Article 50 / Leaving the European Union

In the early 90's I spent a month inter-railing in Europe. Ever since, whenever I think of Europe I always think of trains. Railways are its skeleton, holding it all together.  In 1994, not long after the Maastricht Treaty had cemented the EU in legislation, the Channel Tunnel opened connecting the railways of Britain with those on the continent. The UK's marriage to Europe seemed celebrated then. It has now been annulled by Brexit. So in the summer of 2017 I moved to Belgium and took to the trains once again in search of Europe. Schengen Area Railway Borders is the resulting project and a work in progress.

Train stations. tombstones, borders between the living and the dead, between infinitude and the hermetic world of the city, city gates, cities unto themselves. When identities vanish train stations sprout. If every border had a train station of its own, what marvelous confusion would ensue, what a crush, what mockery
— Dasa Drndik. Trieste
The man who loves his fatherland, his nation above all else has cancelled any commitment he might have to European solidarity. To love means to esteem - even perhaps to overestimate - the object of love. To love with open eyes, critically, is something only very few people are capable of doing. Most people’s love is blind. Not only are they incapable of seeing the faults of their nation, their country, they are even inclined to see its faults as instances of human virtue
— Joseph Roth. Die Warheit, December 1934

High Voltage Frontier Barrier

Dodendraad (Wire of Death) was the local name given to a lethal electric fence that ran the length of the Belgian / Dutch border during WWI. It was built by Germany who called it Grenzhochspannungshindernis (High Voltage Frontier Barrier)

 At the border with The Netherlands. Essen, Belgium.

At the border with The Netherlands. Essen, Belgium.

My grandfather was born in Amsterdam. He was from Jewish descent but he wasn’t practising. He married my (non-Jewish) grandmother and became a well to do businessman. He produced and sold gramophones in cabinets. In 1920 my mother was born in Amsterdam and her brother 2 years later. They lived in Vondelstraat 7, in a posh part of town and had servants. In 1932 because of bankruptcy due to the world economic crisis, they fled to Belgium with hardly anything, hoping to make a new start there. They settled in a house in the countryside near Brussels. My grandfather had decided to start dealing in vegetables and fruit. So he went to the early morning wholesale market in Sint Katelijne Waver (close to Mechelen) and delivered to customers and shops. My mother recalled she only had one pair of shoes. She had to go to a French-speaking school and while she didn’t speak French she learned quickly and did well. She enrolled in the university of Brussels to study Germanic philology in 1939. She met my father there and they fell in love. On 10 May 1940 the Germans invaded Belgium. My grandfather fled to France with his family. Near Bordeaux among all the refugees my mother met my father again by coincidence and they promised to wait for each other.

He had also fled southward with his parents, planning to travel by boat from Spain or Portugal to Congo. His father was working as a bookkeeper for Unilever and was commissioned to work in the plantations there. In Congo my father joined the Allied Army against the Germans. He travelled all over Africa and the Middle East. He got back to Congo after three and a half years and started working for the Belgian radio world broadcast as a journalist. By autumn my mother’s family returned to their home near Brussels. On return they found their home had become a headquarters of the Germans. I wonder how my grandfather managed because although he denied being Jewish, he certainly had the looks. I think he changed his mother’s name on his birth certificate. When the war finished in September 1945 it still took some time for my father to come back. Upon arrival he got very ill with malaria, having stopped the quinine medication too soon. After two malaria attacks, a very cold winter helped him recover. He started working for Belgian radio in Brussels. My mother worked as a teacher. On 31 August 1946 they got married.
 Brussels Midi Station

Brussels Midi Station

 Kazerne Dossin. Museum of Deportation and Resistance. Mechelen

Kazerne Dossin. Museum of Deportation and Resistance. Mechelen

 Palace of Justice. Brussels

Palace of Justice. Brussels

To Schengen and Walhalla

The Schengen Agreement was signed on board the Princesse Marie Astrid passenger boat on the Moselle River at the town of Schengen, Luxembourg on the 14th June 1985. The Agreement facilitates the freedom of movement of people and goods via the removal of border controls within the Schengen Area.

 At the border with Luxembourg. Near Arlon, Belgium

At the border with Luxembourg. Near Arlon, Belgium

I visited Schengen in Luxembourg. I was looking for the boat that the Schengen Agreement was signed on. I wanted to take a picture of it but I found out that it is not there anymore and that it was moved to Germany and now sails as the MS Regensburg near the town of Regensburg in Bavaria. It takes people on day trips from that town to the Walhalla Memorial which, I found out, is a hall of fame overlooking the Danube that houses busts of distinguished people in German history.

