The attraction of going to the Point Alpha Museum was pretty simple. Some of Tom's earlier military buddies were either stationed there or knew of others who were. There were stories of life with the 11th Cavalry Regiment, the American unit that patrolled the border near Fulda. The positive and motivating stories concerned the fact that the soldiers were on the border facing the enemy, literally. The other stories told of how wild and crazy (or badly behaved) those same cavalrymen were. The latter was probably lore, but the former was certainly truth.
When we visited in early 2004, almost fifteen years passed since the border opened between West and East Germany, with its subsequent withdrawal by American troops from the border. So, we thought it would be interesting just to see what it looked like now ... and perhaps get a glimpse of what life was like back in the Cold War days. In conjunction with a trip to Fulda, we drove out through the rolling hills to the east, to the small hamlet of Rasdorf, home of the Point Alpha Museum.
The Museum was shared between Rasdorf and its cross-border Thuringian counterpart Geisa, and consequently half of the exhibition was on either side of the border, connected by a newly-paved farm road connecting the towns. The sequence that this travelogue was written gives our recommended sequence for doing a visit.
The first photograph shows the Grenzemuseum, the museum of the border, located in the eastern side on top of a hill overlooking some beautiful farmland in the valleys below. Just outside the front door of the museum is a section of the Berlin Wall which had been painted blue, almost to match the building. The exhibits inside the building included military equipment from both the US and DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or East Germany), reconstructions of the border fences and East German patrols, and historical information about the Cold War period. One interesting exhibit showed some of the most innovative ways people attempted to scale the border fence between the countries -- including logs laid across the top of the fence from the ground or on top of a car. Videotape documentaries showed the first lines of people and automobiles crossing from east to west immediately after the borders opened. The only shame about the museum was that it was all in German, although English-language tours were said to be available for groups in advance. The Grenzemuseum also had a classroom area where lectures were offered on the Cold War, reunification, and other topics.
The border region itself was still marked with its original fenceline and observation towers. It ran from the opposite side of the parking lot at the Grenzemuseum towards the US camp at Point Alpha. The small barrier shown in the second photograph, with the word "stop" written in Russian, was the barrier used on the border roadways. The rest of the distance was blocked off by a fenceline that was heavily fortified on the eastern side. A good view of this fenceline region is shown in the third photo (taken from the US observation tower, described later).
The fortifications were described in a poster exhibit in the Grenzemuseum. Along with a second inner fence line were multiple lines of observation towers, minefields (both anti-personnel and anti-tank), and tank traps. We presumed that many of these obstacles have since been cleared, but none of the exhibits specifically said so. In any case, we didn't see any ongoing de-mining or clearing activities.
The third and final stop was the US camp, the former home of the 11th Cavalry Regiment soldiers on patrol. The US camp was the most interesting part because it had been so well preserved as to give us a very lifelike impression of the conditions. The fact that we went on a wintery snowy day further enhanced the sense of isolation and forbidding that the soldiers commonly felt as the woke up each day and went out to face their enemy.
The third photograph showing the fence region was taken from the top of the US observation tower, shown in the fourth photograph. The center of the tower was enclosed with a diorama showing how the tower was manned and operated during its heyday, including a full set of 60s-vintage communications equipment. The original warning signs were on the road, written in both English and German that warned individuals that they are a mere 50 meters away from the border.
The camp also had several exhibits scattered around its various buildings. Starting from the furthest back was the original tank bay, where the 11th Cavalry's vehicles were in a line ready to go on a moment's notice. Now, the bay was filled with vintage-era US and west German military equipment -- old jeeps, trucks, and a helicopter -- on display. Next to the bay was the original bunker and gatehouse, with a mannequin inside standing guard. One of the barracks buildings was converted into an exhibition hall, with rooms showing American individual equipment (such as weapons, uniforms, mess kits, much of which has long been out of use), a company commander's office, and a gallery of photographs taken during the Cold War. The fifth photograph shows a monument to the 11th Cavalry located across from the barracks entrance.
The Blackhorse Inn was the final stop. Currently serving as the Museum's diner and café, the Blackhorse Inn was originally another barracks building. The interior of the diner was very fascinating. On one wall were photographs of all the 11th's various commanders. 'Thank you' plaques and memorabilia scattered about the other walls. A separate room contained a full exhibition of the US camp's history and its place in the Cold War. Plenty of souvenirs were available as well.
The Point Alpha Museum was well worth a visit for those who remembered the Cold War well, or who were newly learning about European history and wondered what it was like when Germany was divided. It was especially helpful for Americans wanting to know what it meant to stand at Freedom's Frontier.
Trip taken 6 March 2004 -- Page last updated 23 October 2006 -- (C) 2004 Tom Galvin