Arts, Culture & Media

Cold War escape route

There were rumors in East Germany during Communism that the Bulgarian Army was too poor to afford bullets, so many of the East Germans who attempted to escape to Turkey through Bulgaria were surprised to find a tough border regime. Few could imagine how tough it could be. This professor has come to Bulgaria to find out. We're driving to the border to find the scene of a shooting. The professor has been studying this escape route for three years and estimates at least 100 East Germans were killed by Bulgarian border forces. He's concerned that Germans are now idealizing their Communist past. Most of the escapees were young with strong political convictions and simply wanted to live a better life in West Germany. In political documents they're described as gangsters who plotted to overthrow the state. In this tiny and isolated border town with Greece we meet a villager who shows us around. He shows us a bridge that the border police used. It's hard to believe that 20 years ago this was the edge of the Iron Curtain. The professor has interviewed a young couple who tried to escape through a barbed wire fence in this town. They now live in Munich, and spent two years in Eastern German jails. They swear they never heard a warning before they were shot at. Their story is typical, says the professor, in that it contradicts the official account, in which escapees were always said to have ignored warnings. The professor says he has heard accounts from former embassy workers in Sofia that Bulgarian border troops received cash payments from the East German government for each German citizen killed. Many of the victims' families still don't know where their loved ones are buried. The professor is convinced that none of the newer democracies in Eastern Europe will fully develop until the public understands the brutality of the old system.

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