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German border controls – things ain’t what they used to be…the ‘Dodendraad’

Recent events in Germany may have led some to ask if Germany still controls its borders. Well of course the German Federation does, it had an entire Border Police Force, the Bundesgrenzschutz to do that, and it has quietly been building a Federal Police Force by merging the Railway Police with the Border Police. However, the German Federal State does not seem to regard border control as that much of a priority.

It wasn’t always thus for German governments, we all know about the Berlin Wall, or the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart‘, an example of German bureaucracy showing some resolve as to who crosses its borders. The Wall was of course, the weak point in the East German border, although technically it did not divide the Germanies, but the Allied Occupation Zones from the Soviet Zone and from the DDR, and for most of the time, there was no point fleeing to comradely Poland or brotherly Czechoslovakia, but that changed in the late 1980s. At the Berlin Wall, some 138 deaths have been recorded, there may have been many more.

But there was a more deadly border defence put in place by a German state, Imperial Germany, it was called the Dodendraad, a lethal electric fence, the implementation of which left, by one estimate, around 850 people killed, other reports say around 2,000 – 3,000 people were killed, including shootings etc. at the fence. You may well say ‘It doesn’t quite sound German‘, and you would be right. It wasn’t even ‘protecting’ Germany’s border, but someone else’s. The Dodendraad (Wire of Death) was put along the frontier between occupied Belgium and the Netherlands in the First World War, as a means of controlling movement over the frontier. A frontier that had two peoples with effectively one language joined by trade and family, and separated by murderous force. The Wire did not cover all of the Belgian/Dutch border, as the Kaiser did not violate Dutch neutrality by seeking to place it around Baarle-Hertog’s many borders with Baarle-Nassau.

The task facing the Imperial Army was demanding, there were no Belgian power stations to power the 2,000 Volt wires along the over 200 miles of the fence, as Belgium (we are told) had no power grid at that time.

Around the clock there was a guard every fifty up to one hundred and fifty metres. At nighttime the number of border guards was doubled, there were also more patrols. German soldiers were ordered to fire immediately after every unanswered warming. Yet they were not allowed to fire in the direction of The Netherlands. The soldiers walked from one switching cottage to the next one, returning when they met with a colleague halfways.

For the poor border Belgians, life was grim:

Placing the wire of death made it impossible to enter The Netherlands. Border traffic was reduced. For inhabitants of the border region this was a painful ordeal as their friends and relatives very often lived in both countries. All traffic to The Netherlands was forbidden or required a strict German control. Whether one could visit a relative or a friend on the other side of the border, depended on the arbitrary decision of the local commander who might – or might not – grant a written (and paid for) permit to leave the country for just a few hours or days. Belgians had to leave the country through a specific gate and had to enter again through the same gate, subject to scrutinous control and registration. If one failed to return in time from a visit to e.g. a sick relative, one simply risked having family members imprisoned or you were forced to pay a heavy fine.

So even before the Germans sent Lenin to Russia to found and then electrify the Soviet Union, they had built a model death strip that many a socialist thinking about the good old days of East Germany could have been proud of.

12 comments to German border controls – things ain’t what they used to be…the ‘Dodendraad’

  • Paul Marks

    Mr Ed is correct – German totalitarianism did not begin with Adolf Hitler or even Karl Marx.

    The collectivist ideology can be found in Fichte and other fashionable philosophers – long before.

    When the President of France described the tissue-of-lies that was the German Declaration of War upon France in 1914 as a Declaration of War against the universal principles Reason and Justice themselves he know what he was talking about.

    As a philosopher the President of France knew that the very idea that there were “universal principles of reason and justice” was denied by fashionable German philosophy.

    Universal principles of reason and justice did not exist according the German elite – only POWER mattered. And not just domination of Europe. The world was the objective – not just for the National Socialists of the 1930s and early 1940s, but for the Imperial German elite also.

    “Philosophy does not matter Paul”.

