Borders (or the lack of) have always fascinated me. I have always loved the concept of going from one country to another without having to tell anyone or show anything to anyone. Because when you travel between France and Germany (like we do on a weekly basis), there is no border. You don't even notice you are changing country. There are no (visible) customs, no passport control (although you need some kind of ID just in case).
We live in Karlsruhe, Germany. Here it is:
We are closer to the French capital than to the German one. And we are only a few minutes away from France. In a straight line, it is actually very very close. But because of obvious historical reasons, crossing the Rhine (which marks the natural border between the two countries) is tricky as there are few bridges. All in all, it takes about 20/30 minutes by car to get to France.
The nearest large city is the beautiful Strasbourg (one of the homes of the European Parliament). We love going there. It is a great city to explore on foot and a very multicultural one too.
Regularly, we go shopping to a smaller village in the extreme North East of France. To a French person from the other side of the country (aka my Norman self) that part of France may look like Germany, yet to a Germany inhabitant, it is well and truly France.
We love this border life. I am a French expat in Germany and I love the proximity of France (even though my family is nowhere near us). Here are some of the peculiarities of this fun side of our life.
Border life means:
- Going grocery shopping in France (baguettes, croissants, saucissons,...) but buying toiletries and cleaning products in Germany because apparently it is cheaper that way.
- Stopping by a French pharmacy once in a while because they have the medicines you grew up with and know how to use (and the nice lady will understand you better!).
- Being able to feed your kids with the treats you grew up with as a child (oh les delicieuses Barquettes).
- Being able to renew your French passports in a nearby French village because it is a lot closer than going to the French consulate in Berlin.
- Feeling puzzled at the Germans who fill up their trolleys in French supermarkets with bottled water. Nothing else! (We are told, it is because bottles have a refundable deposits in Germany, so you pay more for them even though you get the money for the bottles back when you return them).
- Shops being opened a few kilometers away when everything is closed in your country (bank holidays). But this also means all the Germans have the same idea!!
- Visiting museums and attractions in a different country even though you are only 20 minutes away.
- Spending hours comparing the prices of kitchen parts from Ikea France and Germany to find out which is cheaper.
- Being stopped by the French Police ONCE at the border. They start speaking to you in German when they see your licence plate (yes, the French Police speak German). You reply in French and they decide you can keep going without any further checks. pfffff.... You breathe a sight of relief because baby had no passport yet and technically, he should have had one to cross the border or they could charge you for abduction.
Border life is really just being able to get the best of both countries and being able to have a little taste of home once in a while.
Just an added note to say that our border life is by no means typical. Germans do like France and may go shopping there once in a while (especially when shops are closed in Germany) but they do not go weekly.