Saturday, 4 April 2009

No More Borders


This week again brought the realisation how we have completely come to accept a Europe without borders and the enormous advantages of such a Europe. In the run up to the NATO Summit, Germany reactivated its border controls with neighbouring countries and those of us living in border areas felt the effect.

Yet it is only 14 years ago this month that Schengen came into operation and the border controls between EU countries fell away. The first borders to go were between the Benelux, France and Germany before in the last decade most others followed suit. For me, as a South African, it brought so many advantages and freedom!

When I first arrived here in 1995, I needed a visa for Luxembourg – to put in petrol or go to the post office or the cinema. Yes it is true! And every time we drove over to Luxembourg we had to grab the purse with Luxembourg money. And if we drove a bit further to shop in France we needed three purses and three currencies for a day trip.

Living only 15 kilometres away from the border to Luxembourg where petrol and alcoholic beverages are taxed less and therefore cheaper, a common European currency has enriched our lives.

We are only 40 km away from Luxembourg City itself: I (and a lot of other expats) go over, to see English films in their original language in Luxembourg, because here in Germany most films are dubbed. Or we go to the theatre as they quite often have world-class guest performances.

But now and then, most recently during the Soccer World Cup in 2006, the border controls are put up again and long delays have to be taken into consideration and we all moan and groan.

So this week, because of the NATO Summit in Baden-Baden and Strassbourg (France) the border controls, even at the little bridges only we locals know about were resurrected. And I had to postpone an ordinary trip to put in petrol and post some books. Postage to overseas destinations is cheaper from Luxembourg. I also had to postpone watching Slumdog Millionaire, which is not showing in this part of Germany, but is only on in cinemas in Luxembourg City.

Commuters who work in Luxembourg and live in Trier complained all week of long delays. I am lucky that I can just wait for the open borders again next week! And the side-effect was that I used my bike a lot to save the low tank from dropping even more: In the process I got a little bit fitter in perfect spring weather! I even have some aching muscles - a good sign!