European Railway Borders / To Schengen and Walhalla


‘Songs arise from the German bosom, 
The horn’s sound is exultation;
And its echo reverberates,
From the valley back to Walhalla.’

‘When we met on the train from Antwerp, it was 6 days before a crucial moment in my life. My sister and I finally settled our parents' inheritance at the notary's office. In 1920 my mother was born in Amsterdam. They lived in Vondelstraat 7, in a posh part of town and had servants. My grandfather was from Jewish descent but he wasn’t practising. He was a well-to-do businessman. He produced and sold gramophones in cabinets.’
‘In 1932 because of bankruptcy, due to the world economic crisis, they fled to Belgium with hardly anything. They settled in a house in the countryside near Brussels where I was eventually born. My grandfather started dealing in fruit and vegetables. He went to the market in Sint Katelijne Waver, close to Mechelen. My mother had to go to a French-speaking school. She couldn’t speak French but she learned quickly and she did well. She enrolled in the University of Brussels to study Germanic philology in 1939. She met my father there and they fell in love. When the Germans invaded Belgium my grandfather fled to France with his family and near Bordeaux, among all the refugees, my mother met my father again by coincidence and they promised to wait for each other. He had also fled south with his parents, planning to travel by boat from Spain or Portugal to The Congo. His father was working as a bookkeeper for Unilever and was commissioned to work in the plantations there. In The Congo my father joined the Army against the Germans. He travelled all over Africa and the Middle East. He got back to The Congo after three and a half years and started working for the Belgian radio world broadcast as a journalist. My mother’s family returned to their home near Brussels but found it was now a headquarters of the Germans.’


‘I wonder how my grandfather managed because although he denied being Jewish, he certainly had the looks. I think he changed his mother's name on his birth certificate. There is also a story about my uncle disappearing for six weeks, hiding in the woods. All young people were ordered to go to work in the war factories in Germany. Maybe that's why he hid? During the war my mother received letters from my father very sporadically, maybe just a couple a year. I've seen what those looked like: large parts were blacked out by the German censorship. When the war finished in September 1945 my father started working for Belgian radio in Brussels. My mother worked as a teacher. On 31 August 1946 they got married.’ 



I went from Antwerp to Schengen in Luxembourg to see the The Princesse Marie - Astrid which is the boat that the Schengen Agreement was signed on. I wanted to take a picture of it but it’s not there anymore. It’s in Germany now and sails as the MS Regensburg on the River Danube. It takes people on day trips to the Walhalla Memorial which I found out is a hall of fame overlooking the river that houses busts of important people from German history. As I left Schengen I saw a car parked by the side of the road with a picture painted on it. The picture which didn’t occur to me until later shows a scene from Norse mythology in which a Viking ship sails past another Walhalla, the great hall of Odin, where warriors who have died in battle gather in heavenly revellry.

The car had Russian license plates. 




‘After climbing what feels like a billion stairs you enter an opulent hall with busts of the aforementioned German heroes, who range from Generals and Princes to Politicians such as Konrad Adenauer and to figures from literature such as Heinrich Heine. And of course Goethe. But he's everywhere.’


Mark