Saturday, September 12, 2015

Was There Ever Really a Border?

Once upon a time (I always like how these essays go).....there was a border in be precise....West Germany or the Federal Republic of Germany.

Older folks (both American and German) can remember this period.  A fairly decent fencing system and thousands of DDR troops had a eastern border covered, and there were border-entry points for the north, south and west of West Germany.

You entered Germany via a border point.....usually showing a passport or military ID with your NATO form, and proceeded on.  You might have shown up on a Sunday night with large lines gathered and spent an hour getting through the border point....but it was a border.

Prior to WW II.....the border points existed.  If you go back to the late 1800s.....any significant road that led into Germany had some Prussian border-control guys standing there.

The truth of the matter is that even in the 1980s....if you wanted to sneak into Germany without the passport business, it was possible.  You'd take a trail through the woods....hike around for an hour....and bypass any check-point.

Ever since the EU came into being....the strategy has been to downgrade borders and just say they exist on a map but there's no realistic reason for protecting the physical border.  I can drive over to Luxembourg....cross a bridge....fill up with cheap gas....and drive back.  German customs folks might sneak around and do spot checks on cheap Lux booze or smokes that I buy, and they will get peppy if they see I've got a dozen gas-can's in the car (way over the acceptable limit).   Beyond the customs folks....there's no real urgent threat.

I crossed the German border a few weeks ago, entering from the Netherlands.  There was the old border station....sitting on the side of the autobahn.  It's in haphazard shape and obviously unused for two decades now.

Some reality has awaken the German population and I suspect at least half of the population are asking themselves some stupid questions about the border situation.  There's obviously no control and no real border around the country.  A thousand Chinese folks could start marching from Asia....cross over Russia, and simply walk all the way up to the Brandenburg Gate of Berlin today.  It might take four months, but it's a pretty safe situation because you know there's no real border for Germany today.

I'm of the mind that borders are a thing of the mind, or a reality within the map world.  Beyond's hard to imagine a border meaning anything unless there's a fence or a wall to say that this area is protected.  If you want to cross some just make up your mind and just start walking.

Maybe this current crisis in Germany will shape into some public debate about the border and what it really means.  Maybe the public will reshape political figures and journalists with a different view of what a border ought to mean.   Maybe borders do matter, in the sense of a nation existing in one form or another.

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