An hour by train from Berlin, a blue bridge connects the destinies of two cities: Frankfurt an der Oder (Germany) and its “younger” sister Slubice (Poland), the most famous of Europe’s 36 cross-border towns. Up until 1945, in fact, the two cities were part of a single urban conglomerate within the Third Reich. Following the post-war agreements, the neighbourhoods to the east of the river – the future Slubice – found themselves in Polish territory and German inhabitants were forced to flee by night, camping on the western bank of the river.
Slubice became a ghost town so the government decided to repopulate it by forcibly bringing in thousands of new inhabitants from the east of Poland. Since then the destinies of the two towns divided and in the following decades, crossing the bridge over the Oder meant strict controls and hours of waiting. This changed in December 2007, however, when Poland became part of the Schengen area and the remains of the border posts were dismantled: the relationship between the two cities intensified, giving life to a model of cross-border development that touched on sectors such as urban planning, services and education as well as tourism, and even creativity.
In 1999, in fact, exactly 20 years ago, German artist Michael Kurzwelly came up with the idea of “Slubfurt”: the virtual union of the two towns (although a real council body exists), a concept aimed to fight the stereotypes that had developed over 60 years of separation. At the heart of the Old Continent, Slubfurt today is arguably the best antidote to the growing anti-European sentiment.