorated
when it was restored in 2001.
Hunting Lodge
Built in the 19th century. Refurbished
in the early 21st century.
Vranov Castle
Castle built in 1100 and since
refurbished and rebuilt during
different periods. Currently functions
as a museum.
Newly fenced in area
Two recent wooden fences have been
raised along the lines of the former
75, 79, 80
fence line, to promote vegetation
Information plaque
Indicating the highest point in the park
Memorial stone
Commemoration of people who have
extradited from the area throughout
Constructed in the 19th century.
Construction in the shape of a ziggurat
constructed as a monument in the 19th
Lookout point
A wooden platform. Views from here
are extensive over the river Dyji/Thaya
Turning point for
Partially tarmacked.
Wooden electricity
A small section of electricity pole lying
on the ground.
Cement electricity
Electricity pole still standing with
cables cut off.
Remains of former
The former bridge was destroyed
during flooding in 2002. Consists of
timbers, and soil with cement
platforms. Barbed wire was entangled
in its base, probably stretching across
and possibly in the water.
Ford across river reinforced with
cement blocks
Former shooting
Site of former shooting range for
border guards.
Large stone boulders
blocking former patrol
Visitors encouraged through blocked
entrances to take alternative routes.
Not marked on tourist maps.
Large drain
Cement drainage with metal mesh lid
located at the bottom of a steep slope.
Memorial stone
Memorial to Vladimir Urbášek born
1967 and died 1990. No further
information about this memorial could
be gained.
Cut off wooden poles
A line of electricity poles cut off
between 0–20 cm above ground.
Indents in the ground
Two linear features most probably
caused by the former fence and
maintained after its removal by water
running down the slope.
Cement poles
Remains of additional, smaller, fence
located on the north side of the patrol
path. This was a lower fence, judging
from the approximately 1.20m high
cement poles. It is likely it was used to
stop stones falling onto the patrol path
and fence line from the northern slope.
Border guard hut
A small border guard hut near an old
ford across the river. The structure is
in poor state of repair. Inside, the walls
and ceiling are covered with graffiti.
Building formerly
used as Čižov border
guard station
The building functioned as a factory
before WWII. It now houses an
information centre run by the Park
Administration and a small museum
(nature theme).
Road to Hardegg
Road leads to border crossing by
Hardegg (now a pedestrian crossing)
Information board
Added here between my visits in 2009
and 2010 with information about the
area including some information about
the fence and watch tower.
Concrete blocks
Anti-vehicle cement blocks. Their
exact original position is not known
but is likely to have been placed to stop
vehicles along the road to Hardegg.
Remains of fence
One row of former fence line has been
kept here which consists of wooden
poles and barbed wire. One gate is
located within this fence.
Watch tower
The only watch tower to remain in the
Iron rods
A series of cast iron rods (11cm wide)
are located at the very steep slope
through the valley. This suggests there
was never a tarmacked road here and
that these rods were required for safe
stepping when the ground was wet.
Clearing in woodland
Clearing in woodland at the site of a
former watch tower.
Lukov border guard
Was made into a police station after
the fall of the Iron Curtain and is now
a domestic building.
Memorial stone
A commemoration of people
extradited from Vranov
Memorial stone
A commemoration of people
extradited from Šafov
Former location of
watch towers
Former location of watch towers on
route into Vranov.
An archaeology of the
Iron Curtain
Artefacts, text and everything else in between
To utilize a familiar archaeological metaphor, I suggest that we think
about the present as a surface – a physical stratum that contains not only
the present, but all its physical and imagined pasts combined.
(Harrison 2011:153)
Historical narratives, myth, metaphor and materials; they are all parts of an
iron curtain. All intertwined and sometimes separate. My research of the
former Iron Curtain was firmly embedded within the historical accounts of
the Cold War as I have been brought up with it. Ideas that started forming
there on the shore of the Baltic in the 1980s and that have been influenced
by the books I have read, the news reports I have heard and the films that I
have seen. But what stood out most in the places I visited was not the way
the places helped me get a better understanding of the Cold War, how they
helped to confirm or contest historical events or the way they connected
world history with the local (although they of course had this effect as well).
What became most obvious was how the sources from these places had so
much to say and how my interaction with these sources created stories far
beyond what I had expected. I had planned to let the different sources mix,
to take them all into account and to create something from this mixed
material, an account of the Iron Curtain. I had expected the sources to say
different things, at times to tell the same story and at times to tell different
ones and to give different perspectives. What I had not accounted for was
the way the different sources were capable of saying so much on their own. I
have realised that by really appreciating a source for what it is, not only for
how it fits in with other sources, new insights can be made. This was
especially true for the physical materials I encountered. I wrote in the
introduction chapter that to an archaeologist it should not come as a surprise how important the materials are for how we view history but it still
did. Considering that materials are the main source of information for an
archaeologist and that it has always been at the heart of this study that may
sound ludicrous. But still here I am at the end of the study surprised at the
materials’ ability to act and interact.
When dealing with a history close to our own there are often more sources
available for information than when we are dealing with earlier archaeological
periods. Archaeologist Anders Andrén discuss what he calls the dilemma of
the in-betweeness, created by the specialisation within modern science and
means that archaeology of historical periods can find itself in an ambivalent
space between material culture and text. He suggests that we have to acknowledge that they are part of two different discourses and although we should
attempt to decrease the distance between them we will not solve the problem
by seeing objects and texts as the same thing (Andrén 1998:14). Instead we
need to approach the material across the disciplines through methodological
discussions. Often discussions regarding different sources concentrate on
contradictions between them and if one story is more correct than another. In
other cases it is the many stories or angles of an event, a period or a place that
are in focus and the sources certainly do tell different stories. Within my
research, for example, this could be discussed through: the archives from East
and West showing official documents from governments with different
ideological views; the oral accounts of people who have had very different
experiences of the border, as well as the material which often has been altered
after its use as a militarised border. When dealing with material from the 20th
and 21st century it is, however, not enough to discuss the sources from just the
discourses around materiality and text. In my research I have had to deal with
both objects and texts but also other sources such as film, news reports, oral
accounts, song lyrics and art. All these sources are important in the understanding of the materials that we encounter today and need to be recognized.
It is also clear from my fieldwork that it is very difficult to define these
different sources in order to fit them into a source category. Is writing on a
wall a text or material? How do we classify a memory awakened by an object
or a photo accompanied by an oral account? Although they may be ontologically different in their makeup they are still all sources that face us as we
approach our material. At times they require different methods but at times
they appear surprisingly similar. If anything they demonstrate the different
traditions of method and theory that the division between different
disciplines has produced and although we often speak in terms of materials
versus text it often really comes down to archaeological tradition versus
historical tradition. Although I have had my starting point in the material I
have tried to take a holistic approach where I acknowledge all material that
has come my way despite its ontological background. Although it has not
been possible to follow all these leads further, and one is forced to make a
selection, this has not been done as a result of seeing one source as less
valuable than others. The relationship between the different sources is
therefore complex. It is not my aim to go into detail on the relationship
between text and material here (although see Andrén 1998) more than to
highlight the discourses surrounding these two. Instead I want to focus on the
discussion of an alternative to history. Although alternative histories may
have been sought within archaeology there has not been much attention paid
to reaching something other than, or alternative to, history as noted by
archaeologist Þora Pétursdóttir (2012:587), Nandy 1995). “We seek other
histories and alternative histories – but we rarely seek beyond it. And while
we are concerned with what things remember it is mostly because we believe
they give us an alternative perspective on history (which they surely do), but
not that their memory may also differ from history”(Pétursdóttir 2012:587,
emphasis in original).
In the 1980s and 1990s we saw what is referred to as the ‘linguistic turn’,
a part of the post-processual theoretical strand in which the world was to be
seen as a text to be interpreted, the material to be used to reach the people
behind it (for example: Hodder 1982, Miller and Tilley 1984, for more
background see: Johnson 1999, Trigger 2007). It is the social, cultural and
symbolic meanings behind the objects themselves which have been
considered of most importance. Recently several researchers have claimed
that a new ‘material turn’ is on its way (for example: Burström 2011, Olsen
2012:20, Pétursdóttir 2012:577, Pétursdóttir 2013:32). Within this new
‘turn’ of archaeology materials are to be seen for what they are and not
“[load] them with interpretative burdens they mostly are unfit to carry”
(Olsen 2012:22). Archaeologist Bjørnar Olsen writes in his critique of the
linguistic paradigm: “[a] boat is never a boat; a reindeer is never a reindeer;
a river is always a “cosmic” river” (Olsen 2012:22). “It is possible that our
recent persistent efforts to make our silent objects speak – in order to make
them meaningful – have made us forget that they actually don’t”
(Pétursdóttir 2013:47). Both Pétursdóttir (2013) and Olsen (2012) discuss
the term ‘speaking’ in relation to materials, something also brought up also
by archaeologist Mats Burström’s question: “[W]hat language(s) do things
themselves speak?” (Burström 2012:43). Olsen proposes that if objects were
actually to speak they would say things like “…“walk here”, “sit there”,
“drive like this”, “use that entrance”….” (Olsen 2012:102). He suggests that
although this may appear banal this reflects our everyday interaction with
materials and as such they are important since they involve our senses, as
we touch, smell, taste things and through this everyday encounter with the
materials we “create affinity with the world; they evoke the symmetry
crucial for our common being in it” (Olsen 2012:102–103, emphasis in
original). As Burström points out the material turn that can be discerned
within archaeology, as well as social sciences as a whole, is not a return to an
empirical archaeology but rather a “theoretically well-founded research” in
which lessons from the post-processual period are recognised (Burström
2011:54). This is a vital observation as we need to appreciate that a turn to
more empirical perspective does not mean we should not try and reach
further than using materials to date, to explain providence and usage etc.
but we also have to appreciate the materials for what they are and that this is
also important. What is important to me is just this: things do not have to
have a symbolic meaning or cultural value to be important. Instead, they
can be important for what they are and the role they play.
Archaeologist Laurajane Smith has discussed materiality from a heritage
point of view and suggests that there is no such thing as heritage but that it is
just a discourse (Smith 2006:13). This is a trend that is highly noticeable
within the heritage literature (see, for example, Chouliaraki and Fairclough
1999, Fairclough 2003, Fairclough et al. 2008, Harrison et al. 2010, Benton
2010). Intangible values have been recognised and raised most prominently
by UNESCO’s adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the
Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2003 where intangible cultural heritage is
described as for example “oral traditions, performing arts, social practices,
rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the
universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts” (UNESCO
website). This focus on the intangible heritage is a reaction against a long
prevailing thought in western heritage management, especially within its legal
and policy framework, of an intrinsic value of an object, place or practice
(Harrison and Schofield 2010:25). As part of a discourse of tangible heritage
Smith argues that instead of such a heavy emphasis on tangible heritage we
need to focus on the intangible, that it is in our practices that heritage really
lies, not in the objects themselves, hence suggesting that there is no such thing
as heritage (Smith 2006:13). Smith suggests, therefore, that there is nothing
inherent in the material itself that is valuable and uses the provocative
example of Stonehenge to make her point that it “is basically a collection of
rocks in a field” (Smith 2006:3). Criticism of this statement from archaeologist Brit Solli on the other hand counterclaims that “Stonehenge’s essence
is its durable ‘stoniness’” and that there is something inherent in its
materiality and permanence (Solli 2011:45). What is missed in this discussion,
as shown by Pétursdóttir, is to recognise the hierarchy that is implied within
these discussions of tangible or intangible, with one seen as better than the
other. Pétursdóttir agrees with Smith that Stonehenge is exactly that, a
collection of rocks in a field but what she disagrees with is Smith’s way of
seeing this to be meaningless and instead she claims that the ‘stoniness’
should be seen as valuable and important (Pétursdóttir 2013:47). She writes
“Conversely though, it is not her [Smith’s] statement that ‘Stonehenge… is
basically a collection of rocks in a field’… that is problematic; that is in fact
exactly what it is. The problem, however, is to see that as meaningless. What
characterizes the intangible heritage discourse (or even heritage discourses in
general), as well as much of interpretative archaeology, is not only that meaning, value and significance are seen as inevitably subjective, but also that
meaning is confused with or restricted, rather to symbolical or other modes of
derivative meanings… is it so that Stonehenge itself, in its simple
‘stoniness’… brings nothing of value to the encounters with the subjective
experiences that for centuries have circulated around it?” (Pétursdóttir
2013:47, emphasis in original). Although the example of Stonehenge may
appear exaggerated it is exactly because of its status as a monumental heritage
that it becomes interesting and brings several questions forward. Most of all, I
believe, it makes it clear that the discussions in which we place tangible and
intangible against each other are not really going to bring the discussion of
heritage forward. Similarly to discussions of the different sources we deal with
in our research we have to be open to the different types of heritage we are
faced with, tangible or intangible, and recognise the value in both. It is here
that I fear this material turn is slipping over into the wrong type of focus in
which strengthening the value and status of physical objects also means
intensifying the divide between objects and other sources even further and
with that we risk falling down in Andrén’s in-betweeness even further. I
believe this material turn has its strength in the way it helps us interpret our
sources in order not to load them with cultural and social values they are unfit
to hold. It can help us to have an open and holistic methodology towards our
sources so that we do not subject our narratives and metaphors to the mater-
ial that we study and by making sure we do not make objects mere props in
our history writing.
Moving in memories
In a story where we start at the materials themselves time is less relevant.
We can see in the landscape today how the materials from all periods are
intermingled and mixed, all there in the present. Archaeologist Laurent
Olivier highlights archaeology’s close and problematic affiliation with
history and that through this affiliation we are used to seeing time as
unilinear. He suggests that the objects that archaeologists study are
“memory recorded in materials” (Olivier 2004:211) and should be understood rather for their similarity to memory rather than to narrative history
writing. This follows the Freudian idea of memory as fragmented and
constantly created and recreated in the past and in the present. He means
that the past exists in the present as “fragments of the past […] embedded
in the physical reality of the present” (Olivier 2004:209) as well as the
present exists in the past as we read it through our own horizon and our
own behaviour (Olivier 2004:210). This idea of the present as multitemporal has also been expressed by archaeologist Gavin Lucas as he moves
the attention of prehistory from its chronological emphasis to an ontological
one and suggests that “prehistory was, above all, history studied through
material culture, not through texts” with the consequence that “even
archaeologists studying the material culture of the historic past … are doing
prehistory, not history” (Lucas 2004:111). This is true to some extent and an
important observation within historical archaeologies that are often so
highly dependent on historical sources and narratives. At the same time we
cannot, and neither should we want to, escape from the fact that in a period
closer to our own we will always be affected by other sources apart from the
physical ones. It is not in the distinction between the different sources that
the problem lays but rather it is in our way of valuing them differently that
the issues arise. We have to appreciate our past as fragmented, that all its
pieces does not match up, and that sometimes it creates constellations that
we do not expect.
In the Podyji Park time intermingles. The monument to Felicia was
constructed as a memorial by Countess of Mniszek and has stood there ever
since but it has acted in different situations since its inception: as a
memorial in the 1800s, reborn to become the target of the border guards’
shooting practice linking two parts of the park’s history that are otherwise
unlikely to be connected, since reborn again in our present following a
restoration and again acting as a memorial but now in a different capacity
to a different audience (see Chapter 5). Olivier writes that: “[l]ike memory,
archaeological material bears the mark of repetition… it is essentially the
same site which is reproduced, similar and yet different every time, because
unique at each moment in time” (Olivier 2004:210). Paths lead my feet here
just as it has allowed others to walk along it before me. Paths that stretch
across the Podyji Park but which continues, almost indefinitely through the
landscapes of the former Iron Curtain. Along its route it connects the past
and the present through those who have travelled along here before and
whose remains can still be seen along its route. On Mount Sabotin/Sabotino
the paths take me past structures from the First World War, reused by the
border guards and then by myself during a sudden shower, and the trenches
the fighters in this war have left behind in the ground; they take me past
ramblers who walk along dual paths without knowing their origin on their
way to see the remains of a 14th century monastery which has fallen apart
over time, its ruination quickened by the destruction during the First World
War; the paths take me down along the mountain past flagpoles in which
the Slovenian flags were first raised on 25th of June1991; they take me past
border crossings, sleepy ones partially used still and deserted ones; they take
me past the Countess Liduška’s former residence firmly located within Italy,
just the way she wanted it when she persuaded the American soldiers to
influence the establishment of the border in 1947 (see Chapter 4).
During my field surveys of my study areas I walk through the fragments
of the past and the present, all here now for me to see: paths walked by
monks, pilgrims, tourists, soldiers, landowners, border guards; bunkers; war
trenches; remains of a monastery and church; information boards and
graffiti. All fragments from the past intermingling and reactivated in the
present. Also the sources that I encounter intermingles: the pictures of poles
being hammered into the ground by Nova Gorica railway station, the way
the square outside the station building looks today and the way a cyclist
waiting for a train jumps over the former Iron Curtain, the dancers across
the border that I witnessed one evening. Or the words of Cold War division
presented in a news programme, preserved pieces of Berlin Wall, tourists
enjoying the well preserved nature of the Podyji Park, an actor on a film set
making his way through a barbed wire, a stretch of barbed wire fence in
Čižov left by chance, and double paths high up on a mountain between Italy
and Slovenia. Or barrack buildings, the writing left within them, official
reports by soldiers at the archives and the images of dead people.
Documents, objects, photos, people, accounts etc. they are all fragments that
sometimes mix and intertwine, sometimes stand on their own. As individual pieces they have their own value, their own story. Sometimes they
hook onto each other and create something bigger, something that reaches
further, and sometimes they do not. What is important is to not force them
into a bigger picture or chronology, to lose track of their individual voice,
whatever language they may speak, and to allow ourselves to follow their
paths and see where it takes us.
My emphasis on seeing beyond the narrative should not be seen as a way
to completely move away from it. Narratives have important functions
within the way we write our history. One of the most basic roles of a narrative is to create order and help us organise the information at hand.
Chapters 3–5 in this thesis all start with a historical background, all written
in a highly narrative style. When we look at the material the narratives can
help us understand what we are looking at and to understand why, for
example, a fence was changed or removed at a certain point. Narratives are
also important as they are a well-established way of writing history and as
we have seen in my research, especially in Slovenia, a way for people to
connect to others and other people’s history. What is important is not to
expect to find all the answers in the narrative, or to exclude material that
does not fit with it and to be aware that there can be different motives
behind using one particular narrative instead of another.
The experience of things
In 2012 I posted a question on the Contemporary and Historical Archaeology
in Theory (CHAT) discussion list asking about walkover surveys
(McWilliams 2012). This is a term that is used regularly in archaeological
reports, articles and texts, but there are no real descriptions or definition of
what these entail. I was curious as to what people considered them to be. An
array of answers demonstrated that people had very different views, not only
of what a walkover survey is but also in the confidence shown in these types
of surveys. For many they were just a first step ahead of excavation. Archaeologist Paul Graves-Brown picked up the question and brought it into his
presentation “Wandering about” at the 2012 CHAT conference in York and
comments on that there is no formal methodology more than English
Heritage’s reference to reconnaissance as a Level 1 survey seen as a preliminary step ahead of other investigations (English Heritage 2007:3, GravesBrown 2012:1). But according to Graves-Brown, since excavation is often not
the primary approach in contemporary archaeology “walking around is not a
preliminary step; it is the methodology” (Graves-Brown 2012:1 emphasis in
original). Walkover survey certainly has been a cornerstone in my fieldwork
but the lack of formal methodology has at times made me question the
validity of what I was doing. Somehow it seemed less legitimate than
excavation or other ‘proper’ archaeological methods. Archaeologist Alfredo
Gonzalez-Ruibal rightly points out that we as a profession are the only ones to
have “developed a whole methodology to see what is beneath the surface” and
this is certainly something that should not be disregarded, neither as a
metaphor nor as a methodology but this heavy emphasis on the excavation
process itself has caused other methods to appear less valid. As mentioned in
the introduction chapter archaeologists Laura McAtackney (2008), Rodney
Harrison (2011) and Paul Graves-Brown (2011) have all questioned the way
archaeologists often use archaeological techniques such as excavation or
buildings recording to validate their practice even in cases where it does not
actually bring much to the research. Surely it is in our interaction with the
material, whether under or over the surface of the ground, which matters and
which provides validity to our research?
Archaeologist Matthew Edgeworth writes about the encounter with the
material during excavation and that we should take more note of the
importance of our bodies’ interaction with the material. He suggests that
“[o]ur basic stance in the world and orientation towards things is given in
part by directionalities and flows that emerge from our encounters with
material evidence” (Edgeworth 2012:91). Edgeworth is particularly describing the process of excavation, following a cut, but the same happens
when we encounter materials on the surface, when we wander around the
landscape. In our interaction with materials, whether singular objects, ruins,
landscapes or archaeological sites our own experiences and our bodies
through which we experience become vital. In his Phenomenology of
Landscape (1994) Archaeologist Christopher Tilley writes: “[p]henomenology involves the understanding and description of things as they are
experienced by a subject” (Tilley 1994:12). Archaeological practice, in which
practice and theory are in their nature so intertwined, is not just a gathering
of information to be theorised over at a later date. The practice itself
involves us in a way that we cannot distance ourselves from.
Tilley as well as other archaeologists such as Barbara Bender and Vicky
Cummings have been criticised for their efforts to use phenomenology in
landscape studies as a way to reach the thoughts of people in the past and
understand the motivations behind changes to the landscape carried out
in the past (Barret and Ko 2009). As pointed out by Barret and Ko it is not
necessarily our own contemporary engagement with the material, in order
to describe and understand a site, a series of objects, a larger landscape,
that is problematic in itself. Rather, it is when we believe that our own
experiences can tell us something about people’s experiences in the past
that it becomes problematic (Barret and Ko 2009:279). The use of phenomenology within an archaeological framework should be seen as more
‘basic’ and bodily than this in that it is in the bodily encounter with the
material we investigate that it resides, not in our later reflection of it. As
Edgeworth suggests it is in our engagement with the materials that the
meaning of it is created (Edgeworth 2012:76) but still our interaction with
the sites that we investigate is rarely discussed in the reports later written.
The writing of Michael Polanyi Graves-Brown speaks of embodied
knowledge as a transaction between actors and materials as non-linear but
rather more in the form of constellations, “[e]mbodied knowledge is tacit
precisely because it exists as constellations, not narratives” (Graves-Brown
forthcoming) and as such it escapes words. “[W]e can know more than we
can tell” (Polanyi quoted in Graves-Brown, forthcoming). It is in this
direct interaction with the material, whether through excavations or other
interaction, that our engagement with it helps us create a knowledge of
what we study.
