At the Austrian Border

After our exploration of communist oppression, it was only fitting for us to start our weekend vacation in Sopron, the sight of the PanEuropean Picnic in August of 1989.  Communism was fading fast and the leaders of Austria and Hungary had decided to hold a picnic celebration at the border between their countries.  The plan was to open up the gates (part of the Iron Curtain itself) and have both leaders walk across to show their friendship.  The picnic was heavily adverstised, and not surprisingly, many East Germans rushed to Sopron in hopes of making their way back to West Germany through Austria.  The miracle is that the border patrol, who were surprised to see hundreds of people approaching the gates hours ahead of the schedule, did not shoot at them (although they had orders to do so).  They realized that doing so would turn the happy chaos into a memorial ground.  For those few hours, hundreds of refugees left their cars and often families behind for a chance to be free…it was the first “brick” to removed from the Berlin Wall.

A note about the pictures–if it looks like we are driving through a wheatfield, that’s because we did.  The road to the border was “closed,” so our intrepid bus driver took us on a tractor path through the woods until we could no longer drive.  This is when our guides thought we were close, so then we walked over a motorcross path, until they realised we were nowhere near Austria.  This was followed by us returning to the bus, driving through more wheat, and finally making our way to the blocked road–which had only a chair and caution tape to stop us.  In the spirit of resisting oppression, they took down the caution tape (after all–the helpful folks at the local prison told us we could) and we drove on through the wet cement.  Then, while at the border, we watched as the Austrian Police blocked those trying to go around the closed gate to Hungary.  So much for an open EU!

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