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PROJECTS | 2017 | MUKRAN

MUKRAN

Honecker's Super Port

ARD-series: "Mysterious Places"

Author & Director:
Daniel Ast | Juergen Ast

Co-Author:
Wolfgang Klietz

Commissioning Editors:
Jens Stubenrauch

Duration:
45'

Coproduktion:
astfilm pictures UG | RBB // ARD | funded with means of the Federal Foundation for the reappraise of the SED-Dictatorship

The most modern ships built in the German Democratic Republic left from the railroad ferry terminal Mukran on the island of Ruegen to connect East Germany to the Soviet Union. Officially, the ships from Mukran to Klaipeda in Lithuania carried traditional products such as iron, coal and baby strollers. But they also clandestinely transported soldiers, tanks and missiles for nuclear warheads. For the GDR and as far as the public knew, Mukran was essential for trade. In the secretive world of the Cold War, Mukran was a vital strategic element in the GDR's connection to the USSR.

Mukran was a prestigious project for East German head of state Erich Honecker, public proof of his solid friendship with the Soviet Union, and embodiment of the strength of the GDR economy. The Guinness Book of Records listed the ships built for this "sea route of the future" as the world's "largest railroad ferries". More than 3.500 construction workers spent four and a half years building this immense transportation hub in a former tourism paradise. Both conscientious objectors and GDR soldiers worked under "battle conditions" to construct ferry terminal and port at an unprecedented cost of more than 2 billion GDR-Mark. Nowhere else in the GDR used the state so many so called "Bausoldaten" (construction soldiers).

Why such a massive expense and effort when "normal" trains ran from the GDR to the USSR?  Poland charged high fees in hard currency for land transit.  More of a concern were political developments in Poland. After successes of the opposition union movement Solidarity, it was feared land transit from East Germany to the Soviet Union might be blocked by Poland, a potential disaster for times of peace and especially conflict. An alternative route had to be found - the sea route through the Baltic.

The GDR Ministry of State Security watched over the port and the ships. Western intelligence agencies showed great interest in the transport route. Some armaments and weapons for the 500.000 Soviet Army soldiers in the GDR were openly shipped through Mukran, and secretly equipment and personnel for East German military missile units passed through the port. The West envisioned its own railroad ferries between Schleswig Holstein in West Germany and Klaipeda. The project was endorsed by Schleswig-Holstein Premier Uwe Barschel and West German chancellor Helmut Kohl, but it was never realized as other NATO governments were concerned about Warsaw Pact spy activities along the transport route. GDR intelligence was well informed about the negotiations between Moscow and Bonn regarding the plans. A mole kept East Berlin informed in real time.

After the end of the GDR, Mukran experienced one more burst of activity: The ferries transported the Soviet military back from Germany. Details about the shipment of the Soviet nuclear weapons remain shrouded. "Honecker’s Super Port" is the first film to tell the fascinating story of this exceptional place.