The border region between occupied Belgium and the neutral Netherlands soon became a smuggling paradise. Traffic in letters, military information and foodstuffs was rife. Young men who wanted to join the Belgian army also crossed the border. From the spring of 1915, the German troops decided to call a halt to this. They constructed a barbed wire fence more than 323 kilometres long, which would carry 2000 volts of electricity. There were switch boxes at regular intervals, where German soldiers could keep an eye out for any circuit breaks, or cables that had been cut. There were also heavily guarded border crossings here and there, where you could actually cross the border, at least if you were able to obtain the correct papers.
Although this ‘death wire’ was a daunting fence, most smugglers and ‘passeurs’ were not discouraged. They thought up all sorts of ways to get through the wire: ladders, rubber gloves, barrels shoved between the live wires … But because few people were familiar with the dangers of electricity, there were quite a number of casualties. Also, because the German border troops shot at anyone that tried to cross the wire.