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Useful Notes / Iron Curtain

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Europe as divided by the Iron Curtain, 1946-48. Western-aligned states in blue; Soviet-aligned states in red.note 

"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."
Winston Churchill, 5 March 1946

The Iron Curtain was the physical dividing line between Western Europe (mostly under NATO's protection) 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. One particularly nasty item was the East German SM-70, a trip-wire activated mine mounted to the border fences between 1971 and 1984 when they were removed in a deal with West Germany (who gave East Germany a much-needed $496m loan in return); someone attempting to climb or cut the fence and tripping the device would get explosive-propelled shrapnel fired at them, lethal out to 25 metres. The most frequent victims were in fact deer. The Czechoslovaks went for a 5,000 volt electric fence instead.

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 border guards did not have it all their own way; it was not unheard of for escapees to fire back and there were cases of guards being killed by their comrades who were defecting.

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 and Turkey, 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 - although deer will still not cross over the old border.

More recently, however, Hungary has erected a fence between itself and Serbia to stop the flow of migrants, essentially recreating the Iron Curtain there but in a different form. Ditto with Poland and Lithuania in 2021 in the face of the migrant crisis that's been organized/weaponized by Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko.

It bears mentioning that Churchill did not coin the phrase "Iron Curtain" to describe the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe. It was also not, despite what you may have heard, coined by Joseph Goebbels in the closing days of World War II. In 1920, British socialist Ethel Snowden first used the term in her book Through Bolshevik Russia, where it described the border between Soviet Russia and the rest of Europe; for most of Stalin's rule entry into the USSR was effectively impossible for a Westerner.


  • In The Company, a bunch of Hungarian refugees from the failed revolution in 1956 enter Austria via a hole in the fence.
  • The John le Carré novel The Looking Glass War (turned into a film) has a British spy cut his way through the fence to ''enter' East Germany. He encounters a border guard... and kills him. This proves to be his undoing. The East German and Soviet forces are out looking for the guy who killed the soldier immediately, while the whole affair ends up all over the papers, forcing the British to have to pull their monitoring team out on the other side.
  • 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.
    • Later in the film, Bond and Kara Milovy drive through the zone. After Bond's Cool Car has to be destroyed, they end up going sledging. In a cello case. When they cross the border into Austria, they slide under the barrier and chuck Kara's (bullet-damaged) cello over it. Bond shows his passport and the following is said:
      Bond: We have nothing to declare!
      Kara: Just a cello!
  • 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. In the film, the same scene happens with Hannibal instead crossing the border between the Soviet Union (which Hannibal's homeland Lithuania is then a part of) and Poland.
  • The German series Line of Separation is about a small German village (fiction, but based on the real community of Mödlareuth) that due to a small stream that forms the Bavaria-Thuringia border running right through it, ends up being split between East and West Germany. The third episode sees the erection of the Iron Curtain through the village; One character who has been smuggling people and goods over the border is shot dead by an East German police officer. His eastern relatives are told the Americans killed him.