Checkpoint Alpha: Grenzübergangsstelle Marienborn
THE ABANDONED BORDER CROSSING IN GERMANY
For West Germans, it was ‘Checkpoint Helmstedt’. East Germans named it ‘Grenzübergangsstelle Marienborn’. But outside of Germany, the inner German border crossing was most often referred to by the name that was given to it by the Allies: ‘Checkpoint Alpha’. The border crossing existed from 1945 to 1990 and was situated between the villages Marienborn and Helmstedt.
After the Second World War, the Potsdam Conference divided Germany into four zones of occupation. The American, the British, the French, and the Soviet zone of occupation. The first Allied checkpoint at Helmstedt was opened on 1 July 1945 between the British and Soviet zones.
While most zones worked on rebuilding the country, the Soviet Union, which had suffered enormous loss, did not. In their zone, they stripped factories of machinery and relocated them to the Soviet Union. These differences regarding the political and economic future of Germany, led to a hardening of the interzonal border. By 1949 things had deteriorated so much that there were now two Germanies. The Soviet zone became East Germany, a one-party socialist state, while West Germany became a free market democracy.
The Marienborn-Helmstedt crossing was the largest and most important border crossing on the inner German border during the division of Germany. It was the shortest route between West Germany and West Berlin. The checkpoint marked the beginning of a 170 km long route along a walled or fenced motorway through East Germany, between West Germany and West Berlin. During the Berlin Blockade, which lasted from June 1948 to May 1949, the Soviet checkpoint was closed.
From 1950 onwards, the ‘Grenztruppen der DDR‘ carried out the border control on the eastern side of the checkpoint. The Soviets however handled Allied military traffic. Due to the increasing tensions between the Western Allies and the Soviets during the Cold War, the border crossing was extensively expanded and security was tightened in the following years. The Western Allies kept control over their checkpoint on the western side, with small garrisons of French, British and American troops stationed in Helmstedt.
The original checkpoint was eventually regarded too unsafe to operate efficiently. In 1973, the DDR erected a new control point on a 35ha field situated on a hill near Marienborn. It was situated about 1.5 km east of the old buildings. The control point was staffed with up to a thousand passport control, customs, and border police employees. The buildings were linked with an underground tunnel system, through which military or police units could reach the control point quickly and in secrecy. I visited ‘Checkpoint Alpha’ or the ‘Grenzübergangsstelle Marienborn’ in 2008.