    Oh yes it does.

    The German elite, not just the Imperial Socialists-Of-The-Chair (the academics) – but also the Anti Imperial Socialists, had to be defeated – utterly and completely.

    Perhaps even worse than the terrible incompetence of the Allied military (not just the British Army – the other Allied Armies also) during the war, was the failure to actually finish the war.

    The compromise peace of 1918 (the failure to march into Berlin and break up Germany back into a Kingdom of Bavaria and so on) meant the whole thing had to be done again 1939-1945.

    And the failure to utterly defeat Germany in the First World War meant that the non Marxist German socialists (General Lundendorf and co) put the Marxist socialists in power in Russia.

    “Lenin” and the other Marxist Socialists would never have gained power in Russia without the support of the non Marxist (indeed formally ANTI Marxist Socialists) of German “War Socialism”. Yes they hated each other – but they both hated “the West” more.

    Of course “War Socialism” was to be renamed “National Socialism” and was to return in 1933.

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Wow! Is there nothing the efficient Germans can’t do?! Except make a Communist society work? (And if the Germans can’t make a Communist society work, what hope is there for the rest of us? We’re just not good enough for a dictatorship!)

  • staghounds

    You have ruined my hunting in the Cotswolds forever, thank you.

  • Vinegar Joe

    Germans will be Germans.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    As Tim Newman said, thanks for writing this. I can’t believe I had never heard of something this big. Normally I am the one going on about German atrocities in the First World War (and the shameful way that we in Britain usually ignore and sometimes even deny the crimes committed against our Belgian and French allies while acting as if Britons were the only people who suffered), but this almost unknown to me. One or two passing references to the difficulties of getting to neutral Holland, that’s all I knew about it.

    I don’t want to join Vinegar Joe in reducing it to “Germans will be Germans”. In most respects modern Germany is one of the nicer countries in this world, with people to match. But we should not forget this.

  • Mr Ed

    Thank you Natalie and Tim,

    I found out about the Dodendraad quite by chance, I was looking for information about Baarle-Hertog, which escaped the horrors of war, although I read that the Dutch were eager to keep the Germans happy by taking measures against ‘smokkelaars‘ (which I leave you all to work out, if needs be in a Geordie accent, like that notorious law firm Norfolk and Chance).

    The brutal nature of the German occupation should be more widely known, from the Rape of Louvain to this, a death wire from the suburbs of Aachen to Knokke on the coast, as it would explain the desperate nature of the struggle in World War 1, which was also a fight against a brutal, barbaric regime, fully-fledged in its savagery from the very start of the war, such as the killing of 674 the village of Dinant:

    The burning of Louvain came on the heels of a massacre in the village of Dinant, near Liege, on August 23, in which the German soldiers had killed some 674 civilians on the orders of their corps commander.

    Oradour-sur-Glane was still almost 30 years away in the future.

    Staghounds: Keep hunting, but if you bag those two, I’m sure it would have been by accident.

    I took Vinegar Joe’s point as that there has been far too much of this coming from Germany for it to be brushed away, it was (and I am fairly sure is not dominant in current Germany) a result of the ideological culture that flourished for over a lifetime.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Golly. I didn’t know that. I’m also impressed at how many Germans it managed to kill.

  • Vinegar Joe

    “In most respects modern Germany is one of the nicer countries in this world, with people to match.”

    I think having NATO’s boot on their necks helped in maintaining that niceness. Not sure how much longer the niceness will last.

  • Not sure how much longer the niceness will last.

    It’s certainly being put to the test in Cologne.

  • Mr Ed


    I take it that you won’t be going to see the musical of Mr Corbyn and Ms Abbott on their biking holiday in East Germany then?

  • TRX

    > merging the Railway Police with the Border Police.

    Somehow, get the idea I’ve seen that movie before, when they incorporated most of their police and security oganizations into the Reichssicherheitshauptamt.