Ingolf Vogeler, Types of International Borders along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Fenced and Walled Borders: Iron Curtain

International fenced and walled borders are illustrated with two strikingly dissimilar and yet similar borders: the Iron Curtain in Europe during the Cold War and the Israel-Palestine Walls.

Whereas the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall kept East Germans and East Berliners within East Germany, the Israel-Palestine Walls keeps Palestinians out of Israel. Although the former walled border kept people in and the later border keeps people out, these severely fortified borders function(ed) as “security” landscapes of exclusion for both states. The Israel Walls are particularly ironic because Israel complained that the Soviet Union prevented Jews from leaving and immigrating to Israel, yet Israel does not support the free movement of Palestinians to return to their homeland in what is now Israel.

The Iron Curtain in Europe

After World War II the disagreements in power sharing between the Allies resulted in the emergence of the Cold War. In response to the NATO pact among the Western Allies, the Warsaw Pact countries gradually closed off their borders to the West. The "Iron Curtain," as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called it, became the most heavily militarized zone in world history, particularly between the two Germanys and the division of Berlin.
            From 1945-1951 the German-German border was fairly easy to cross: most of the border was open or had very low wire fences. Starting in 1952, the East German government declared a closed border zone and cross-border traffic was restricted and difficult. This border was fortified with taller wire fences and border security installations. According to Lenz, by 1961,"the border was strengthened and guarded more than any other political frontier in the democratic world" (Lenz 1983: 250). Nevertheless, only in Berlin and a few villages on the border were walls ever constructed. Winston Churchill’s description of this international border as “The Iron Curtain” was dramatically inaccurate.

Concrete walls were used only used where the German-German border ran through or near urban places and rural villages. The East German government build the Berlin Wall on either side of the "death strip" within the city. On the West Berlin side of the Wall, tourists came to peer into "enemy" (as Communist were called) territory and and artists used the Wall to express themselves.

Concrete walls, "no-man's land," watch towers, and border fences were also used to separate farm villages (in the photo below, near Bad Sooden-Allendord in Hessen) from West Germany. The stripped gold-black-red cement border marker indicated the line of the international border. The "Halt. Hier Grenze" sign was on the West German side of the border.


The East German border consisted of black-red-gold cement markers, warning signs, 500-meter wide cleared strip in front of wire fence, 80-cm deep ditch, concrete-slab roadway, watch towers, lights, concrete walls around villages and in Berlin, another wire fence (commonly electrified), and check points within 5 km of the border zone. Border patrols were housed in nearby barracks. East German and the Warsaw Pact and West German and NATO military units were stationed in nearby cities, respectively, on either side of this border.

Source for the Iron Curtain diagram: Ingolf Vogeler, "The Relic Landscape of the Iron Curtain in Germany, Geography Online, Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 2000.