As I left Schengen, after planning to visit the boat in its new home in Germany and to take the day trip to Walhalla, I saw a car parked by the side of the road. The car had an image painted on it. The image, which didn’t occur to me until later, depicts a scene from Norse mythology in which a Viking ship sails past another Walhalla, this one being the great hall of Odin, where warriors who have died in battle gather in heavenly revelry. The car had Russian registration plates.
 European Museum Schengen

European Museum Schengen

 The border of Luxembourg, France and Germany. Schengen

The border of Luxembourg, France and Germany. Schengen

 Perl Station. Germany. Over the bridge from Schengen, Luxembourg

Perl Station. Germany. Over the bridge from Schengen, Luxembourg

 Schengen, Luxembourg

Schengen, Luxembourg

Songs arise from the German bosom,
The horns' sound is exultation;
And its echo reverberates
From the valley back to Walhalla.

 On the MS Regensburg. Near the Walhalla Memorial

On the MS Regensburg. Near the Walhalla Memorial

 Konrad Adenauer Bust. The Walhalla Memorial

Konrad Adenauer Bust. The Walhalla Memorial

Europe Uber Alles

It is my deepest belief that the United States of Europe can finally bring peace to this continent which has been ravaged by war so often / Konrad Adenauer. First Post War Chancellor of Germany and a ‘founding father’ of the EU
 At the border with Germany. Hergenrath, Belgium.

At the border with Germany. Hergenrath, Belgium.

I come from Ludvigslust. It’s between Hamburg and Berlin, in the former East Germany. I was born in 1976 and I stayed there until 1995 when I turned 18. I finished my secondary school there. My parents were divorced and I lived with my mother. My father lived in Leipzig. My father was always quite active in that whole thing. His dream was to leave East Germany basically. He was always very active in opposing, in his mind and his way of doing things, the life in East Germany. He was married again my father. I have a half sister. My parents got divorced when I was three. In East Germany, if you had relatives in the West, you could go and visit them and so his wife left for West Germany to visit an Aunt, because she had an 80th birthday or something, and then they had agreed in advance that she would not come back. You could request for family reunification and so he did that. He didn’t really know what would happen though you know. Everything was possible at that time.

Some people could never leave. That was one option. They were held in East Germany forever. The other option was that you could leave immediately or you had to wait a couple of years and even then another option was that they put you away… you know? So it was really quite uncertain. It was very difficult for him. He couldn’t work anymore. He had to stop working as teacher because, you know, they were afraid that he would corrupt the minds of the poor little children… Although when you are a sports teacher, what can you tell about the system? During running breaks you tell them the capitalist system is much better? (laughs) But seriously, they told him he had a pedagogical task and that he could not perform that anymore. So he did some black (market) work. But it was not like here, now you know, where everyone does that and it’s sort of accepted. In East Germany everyone had a job. Jobs were guaranteed, the wages were all very similar.
p_00090236.jpg
p_00081252.jpg
p_00081257.jpg
p_00090237.jpg
I think he waited six months or a year. My sister was then 7 or 8. And of course at school you were the one who wanted to leave. I mean everybody knew. And even though they were divorced the Stasi came and talked to my mother. Basically just sort of making her scared… you know? That sort of thing. And for my mother it was really difficult because until then she never had a clash with the system. She had a quiet life and never really had to question why life was as it was. You know? Where as my father, for him it was very different. And then at some point he got the notice that he could leave. But he had to leave the next day. He decided that night that he would take the train from Leipzig to Ludvigslust, which was about 4 hours or something. He wanted to say goodbye to me. I didn’t know anything about it really.

My mother said go and pick your father up from the train station. I didn’t really know what was going on it was all quite surreal. I went there on my bike. I was kind of numb. I remember before this my mother received a letter from my father at the point when it was clear that his wife didn’t come back, and he had lost his job and everything and he said this is what has happened, so that we knew and that we could prepare as we would probably be interrogated. So I only knew from that letter he sent and what my mother told me about that. And now I think that also she didn’t really know what to do with it, I mean it was new to her, and she was just afraid. She didn’t want to scare me. She was the type to keep everything low profile. You know? Very silent. The situation between them was very difficult.
 Bad Rhondorf Station

Bad Rhondorf Station

 Konrad Adenauer House. Bad Rhöndorf, Germany

Konrad Adenauer House. Bad Rhöndorf, Germany

Anyway that night she said I am not going with you to the station. So I went there. I was on my bike, I had this green bike, and he was walking next to me and it was about half and hour walk to home and we had a little talk. I mean he couldn’t stay long it was just sort of an hour or so because he had to catch the last train back and so then at some point before the station we stopped on the street and he said I have a present for you and he brought out this little box with this golden necklace and he said I bought this for you and said it was very special and expensive and I was so flabbergasted! I was thinking what am I going to do with this? By that time I had realised that this was it and that I probably wouldn’t see him again and then he gives me this necklace? I hated gold! I had earings then and I loved silver. And he gave me a gold necklace.

