Few things excite my imagination more than scanning bike trail routes.
Beginning at the Norway-Russia border on the Barents Sea in the north, the bike route touches 20 nations before it ends on the Black Sea coast in Turkey in the south.
It's nearly equal in length to the TransAmerica Trail that stretches from Yorktown, Virginia, to Astoria, Oregon, in the US. It passes parks, monuments and green belts that mark the so-called “death strip” between East and West during the Cold War.
The trail got its start in 2005, when the European Parliament approved the trail as a model project that combined European culture, history and sustainable tourism for its members.
The bike trail is still in development, although large parts are complete. The New York Times Travel section recently ran a story, “Biking the Iron Curtain Trail,” about a completed section in Germany. The writer was struck by two observations towers left over from the Cold War:
” …. two sinister-looking structures that faced off against each other no more than 70 yards apart.
“Between them stood a remnant of the original Iron Curtain fence: its concrete support posts had once been fortified with antipersonnel fragmentation mines loaded with an explosive charge of 110 grams of TNT and 80 metal splinters that could be propelled 30 yards in all directions. A German shepherd molded from concrete and painted in shades of brown and black, a classic piece of cold war kitsch, was tethered by a metal chain to a tree.”
In other locations, memorials mark those killed in European wars.
The website describes the various sections of the route, beginning in the North:
“The bike route starts at the Barents Sea along the Norwegian-Russian and Finnish-Russian border. It passes a short stretch of the coasts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Kaliningrad, Poland and East Germany.
“From Lübeck to the three-nation border (Saxony-Bavaria-Czech Republic) the path follows the border between East and West Germany. Then it follows the highlands of the Bohemian Forest, passes Moravia and the Slovak capital of Bratislava and crosses the Danube near Vienna.
“It then follows the southern border of Hungary via Slovenia and Croatia. Between Rumania and Serbia it follows in the main the Danube, and, via Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece to end at the northernmost point of Turkey on the Black Sea coast.”
In Germany the Iron Curtain Trail is called the German German Border Trail. The path itself often follows the old border patrol roads that still exist, although other lightly traveled roads in the vicinity can be used.
The Iron Curtain Trail route follows the border set up between nations controlled by the Soviet Union in the East and those under protection of the NATO in the West. Winston Churchill called this the Iron Curtain, and it existed from the close of World War II until the end of the Cold War in 1991.
In most places, the border between East and West was a militarized no-man's land marked with fences, land-mines, and lookout towers. No other development occurred in that space for nearly 50 years.
Today, that stretch of land is now a Green Belt. It comprises 150 natural parks, an equal number of flora-and-fauna areas, and three biosphere reservations. The route for the Iron Curtain Trail passes right through or adjacent to those green belt areas.
European bike vacations
Many travel to Europe to bike the hills and valleys of France and Italy and sample the local wines along the way. They learn about ancient European history at the castles or Roman aqueducts that dot the landscape.
This bike trail brings recent European history into focus for travelers. Green Party member Michael Cramer rode parts of the trail earlier this year to encourage support of it throughout Europe.
The Iron Curtain Trail website gives a lot of information on the route, but little about which sections are up and running. The website could provide a valuable service to future travelers by updating which sections are complete.
Where to find books and guides
Download the Iron Curtain Trail brochure.
The German publishing house Verlag Esterbauer has split the route into four guidebooks: Berlin Wall Trail, and Iron Curtain Trails No. 1, 2, and 3.
Berlin Wall Trail and Iron Curtain Trail No. 2 are available at Amazon.com.