Several researchers have written about the way ruins affect us (Van
Reijen 1992, Edensor 2005a, Edensor 2005b, DeSilvey 2006, Andreassen et
al. 2010, Pétursdóttir and Olsen forthcoming, for an historic overview of the
subject see Woodward 2002). Something happens when people leave the
scene and the objects are allowed to take centre stage. In ethnologist
Susanne Wollinger’s description of a brigade in Sweden the things are nonexistent, overshadowed by the humans that use them, walk amongst them
and depend upon them (Wollinger 2000, see Chapter 5). Andreassen et al.
note on their interaction with the former Soviet mining site of Pyramiden
that in a post-human state “[t]hings suddenly ‘appear’ to us in ways never
noticed previously, exposing some of their own unruly ‘thingness’”
(Andreassen et al. 2010:23). Pétursdottír (2012) lifts the importance of the
materials themselves, independent of our archaeological interpretation, and
it is often in the abandoned and the leftover that the things get a chance to
stand on their own, to be seen for what they are. DeSilvey has, in her studies
of a derelict homestead in Montana, shown how the decay of material, often
seen as something negative can ”be generative of a different kind of
knowledge” (DeSilvey 2006:323) letting ”other than-human agencies to
participate in the telling of stories about particular places” (DeSilvey
2006:318). In a similar way the objects and the ‘thingness’ of the decaying
border guard stations allowed for new stories, new perspectives. Something
that would not have been noticeable when the border guards were here
crowding these spaces or something the texts and documents in the archives
could never convey. This is also what we somehow ‘expect’ from an
archaeological site, for the people to have left, a hangover from studying
periods where people are long gone and all that remains are pieces. Here
studies of a more recent past do differ from studies of earlier periods. Often
we study the abandoned, such as ruins, which we in some way seem to be
more comfortable with. We know what to do here, our methods just work.
But what happens with those sites that are still used?
Archaeologists are used to dealing with the abandoned. In fact one of the
criteria for protecting an archaeological site through policy and legislation
in Sweden is that it has been abandoned for a considerable amount of time
(varaktigt övergiven) which means it is no longer in use and will not be
taken into use again (SFS 1988:950). Even though this definition may not be
present as such in other countries’ heritage laws it demonstrates a general
attitude within archaeology of how we deal with that which is abandoned
and no longer in use. But what does this mean when we are pushing the
materials that we study further and further into the present? I do not believe
it to be a coincidence that the sites that contemporary archaeologists, including my own research, tend to search out are the places that are deserted
and uninhabited (although see Kiddey and Schofield 2011 for a different
approach). This is what we are used to and what our methods generally
allow us to look at. Andreasson et al. as well as Pétursdottír and DeSilvey
make a very good case for how the material stands out clearer when not
crowded by people. How in the abandoned we can see the ‘thingness’ of the
objects left behind. But what happens in places where people are still
present? Where materials and humans are still acting together creating
networks and connections? Do we ask people to leave the scene or should
we wait until a place have been abandoned? Something that has become
clear during my research is that we need to develop and adjust the methods
that we use to allow people and objects both to take centre stage without
one crowding the other. Surely this emphasis on things in a ‘material turn’
should not increase the divide between things and humans; rather it should
bridge it by putting them on equal terms?
Of course ruins often entice our imagination. Political scientist Anca
Pusca (2010) writes of how the decay of buildings is often connected with
the notion of dystopia and explains that as spaces and buildings were often
highly important for the communist utopia their subsequent fall and ruin
has come to symbolise the demise of this ideology. Walking in ruins also
awakens a sense of curiosity within us. Edensor describes the feeling as:
“movement in ruins becomes strangely reminiscent of childhood sensory
immersion and of the pleasurable negotiation of space largely denied to
adults” (Edensor 2005a:838). As I walk through the abandoned border
guard stations I am spurred on by my curiosity and sense of adventure and I
move through the rooms and the corridors eager to find out what is hiding
behind the next corner. Is this how one should react when investigating
Cold War remains? Should I not be more taken back by the severity of
place? But this is exactly the paradox that is with me through many of the
visits along the former Iron Curtain. My knowledge of these places’ history
and a hindsight perspective tells me that I should experience the serious
reality behind the Cold War metaphor but what I mostly come across is the
traces of the mundane and the everyday. Things that are easy to relate to as
part of the ordinariness of life, we sleep, we eat, we have obligations and we
try and entertain ourselves. The military remains we often hear about such
as bunkers and fortifications, airfields, graves, nuclear research sites and
missile bases are important to the understanding of war, but so are the
smaller sites, the places of the everyday activities for a large part of those
who participated within the war. These sites will provide an understanding
of the many different angles and perspectives a war or a conflict can be
experienced through.
I could be criticised for producing a too ‘nice’ portrait of the Iron
Curtain, that the severity and cold bloodedness of this monument and of
the Cold War is understated to give way to the everyday stories of a more
harmless character. But it is not a conscious decision from my side to angle
the stories in this way. Instead this is the result of the material that I have
encountered. I have no doubt that if I had used different sources and different focus that the picture would have been different. If I, for example,
had based my research mainly on personal stories including people from all
over the former Czechoslovakia or even the former Eastern Bloc in general
or of those that had crossed over or have relatives and friends that have
tried to cross over the border the picture of the Iron Curtain would have
been a different one. But I wanted to start at the sites and at the materials
and work from there to see what stories that emanated from these. This
showed a slightly different side of the Iron Curtain than what we know from
history writing. From the archives a few stories and pictures gave a glimpse
of the horrors that these militarised borders could entail. Mostly, however,
the sources provided a more mundane picture. This demonstrates the
strength of these types of studies in their ability to provide different stories
that do not necessarily fit with our historical narratives but which instead
demonstrate an important other aspect of history. It also demonstrates the
problems that could appear from just relying on one type of source. Instead
we need to appreciate that all stories and fragments of history are important
even if they do not necessarily fit together.
The sites may seem more unusual to some than others. They will be
more familiar to those who have done military service, for example, than to
those who have not. For me and my preconceived ideas of the severity of
the Iron Curtain the clashes between the official and the private were quite
strong. For others who were once young men being trained as soldiers or
conscripted into military service, the clashes that I experienced in trying to
fit the pictures of the official line and the soldiers being and acting like
young lads may not be as strong. We all bring our preconceived ideas with
us into our research.
To go with the flow
To archaeologist Rodney Harrison (2011) the relationship between depth
and surface is a metaphor for the relationship between archaeology and
modernity. He claims that the metaphor of depth and stratigraphy creates a
distance between the present and the past. In contrast, he suggests that the
use of the metaphor surface instead draws the past and present together to
exist in the same time and space, a kind of surface assemblage. By referring
to Walter Benjamin’s ‘Jetztzeit’, ‘now-time’, Harrison suggests that we are
“no longer dealing with a historical present, but a series of localized and
hence spatialized presents and pasts that are generated by the relationships
between the particular people and things contained within them” (Harrison
2011:183). In her studies of an entertainment complex in the Japanese city
of Osaka social scientist Albena Yaneva emphasises the importance of Actor
Network Theory (ANT) for the idea of surface assemblage as it studies
“assemblages of humans and non-humans jumbled together in the present”
and that “ANT methodologies can help to create a space in which the past,
present and future are combined and are still in the process of becoming”
(Yaneva 2013:25 emphasis in original).
This is not an ANT study. There are many points where I am too far
from an ANT perspective, maybe most fundamentally as the perspective I
have used when taking on this material is from myself, my body. The way
that objects impact upon each other is less explored. In this sense one can
say that I hold an anthropocentric perspective that is not compatible with
ANT and that in my research the balance between humans and nonhumans are unequal. But influences from ANT have still made their way
into my research and at times with a quite strong presence.
The first influence that ANT has had on my research is an opening of my
eyes to the role of things. Instead of just seeing objects as props on the stage of
history or as a means of reaching beyond it, ANT has helped me see how
objects in themselves are important actors who can stop a tank from crossing
a border, facilitate everyday life for soldiers or allow for easy crossing through
a border crossing. But it is not necessarily just the material objects that should
be seen as actors but all parts of the past that we encounter today have to be
seen as important influences of the past in the present, whether fences,
newspaper articles, films, photos or accounts. In the creation of the Iron
Curtain I encounter today they have all had a role to play.
The second point of influence that I have taken with me from ANT is to
‘go with the flow’ and to follow the material. ANT can be seen as a kind of
methodology for tracing the associations between the different actors within
a so called network. The term Actor Network Theory is not unproblematic
and has been used, buried and resurrected by its users, for example Latour
who claims that “‘actor-network-theory’, a name that is so awkward, so
confusing, so meaningless that it deserves to be kept” (Latour 2005:9). The
word network should be seen more as associations and not structured or set
networks and as Law (2009) points out ANT is not a theory as theories
generally tries to explain why something happens and ANT can be seen
more as a descriptive methodology (Law 2009:141).
Latour suggests that instead of ordering the social beforehand into
convenient categories we should try to understand how the actors (human
and non-human) themselves act and interact by tracing the connections
between them (Latour 2005:23). Archaeologist Jonathan Westin brings
Latour’s thoughts into archaeology when he writes: “…a single letter of [an]
inscription is not accountable for the meaning of those words or sentences
it helps form, political or religious as they may be. […] It is not a process
where the primary movement is that of cultural values trickling down and
affecting the parts, but a process where the greater movement is that of
parts soaring upwards” (Westin 2012:39). Within post-processual archaeology the aim has been to reach beyond the objects to the people behind
them, to translate the objects into the cultural and social symbolism that
they are presumed to represent. By doing this, making the objects symbolise
the trends and the cultural values that we are researching, we take in
advance that which we are researching and place it in an already established
order or structure. In this way, for example, I could have demonstrated
several ways in which communism and its oppression trickles through the
many layers of people and objects all the way down to the barbed wire still
present in Čižov. Instead I have taken ANT as an inspiration in the way I
am turning, firstly, to the materials themselves and letting them and the
connections between them and the people involved with them guide me
towards an understanding of their whole and to see them as building blocks
that together may, or may not, create a larger network.
Yaneva demonstrate two methodological approaches to material culture
in her case study of an entertainment complex (Yaneva 2013). She does this
through the eyes of the ‘hasty sightseer’ and the ‘slow sightseer’, the first of
which, through hurrying through the ethnographical fieldwork only has
time to gain an impression of the material and reproduce concepts of
society and culture rather than, the second who through a slower
methodology can understand the material through experiencing it (Yaneva
2013:11). She writes: “ANT gives us one more tool, with which to follow the
painstaking ways humans interact with objects and environments, and
shape dynamic contemporary cultures at different scales” (Yaneva 2013:25).
I have already mentioned how the fence and the watchtower in the
village of Čižov demands attention, and they really do. It was images of
these that drew my attention to this location in the first place. When I first
saw these pictures on the internet I thought this tower and the fence
represented the dark past of the Iron Curtain in an acute way. I had that
with me when I arrived here. Yet when I climbed up the watchtower, and
got over my initial dizziness of the distance between me and the ground, I
was taken by the beautiful view across the park and down towards the valley
of the Dyji River. I wondered how much this landscape had changed over
the last few centuries. I wondered if the border guards enjoyed the view
during their shifts up here. Early one morning as I walked along the fence
the sun started pushing through the moody looking clouds and I took
several pictures capturing the dark clouds, the sun slightly against the lens
of my camera and the barbed wire almost glistening in the sun’s rays. At
this moment the fence was almost beautiful (Figure 101).
My preconceptions tell me that I am not allowed to think such a thing at
all. This is a monument that lifts the memory of people killed trying to cross
it, it is a witness of oppression, it is a testament of a divided Europe, a
symbol of the Cold War. But I find that this is not enough. I find that the
material has more to say. The watchtowers were prefabricated in a factory
and transported to the site to be assembled here, the material to these
towers reached the factory in which they were made from yet another place.
The person who put together the IKEA-like instructions was maybe placed
at the same factory, maybe somewhere else, the paper produced from wood
felled at another site. The trucks that brought them here were probably
serviced regularly by a mechanic. These networks of people and things
demonstrate that the making and assembling of these watchtowers involved
many different people, vehicles, tools which can all be seen as actors in their
construction. What becomes clear through following these connections is
how the totalitarian and dark oppression of people that I first wanted to
place on a symbolic piece of barbed wire extended so much longer, further
to include so much more, and in that making it somehow stronger. None of
these different elements can be seen as responsible for the oppression of the
people but they were all part of a system that held this oppression together,
even though it might have been unknown to them. These were people who
got up in the morning and headed off to their job in a factory or a
mechanics, a job like any other. I came here to find the barbed wire of the
metaphor I had got to know as I grew up but what I find is something else.