Only years later I could appreciate that he was trying to show his affection, to leave me something basically, but at that time I was a teenager, I had hardly seen my father between being three and the year before he left because he wasn’t really interested in us, I had just got to know him and I was like I’m not going to see you anymore and you give me a necklace? And then it was all very hectic and he had to leave and get the train and I was with this necklace and I remember all the years I took the necklace in the box I never took it out I just put it in the cupboard and I think I looked at it once again later on. But I hated that necklace. I don’t have it anymore, I don’t even know what happened to it. For me it was a symbol, first of all, of not understanding each other and second him really never understanding. You know? That he was sort of happy. He could leave. You know for him that was a happy ending. He could leave. We couldn’t.

The Aluhutfraktion

 At border with Austria. Passau, Germany

At border with Austria. Passau, Germany

I took the Ferry from Patras to Venice. There were bikers, truck drivers and some old people on the ferry. The truckers and the bikers had a battle of who could get more wasted. Basically they drank for 32 hours in the sun, I had to sleep outside on the deck because of my dog.

I slept a bit, under a table, but they would slam the beers on the table and I was like ‘Good Morning!’ At one point there was a storm so I was hiding inside and luckily I made friends with one of the guys who worked on the boat whose name was Nicos and he let me sleep in some type of emergency exit room. So I slept there for a couple of hours. Then I went from Venice to Verona on a train. I didn’t have a ticket but my train came so I jumped onit and said to the (ticket man) I need to buy a ticket and he said fine I’m coming. I sat there for one, two, three, four, five hours and the guy didn’t come back then I saw him getting off the train and a new controller getting on.

The second controller came and I was thinking, right I know I look like the kind of person who doesn’t buy a ticket, so I took out my purse and she was like ‘you’ve already been on the train right? and she walked right passed me and then for two hours I was super nervous that she would come back and ask to see my ticket anyway. But she didn’t. Then I got to Munich and to Friesing and then to Regensburg. I’m going to Berlin.

If you go and have time to visit there is an old abandoned amusemant park in what was East Berlin, with statues of dinosaurs and they make tours through the park. When I was there I had the most freaky déjà vu that I’ve ever had. I passed by the entance gate and there is a little house, round, shaped out of wood, where an old lady would sit and sell you a ticket and then you have to go through one of those gates that turns but you can only go in, not out, and when I stood in front of it somehow I could hear the music of the things and the clicking of the gates and hear the kids screaming, for two seconds it was amazing, I’ve never had this experience before.
p_00090235.jpg
I work with crazy people. In a place for people that runaway from Psychiatric institutions. People with mental health issues. Some people are more crazy, some are less. Some will throw all the square things they find into the pond in front of the house and some will throw all the toilet brushes in the trees.

I don’t know if I am going to work there anymore or not. I’ve been there three years. It’s stressful. People do really wierd things, like for example, people throw away the coffee machine because they think it is possessed by something. I was quite impressed the first two or three times, it’s a big machine, but also these people have nothing to do with one another and so it’s very strange that it’s a recurring thing!

Also what I call The Aluhutfraktion, the people who think that when we are sleeping NASA comes and puts satellites under our skin. The party of the Aluminium Hats. Because if you wear an aluminium hat you won’t get spied on by the satellites. Once as a goodbye present I was offered an aluminium hat!

It’s a small organisation. It’s in one of the most posh and rich parts of Berlin, a northern suburb, and everybody hates us. There is one patient that every Saturday at 6am exactly will come and try and steal some food and laundry and then run away and run around the streets shouting

‘Gestapo, Gestapo, You are all from the Gestapo’ and all the neighbours are out of their windows going ‘Get your crazy people inside we are trying to sleep’

Another guy would always bring flowers. I really liked this guy. He was constantly talking in a rough Berlin accent, and constantly listening to Abba on speakers, the same five songs. We kept saying why don’t you use headphones? And he would say it’s not the same experience, he had to listen on these shitty bluetooth speakers. He was there for 6 months and I can’t listen to Abba to this day. But I always thought bringing flowers was nice then one day I walked a different way from the train station to work and I saw that all the flowers in the gardens of the rich people were ripped out… (laughs)

O Wiecznym Pokoju Miedzy Narodami

Wojciech Jastrzębowski (19 April 1799 – 30 December 1882) was a Polish scientist, naturalist and inventor, professor of botanic, physics, zoology and horticulture at Instytut Rolniczo-Leśny in Marymont in Warsaw. During the battle at Olszynka Grochowska  he formulated a document which may be described as a project of the first constitution of Europe united as one republic without internal borders, with unified judicial system and institutions consisting of representatives of all nations. The document was named ‘About the everlasting peace between the nations’ (O wiecznym pokoju między narodami)

p_00090241.jpg