Presenting no obstacle to our free movement this gravel and road tour saw us cross several active and defunct borders.
In my head recently has been Peter Gabriel’s song ´Games Without Frontiers´ (1980) where he talks about a subject that resonated strongly with me on this ride. He refers to several political themes kindled by nationalism and borders. “Adolf builds a bonfire/Enrico plays with it” and his reference to ´Jeux Sans Frontières´ is worthy of thought. Jeux Sans Frontières was a pan European TV show where people would do battle with their neighbours from other countries playing often bizarrely funny tests of skill. Much of the comedic value was derived from the attempts by participants to interfere with their opponents’ chances. In the UK it was called ´It’s a Knockout´ or maybe Brexit would be a better name.
The ride began in Göttingen once surrounded by watchtowers, not only to protect it from enemies but also to restrict movement and gather taxes on whomever wished to pass. Historically Central Europe and especially the German speaking regions were a heady mix of trip wires and obstacles to movement. Also restricted were rights of residency. When Napoleon invaded (1806 Battle of Jena) he took the opportunity to whittle the existing 460 mini-fiefdoms and Kingdoms etc., down to a more governable number. In 1871 Germany was forged by fire and after World War Two the nation was reorganised into 16 federal states with both state and international frontiers being heavily revised. Lower Saxony was founded at this point from a jumble of regional historical allegiances, for instance the sign at the Dreilländereck mentions the Kingdoms of Hannover, Prussia and Hesse. The present State borders mark distinct independently minded administrative areas and are open to free trade and movement (2021 Covid-19 pandemic restrictions permitting) unlike much of Germanys past.
The city of Göttingen is in the State of Lower Saxony and to the south three State borders meet (Dreilländereck) – Lower Saxony, Hesse, and Thuringia. The Allies post WW2 used these state lines to divide the country into Zones of Occupation (British, USA and the Soviet Union respectively).
At the Dreilländereck until 1989 the USA, British and West Germans looked across the heavily militarised West-East German division toward the East Germans and the Red Army. To get to and from the Dreilländereck we crossed this German Internal Border several times (the DDR border was not a straight line).
The British Army opened a transit camp at close by Friedland in 1945 and this became a conduit for millions of people. These included Holocaust survivors, prisoners of war and those who had been forced to leave the one third of Germany which had been ceded to Poland and others such as Czechoslovakia etc. I have heard stories of how some Lower Saxons and Hessians were not best pleased to see their Silesian or East Prussian fellow Germans in amongst their midst. They were foreigners in all but name.
I can cross these borders freely riding a good number of gravel roads that have over the past been witness to great shifts in demographics. Thankfully, despite Brexit seeing my freedom of movement suffer I can cross these barriers without ´let or hindrance´ as it requests on the inside of my United Kingdon passport, but leaving the UK maybe another matter.
When I attended the 2008 Circuit des Ardennes cycle race it was remarkable how many times we freely crossed between the French and Belgian Ardennes highlighting that although borders can delineate an administrative area if the will is willing, they don´t have to be roadblock.
Hard borders suck!
Top left is Thuringia (DDR), bottom left is Lower Saxony and right is Hesse.
Games Without Frontiers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xZmlUV8muY
15 Gravel Sectors.