As I climbed down the metal steps of the watchtower I realized that this is
not monumental, in fact, it is rather mundane.
One can see this as a sort of material correlation to Hannah Arendt’s
observations of how networks in society can create circumstances where
evil can be found in the ordinary, the ‘banality of evil’ (Arendt 1963:252). In
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil Arendt wrote about
the former SS officer Adolf Eichmann who was put on trial in Jerusalem
and subsequently found guilty and hung for his role in “the final solution of
the Jewish question” (Arendt 1963:5). Arendt’s observations as she looks
closely at his role in the Nazi machine show that by breaking down events,
people and places into smaller pieces when studying them it becomes clear
how they can appear much more banal and ordinary than first thought. She
described how people expected to see a monster in court, something encouraged by the prosecution (Arendt 1963:54), but instead they saw an
ordinary looking man: “medium-sized, slender, middle-aged, with receding
hair, ill-fitting teeth, and nearsighted eyes” (Arendt 1963:5) who was more a
clown than a monster. Even if our historical knowledge makes us look at a
person, a material or an event through particular glasses, creating expectations of what we should find, it often becomes clear when looking at the
smaller pieces that what we see as evil can be found in the most ordinary
and banal.
Figure 102: Fence and Watch Tower at Čižov. Photo: Anna McWilliams.
Arendt makes a distinction between the doer and the deeds: “The deeds are
monstrous, but the doer (Eichmann) is not a monster; ‘he is terrifyingly
normal’” (Bernstein 2010:133). Philosopher Richard J. Bernstein, who has
suggested that Arendt’s use of the term ‘banality of evil’ has been much
misunderstood in part as many has taken this to mean that she considered
Eichmann to be just an innocent cog in the Nazi system, which she did not
(Bernstein 2010). Her descriptions of Eichmann and of the trials clearly
show that she thought he was guilty. Instead through looking at all the
pieces of his life within the Nazi system she demonstrates that he is rather
ordinary and that it was more out of thoughtlessness or “inability to think”
(Arendt 1971:417) that he committed these crimes rather than being a
monster. Bernstein also suggests that people have thought she was trying to
create some sort of theory or thesis on the nature of evil to which he refers
to a lecture given by Arendt in 1971, Thinking and Moral Considerations in
which she claims that: “…reporting the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, I
spoke of the “banality of evil” and meant with this no theory or doctrine but
something quite factual, the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a
gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness,
pathology, or ideological conviction in the doer, whose only personal
distinction was perhaps an extraordinary shallowness” (Arendt 1971:417,
Bernstein 2010:133).
To discover the mundane is therefore not the same as finding the trivial.
It is not my intention to go into the question of guilt or where evil lies
within a system as the one Eichmann functioned in as much of the
discussions about Arendt’s observations have come to focus on this (for a
discussion of this discourse see Bernstein 2010:131) or within the communist system in Czechoslovakia at the time. Instead my observations are
to make clear that by starting with the materials themselves we can see how
the networks that connect these with other materials, places, people, and
events can extend in a way that we would not expect. I also want to demonstrate in what we may see as traces of the mundane and the everyday how
we can also find clues that can help us understand a system from the
bottom up. It is neither my intention to go into the details of what ordinary
life in Czechoslovakia at the time was like or the Eastern or Western bloc
more generally for that matter. What I want to demonstrate is what the
materials from the sites that I have investigated reveal and that it is only by
starting within these small pieces that it is possible to extend such research
through the networks outwards and upwards in order not to load the
materials with meanings that they are not fit to hold. It is in the discovery of
the smaller components, however mundane, that we can gain a better
understanding of the bigger picture.
The mundane war
In his review of Andreassen, Bjerck and Olsen (2010) archaeologist John
Schofield writes about the importance of the mundane within the pictures
they display in the book. He writes: “… it is not views and sight-lines that
matter so much as the mundane, the everyday details of the place – objects,
surfaces and their sometimes odd juxtaposition” (Schofield 2012:133). The
most common find at excavations of sites from any period are those of the
mundane, the everyday and even the banal. We find broken pots, ceramics,
stone axes, glass bottles, clay pipes, all finds that have been part of everyday,
mundane activities. The finds from a time closer to our own have a habit of
finding their way under our skin, more so than those of older periods,
partly because they fit easier into our own understanding. They remind us
of the things we have around us in our own mundane lives. As there are
more sources remaining it can be easier to follow the different leads and
understand the relationship between different parts.
When we think about remains of the Cold War we often refer to large
military installations or sites connected with the nuclear arms race. This is
clear also in most of the sites related to the Cold War that have so far been
studied by archaeologists which have consisted of sites noted for their
monumentality and significance in relation to the Cold War narratives we
are so familiar with (for example Cocroft 2003, Schofield and Cocroft 2007,
Burström et al. 2011). This is also true for my own research. There are few
symbols or monuments cited as often within historical narratives of the
Cold War as the Iron Curtain and as many others I started with a view of
the monumental and what seemed most significant. My previous historical
knowledge also informed me in my choice of study areas and what materials to approach during the early stages of my research. But what has
become very clear during my fieldwork is that the sites and the objects that
stand out the most are the leftovers of the mundane. The majority of the
sites linked in some way to the Cold War are often smaller sites, places seen
less important to the world in general but in fact probably more significant
than they have been credited for. These are the sites that make up the
intrinsic network of actions, people, objects that created the solidness of the
Cold War. What I have always found so interesting about the Cold War is
exactly this, that it is not only about the large military installations or the
sites that had the worlds eyes focused on them during much of the second
part of the last century, interesting as they may be, but it is also about the
way that Cold War, ironically, came closer to the people than many other
wars in the past had. The constant threat of war was hanging heavy over the
population in both East and West and reached us through media, through
information packs delivered by the government in some countries of how to
act in case of nuclear fallout and through emergency drills to prepare the
population further. Growing up in a small town on the east coast of Sweden
I knew exactly where our closest fallout shelter was located, at three o’clock
on the first Monday of every month I heard the warning sirens as they were
tested and I had seen the government issued brochures “In case of war”
(Om kriget kommer), a handbook sent out to all citizens which explained
evacuation plans, what to pack and other useful information of what to do
in case of war. Similar handbooks were also issued in Denmark (Hvis krigen
kommer), West Germany (Jeder hat eine Chance), East Germany (Was jeden
über den Luftschutz wissen muss) and in Switzerland (Défense Civile)
(Cronqvist 2008:452). News on the radio and on TV reported on the latest
update on the US and USSR flexing their muscles and on the suspected
sightings of yet another submarine within Swedish territory in the Baltic Sea
whilst spy films and novels described the division between East and West as
concrete, barbed wire and diligent guards who would not hesitate to shoot.
The Cold War was all around and at the same time nowhere to be seen. As a
child I asked my parents on a regular basis if we were at war yet. Their
response was always a look of surprise and they would ask where I got such
an idea from. I could never give them a very good answer, but as I think
back now I find it less odd that one of my biggest fears as a child was one of
war, seeing the whole society around me was one of total war preparation
even though this was not explicitly stated, at least not in a ‘neutral’ Sweden.
Even in places that were seemingly more involved in the Cold War than
Sweden such as those on the border between the Eastern and Western blocs,
the sites connected with this war were mostly made up of smaller military
installations, protective zones and no-man’s land areas. Important as they
were for sustaining the Cold War and the division that characterised it, they
were often rather banal in their character. It is exactly this mundaneness that
becomes evident when you visit these places. The stories that come from these
sites are far less known. This is of course not exclusive to military sites. About
her visits to an abandoned herring station in Iceland about which long
accounts had already been produced, Pétursdóttir writes: “…while Eyri and
the herring history appeared to be so well known, all these things I
encountered on my first visit were unknown, unaccounted- and uncared for”
(Pétursdóttir 2012:584). The material we encounter in the places of the Cold
War may not look like we expect them to and this is an important point to
make. As they may tell other stories they may not fit into our known
narratives and accounts. Narratives can be seen as a consequence of the
‘linguistic turn’ and according to Solli “[c]onsidering the legacy of the
linguistic turn nothing is proving more resilient than narrative” (Solli
2011:43). Criticising this narrativisation can therefore be seen as a quite
natural part of a ‘material turn’ in which there is less stress on translating
objects and the study thereof into narratives. It is an important point to make
as it has consequences for the material that we study. In trying to fit them into
our known accounts and narratives we can actually cause damage to these
sites in the process. By excluding those fragmented objects and the memories
they entail because they may not fit into our narratives we are actively
forgetting them. Pétursdóttir demonstrates through her research that
“archaeological remembering of this site, and its inclusion in historical narration, can in fact easily result in the active forgetting of things, their fragmented and discontinuous memory and their utter silence” (Pétursdóttir
2012:577). The sites and materials that are not included in the historical
narratives are therefore in danger of disappearing altogether. Maybe this is
not an issue in itself, not everything can remain, but will be if we think that
what we have left in our historical narratives and accounts is representative of
a particular time, period or event.
How the material of the former borders has been treated in Slovenia/
Italy, Czechoslovakia/Austria and Berlin varies. In Berlin the historical
narratives of the Cold War and the metaphor of the Berlin Wall and the
Iron Curtain are highly established. Here the story of Cold War division
became so physical and obvious and as shown in Chapter 2 the idea of the
Iron Curtain intertwined with the physical Berlin Wall. Through history
writing, politics, popular culture and media the story of the Berlin Wall as
the Iron Curtain was created. The treatment of sites and objects of the
Berlin Wall therefore have to relate to this narrative and metaphor. To allow
the remains to stand on their own as different fragmented stories that do
not relate or fit into this grand narrative causes problems. On the Slovenia/
Italy border the remains have not really been connected to the larger
historical narratives in the same way and have therefore not been burdened
with such a heavy requirement. Instead we find smaller, more local stories
connected with the changing of the border line, smuggling and trade across
the border etc. Interestingly, the local narratives here appear to be in a
process of trying to connect with the European Cold War history, possibly
as a wish to connect to European narratives. In this process the border is
used to connect to a wider historical narrative of the Iron Curtain and here
the physical remains of the border such as the watch tower made into a
museum and the images and remains of the former more militarised border
at the Railway Museum are being lifted forward as a link and possibly as a
way to authenticate this connection. In the Czech Republic the stories of the
border is as fragmented as the materiality that remains. The different parts
do not really fit into a clear narrative even though it is of course possible to
relate parts of it to the general historical narratives of the area as well as to
more regional and global accounts. The three cases I have used have very
different contexts. The study area by the Slovenian/Italian border has
always belonged to a living community with traffic across it and a
relationship across the border. Berlin has even more of a living community
and the border here no longer exists. It has returned to be one town, one
homogenous society. Yet again, in the Czech Republic/Austria these areas
have been depopulated over long periods of time and are still sparsely
populated today. Here there is much less interaction over the border today
despite EU and Schengen memberships. But despite their different contexts,
or maybe just because of these differences, a comparison between them still
demonstrates the different processes that are involved in how we write our
history and create our heritage.
It is impossible to study everything. ‘Stuff’ will inevitably disappear
unnoticed and the historical accounts that we have got used to ordering our
past into within our post-modern society will be written, but by being aware
of this process and by taking a different approach to the sources and the
materials that we study we can try and challenge this method of creating
archaeology in a historical way even when we are dealing with historical
archaeology. As mentioned above Olivier suggests that we should understand archaeology more in relation to memory, as more fragmented than
the historical chronology as “memory-time functions in a way which has
nothing to do with history-time” (Olivier 2004:211). Through really looking
at the material, through experiencing it and describing it we can see different constellations than those we encounter in the history writing. We
have to be able to see that the narratives are an important part of how we
see the past but it is not the only way of seeing the past. Materiality, for
example, often provides different constellations than historical narratives
and these should not be valued any less.
