Mike Pompeo revisits army service past in Thuringia’s ‘Little Berlin’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo retraced his steps Thursday in the eastern German village of Mödlareuth, once a divided "Little Berlin" where he served as a young army officer.

Mike Pompeo revisits army service past in Thuringia's 'Little Berlin'
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Mike Pompeo standing at a memorial stone with the inscription: "In honor of the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment soldiers who patrolled along the Iron Curtain to prot

America's top diplomat is on a two-day tour of Germany ahead of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He is to meet with demonstrators from the 1989 peaceful revolution that brought the communist regime down, and give a speech in the German capital.

On the ground in Mödlareuth, Pompeo was greeted by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, with whom he visited the remains of a 3.3-metre tall concrete wall that had slashed a 700-metre scar through the town from 1966 to 1989.

Pompeo's convoy driving through Gefell, Thuringia. Photo: DPA

From 1986, Pompeo was one of 300,000 US soldiers stationed in Europe at the height of the Cold War, compared with around 30,000 today.

The then young US Army lieutenant stood opposite watchtowers and barbed wire that had blocked entry into the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR).

“It was a bit of a walk down memory lane for me, memory Strasse,” Pompeo said of the visit at a press conference later.

“You could say I saw a piece of history that I was a tiny little part of back in the late 1980s,” he said, adding that he was “proud to play that small role”.

“I think it's indicative of the incredibly important relationship of our two countries over decades and decades and decades as we move forward together as well.”

READ ALSO: 'Lots of issues with Germany': Pompeo starts Europe tour in Berlin

The young US Army lieutenant stood opposite watchtowers and barbed wire that had blocked entry into the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR).

“Nowhere else was the tragedy of Germany's division as visible as here,” local museum director Robert Lebegern told AFP.

Tightly controlled

Mödlareuth lies on a small brook that divides modern-day Bavaria and Thuringia states, but which became an international border when the two Germanys — the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany — were founded in 1949.

As around western enclave Berlin, the GDR placed barbed wire, minefields and guns triggered by tripwires along its hundreds of kilometres of border with the West, which were also intensively patrolled.

In the village, the GDR first erected a fence in 1952, followed more than a decade later by the wall.

Recalling the brutal overnight partition of the capital, the oppressive border infrastructure earned the village the nickname of “Little Berlin”.

Since reunification in 1990, the fortifications have become a tourist attraction that draw 70,000 visitors per year.

Still today, the village has two mayors, two telephone and postal codes, and distinct German dialects.

German Minister Heiko Maas (l) and Mike Pompeo (in middle) in Mödlareuth along the former Wall. Photo: DPA

Tough meetings

Thursday is the more ceremonial part of Pompeo's trip, as it includes visits to US troops at their Bavarian training grounds, and to Leipzig.

In addition to Mödlareuth, he is to stop in Halle to commemorate victims of an attempted far-right mass shooting at the city's synagogue last month.

READ ALSO: Pompeo voices concern over German kippa warning to Jews

Friday could bring tense discussions, as Pompeo meets Chancellor Angela Merkel and key members of her cabinet.

That will provide each with an opportunity to raise questions on issues where Berlin and Washington fail to see eye to eye.

They include Iran's uranium enrichment scheme, German defence spending that falls short of NATO targets, or Germany's persistent trade and budget surpluses.

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Bar closures and no Christmas markets: How Bavaria is tightening Covid rules

Bavaria will order the closure of all bars and clubs as part of sweeping new restrictions to try and control the Covid spread and ease overrun hospitals. Here's a look at what's planned.

Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich.
Closed Christmas market stalls in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

On Friday Bavarian state leader Markus Söder announced more tough restrictions to deal with spiralling Covid infections and packed intensive care units.

“The corona drama continues,” said Söder after the cabinet meeting, adding that 90 percent of Covid patients in state hospitals are unvaccinated. “Being unvaccinated is a real risk.”

Bavaria has a vaccination rate of 65.9 percent – lower than the nationwide rate of almost 68 percent.

READ ALSO: Bavaria cancels all Christmas markets in Covid surge

Söder said the state’s Covid package was about “blocking, braking and boosting”, adding that vaccination centres will be ramped up. 

“We must act,” he said. “Bavaria is exhausting almost all legal means until December 15th.”

Earlier this week, Bavaria introduced a state-wide 2G rule, meaning only vaccinated people (geimpft) and people who’ve recovered from Covid (genesen) can enter many public spaces. People who are eligible to get vaccinated but choose not to get it are excluded. 

Here’s an overview of the planned restrictions set to come in on Wednesday, as reported by local broadcaster BR24. 

Bars, clubs and restaurant curfew

From Wednesday, and for three weeks, all nightlife like clubs, discos, bars, pubs and brothels in Bavaria are set to close their doors. Restaurants will have to shut at 10pm. So planned Christmas nights out will likely need to be cancelled or postponed. 

Christmas markets

There will be no Christmas or Christkindl markets in Bavaria this year. In the past days, several cities had announced that they would not be holding these events this year due to the Covid situation. 

Contact restrictions on the unvaccinated

Söder announced new restrictions on the number of people those who are not inoculated can socialise with. A maximum of five unvaccinated people will be allowed to meet, from two different households. Children under 12 will not be included in the total, as well as vaccinated or people who’ve recovered from Covid.

Cultural and sporting events

All cultural and sporting events can only take place with significantly reduced spectators. At theatres, opera performances, sporting events, in leisure centres and at trade fairs, there will be a 25-percent capacity limit. The 2G plus rule also applies. This means that only vaccinated and recovered people are allowed to enter (not the unvaccinated) – and only with a negative rapid test. Masks are compulsory everywhere.

Universities, driving schools, close-body services: 2G plus

All universities, driving schools, adult education centres and music schools will only be open to those who have been vaccinated and have recovered – making it 2G. This rule also applies to body-related services, like hairdressers and beauty salons. Only medical, therapeutic and nursing services are exempt from the 2G rule. So unvaccinated people can still go to the doctor or receive a medical procedure. 

KEY POINTS: Germany finalises new Covid restrictions for winter


Shops remain exempt from 2G rules, meaning unvaccinated people can visit them. However, there is to be limits on capacity. This means that fewer customers are allowed into a shop at the same time.

Special rules for hotspots

Currently, the incidence in eight Bavarian districts is above 1,000 infections per 100,000 people in seven days. Here and in all other regions where the incidence goes above this number, public life is to be shut down as far as possible.

This means that restaurants, hotels and all sports and cultural venues will have to close. Hairdressers and other body-related service providers will also not be allowed to open for three weeks, and events will also have to be cancelled. Universities will only be allowed to offer digital teaching. Shops will remain open, but there must be 20 square metres of space per customer. This means that only half as many customers as in other regions are allowed in a shop.

If the incidence falls below 1,000 for at least five days, the rules are lifted.

Schools and daycare

Throughout Bavaria, schools and daycare centres are to remain open. However, there will be regular Covid testing. Children and young people have to continue to wear a face mask during lessons, including school sports, unless they are exercising outside. 

Bavaria is expected to approve the measures on Tuesday and they will be in force until at least December 15th. We’ll keep you updated if there are any changes.