Being born in 1990 in Sweden, I have not experienced life during the Iron curtain. Coming to Bratislava, the Slovakian “little big city” that borders to Austria, the impact that the Iron curtain had on people’s lives for over 40 years is striking.
Austrian and Slovak politics and cultures in this area have been intertwined for a long time. Between 1948-1989 however, the border between Austria and the Slovak part of former Czechoslovakia was shut and heavily guarded from the Czechoslovakian side. Claiming to protect Czechoslovakians from “the enemy”, barbwires, guard dogs, mines and armed border police stopped people from the east to visit or flee to the west.
Outside of Bratislava city centre, close to the borough of Devínska Nová Ves, Austria and former Czechoslovakia were separated only by the Morava river. In this area there are still many historical traces of the once heavily controlled border. Christian and Marek from the Interreg project Bratislava Umland Management (Bratislava Urban Regional Cooperation) are currently planning public walks to raise public attention to the forgotten places along the border. By doing so, they hope to discuss how these places could be restored and increase public awareness of cross border issues. I followed them during a sunny Friday morning when they were planning a public border-walk.
"This area has been separated for a long time. But we want to bridge that, and make local people more active in what’s going to happen to this area. By looking at and discussing the future of the defence line of bunkers from the second world war in this area, we want to raise the question of how to preserve them and the memory of life during the Iron curtain in this area", says Marek.
But Christian and Marek don’t only prepare border-walks. Their Interreg project works with several concrete things to improve the life for people in this border area. For example, their work aims to improve the regional public transport between Slovakia and Austria. Today, most people that commute across the border must go by car, since there is very little public transport across the border. The goal is that it's going to be easier to go by public transport between Austrian border towns and Bratislava. Better infrastructure communications across the border is needed in this area, and the existing ones are very appreciated and used by the locals.
One of the projects Interreg has contributed to in this area is the pedestrian and biking-bridge between Slovak Devínska Nová Ves and Austrian Engelhartsstetten. This bridge is called “the bike bridge of freedom” (Fahrradbrücke der Freiheit/Cyklomost slobody), which is a very symbolic name. It crosses the Morava river, where once mines where placed and people killed for crossing the border. Today, approximately 600 people cross this bridge daily for leisure, shopping, or work.
Seeing the bunkers, the old barbwire and looking at the people now peacefully passing over the bike bridge of freedom this sunny September day, it’s difficult to grasp that this once was a guarded boarder, keeping people in and shutting people out. In this perspective the need of Interreg programs, making sure that EU’s internal boarders are not barriers in people’s everyday life’s, is obvious.