An archaeology of a metaphor
The metaphor of the Iron Curtain, as demonstrated in Chapter 2, is strongly
connected to the narrative history created through historical accounts,
media, films, novels, materiality etc., but how does this connect to the
materials? The impact of popular culture can be seen to have had a major
effect on the idea of the Iron Curtain as well as the Cold War. The effects of
historical films have, for example, been discussed by historians Robert
Rosenstone (2006) and Alun Munslow (2007) who suggest that film
production is also a way to write history that needs to be taken seriously and
not be dismissed as less legitimate. It is recognised that film can have a
cognitive mechanism and “create experiential and emotional complexities
way beyond the printed page” (Munslow 2007:572). The idea that experiences are becoming increasingly important to people has been raised by
several researchers such as archaeologist Cornelius Holtorf (2007). Similarly
to other researchers, of which many of them are active within marketing
studies such as Pine and Gilmore (1999), he claims that the importance lies
in “engaging people sensually, cognitively, socially, culturally and emotionally”(Holtorf 2007:6). Much of the influences of Holtorf, Pine and Gilmore’s
work come from the thoughts of sociologist Gerhard Schulze (1993), who
claimed that society was becoming increasingly focussed on how things feel,
a “commodification of the eventful” (Löfgren 1999:14). Ethnologist Orvar
Löfgren, whose interest lies in tourism, suggests that Schultze’s claims of
this being a completely new phenomenon is not really true as these ideas
have been around for quite some time within travel and tourism (Löfgren
1999:16). But as Holtorf also points out this ‘experience value’, has now
extended into almost every field including archaeology and heritage and
suggests that it is the experience of the sites and the stories that are more
important than the acquisition of new knowledge (Holtorf 2007:4).
Although not true for everyone we have to understand that some people are
more interested in using the sites and the materiality to confirm and
authenticate their already existing view of history. This can be seen as one of
the issues with the two Berlin museums, where one, Documentation Centre,
corresponds better with material story (possibly a bit less impressive and
more fragmented) whilst the other, Haus am Checkpoint Charlie,
corresponds more to the metaphor and the historical narratives of the
Berlin Wall, of the Iron Curtain and of the Cold War that have been created
and recreated since World War II. This can also be seen on a much smaller
scale in Slovenia where the ‘idea’ of an Iron Curtain has started to make its
way into the history writing in that it is used to connect the local history to
world history through the materiality of the border. This is mainly, at least
so far, lifted forward at the museum of the former watch tower and to some
extent in the border museum in Nova Gorica railway station but was also
picked up and used by media in 2004 when Slovenia entered EU and
Schengen when headlines like “Towns dismantle Cold War fence” were
used (BBC News 2004). When we deal with a material closer to our own
time there is therefore a need to consider not just the materials and the
historical texts that have been produced but also an array of other influences, for example popular culture. It is of course not only the sites and
materials of recent periods which have been affected by these types of
influences. One example is the case of the Vikings and how the study and
portrayal of them in history writing, popular culture, media and heritage
and tourist sites has affected the way they are seen. In his doctoral thesis
archaeologist Fredrik Svanberg argues that ”the core of ”the Viking Age” is
a system of related axiomatic ideas that was put together about 130 years
ago by some of the founding fathers of Scandinavian archaeology” and
means that the idea of the Viking was constructed under the heavy
influence of nationalism (Svanberg 2003:11). From these early nationalistic
influences the image of the Vikings has since come to evolve. Chris
Halewood, active in the field of Environmental Studies and geographer
Kevin Hannam suggests that the image of the Viking has been heavily
influenced by heritage tourism and popular culture. They suggest that the
Viking is often portrayed as a bloodthirsty barbarian in the AngloAmerican stereotypical representation of the Vikings, using films such as
the Kirk Douglas’ film The Vikings, novels such as The Longships by Frans
Bengsson and the cartoon strip Hagar the Horrible as examples. Instead,
they suggest, the Scandinavian image of the Vikings in popular culture
rather stresses that although they were seen as pirates abroad they were
living in well-ordered societies at home and that this is still the way they are
portrayed in popular culture such as films as well as in many heritage sites
(Halewood and Hannam 2001:566). They claim however, that it is the
bloodthirsty image that tends to draw most visitors to the heritage sites
(Halewood and Hannam 2001:566). Remains and stories of older periods
are therefore also affected by the later portraits produced by them but what
can be seen to distinguish the sites and materials of later periods is that it
may be easier to study more in detail how these developments have taken
place and what the influences are from their conception until the present.
Holtorf suggests that it is not necessarily the public that need a better
understanding of archaeology but the archaeologists that need a better
understanding of the public (Holtorf 2007:6). If we do not understand how
the past that we see in the present has been created we cannot understand
different people’s connections with it and why people interact with it the
way they do.
There is also an issue of how we value these different parts of the puzzle.
In Berlin the stories that have arrived out of the narratives and the
metaphor have a very high significance to the story of the Berlin Wall. But
still the narratives and the metaphor have a need to be authenticated with
material ‘proof’ such as barbed wire on a film poster, the objects in museums, the remains left in the landscapes in Berlin and to some extent in
Slovenia where it is used, especially at the watchtower museum and the
remains in the railway museum, to connect with a wider European history.
These items are there to confirm the narrative. Not to provide another type
of story. This is very common. In a way, in the Czech Republic where some
remains have just been left they are easier to follow and understand as they
have not been clearly put into a historical narrative. Here they just stand
without being forced into a story or trying to fit in with the Iron Curtain
What happens when the metaphor and the material do not correspond?
Often there is a need to make them match which raises the question: is it
easier to change an established narrative or the material? So strong are the
narratives that we create and so difficult is it for us to think in other terms
that the two have to be made to fit together, even if it means changing the
physicality behind it or at least the stories of which they speak. It is clear,
through looking at this research, that the metaphor and historical narratives
of the Iron Curtain have had a major impact on not just its own story but
also on Cold War history in general. It is a problem when the material does
not fit into the narrative and it therefore appears we need to change and
adapt to make it fit better. The problem is therefore not that they tell
different stories but rather that we are not allowing them to. As conservation architect Leo Schmidt demonstrates there are no sections of Berlin
Wall left today that corresponds with people’s views (Schmidt 2005:16, see
Chapter 2). This has created major tension in discussions of managing the
remains of the Berlin Wall today. The problem, as I see it, is not the fact that
there are different stories that appear from different sources, the problem
arises when we insist on forcing them together even when they do not fit.
Like trying to piece together many different puzzles into one, sawing and
filing at the pieces until they fit, inevitably losing parts of them in the
process. In doing this it also becomes much more difficult to understand
how it came to be and it becomes difficult to trace all the different
influences that helped to shape the material that we see today, that has been
part of their ‘becoming’, the constructions of structures, the developing
ideas of these intermingled with politics, propaganda, popular culture and
sometimes just pure randomness which results in materials being left,
changed or removed.
The end of a journey
The abundance of sources generally available when dealing with a period
closer to our own and the opportunities and problems that this brings is
clearly demonstrated in this research. However we classify our sources as
photographs, objects, written reports, films, oral accounts, maps etc. we still
have to address them. Our methods for how we approach the different
materials may differ but the problem does not lie in the ontological
difference in the sources that we use but rather when we value them differently and when we place an historical narrative account against the
archaeological material and try and join them into one coherent story.
Instead we have to appreciate the sources for what they are and recognise
the roles they may or may not have played. Andrén makes an important
point when he says that differences between text and objects need to be
recognised (Andén 1998:14) but by concentrating too hard their differences
we risk missing what connects them.
Of course we have to limit ourselves. When the sources are abundant it is
just not possible to follow all the leads. I wrote in the introduction to this
thesis that my start and point of return have been archaeological and my
focus has been on the physical remains. However other sources and the
interaction with these should not in any way be seen as un-archaeological.
The abundance of information about the places we study force us to draw
boundaries of what to include and what we have to leave be. Some of these
decisions are more obvious than others. What has become evident throughout my research is that the different sources are not just a means to an end,
something that have to be gathered in order to reassemble a past, but rather
the sources and the tracing thereof are an important part of the stories that
emerge and are themselves active both in the past and in the present. In our
research we follow the actors of the stories we tell, they are all part of the
material that we track. They do not always act in the way we want or expect
them to but instead of discarding the parts that we do not think fit or which
we think cannot create enough of an interesting discussion in relation to the
accounts that we know we need to let them stand by themselves. Instead of
taking the view of Yaneva’s ‘hasty sightseer’ discussed above, who only
reproduces concepts of society and culture, we need to go with the flow and
follow the connections. An archaeology of surface should not be seen as
equivalent to superficiality but should instead be seen it as an opportunity
to stretch our research in all directions, horizontally as well as vertically.
When we follow the different tracks and paths that the sources lead us
through we can make connections and find stories we were not expecting.
We can see how materials and periods are intertwined in often unexpected
ways and that the past that we see in the present is here for us to see as a
result of a long list of influences. For the Iron Curtain these influences
involve many factors such as the materiality, the narratives, the metaphors,
people’s attitude in the past and today, media, popular culture and how
different people interact with the material today. It is important to see all
these factors in order to understand how the material was created. It is a
long and at times rather random process which is constantly recreating the
material and the attitudes of it.
One of the consequences of following the material of the Iron Curtain is
that I have been led to sights that were so much less monumental and much
more mundane than what I had expected. Starting from one of the most
monumental of Cold War icons and metaphors, the Iron Curtain, I found
smaller sites that at first may appear rather insignificant but when you look
at them, really look at them, they surprise you in the way that they connect
with so much more such as different time periods, physical places, people,
objects, histories, stories etc. and it becomes clear how significant these
places really were during the Cold War. How these different connections
extend into today varies. Those parts that do not fit are often forgotten,
consciously or not.
The observant reader is likely to have noticed the heavy emphasis in this
thesis on the eastern side of the borders, especially in my fieldwork studies
where remains in Slovenia and the Czech Republic has come to figure much
more than the remains in Italy and Austria. This was not intentional but
was a result of the material that I studied. It is also something which
demonstrates that the physical side of the Iron Curtain, the militarised
borders, were in fact here, on the eastern side, sometimes a few kilometres
inside the East/West divide. This puts it in an interesting contrast to the
idea of the Iron Curtain which is, as we have seen, much of a Western idea.
So the friend, whom I mentioned in the beginning of this thesis, who
pointed out that the Iron Curtain never existed was in part right, at least
from his western point of view. From this angle it was merely a metaphor.
But had he lived in the Eastern bloc during the Cold War his view would
most likely have been another and he would have claimed that the Iron
Curtain was indeed a very real thing, a prison wall keeping people in rather
than a protective barrier keeping the enemies out. The term may be of
western origin but its presence was certainly an eastern reality.
I have used my research, in particular the process of my fieldwork, in
two main ways: firstly to connect to Harrison and Schofield’s call for more
research of the contemporary past in order to test methods which are still
seen as experimental (Harrison and Schofield 2010:88). In this work I have
noticed that there is indeed great insecurity within the validity of some of
the methods often used within contemporary archaeology, something that I
have tried to highlight and in part address in this thesis. The research
should also be seen in relation to Harrison’s ideas of archaeology as a
surface in which past and present exists ‘now’ which also connects with
Olivier, Olsen, Pétursdóttir and others’ discussion of the past within the
present. I have also wanted to use my research to demonstrate the complex
process of how the past that we see in the present can be created and
recreated and how open we need to be in our approach in order to see this
process, to see that the influences can be so much more extensive than what
we first might think. If we carry out our research as hasty sightseers we will
only reproduce those narratives which are known to us. I started at the
monumental, at the metaphor of the Iron Curtain. I came across plenty of
barbed wire and concrete but I found that loading this with all the
symbolism of the Iron Curtain was not enough. Instead of confirming the
known narratives of the Cold War with the objects that I found I followed
the material and let it show me other types of connections and fragments.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, I have wanted to shine a light on
this amazing material that is the archaeology of the Iron Curtain, an
archaeology of a metaphor.
