Rasdorf is a little known village northeast of Fulda, Germany, but this little village has great historical significance in reminding us about what could happen when countries don’t get along. Rasdorf is located next to the border between the German states of Hesse and Thüringia and is one of the primary areas where there was tension during the Cold War due to the fact that this area was seen as the best possible place for an attack from either side (USSR-USA) should tensions grow. It was this border that divided West Germany from East Germany prior to unification in 1989.
Known as the Fulda Gap, the area was a relatively flat area through which Soviet troops could easily make their way across the land and continue to Frankfurt and the US military bases. Thus, NATO made plans to protect this area against invasion.
Today, the border is open and Germany is unified. But in between Rasdorf in Hesse and the village of Geisa in Thüringia, there are memorials to this tense time period with museums on both sides of the former border. Both can be viewed easily with free parking and a short walk between the two areas, with demonstrations and remnants of a time when these lands were watched and patrolled on a daily basis.
The area is about 35 km from Fulda – a very nice drive through the countryside. Either side of the border memorial can be reached by driving to Rasdorf or Geisa where you will find the L1026. The “House on the Border” is located right on this road and has a large parking area. If you are interested in parking closer to the US Army installation, Point Alpha, there is a road on the Rasdorf side pointing you towards the parking.
We went to this area on a very beautiful sunny spring day. Not really sure what we would find when we got there (we had only heard a little about this site), we were both very pleasantly surprised at the care and attention given to this memorial. Both museums were very good and well maintained, as was the path and displays linking the two.
I highly recommend a visit to Point Alpha for anyone interested in German history or military history.
April to October – open daily 0900-1800
November to March – open daily 1000-1700
December to February – open Tues-Sun 1000-1630
See Google Maps for location of this site.
Visit my weekend in Rasdorf for more details and tips on touring this historical area.
The Tourist Information Center in Fulda is also unique – so many times we find that the TI offices in small town Germany are closed on the weekends. That doesn’t make sense to me since many people do visit on the weekends. But Fulda’s TI is open on the weekends and public holidays as well as the weekdays. In fact, they are only closed five times during the year (Dec 24-26, Jan 1, and Carnival Monday).
Not only are they open for assistance, the TI has done a spectacular job of welcoming visitors and making Fulda easy to navigate and see the sites. They offer several brochures in both German and English. The English version of a very good overall brochure of the sites can be found at the Fulda website.
The Fulda Tourist Information office also offers an audio tour of the major sites in Fulda. These guides are in either German or English and can be rented for €5 for the first two hours (€1 for each additional hour). The sites on the tour are clearly marked with the point number on the tour.
The TI office is located about two blocks from the Fulda Cathedral on Bonifatiusplatz.
Hours: Monday-Friday 0830-1800, Saturday, Sunday, public holidays 0930-1600.
Location: Bonifatiusplatz 1 – D-36037 Fulda
When traveling in Europe whenever you are visiting a restaurant or a museum, try to use their WC facilities if at all possible. Typically they are maintained and are free. But sometimes you are just walking around the town and find you have a need. If you find yourself in this predicament, it is helpful to know where to “go”.
It is always wise to carry change with you for this purpose since many public restrooms charge for their use and cleaning. Some of the more primitive WCs do not supply paper or washing facilities, so I keep a supply of tissues and hand sanitizer in my camera bag, just in case.
Fulda was a rarity in German cities – they have easily accessible well maintained free public bathrooms. The nearest one to the center of the main attractions is just outside the Fulda Cathedral ; this WC is also handicapped accessible. The sign across the street in the Schlossgarten shows two more locations for WCs nearby (see the photo of this map on my Schlossgarten tip).
I grew up during the Cold War and watched as the “The Wall” was torn down but I never really understood how it affected the German people. Visiting Point Alpha, a former US Army observation point along the old East German Border and wondering around the two museums, gave me a little more insight to life in Europe during this timeframe. Point Alpha was at a critical location along the border with a high probability that any major war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact would start right here. The reason was the Fulda Gap and it’s gentile geography that would allow Soviet mechanized forces an easy route to Frankfurt which was key to America’s defense of Germany.
