"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an 'iron curtain' has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow."
The Iron Curtain was the physical dividing line between Western Europe and the Warsaw Pact
section of Commie Land
during the Cold War, designed to stop people from the East going to the West, and (to a lesser extent) people from the West going to the East without authorization. It was justified with the argument that a barrier was needed to stop the infiltration of spies from the other side.
Like the Warsaw Pact itself, it was not a monolithic entity. The level of defences varied between countries, being thickest between the two Germanies and on the border of Czechoslovakia and thinner elsewhere. Between Austria and Hungary, it was just a fence and was easily dismantled. Or, to reuse a metaphor, the Iron Curtain turned out to be Rusted Drapes!
The most infamous part of the Iron Curtain was, of course, the Berlin Wall
. However, the Berlin Wall was physically separate from the rest of the Iron Curtain, since it encircled West Berlin, which was an isolated Western exclave inside Eastern Europe. The divided city of Berlin came to be a powerful symbol of the Cold War and a fertile setting for spy dramas.
When Churchill spoke, Austria (and its capital Vienna) was similarly divided, though unlike Berlin, the centre of Vienna was an international zone, patrolled by "four in a jeep" - one British, one American, one Soviet and one French soldier. However, in 1955 the four powers agreed to withdraw from Austria and reunify the country. In exchange, Austria promised to remain neutral, which it did. Vienna became likewise a popular setting for spy dramas thanks to its "no man's land" status.
Yugoslavia, while socialist, left the Soviet bloc fairly soon after Churchill's speech and the Iron Curtain never went between Italy and what is now Slovenia. Albania was far more closed off though - in fact Albania also left the Soviet bloc, thinking the USSR too soft and following Mao's China, and later isolated themself even further.
Not to be confused for a weapon in a certain game
that you can get by beating a Russian in a certain other game
. Or a different weapon in a certain other game series
that made your tanks invincible.
The Present Day
legal status of these boundaries vary widely. Outside Germany, most of these are now peaceful (but sometimes still heavily-armed) international boundaries, although in most cases the countries on both sides are EU member states whose citizens have the right to free movement between them. The longest stretch of the old Iron Curtain that is still a closed border to this day is the border between Armenia
, due to animosities that predate the Cold War by a long shot. Within Germany, most of it forms a number of state lines
; within Berlin
, due to a late 1990s
readjustment of borough boundaries, some parts of it have no legal status as boundaries whatsoever. In addition, much of the old Iron Curtain is now nature reserves; it was left largely untouched for 40 years and the wildlife moved in.
It bears mentioning that Churchill did not coin the phrase "Iron Curtain" to describe the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe. None other than Joseph Goebbels
first came up with that particular metaphor in the closing days of World War II
- In The Company, a bunch of Hungarian refugees from the failed revolution in 1956 enter Austria via a hole in the fence.
- In the James Bond film The Living Daylights, Bond nixes the clichéd "hide in the trunk" approach for a defector to cross the Iron Curtain from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia and used a nifty novel way by having him travel in a special capsule through a major pipeline that reaches into Austria. Show Some Leg helped as well.
- MacGyver crossed it from East Berlin with a coffin that (somehow) converts into a jet ski. See the scene here.
- Hannibal Rising sees a young Hannibal Lecter crossing the Iron Curtain between East Germany and West Germany while being shot at.