(Summary in Swedish)
Ett vanligt förekommande uttryck i diskussioner om kalla kriget är begreppet ”järnridå”. Man talar om läget ”bakom järnridån” eller vad som hände
”efter järnridåns fall”. Men vad är det egentligen man menar när man
använder sig av denna liknelse? I ett berömt tal från 1946 beskrev Winston
Churchill hur en järnridå sänkts över den europeiska kontinenten, från
Stettin vid Östersjön till Trieste vid Adriatiska havet (Wright 2007:43).
Detta uttalande har bildat utgångspunkt för avhandlingens fokus: att undersöka de materiella lämningarna längs de forna militariserade gränserna
genom Europa. Med undantag av den inre tyska gränsen, och då i synnerhet
Berlinmuren, är dessa lämningar ett i stort sätt outforskat område i tidigare
forskning och litteratur.
Syftet med avhandlingen är att utforska vad de fysiska spåren av järnridån kan berätta, och vad dessa lämningar betyder eller har betytt för människor i dess närhet. I undersökningen jämförs också de materiella spåren
av järnridån med de idémässiga föreställningar om järnridån som växte
fram i väst under kalla kriget. Hur förhåller sig metaforen järnridån till den
fysiska järnridån? Är det samma historia som återspeglas?
En annan fråga som behandlas i avhandlingen är järnridåns status som
kulturarv. Med tiden har många av lämningarna längs den forna militariserade gränsen omförhandlats, och på flera platser har miljöerna redan
etablerats som obestridliga kulturarv. Men det finns också platser där det
anses uteslutet att betrakta järnridåns lämningar som kulturarv. Vad är det
för kulturarvsprocesser som pågår? Vad är det som påverkar hur detta
kulturarv skapas?
Ett annat syfte med studien är att bidra till den fortgående diskussionen
om samtidsarkeologisk metodutveckling. Inom arkeologiämnet har samtidsarkeologins metodik gjort sig känd som experimentell och nyskapande
(Harrison och Schofield 2010:88). Att studera material från senare tid med
hjälp av arkeologiska metoder har visat sig vara ett bra sätt att utvärdera och
utveckla den arkeologiska verktygslådan. Samtidsarkeologins något annorlunda utkikspunkt har även lett till nya arkeologiska perspektiv och omprövning av vissa arkeologiska tankeaxiom.
Rodney Harrison (2011) har diskuterat de nära sambanden mellan
arkeologi och utgrävning och visat hur detta grundlagt en förståelse av det
förflutna som något som är dolt, isolerat och överlagrat av senare epoker.
Han menar att vi behöver skifta fokus, och i stället för att fokusera på djup
tänka på de arkeologiska spåren som olika ytor, som alla utgör en del av vår
samtid och befinner sig i samspel med varandra. Att erkänna det förflutna
som en del av samtiden och studera det som något som finns här och nu
ligger också i linje med Laurent Oliviers betonande av att vi borde se arkeologi mindre som narrativ historieskrivning och mer som minnesfragment,
som konstant skapas och omskapas (Olivier 2004:209–211).
För att utforska dessa perspektiv och för att förstå hur järnridåns platser
utvecklats och hur de ser ut idag har jag vänt mig till tingen. Bjørnar Olsen
(2003, 2010) har framhållit att tidigare arkeologisk forskning sällan sett
föremål som betydande i sig själva, utan snarare betraktat dem som representationer för något annat. Min föresats är istället att undersöka vad vi kan
förstå utifrån lämningarna i sig själva. Som hjälp i detta arbete har jag
använt Actor Network Theory (ANT). Nätverksteori erbjuder ett bra ramverk för att synliggöra såväl människor som ting som aktiva och skapande,
och tydliggöra relationer dem emellan.
Arkeologiska studier som ligger närmare vår egen tid tenderar att hamna
i en gråzon mellan discipliner som till exempel etnologi, historia, konsthistoria, antropologi och kulturgeografi. Människors berättelser vävs ihop
med det materiella på ett sätt som gör det svårt att separera de olika källmaterialen från varandra och som ställer nya krav på valet av metod.
Att materiella lämningar och människors berättelser är tätt sammanflätade och snudd på förutsätter varandra framgick med all tydlighet i
samband med mina intervjuer och fältstudier. För att nå dessa berättelser
krävdes ett reflexivt förhållningssätt, där man måste vara flexibel och
beredd att anpassa sig, men samtidigt vara erfaren nog att avgöra vilken
metod som är bäst i de olika situationerna. Jag har huvudsakligen använt
mig av arkeologiska metoder, framför allt inventering, tillsammans med
mer etnologiska metoder och förhållningssätt.
En fysisk metafor
I kapitel två diskuterar jag hur uttrycket järnridån har vuxit fram. Från att
ha varit ett fysiskt skydd som förhindrade att bränder spreds på teatrarna i
London under 1800-talet har det utvecklats till att åsyfta något helt annat.
Under första världskriget användes begreppet för att poängtera skiljelinjerna och motsättningarna mellan de stridande sidorna. Under och efter
andra världskriget blev uttrycket en metafor för de växande klyftorna
mellan de allierade. Winston Churchill omnämnande av järnridån i sitt tal i
Missouri i USA 1946 banade väg för en bred spridning av uttrycket.
Rent fysiskt växte de militariserade gränserna i Europa fram efter andra
världskriget. Sedan Tyskland delats upp stegrades spänningarna i gränszonerna, framför allt mellan de västallierade (USA, Storbritannien och
Frankrike) och Sovjetunionen. Motsättningarna mellan de olika sidorna
ökade, samtidigt som svarthandel, olagliga övergångar och våld gjorde det
allt svårare att upprätthålla lugnet i gränsområdena. För att få bättre
kontroll började snart både öst- och västmakterna att bygga barriärer
(Sheffer 2008:91). Bland lokalbefolkningen fanns det ett visst stöd för dessa
barriärer, eftersom de tillsammans med militära sanktioner skapade stabilitet i gränsområdena. Barriärerna fick generellt sätt inte mycket uppmärksamhet i medierna, eftersom de till viss del följde tidigare gränser och uppdelningar och dessutom var relativt gömda för insyn.
När Berlinmuren började byggas 1961 var däremot medias och befolkningens reaktioner mycket starka. Trots att man var medveten om de militära gränser som växt fram både i Tyskland och längs med andra gränser
genom Europa, så framstod denna barriär i en annan dager. Med byggandet
av Berlinmuren klövs en tidigare homogen stad itu, och delningen mellan
öst och väst blev väldigt påtaglig. I Berlin kunde man till och med röra vid
muren! I väst blev muren en viktig symbol för östblockets förtryck och en
ofta använd referens i retoriken mot kalla kriget. Den användes bland annat
som bakgrund vid den amerikanske presidenten Ronald Reagans tal i Berlin
1987. I östblocket hyllades istället barriären – åtminstone i den offentliga
retoriken – som en antifascistisk skyddsvall.
Det var inte bara i media och politik som Berlinmuren gjorde sig känd
som en symbol för kalla krigets delning. Genom musik, film och skönlitteratur (och då i synnerhet i spiongenren, som fick stort genomslag under
1960-talet), smög den sig också in i populärkulturen. Järnridån och Berlinmuren blev allt mer sammanlänkade i det allmänna medvetandet, och till
slut sågs de nästan som synonyma. De skildringar av muren som förmed217
lades i media, politisk retorik, populärkultur och litteraturen påverkade
alltså inte bara förståelsen av Berlinmuren själv, utan i förlängningen också
bilden av järnridån. Förståelsen för hur denna barriär och andra militariserade gränser genom Europa fungerade har till stor del gett vika för den
metaforiska, mer stereotypa bilden av Berlinmuren, med dess betongväggar,
taggtråd och vakttorn.
Berlinmurens materialitet
Eftersom Berlinmuren är så central i den rådande idén om järnridån finns
det anledning att uppehålla sig lite vid dess materialitet och historia. I
kapitel tre beskrivs översiktligt den historiska bakgrunden och de fysiska
lämningarna av muren, som de ser ut idag. Beskrivningarna och diskussionerna om murens materialitet bygger dels på egna observationer, gjorda
under två besök i Berlin, dels på de arkeologiska undersökningar som gjorts
vid Brandenburgh Tekniska Universitet i Cottbus, Tyskland (Klausmeier
och Schmidt 2004).
Trots att stora delar av Berlinmuren revs under tidigt 1990-tal är den
fortfarande ett högst närvarande minnesmärke i staden idag. Muren gör sig
inte bara gällande i de lämningar som finns kvar, utan också genom ett omfattande minnesarbete som kommer till uttryck i form av museer, minnesplatser och olika slags installationer. Den forna muren kastar också skuggor
i staden genom de tomrum som den efterlämnat; platser där gränsens infrastruktur rivits och fortfarande inte ersatts med något nytt. Frågan om
murens värde som kulturarv och hur det historiska minnet av den ska
bevaras har varit omdiskuterat sedan 1989, när berlinborna själva började
riva ner den framför världspressens kameror.
Under 1990–1991 gjordes stora ansträngningar för att utplåna muren,
och en hel del av dess infrastruktur revs. Mycket av det som brukar ses som
själva muren, det vill säga de betongväggar som sträckte sig igenom stadslandskapet, är numera borttaget. Ändå finns det många fysiska lämningar
av muren kvar. Några av betongväggarna har återanvänts som konstinstallationer både i och utanför Berlin. Det finns också mindre uppmärksammade betongväggspartier – företrädesvis sådana som vette mot öst – som helt
enkelt blivit kvar. Andra spår av murens infrastruktur är till exempel
vakttorn, belysning och stora öppna områden som ännu inte bebyggts.
Upplevelserna av Berlinmuren under kalla kriget var högst varierande
mellan olika människor. Efter murens fall blev det tydligt att det rådde
delade meningar om hur dess kvarlevor och det historiska minnet runt
dessa skulle hanteras. I Berlin finns det idag flera minnesmärken för håg218
komst och kunskapsförmedling kring Berlinmuren och kalla kriget i stort.
Dessa har inte sällan skapat debatt, då det finns skiftande uppfattningar om
hur de borde se ut och vad de borde representera.
Att det finns olika perspektiv på muren och dess historia är inte minst
tydligt i de två museer som handlar om just Berlinmuren, men som presenterar två ganska olika berättelser. Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer är ett
kunskapsmuseum som bygger på och förmedlar forskning om muren och
dess historiska sammanhang. Haus am Checkpoint Charlie är istället mer
fokuserat på upplevelse, och utgår från den idé av järnridån och av Berlinmuren som framhävts av media, populärkultur och till viss del den litteratur
som finns om perioden (som diskuterats i kapitel två).
Fallstudie 1: den italiensk/slovenska gränsen
Kapitel fyra är en redogörelse för det fältarbete, som utfördes vid gränsen
mellan Italien och Slovenien 2008 och 2011. Att studera denna gräns blev
en viktig del av förståelsen av vilken betydelse lokalsamhället lägger i
begreppet järnridå och vilka egenskaper som ansågs vara centrala. Kommentarer som ”Det var en del av järnridån för de var kommunister på den
andra sidan och kapitalister på denna” eller ”Detta var aldrig en del av järnridån för att det gick att ta sig över” hjälpte till att synliggöra allmänna
uppfattningar om vad järnridån var och inte var, hur den definierades och
hur den upplevdes på plats.
