15 June 2019:
Travemünde, Germany:
On the Borderline

By Corey Sandler

Travemünde is a borough of Lübeck, Germany, at the mouth of the river Trave, with a population of about 13,500 residents and many thousands more summer tourists.

The settlement began as a fortress built in the 12th century by Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, to guard the mouth of the Trave, which leads inland to the city of Lubeck.

The Danes subsequently strengthened it. Those fortifications were taken down in 1807 as Travemunde became a popular seaside resort.

And so today, what had been a fishing port and then a Hansa trading port is mostly luring tourists.

A panoramic view of today’s waterfront taken from aboard ship.

Excluding the interruptions of the two world wars, that role continued even during the years of a divided Germany. It is not quite at the mega-yacht level of Saint-Tropez, and that is a good thing because the city has retained or restored its old-world appearance.

At the end of World War II, Germany was split into two quasi nations, the Federal Republic of Germany—known to the outside world as West Germany, and the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany, a puppet state of the Soviet Union.

And Travemunde ended up right on the line.

Until 1989 the border between East and West German was behind the Priwall, the spit of beach across from the town. Most of Priwall was a military area and off-limits to the public.

Most of the world’s attention was focused on the concrete and barbed wire wall erected between the Russian and the other sectors of Berlin, the capital city that sat like an island inside of East Germany.

The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961.

Here at Travemunde, the border fencing and walls were erected much earlier, beginning in 1952. It was referred to as the Inner German Border, no less real than the Berlin Wall but not much noticed outside the region.

Nearly 50,000 East German guards were charged with watching – day and night – what East Berlin termed the “anti-fascist protection wall” (although all fortifications were directed against the east).

On the other side, another 20,000 West German border police and customs officials monitored the “zone border”, a name reflecting Bonn’s official position of refusing to recognize the division or the other German state to the east.

Before you could reach the metal fence that was the official line there were a number of other barriers.

Towns and roads from one to five kilometers away from the border, half a mile to three miles away, were considered restricted zones and free travel was difficult. People considered “politically unreliable” or likely to flee, were removed from the restricted zone in two waves of forcible resettlement, in 1952 and 1961.

Then came a control strip, a signal or trip wire fence, and then a 500-meter or 1,800-foot-wide protective strip monitored by armed guards in watchtowers equipped with high-intensity floodlights.

By one estimate, nearly a thousand people were killed trying to escape from East Germany across the inner border.


Up the river Trave, about 15 miles away, is Lübeck in the Schleswig-Holstein region. It was the leading city of the Hanseatic League, and became a very wealthy place through trade. 

Mostly rebuilt after the war, it includes a large collection of Brick Gothic structures, and the entire city—population about 219,000—is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

I went today with guests for a revisit, and after enduring a rain storm of biblical proportions, we enjoyed a stroll through the wet streets and coffee and marzipan at the famed Niederegger cafe.

All photos and text Copyright 2019 by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. See more photos on my website at http://www.coreysandler.com


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