'Little Berlin' marks 40th anniversary of its own Cold War wall

IT IS the village reunification forgot: there are still two mayors, two dialling codes and even two distinct German dialects.

Residents of Mdlareuth, in south Germany, are this month remembering the 40th anniversary of their own mini-Berlin Wall, 700 yards of concrete that split their village.

While just 100 yards of the wall remain, the 50-strong village is still officially split as a legacy of the Cold War, even though locals can travel freely across the former border.

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The end of the Second World War saw Mdlareuth divided between the American and Soviet occupation zones. The 15-house village lay on the border between the Bavaria and Thuringia regions and, while the boundary had counted for nothing before 1945, the end of the war meant that the village was on the front-line of the developing Cold War. Until 1949, the locals went to the same school, pub and church and were able to visit each other freely. But growing tensions between East and West meant that from that year villagers could only cross by showing a pass.

In 1952, nearly a decade before the Berlin Wall was built, the East German (DDR) authorities created a 10-yard buffer zone and each crossing had to be individually approved. In 1966, the East Germans built a wall to split the two sides, along with watch towers, guard dogs and machine guns.

More than a decade after unification, Iron Curtain tourism is the biggest local industry, attracting more than 50,000 visitors a year. As part of the commemoration, the village museum (on the west side) is exhibiting thousands of photographs locals took of the wall and the barriers over the years.

These include rare pictures taken from the East German side, where photographing the wall was punishable by imprisonment. Ulrich Schmidt, now mayor of 'East' Mdlareuth, said: "I watched out of my window as the wall went up piece by piece.

"The feeling was like your own house being divided, with some members of the family being stranded on one side."

Klaus Grnzner, mayor of the western part of the village, said: "There was a case where two brothers were separated and couldn't visit each other.

"I served as a West German border guard for eight years and the East German police never said a single word to us, except in 1974 during the World Cup, when East Germany beat us. One of the guards shouted at us: 'Sparwasser [DDR striker] really socked it to you!'

"Nowadays the two sides are coming together more, we get together to put up the Christmas tree and the Maypole."

The decades of division have left their mark on the local language, with two accents and even separate ways of saying 'hello'. Locals on the Bavarian side greet each other with 'grss gott', while in the former east they say 'guten tag'.

Ingolf Herman, a curator at the museum, said: "It would be a very interesting project for a linguist to study. The Americans called the village 'Little Berlin' and we once received a visit from George Bush senior, when he was vice-president.

"He came here in 1983 and, just like Kennedy had said: 'Ich bin ein Berliner!' Bush said: 'Ich bin ein Mdlareuther'."