Det primära syftet med fältstudien var att skapa en bättre bild av hur
gränsen sett ut under kalla kriget och hur den ser ut idag. Under det första
fältarbetet (2008) undersöktes översiktligt gränserna mellan Italien/Slovenien och Österrike/Slovenien. Det andra fältarbetet (2011) fokuserade mer i
detalj på ett område i och runt städerna Gorizia (i Italien) och Nova Gorica
(i Slovenien). Dessa städer växte fram bredvid varandra som en konsekvens
av den nya gräns som efter andra världskriget drogs mellan Italien och
forna Jugoslavien. Den stad som tidigare funnits här, Gorizia på italienska
och Gorica på slovenska, hamnade nu helt inom italienskt territorium,
medan stora delar av det odlingslandskap som försåg staden med mat hamnade i Jugoslavien. På den jugoslaviska sidan anlades snart ett nytt Gorica,
Nova Gorica, för att skapa ett nytt centrum för det omkringliggande
Gränserna i det aktuella området har ändrats åtskilliga gånger under det
senaste århundradet. Området har tillhört både Österrike, Italien, Jugoslavien och Slovenien. Efter andra världskriget reviderades gränsen av de
allierade och en kommission fick i uppdrag att utföra arbetet med att staka
ut gränslinjen i landskapet. Lokala berättelser gör gällande att ortsbefolkningen under de första dygnen försökte påverka gränsdragningen. Nattetid
smög sig markägare ut och flyttade helt enkelt de stängsel som satts upp, för
att få så stor del som möjligt av sin mark i ett och samma land. Snart
började dock gränsen patrulleras hårt på båda sidor, vilket omöjliggjorde
vidare försök att rucka på gränsdragningen.
När denna gräns växte fram hade den först likheter med gränsen mellan
Öst- och Västtyskland, med intensiv patrullering och gränsövervakning.
Men till skillnad från den inre tyska gränsen, som med tiden blev mer och
mer militariserad, så började snart gränsen mellan Italien och Jugoslavien
öppnas mer och mer. Denna utveckling var i linje med Jugoslaviens avståndstagande från det kommunistiska Kominform och landets alltmer
västvänliga politik. Eftersom många andra gränser längre norrut i Europa
var svårare att ta sig igenom (till exempel den forna tjeckoslovakiska gränsen) blev den jugoslaviska gränsen ofta ett sätt att nå Västeuropa för
invånarna i länder med hårdare kontroll. Det var jämförelsevis lätt att få
semestervisum till Jugoslavien, eftersom det sågs som ett socialistiskt ickevästerländskt land, och härifrån fanns det sedan bättre möjligheter att ta sig
över gränsen. Gränsen förblev dock bevakad fram till 2004, då Slovenien
gick med i Europeiska Unionen. Den revolution som 1989 ledde till öppnande av flera andra gränser i Europa hade med andra ord inte samma
effekt i detta område.
Mina arkeologiska undersökningar av Gorizia/Nova Goricaområdet har
frilagt flera lager av historia, som interagerar med varandra. Lämningarna
här är av olika typer och stammar från olika tider. De återspeglar människors agerande, eller förbud från att agera, i ett högst kontrollerat område.
Trots att merparten av lämningarna från den tidigare militariserade gränsen
inte finns kvar, finns det ändå spår av övervakningen, i form av bland annat
vakttorn och patrullvägar. Vid övergångarna är gränserna som mest
framträdande, även om de är långt mindre sammansatta idag än tidigare.
Här finns fortfarande gränspolisens byggnader kvar, även om de i de flesta
fall nu står tomma. I asfalten kan man skönja markeringar från tidigare
vägfiler och det finns även rester av de forna barriärerna. De större gränspassagernas gynnsamma effekt på handeln har lämnat avtryck efter sig i
form av tomma affärs- och restauranglokaler. Många av lämningarna, till
exempel soldaternas graffitti i de övergivna vakttornen, ger också en viss
inblick i tillvaron för de som kontrollerade dessa gränser. Därtill finns ideologiska slogans, som textats på hus och bergssidor. Dessa spår är i mångt
och mycket på väg att försvinna.
Fältstudier av lämningarna i detta område gjorde det tydligt att järnridåns
faktiska materialitet är mer komplex än vad man i allmänhet föreställer sig.
Samma sak kan sägas om den mentala kartan av järnridån. Generellt sett
tycks det vara vanligt att föreställa sig järnridån som näst intill omöjlig att
forcera, med höga murar och taggtråd. Denna visualisering är i huvudsak
baserad på den bild som skapats av Berlinmuren. De intervjuer som jag
utfört inom ramen för fältarbetet visar att uppfattningarna om huruvida
denna gräns har varit del av en järnridå eller inte beror på informanternas
bakgrund och deras ålder. De som upplevde gränsen under dess tidiga
skede tenderar att koppla samman gränsen med järnridån, medan de som
är födda senare snarare sett gränsen som en tillgång för handel med andra
sidan. De som kommer från det italienska området menar oftare att detta en
gång tillhörde järnridån, medan de som kommer från Jugoslavien och
Slovenien mer sällan delar denna upplevelse.
Något som också blev tydligt genom fältstudierna var hur det materiella
kalla kriget-landskapet expanderar i tid, både bakåt och framåt. Mycket av
det som konstituerade gränsen och dess infrastruktur var i själva verket
återanvända rester av tidigare verksamheter, till exempel ruinerna från ett
medeltida kloster eller anläggningar från andra världskriget. Många av
gränsens lämningar har också återanvänts senare, i nya sammanhang.
Patrullvägar har till exempel blivit vandrings- och cykelleder. Fragmenterade och återanvända representerar lämningarna en lång tidshorisont.
Fallstudie 2: den tjeckisk/österrikiska gränsen
I kapitel fem presenteras det fältarbete som utfördes vid gränsen mellan
Tjeckien och Österrike under 2009 och 2010. Syftet med denna fältstudie
var att skapa en förståelse för hur gränsen sett ut under kalla kriget och
hur den ser ut idag. Det första fältarbetet, som utfördes 2009, hade ambitionen att grundlägga en översiktlig förståelse av den tjeckisk/österrikiska
gränsen. Det andra fältarbetet, som genomfördes året därpå, fokuserade
mer detalj på ett område i den tjeckiska nationalparken Podyji, vid staden
Vranov nad Dyji.
Nationalparken Podyji utvecklades delvis som en konsekvens av det
militariserade gränsområde som etablerades här efter andra världskriget.
Stora områden närmast den österrikiska gränsen lämnades då i stort sätt
orörda, bortsett från stängsel och annan infrastruktur. Efter det att den
militariserade gränsen försvann under tidigt 1990-tal gjordes området om
till en nationalpark, för att ta vara på det unika natur och djurliv som skapats här under flera århundraden. Områdets historia som park sträcker sig
dock längre tillbaka än så. Från 1700-talet och framåt var det en del av
Vranovs slottspark och inkluderade bland annat en engelsk park med paviljonger, hägnader med djur och monument. Innan andra världskriget byggdes
bunkrar i området. Dessa utgjorde en del av den försvarslinje som dåvarande
Tjeckoslovakien etablerade som skydd mot det växande nazistiska hotet i
Tyskland och Österrike. 17 av bunkrarna finns idag kvar i studieområdet.
Under kriget drevs många av de judar som bott i området ut. Efter kriget
tvångsflyttades stora mängder tysktalande och andra som ansågs vara ett hot
mot säkerheten i de känsliga gränsområdena. Detta är en utveckling som går
igen i flera av gränsområdena i regionen. Befolkningsminskningen gjorde
gränsområdena relativt glesbebyggda och därmed lättare att militarisera.
Gränsernas infrastruktur sträckte sig åtskilliga kilometer in i landet, från
de faktiska gränserna räknat. Den egentliga gränsen var däremot inte
markerad med annat än enkla gränsstenar. Det var helt enkelt inte meningen att någon från Tjeckoslovakien någonsin skulle komma så pass nära
den egentliga gränsen. En serie stängsel, minor och patrullerande soldater
skulle stoppa de som försökte ta sig över till väst. Inga officiella gränspassager fanns i studieområdet.
Lämningarna i landskapet är av många olika slag. Tillsammans berättar
de om den infrastruktur som skulle stoppa rymningar över gränserna
västerut, och om de soldater som skulle skydda just dessa områden. Även
om soldaterna har försvunnit så finns deras närvaro kvar i de ting de lämnat efter sig. Intervjuer med före detta gränssoldater och en officer har
också hjälpt till att befolka dessa platser och förstå något av vad som
utspelat sig här.
De flesta av de gränsvaktsstationer som etablerades här för soldaterna
står fortfarande kvar. Inom ramen för min studie har jag undersökt de två
stationerna Hájenka och Šafov. Trots att många av inventarierna har tagits
bort så finns det ännu spår kvar som upplyser oss om soldaternas liv i
gränsområdet. Som exempel kan nämnas graffiti på väggar som vittnar om
hur soldaterna räknade ner dagarna på sin tvååriga militärtjänst. Andra spår
från soldaternas vardag är etiketter från skoputsburkar som klistrats upp i
ett av tvättrummen samt dekorerade logementdörrar.
Under dessa fältstudier har det blivit tydligt att olika källor visar på olika
sidor av vår historia och olika berättelser. Mest påtagligt blir detta när det
gäller bilden av soldaterna. I det fysiska landskapet framträder bilden av
unga värnpliktiga, som putsar sina skor och fördriver tiden i väntan på
dagen då man fullföljt sin tjänstgöring. I arkivens dokument framträder en
helt annan bild – de vittnar om hur samma soldater utan att tveka skjuter de
som försöker ta sig över gränsen. De källor vi använder har utan tvekan en
stark påverkan på vilken historia vi i slutändan berättar.
I den offentliga framställningen av parken idag har man valt att koncentrera sig på dess natur och djurliv. Till viss del uppmärksammas också de
monument som finns kvar från tiden som slottspark. Däremot finns det
nästan ingen information alls om parkens historia som militariserad gräns. I
de områden som turister mest rör sig i verkar man till och med ha försökt
städa undan de fysiska rester som finns kvar av platsens förflutna som
militariserad zon.
I fallet med nationalparken Podyji och den tjeckisk/österrikiska gränsen
har de olika källorna tillsammans skapat en djupare förståelse av både lokaloch världshistorien, även om bilderna delvis är fragmentariska och motsägelsefulla.
Järnridåns arkeologi
I det sjätte och avslutande kapitlet diskuteras resultaten av de olika fältstudierna i relation till det problemområde som tecknats i de inledande
kapitlen. Det blir tydligt att historiska narrativ, myter, metaforer och fysiska
lämningar alla är delar av järnridåns kulturella konstruktion.
Min forskning har i hög grad påverkats av de historiska narrativ om kalla
kriget som jag växt upp med. Mest påtagligt har detta kanske varit i valet av
empiriskt fokus, att undersöka platser där järnridåns konturer kunde förväntas klarna. Men de platser som jag undersökt har visat sig rymma mer
komplexa och betydligt vidare berättelser än jag kunnat föreställa mig. Det
blev tydligt hur mycket källorna kunde ge och att de ofta berättar olika
historier, som inte alltid passar ihop. Att se dem som de fragment som de är
kan hjälpa oss att förstå en plats, en tid eller en händelse på ett mer
nyanserat sätt.
Den materiella vändning man kan skönja inom arkeologin under
senare år, framfört av bland andra Bjørnar Olsen (2003, 2010) och Þora
Pétursdóttir (2012, 2013), försöker höja tingens status som källmaterial.
