For nearly a thousand years, the east-west Via Regia (King’s Road) had passed through Eisenach, thereby attracting merchants, pilgrims and invading armies as they traveled between Ukraine and Spain, but when in 1961 the German Democratic Republic’s border with West Germany was fortified with land mines, watchtowers and high fences, west-bound travelers suddenly found themselves facing an 800-mile long and 3-mile wide death trap. Eisenach’s minimally safe distance from the border, connection with historical figures (Martin Luther’s refuge at Wartburg Castle and Bach’s baptism at St. George Church) and industrial capacity allowed the little city to survive, but, at first, life in Eisenach under the new regime was a struggle as both a housing shortage and air pollution were intensified by the influx of thousands of refugees from former German territories. Crowding and environmental concerns were gradually eased as officials systematically replaced derelict sections of the Old City with new Plattenbau housing developments, and by the time that the Berlin Wall was dismantled in 1989, Eisenach was hosting two million Eastern Bloc visitors every year.
Now that Germany has been reunited, Eisenach finds itself back at the midpoint of the German segment of the Via Regia and, surprisingly, discovers that it is benefitting from its proximity to the former border zone between the two Germanies. The substantially north-south swath of land that had cut indiscriminately across pristine farmland, beautiful villages and dense forests filled with wildlife has been transformed into a green belt featuring a challenging bike path called the Iron Curtain Trail. Once again Eisenach and the state of Thuringia, the geographical center of Germany and homeland of the Bach clan, are ready to welcome all visitors.