"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an 'iron curtain' has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow."
—Winston Churchill, 5 March 1946
The Iron Curtain was the physical dividing line between Western Europe and the Warsaw Pact section of Commie Land during the Cold War, designed to stop people from the East going to the West, and (to a lesser extent) people from the West going to the East without authorization. It was justified with the argument that a barrier was needed to stop the infiltration of spies from the other side. History has shown us, from the collapse of the Berlin Wall, what we expected all along: it was to keep the serfs from escaping, as the area was more like a gulag than what its rulers claimed it to be: a "worker's paradise."
Like the Warsaw Pact itself, it was not a monolithic entity. The level of defences varied between countries, being thickest between the two Germanies and on the border of Czechoslovakia and thinner elsewhere. Between Austria and Hungary, it was just a fence and was easily dismantled. Or, to reuse a metaphor, the Iron Curtain turned out to be Rusted Drapes!
The most infamous part of the Iron Curtain was, of course, the Berlin Wall. However, the Berlin Wall was physically separate from the rest of the Iron Curtain, since it encircled West Berlin, which was an isolated Western enclave inside Eastern Europe. The divided city of Berlin came to be a powerful symbol of the Cold War and a fertile setting for spy dramas.
When Churchill spoke, Austria (and its capital Vienna) was similarly divided, though unlike Berlin, the centre of Vienna was an international zone, patrolled by "four in a jeep" - one British, one American, one Soviet and one French soldier. However, in 1955 the four powers agreed to withdraw from Austria and reunify the country. In exchange, Austria promised to remain neutral, which it did. Vienna became likewise a popular setting for spy dramas thanks to its "no man's land" status.
Yugoslavia, while socialist, left the Soviet bloc fairly soon after Churchill's speech and the Iron Curtain never went between Italy and what is now Slovenia. Albania was far more closed off though - in fact Albania also left the Soviet bloc, thinking the USSR too soft and following Mao's China, and later isolated themself even further.
The Present Day legal status of these boundaries vary widely. Outside Germany, most of these are now peaceful (but sometimes still-heavily-armed) international boundaries. Within Germany, most of it forms a number of state lines; within Berlin, due to a late 1990s readjustment of borough boundaries, some parts of it have no legal status as boundaries whatsoever.
- In The Company, a bunch of Hungarian refugees from the failed revolution in 1956 enter Austria via a hole in the fence.
- In the James Bond film The Living Daylights, Bond nixes the clichéd "hide in the trunk" approach for a defector to cross the Iron Curtain from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia and used a nifty novel way by having him travel in a special capsule through a major pipeline that reaches into Austria. Show Some Leg helped as well.
- Later in the film, Bond and Kara Milovy drive through the zone. After Bond's Cool Car has to be destroyed, they end up going sledging. In a cello case. When they cross the border into Austria, they slide under the barrier and chuck Kara's (bullet-damaged) cello over it. Bond shows his passport and the following is said:
Bond: We have nothing to declare!
- MacGyver went through the Iron Curtain at least once, although that was via road.
- Hannibal Rising sees a young Hannibal Lecter crossing the Iron Curtain between East Germany and West Germany while being shot at.