The wall didn't just divide Berlin, it also split an entire nation. Tens of thousands of people lived within close distance of the border area, with the security barrier, barbed wire and cement walls in sight. Many of these small towns and villages have changed dramatically during the two decades since German reunification. Bridges now cross rivers that were exclusion zones during GDR times. Trains now whiz through areas once patrolled by soldiers, and areas once blighted by a cement barriers blocking both freedom and a view have been opened to reveal panoramic vistas.
East German border guards had a standard procedure to follow if they detected unauthorised individuals in the border zone. (Though the West Germans referred to the control strip as a "death strip", deadly force could be used at any location along the border – it did not depend on an individual's being in, or crossing, the control strip.) If the individual was less than 100 metres (330 ft) away, the border guard would first order: "Stop! Border sentry! Hands up!" ( "Halt! Grenzposten! Hände hoch!" ) or "Stop, stand still, or I will shoot!" ( "Halt! Stehenbleiben, oder ich schieße!" ). If the individual was further away or on the Western side of the border fence the guard was authorised to shoot without warning. If the escapee was a fellow border guard, he could be shot immediately from any distance without prior warning. Border guards were instructed not to shoot if innocent bystanders might be hit or if the escapee had made it into West German territory, or if the line of fire was into West Germany. In practice, though, shots fired from East Germany often landed in West German territory.