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Peace Education

Peace Road Brings Memories of Divided Germany

Hamburg, Germany—A special Peace Road event brought bicyclists to the former border between East and West Germany.

On September 15, 2018, the Peace Road participants met in Hitzacker, a small town near the former border. Situated on the Elbe River in the Wendland region, Hitzacker was a special destination for excursions during the years of German separation. From there it was possible for people in West Germany to see the border on the other side, the part of Germany that was at the time communist, without exposure to any danger.

Bicycles were rented by those who had not brought their own; then the Peace Road group assembled on the banks of the Elbe for a photograph. In the background the former border was visible, an area which after German reunification was converted into a nature reserve.

They then visited the Old Custom House museum, which has an exhibition about local history. There is also a display about divided Germany, with photographs, documents and artifacts from that time which ended almost 30 years ago.

After looking around the town, which appeared as if it was still in the Middle Ages with its timbered architecture, decorated little shops and winding alleyways, the Peace Road participants cycled to the next destination. They split into two groups: the sporty ones and the somewhat slower ones. There was also a group on foot who joined them and then traveled by car to the next stop, the village of Sammatz.

Sammatz lies about 14 kilometers (over 8.5 miles) downstream on the Elbe in the hilly, forested moraine landscape, the so-called Elbauen. This village is home to the Michaelshof community, which is run according to the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy and the Waldorf schools.

Goats, sheep, cows and other animals are kept there. Fruit and vegetables are grown, and there is a wonderful flower garden with a pond and fountain, making this place an oasis of peace, immediately captivating visitors from near and far.

The Peace Road group took a break in the Michaelshof café, where, over coffee and home-made cake, they exchanged thoughts about how a culture of peace can be encouraged in a reunited Germany. Not only in Sammatz but also in other villages along the way, the houses and farms emitted a certain peacefulness, reminding the older members of the group of their childhood.

The final stage was the town of Bleckede, which during the separation years was divided by the border and the Elbe. The cyclists continued along the banks of the Elbe. There were sometimes sandy paths and many hills, but the pure nature and fresh forest air made all efforts worthwhile. A family in the area had extended an invitation for a grill party, which the travelers enjoyed together until late in the evening.

In the meanwhile, the numbers of the peace group had swelled to almost 40. Acquaintances, relatives, friends from Berlin and other cities had come along, and not only was there a large variety of nationalities but also a big mix of ages, from 7 to 70.

On the following day they were invited to a Sunday breakfast at the home of an artist family, where they were joined by the participants who had traveled a long way to be with them.

Thus this final stage of the Peace Road was for all an experience dedicated to world peace, which made a big impression and was also a preparation for next year, when Germans will celebrate 30 years of reunification. This will give an additional boost to our Peace Road project! 

Annegret Landwehr, a participant from Berlin, wrote: “At the Elbe in Hitzacker, the former border country, I felt as if I had returned to my childhood. Shortly after the Wall had been built in 1961—over 55 years ago—I looked from the West over the border and asked myself why one could not be ‘over there.’ Since then, much has happened. After the opening of the border came reunification. We are now able to look back on almost 30 years in a reunited Germany.”

(Translated from German by Catriona Valenta.)

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