The former site of the US observation is now a memorial to this period in Germany’s history and part of a larger complex that includes the “House on the Border” exhibition and the border patrol path and border reconstruction. If you are into hiking, (the area is beautiful) there is a 14.6 km circular trail that takes you along the border as well as into the small town of Geisa, a town that was under constant surveillance from the US observation tower.
The entry fee to US Base is 4 Euro but worth the cost. They have a nice display showing the history of the cold war, some permanent displays of US military equipment, and the ability to climb up the observation tower. Most of the signs are in German and English. The “House on the Border” is free and contains a good display of life along the border. Too bad it is all in German. There is free parking at the site.
If you're looking for a nice side-trip to a quiet place away from the city, there are many little villages close to Fulda, such as Steinhaus and Margretenhaun. These are charming little storybook villages with white houses, winding roads, a stone church, and surrounded with farmland and open spaces. Driving is the best way to get there, and you can probably explore an entire village or two in a day or so.
The category "off the beaten path" was invented for a place like Fürsteneck. Just a couple of houses, a pub and nothing else. Nowadays. Years and years ago there were some French guys passing by. Napolenon's soldiers on their way back from Leipzig after the battle of nations (see my Leipzig page for more info). Some of the soldiers froze to death here in Fürsteneck and people from the village erected a headstone on the site, known as the "Franzosengrab" (Frenchmen's grave) today.
A little mountain a few kilometers away from the city center - you can drive up there, have some great traditional food in the restaurant and a wonderful view over the whole city and over to the Rhön mountains. And you only meet locals!
Milseberg is a popular place for locals to go hiking, spend Sunday afternoon, and talk to the cows they meet along the way. (Well, at least I did!) There are several hiking trails on Milseberg, mostly kept up by the Rhoenklub, a nature, culture and ecology group from Huenfeld/Fulda, where one of my cousins is a member and past officer of the club. (Have to put those plugs in for the family!) Milseberg is also the highest point in Hesse, about 300 meters or 1000 feet above sea level. On top, is a crucifixion scene. At Easter time, there are services here on Good Friday (Karfreitag). There are beautiful vistas here as well, and one can see Wasserkuppe, to the north, from here.
I don't know the exact directions here, I know it is not far from Wasserkuppe, after I contact my cousin, I will add that information. It is a great place to picnic and relax in nature! There is also a restaurant near the top that has food and beverages (beer, too, of course!). Nothing fancy, but one can get cake, ice cream, or pretzels, or Schnitte, or Wurstteller mit Kraut here.
Wasserkuppe is in the Rhoen Highlands just east of Fulda. At this location is an old spy station from the Cold War days. Since the old East German border is literally at the bottom of the hill, NATO spied on the Warsaw Pact from this point. Nowadays the area is home to a glider field, ski, toboggan and bobsled runs. If one wishes to try a glider flight, one can do so here. There are beautiful vistas of the area. If I recall correctly, there was a flight training school here for the Luftwaffe and there is a memorial to those who lost their lives in training accidents here. That is why the glider park is here.
To get to Wasserkuppe, take the B458 highway east from Fulda, to the L3330 road, south to Wasserkuppe (Poppenhausen).
The old Rathaus (city hall) is an impressive half-timbered building, which unfortunately is not really still in it's original state inside (it's apartments and a store for buying glasses today). Only the exterior has been kept like it was. It the 16th century this was the residence of the city hall and the municipal militia arms storage center. They used this building for this purpos until 1782, when the city fathers moved their offices to the Chancellor Palace (next to the Vicor's Church (Stadtpfarrkirche) and now today it's located in the City Palace.
The photo depicted here is to memorialize those who were killed in flight training at the airfield here. The airfield is now a glider park where one can take a glider ride over the Rhoen.
This is the view of Wasserkuppe from Milseberg, the weather wasn' t the best that day, (oh well!) But one can see the geodesic dome spy stations located there.