Man menar att tingen inte bara ska ses som passiva redskap för människan
och – inom ramen för historievetenskapen – användas som kunskapskällor
till kulturella sammanhang och meningar, som ligger bortom tingen
själva. Det är viktigt att komma ihåg att tingen inte bara har ett symboliskt
eller kulturellt värde, utan att de också är spelar en egen aktiv roll, som de
ting de är.
När man börjar se tingen som viktiga i sig själva träder andra berättelser
och konstellationer fram. Vi kan se hur föremål från olika tidpunkter sam223
existerar, vilket gör den kronologiskt avgränsade tiden mindre intressant.
Laurent Olivier (2004) har påpekat att arkeologins starka beroende av
historieskrivningen är problematisk. Han menar att vi måste börja se de
objekt och platser som vi studerar som mer fragmentariska, och i den
bemärkelsen mer lika minnen än narrativa berättelser. I studieområdena är
det tydligt hur olika tidsavsnitt blandas genom att tingen återaktiveras,
rekontextualiseras och återvinns. Samma beståndsdelar av vad som en gång
var ett medeltida kloster har genom historien använts av munkar, soldater
och turister. Samma stigar har nötts av olika människor under olika perioder.
I det avslutande kapitlet diskuterar jag också samtidsarkeologin från ett
mer metodologisk perspektiv. Undersökningar av mer recenta material
brukar inte ha samma fokus på utgrävning som andra arkeologiska undersökningar. Man arbetar helt enkelt med mer ytligt belägna lämningar.
Rodney Harrison (2011) har argumenterat för att den gängse arkeologins
fokus på djup, och synen på det förflutna som något dött och begravet,
skapar ett mentalt avstånd mellan det förflutna och samtiden. Han föreslår
att man istället ska visualisera det förflutna som olika närvarande ytor, och
se det förflutna som del av samtiden.
Laura McAtackney (2008), Rodney Harrison (2011) och Paul GravesBrown (2011) har alla ifrågasatt varför arkeologin är så förknippad med
utgrävning som metod, och varför andra metoder generellt anses mindre
tillförlitliga. Samtidigt finns det en viss osäkerhet för giltigheten av de alternativa metoder som används inom samtidsarkeologin. En metod som används flitigt inom studiet av mer samtida lämningar är inventering. Traditionellt sätt har inventering sätts som något preliminärt – inte minst som
förberedelser inför utgrävning – och inte som en giltig metod i sig själv. Detta
blev också tydligt när jag ställde frågan om vad en inventering är på
Contemporary and Historical Archaeology in Theorys forum (McWilliams
2012), där svaren blev väldigt varierande.
Jag har i min studie använt ett reflexivt förhållningssätt för att pröva
några av de metoder som är vanliga inom samtidsarkeologin. Jag har
diskuterat det nära förhållandet mellan samtidsarkeologin och dess granndiscipliner, främst etnologi och historia. Att röra sig i gränsområdena
mellan olika vetenskaper kan vara en tillgång, då olika material och källor
kan ge olika information och belysa olika aspekter. Samtidigt finns det en
risk att just sådana gränsområden inte tas i anspråk av forskningen, eller att
forskningen inte drar nytta av den mångfalden av källor och metoder som
står till buds. Anders Andrén (1998) har i en diskussion om skillnaderna
mellan materiella och skriftliga källor varnat för det han kallar ”mellanrum224
mets dilemma”. Han påpekar att även om vi behöver minska klyftan mellan
skriftliga och materiella källor så löser vi inte problemet genom att se text
och ting som identiska.
Men det finns också andra källor förutom just ting och text som måste
tas i beaktande, källor som filmer, nyhetsrapporter, bilder, muntliga berättelser, sångtexter och konst. Alla dessa har varit viktiga i min forskning och
har visat sig vara en tillgång för att förstå olika aspekter av järnridån. Det
kan vara svårt att dra upp rågångarna mellan dessa källor, och sortera dem i
olika fack. Är till exempel graffiti på ett föremål enbart att betrakta som
text? Hur ska vi klassificera ett minne som väckts av ett ting? Ibland kan
källorna te sig annorlunda och kräva andra metoder än de vi som arkeologer är vana vid, men ibland kan de i allt väsentligt också vara väldigt lika.
När vi talar om skillnaderna mellan text och ting kan man se att det ibland
snarare handlar om olikheterna mellan historiska och arkeologiska traditioner. Skillnaden ligger därför inte alltid i källornas ontologi utan i hur vi
betraktar dem och i de metoder vi väljer att studera dem.
Min forskning ska inte ses som en ANT-studie, men jag har hämtat
inspiration från ANT:s tankar om tingens mer aktiva roll. Jag har inte velat
reducera tingen till rekvisita åt historieskrivningen, utan försökt nå och följa
alla aktörer – mänskliga såväl som materiella – på de platser jag studerat.
ANT har också varit viktigt rent metodologiskt. I linje med ANT:s arbetssätt har jag valt att utgå från det lilla för att sedan arbeta mig utåt och uppåt
genom de nätverk som aktörerna bildar. Det jordnära perspektivet tvingar
oss att stanna upp och verkligen se det material vi har framför oss. Det som
blir tydligt är att denna metod möjliggör för andra berättelser än de stora,
erkända och förväntade att komma fram. Ett av de påtagligaste exemplen på
detta i min forskning är hur jag hittar fragment av en berättelse om
vardagliga lumparkillar, en berättelse som inte passar ihop med vår vanliga
bild av järnridån, som en mur av förtryck och våld.
I sökandet efter en av de mest välkända ikonerna för kalla kriget – järnridån – fann jag en rad vardagliga platser som vid första anblicken kan te sig
oviktiga, men som vid närmare betraktelse skapar nätverk som kopplar
ihop tidsperioder, platser, människor, ting och berättelser.
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ålandsöarna perioden 3500–2000 f. Kr. (Diss.)
29. LINDGREN, Christina. 2004. Människor och kvarts. Sociala och teknologiska strategier under mesolitikum i östra Mellansverige. (Diss.)
30. LAGERSTEDT, Anna. 2004. Det norrländska rummet. Vardagsliv och socialt samspel i medeltidens bondesamhälle. (Diss.)
31. von HEIJNE, Cecilia. 2004. Särpräglat. Vikingatida och tidigmedeltida
myntfynd från Danmark, Skåne, Blekinge och Halland (ca 800-1130). (Diss.)
32. FERNSTÅL, Lotta. 2004. Delar av en grav och glimtar av en tid. Om yngre
romersk järnålder, Tuna i Badelunda i Västmanland och personen i grav X. (Diss.)
33. THEDÉEN, Susanne. 2004. Gränser i livet – gränser i landskapet. Generationsrelationer och rituella praktiker i södermanländska bronsålderslandskap. (Diss.)
34. STENSKÖLD, Eva. 2004. Att berätta en senneolitisk historia. Sten och metall i södra Sverige 2350–1700 f. Kr. (Diss.)
35. REGNER, Elisabet. 2005. Den reformerade världen. Monastisk och materiell
kultur i Alvastra kloster från medeltid till modern tid. (Diss.)
36. MONIÉ NORDIN, Jonas. 2005. När makten blev synlig. Senmedeltid i södra Dalarna. (Diss.)
37. FELDT, Björn. 2005. Synliga och osynliga gränser. Förändringar i gravritualen under yngre bronsålder – förromersk järnålder i Södermanland. (Diss.)
38. RUNER, Johan. 2006. Från hav till land eller Kristus och odalen. En studie
av Sverige under äldre medeltid med utgångspunkt från de romanska kyrkorna.
39. STENQVIST MILLDE, Ylva. 2007. Vägar inom räckhåll. Spåren efter resande i det förindustriella bondesamhället. (Diss.)
40. BACK DANIELSSON, Ing-Marie. 2007. Masking Moments. The Transitions of Bodies and Beings in Late Iron Age Scandinavia. (Diss.)
41. SELLING, Susanne. 2007. Livets scener och dödens platser. Om bronsålder i
södra Bohuslän utifrån en gravläggning i Faxehögen, Kareby socken. (Diss.)
42. ARNBERG, Anna. 2007. Där människor, handling och tid möts. En studie
av det förromerska landskapet på Gotland. (Diss.)
43. BERGERBRANT, Sophie. 2007. Bronze Age Identities: Costume, Conflict
and Contact in Northern Europe 1600–1300 BC. (Diss.)
44. FRANSSON, Ulf, SVEDIN, Marie, BERGERBRANT, Sophie och
ANDROSCHUK, Fedir (red.). 2007. Cultural interaction between east and west.
Archaeology, artefacts and human contacts in northern Europe.
45. MYRBERG, Nanouschka. 2008. Ett eget värde. Gotlands tidigaste myntning,
ca 1140-1220. (Diss.)
46. BRATT, PETER. 2008. Makt uttryckt i jord och sten. Stora högar och maktstrukturer i Mälardalen under järnåldern. (Diss.)
47. BACK DANIELSSON, Ing-Marie, GUSTIN, Ingrid, LARSSON, Annika,
MYRBERG, Nanouschka och THEDÉEN, Susanne (red.). 2009. Döda personers
sällskap. Gravmaterialens identiteter och kulturella uttryck. (On the Threshold.
Burial Archaeology in the Twenty-first Century).
48. REGNER, Elisabet, von HEIJNE, Cecilia, KITZLER ÅHFELDT, Laila och
KJELLSTRÖM, Anna (red.). 2009. From Ephesos to Dalecarlia: Reflections on
Body, Space and Time in Medieval and Early Modern Europe.
49. LINDEBERG, Marta 2009. Järn i jorden. Spadformiga ämnesjärn i Mellannorrland. (Diss.)
50. JONSSON, Kristina. 2009. Practices for the Living and the Dead. Medieval
and Post-Reformation Burials in Scandinavia. (Diss.)
51. von HACKWITZ, Kim. 2009. Längs med Hjälmarens stränder och förbi.
Relationen mellan den gropkeramiska kulturen och båtyxekulturen. (Diss.)
52. MONIKANDER, Anne. 2010. Våld och vatten. Våtmarkskult vid Skedemosse under järnåldern. (Diss.)
53. FAHLANDER, Fredrik och KJELLSTRÖM, Anna (red.). 2010. Making
Sense of Things. Archaeologies of Sensory Perception.
54. FAHLANDER, Fredrik (red.). 2011. Spåren av de små. Arkeologiska perspektiv på barn och barndom.
55. SJÖSTRAND, Ylva. 2011. Med älgen i huvudrollen. Om fångstgropar, hällbilder och skärvstensvallar i mellersta Norrland. (Diss.)
56. BURSTRÖM, Nanouschka M. och FAHLANDER, Fredrik (red.). 2012.
Matters of scale. Processes and courses of events in archaeology and cultural history.
57. BACK DANIELSSON, Ing-Marie, FAHLANDER, Fredrik och SJÖSTRAND, Ylva (red.). 2012. Encountering Imagery: Materialities, Perceptions,
58. BACK DANIELSSON, Ing-Marie and THEDÉEN, Susanne (eds.). 2012.
To Tender Gender. The Pasts and Futures of Gender Research in Archaeology.
59. MCWILLIAMS, Anna. 2013. An Archaeology of the Iron Curtain: Material
and Metaphor.
The Iron Curtain was seen as the divider between East
and West in Cold War Europe. The term refers to a
material reality but it is also a metaphor; a metaphor
that has become so powerful that it tends to mark our
historical understanding of the period.
Through the archaeological study of two areas that can be
considered part of the former Iron Curtain, the Czech—
Austrian border and the Italian—Slovenian border,
this research investigates the relationship between the
material and the metaphor of the Iron Curtain. As a
study of the archaeology of the contemporary past
this thesis brings forward methodological issues when
dealing with many different sources as well as general
reflections on our historical understanding.
Södertörns högskola
SE-141 89 Huddinge
[email protected]
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