Observation Post Alpha: built in case of Cold War escalation

Nikola Petrovski
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Nickel van Duijvenboden - CC BY 3.0

Standing between the municipality of Rasdorf and the federal state of Hesse is ‘Point Alpha,’ an American observation post (OP). The post was built to overlook part of the Fulda Gap: a possible invasion route for the Warsaw Pact army, should the Cold War escalate to full-blown warfare.

In the early 1960s, U.S. Army soldiers were housed in tents on the Rasdorfer Berg. On August 14, 1962, whilst East Germany was carrying out construction work to strengthen its borders, an incident occurred not far from Observation Post Alpha.

The tower and the fence. Author: Pc fish – CC BY-SA 3.0

Rudi Arnstadt, a border guard for East Germany, was patrolling the area accompanied by two soldiers from the National People’s Army.

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Arnstadt decided to open fire on four federal border guards from West Germany (BGS), who were there to observe the construction work on East Germany’s border. There is no official statement recording his motives, and they remain unknown today.

Part of the border fortification. Author: Michael Sander – CC BY-SA 3.0

Consequently, BGS members fired shots in return. Fifteen minutes later, Arnstadt was killed. In East Germany, he was celebrated a hero and received a state funeral.

Years passed and in 1998, Hans Plüschke, the man who shot Arnstadt, was found dead. Primary investigations found that Hans was shot in the exact same spot as Arnstadt. To this very day, the incident remains a mystery.

A watchtower close to OP Alpha. Author: Michael Sander – CC BY-SA 3.0

After the incident, surveillance responsibilities for the area were transferred to the U.S. Army. A few years later, in 1965, the site was officially given to the U.S. Army and major construction work began. A number of new structures were erected and the whole site was later fenced off.

In 1969, the camp received its first wooden observation tower, and officially became a base for the U.S. 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Over the years, the base received a number of further modifications. These included the rebuilding of the tower in steel, and later in concrete, and further reinforcements to the barracks.

Part of the East German border fence. Author: Michael Sander – CC BY-SA 3.0

Towards the end of 1989 – the year the Berlin Wall fell – the border crossing at Rasdorf and Geisa was opened to pedestrians. One year later, the U.S. Army stopped their observations on the border and in 1991, after the German reunification, Observation Post Alpha was terminated.

“The reunification of Germany in 1990 and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact brought about the end of the regiment’s official duties and its deployment at Point Alpha,” states the Point Alpha Foundation website.

Observation Post Alpha watchtower. Author: Michael Sander – CC BY-SA 3.0

After the closure of Observation Post Alpha, it was given to the Institute for Federal Real Estate. A series of development proposals were submitted. One of the initial proposals was to convert the post into an education center. However, this was met with some resistance and instead, its total removal was proposed.

In 1994, an initiative was formed to convert the post into a memorial and thus save it from oblivion. The problem with this was that Point Alpha was already deteriorating and would require some serious and expensive renovations. Deconstructing it became an alternative once more – demolition was well underway before the site became a listed monument.

East German border fortification. Author: Sven Teschke – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

In 1997 the demolition process was halted, and in 1998 a permanent exhibition was installed in one of the barracks.

At the start of the new millennium, two memorials were installed at the Observation Post: one in honor of the American Army and the soldiers who risked their lives serving at the post, and the other in honor of the German Reunification.

Part of OP Alpha. Author: Bybbisch94 – CC BY-SA 4.0

Stars and Stripes writes, “The soldiers spent their days patrolling the border and observing it from the tower. If the Cold War had gone hot, they could have been the first to feel the brunt of a Warsaw Pact attack.”

Today the site serves as a museum and tourist attraction.