When I visited Marseille for the first time, I already knew that some of my favorite authors had been here before me. The writer and journalist Joseph Roth, for instance. I had a vague notion of him sitting in the lobby of some grand hotel by the Old Port writing his articles for the Frankfurter Zeitung. Or did he actually come to Marseille seeking shelter from the Nazis, to be right at the port and out of Europe as soon as another World War would erupt? As I knew, Roth foresaw the imminent atrocities much earlier than most of his intellectual contemporaries.Read More
Marseille has a record as an ancient city without monuments. The oldest city in France baffles visitors with a glaring lack of remnants from its twenty-six-hundred-year-old history, adding to its bad reputation as uncultured, poverty-stricken, and dangerous. For the longest time, centralist France seemed to have all but abandoned its greatest harbor, once a lifeline supplying the entire Hexagon with colonial riches. And until recently, the age-old trading hub has been unable to sell itself as a heritage sight in the marketplace of global tourism.Read More
Where I’m from, you learn what borders are from an early age. The fence separating my own little world from the neighbors’ garden was a demarcation line toward enemy territory. Neighbors’ disputes were said to be the germ cell of war. And plucking low-hanging fruit from a branch of your neighbor’s apple tree, I was taught, was the one-way entry point to a life of crime. Where I’m from, the petty-bourgeois values of domestic peace, property protection, and Sunday-mow-day were not to mess with.Read More
Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse was once praised and disdained as a symbol of modern metropolitan life. Today, it might partly regain its former status, as the street is part of an ongoing experiment about revitalizing urban space.
“The spirit of Friedrichstrasse has rubbed off on the whole city,” German philosopher Martin Heidegger once wrote home to his wife Elfride, whom he addresses in his letters as “Mein liebes Seelchen!”—”My dear little soul!” “People here have lost their soul,” he continued his rant about the German Empire’s capital, which he visited while stationed in nearby Charlottenburg during the last months of World War I.Read More
Sometimes you have to cross a line to find true happiness. Sometimes, crossing a line takes you from happiness to hell. If only it were so clear in which direction you are crossing. Life isn’t always signposted that well, and sometimes the signs to happiness and those to hell point in the same direction. Agnes Varda’s film Le Bonheur (1965, English Happiness) gaily depicts such a journey with an ambiguous orientation. Does the film come with a happy ending? I wouldn’t tell you if I could.Read More
Meeting up with a couple of people for an easy ride through the city—this would be any cyclist’s dream, if only there weren’t so many cars that prefer to have the streets to themselves. This is precisely the reason why there is Critical Mass. The concept originated in San Francisco, where the first bicycle gathering under this name took place on the last Friday in September 1992. Since then, the idea has spread, and bikers in numerous cities across the globe reclaim their streets, which have long been dominated by motorized traffic.Read More
Silk roads, one could argue, are the opposite of borders. While borders pose barriers to the travel of people and goods, silk roads promote exchange between different cultural regions. This is not to imply, though, that the flow of goods and people along old trade routes was ever without hurdles or dangers.Read More
One day in September 2011, Alain Ducasse, one of the world’s most highly decorated chefs, walked into the Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant in Hudson Valley, New York. The main purpose of his visit being a photo shoot, he was served the epitome of a frugal meal—bread and butter. And yet, this simple dish featured the pride and joy of the restaurant’s co-owner and chef, Dan Barber. Single-udder butter is created from the cream of a single cow, with the intent to highlight the personality of the animal and the seasonal characteristics of the pasture it grazes on.Read More
Lütfi Ö. Akad’s film Law of the Border is a cinematic masterpiece that marked a pivotal point in Turkish cinema when it came out in 1966. Today, it appears as a brilliant reflection on the complexities of borders, unequal opportunities, and other limitations that define modern societies.
Borders are ambiguous phenomena. On the one hand, they are intended to be simplifying limitations, attempts at drawing clear lines through reality. On the other hand, they are limitless concatenations of complications: demarcation problems, territorial conflicts, stories of tragic separation, illegal crossings, fatal casualties.Read More
While global travel restrictions are currently changing daily, it’s time to reflect on borders and what lies between them—the nation-state. The Lithuanian poet and intellectual Tomas Venclova can provide some inspiring input for such reflections.
Countries across the globe have been slowly reopening their borders to travelers since the pandemic’s first wave has ebbed at least in some parts of the world. The reopening is very selective though, which is a reminder that the permeability of national borders is generally an extremely selective matter to most people, even in times of relative normality.Read More