The novelist Günter Grass, who died this past spring, once wrote about “the inveterate foreignness that exists between Germans.” He captured in those few words the immense complexity of a nation where displacement has been a key theme in the national narrative. Grass himself had Kashubian roots, and often referred to himself as being Kashubian, but that made him no less German. Across much of Europe, people proclaim multiple identities. It is possible to be both Basque and Spanish. Or Jewish and Russian. Or Dutch and European.
Interestingly, Grass argued that the most exemplary Europeans might be the Sinti and Roma: “They could teach us how meaningless borders are,” wrote Grass, going on to remark that these groups “are at home everywhere in Europe. They truly are what we claim to be: born Europeans.”
Displacement is the word of the moment. And the refugees who have moved in their thousands across Europe these past months compel us to reflect on the experience of the displaced. The most compelling images of migrants on the move have actually been devoid of movement: the remarkable patience of refugees trapped at Budapest Keleti station in late summer, and more recently the hapless situation of refugees stranded in driving rain on the border between Croatia and Slovenia.
Exile and displacement feature in various ways in this new issue of hidden europe. We consider Geneva, a classic city of refuge. We examine a suburb of Berlin which has, over the years, received refugees in tens of thousands. And we explore villages in Transylvania to discover what happens to these places when everyone leaves. We also explore the question of links severed through past or present strife and conflict. What happened to all those trains which once ran between Zagreb and Sarajevo? And why has it now become impossible to take a train across the Perekopsky Isthmus to Crimea?
Our thanks go to our three guest contributors: Rudolf Abraham, Laurence Mitchell and Duncan JD Smith. Our thoughts go to nomads, wanderers and in particular to the refugees now struggling to find new homes and build new lives in Europe. Thanks too, to all our readers, for joining us on another journey around the continent we call home.
Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries