hidden europe

Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

View from one of the dunes towards the forested area of the Curonian Spit with the Baltic in the distance (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

For much of its length, the Curonian Spit is about two to three kilometres wide; at points it narrows to just a few hundred metres. The sea is never far away. There is a real sense of being on the very edge of Europe. Yet, for all its remoteness, ...
image © Gorodok495 / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

There was talk, as we all waited to leave the overnight ferry from Hoek van Holland in Harwich, as to whether there would be any trains. "It was like the blitz here last week," said one woman, who had evidently escaped the wild English weather by ...
photo © Joshua Wanyama / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

Winter skating on the River Doubs, which marks the frontier between France and Switzerland, is a common seasonal pastime in the Jura region. As Switzerland and France are both party to the Schengen Agreement, this is a classic "soft" border, one ...
The Ludwigsplatz with the baroque Ludwigskirche in the heart of Saarbrücken, capital of the German state of Saarland (photo © Sergey Dzyuba / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

We walk down the lane between two villages. Each takes its name from the River Gailbach. The higher community is Obergailbach. It's a wee slip of a place. Just a couple of kilometres down the valley lies Niedergailbach which is rather larger. This ...
photo © Radius06 / dreamstime.com
Letter from Europe

For millions of Brits of my generation, the EU gave an exit route, a chance to escape. It gave me a chance to feel truly European, to be truly European. It has given me the opportunity to explore other languages, other faiths, other freedoms, that ...
The border museum at Schnackenburg (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

The village of Schnackenburg is on the south side of the Elbe right on the erstwhile border between East and West Germany. It is a place which has lived by borders and died by borders. It is an interesting case of a community which lost out in ...
Letter from Europe

The decision 170 years ago to build a great viaduct across the Neisse Valley was a visionary leap. Now that elegant structure needs a dose of 21st-century vision. Because what use is a graceful viaduct if it doesn't have any ...
Letter from Europe

Have you applied for Liberland citizenship yet? Probably not. Though by all accounts lots of folk have been begging the Liberland government to give them passports.Liberland may yet turn out to be merely a publicity stunt, but President Jedlicka ...
Letter from Europe

A new issue of hidden europe is published tomorrow. Not just any issue of hidden europe, but one which marks our tenth birthday. Yes, it was way back in March 2005 that we published the first-ever issue of the magazine. For ten years, we have been ...
Letter from Europe

The ebb and flow of life in Brussels, London and Paris is well covered in mainstream media. We have instead opted for the road less travelled. hidden europe 44, which is published today, carries reports from offbeat and unsung communities right ...
Letter from Europe

In the third and last of three pieces to mark the 25th anniversary of the dramatic events of November 1989 in Berlin, the editors of hidden europe reflect on the special qualities that mark their home ...
Narrow-gauge steam train at the top of the Brocken in Germany’s Harz Mountains (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

In our second article to mark 25 years since the political changes in East Germany of late 1989, we make a pilgrimage to one of Germany's most celebrated mountains: the ...
Ketwurst used to be a popular East German snack. It was most associated with Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, famous for its world clock seen here (photo © Patrick Poendl / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

With the approaching 25th anniversary of the East German government's decision to relax restrictions on its borders, you'll surely be hearing a lot about Berlin over the coming weeks. We have our own recollections of the German Democratic Republic, ...
View from Calton Hill over the city of Edinburgh (photo © Shaiith / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Just imagine, for a moment, that Scotland really does vote yes to independence next week. Scotland will then become a new nation state, bidding for a place in European league tables of size and status. We reflect on border issues and look at how ...
The Titovka roadside café is a welcome spot to have a coffee and enjoy a break from the road. It is located on the E105 to Murmansk in the north-west corner of the Russian Federation (photo © hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

Everyone stops at Titovka sooner or later. That's the way things are up here in the far north-west corner of Russia. The Titovka roadside café is on the highway that runs west from Murmansk towards the mining towns of Zapolyarny and ...
Park station in Johannesburg, South Africa (photo © Alan Gignoux / dreamstime.com).
Letter from Europe

Last month, hidden europe co-editor Nicky Gardner visited South Africa and adjacent countries. For a change we look beyond Europe, joining Nicky as she mills with the late afternoon commuter crowds at the main railway station in ...
Greek Catholic church at Ruská Bystrá, a small community in Slovakia about six kilometres west of the border with Ukraine (© hidden europe).
Letter from Europe

From villages in the Ukrainian hills above Uzhhorod west through the Bieszczady Mountains to remote communities in south-east Poland, there is a Paschal theme this Sunday morning: "Christos voskrese," it runs in Church Slavonic. "Christ has risen." ...
Letter from Europe

It is one of those wild sulphurous days, and the bare heath beats to the roar of the winds. The storm sweeps in from the west. The drenched heath lies low. And it survives the fierce onslaught. The forest at Froeslev is less ...
Letter from Europe

Folk in Hemmeres make the point that theirs was the first village east of the River Our in which the Americans set foot. The truth is that several patrols made forays over the river on the evening of 11 September 1944. And it was on the railway ...
Letter from Europe

At ten o'clock yesterday evening, well after the sun had dipped below the waters of the Adriatic, the car ferry arrived in Ubli. The little port at the south-west corner of the island of Lastovo has a hangdog sort of feel. Long before sunrise ...
Letter from Europe

The thrice-daily local bus service from Altenberg to Teplice is a blessing for cross-border travellers. The bus crosses the mountains that define the border between Saxony and Bohemia. When we rode this route last Thursday, there were just five ...
Letter from Europe

We have been exploring the northern ranges of the Alps this past week, criss-crossing the international border that separates the German State of Bavaria from the Austrian Tyrol. Like many of Europe's borders, this particular frontier has been ...
Letter from Europe

Çanakkale is a mere dot on the map, but mere dots in distant lands so often turn out to be bustling cities. And thus it is with Çanakkale, a seaport and fortress town on the east side of the Dardanelles. Çanakkale is a community of more than ...
Letter from Europe

We drifted slowly through wintry forests, past unkempt meadows and villages full of scrawny desolation. We crossed the River Odra four times. And four times I gazed down at the river's wine-dark waters from the train, watching the waters swirling ...
Letter from Europe

Prosaic places are so often the most interesting spots. And Lichterfelde ranks as decidedly prosaic. None of the main English-language guidebooks to Berlin so much as mention the suburb where we live and work. Tourists do not flock to Lichterfelde ...
Letter from Europe

You could easily miss Elton. The train from Dublin to Cork speeds past Elton. You hardly catch a glimpse of the cluster of houses that make up this little Irish village. When the grandly titled Great Southern and Western Railway built a line ...
Letter from Europe

Are not some landscapes genuinely therapeutic? We crested wave after wave of rolling forests as we drove through Karelia last week. Writers looking to plot the spiritual geography of Europe might do well to start here, for Finnish Karelia is a ...
Letter from Europe

For a spell Swedish, then German (and known as Stettin) and only since 1945 Polish, Szczecin is distant from the hubs of Polish power. Its shipyard workers played a key role in the Solidarity movement of the nineteen-eighties. But the city feels ...
Letter from Europe

We sensed we were crossing into another world as the Moscow-bound train rumbled over the long bridge that spans the River Bug. The reed beds are full of wildfowl which are not troubled by the frequent trains that rattle overhead. This is the border ...
Letter from Europe

1990 was a Berlin summer dominated by the Mauerspechte - literally the 'wall peckers' - who chipped away at the Wall with chisels, often in the hope that fragments of the legacy of a divided Berlin could be sold to the tourists who were then ...
Letter from Europe

You really know you have travelled a long way east when you get to Vadsø. The local church, which dominates the small town on the Barents Sea, is a late 1950s essay in poured concrete. But take a peek inside for a surprise. This is a Norwegian ...
Letter from Europe

The first town over the hills, on the Czech side of the border, is Domazlice. Just twenty minutes on the steam trains that this weekend shuttle between Furth and Domazlice. The Czech town has a fabulous elongated main square that during these ...
Letter from Europe

The River Lauter bubbles happily through the town, nature is taking possession again of ancient ramparts where once the French kept watch for invaders and now this border town is a favoured destination for day trippers from Germany. But for me ...
Letter from Europe

The Kosovo issue rumbles on. Contrary to popular opinion, the question of who has recognised the would-be state and who has not is far from being a simple east versus west divide. True, Britain and the United States both gave a positive nod to ...
Letter from Europe

Remich is one of those spots where it is easy to linger. It is a relaxed sort of place on the bank of the Moselle river in Luxembourg. Just across the river from Remich lies the German village of Nennig. Life in Nennig and Remich is economically ...
Letter from Europe

Boris and Gleb are as saintly a duo as Peter and Paul or Cyril and Methodius. Travel round Russia and you will come across no end of churches dedicated to Boris and Gleb. The two were in fact brothers and evidently their tender humility marked the ...
Letter from Europe

The whispers from Moscow last week that Russia will sanction visa-free travel to the country for visitors arriving and leaving on ferries is good news indeed. Cruise ship passengers have long benefitted from just such a dispensation, but only if ...
Letter from Europe

If Abkhazia were more secure and better promoted, it would surely be a holiday paradise to match anywhere in the Mediterranean. It was a favourite with Soviet leaders. The area is spectacular with serene beaches backed by meadows, orchards and ...
Letter from Europe

Campione is an extraordinary spot - a geopolitical oddity of the first order. The village is an exclave of Italy within the Ticino region of southern Switzerland. The conundrum that is Campione'd Italia is nicely captured in a set of old Campione ...
Letter from Europe

This week saw hidden europe hitchhiking through rural Hungary as we tried to mitigate the effects of a national train strike in Hungary (now into its seventh day as we write). Pity the poor passengers who left Bucharest last Saturday evening on the ...
Letter from Europe

The benefits of having open borders across most of Europe are beginning to influence the pattern of weekend excursions made by Europeans living or taking holidays in frontier areas. The burden of having to show a passport at a border was never an ...
Letter from Europe

Moldova is not a country that figures much in the European imagination. Tucked away in southeast Europe, Moldova contrives to be not-quite-Balkan and not-really-Danubian. The country boasts a minimalist connection with the Danube, abutting onto the ...
Letter from Europe

Since 1945 the Neisse valley has been split between two countries: on the west bank Germany and on the east bank Poland. History has scarcely been kind to the villages of the Neisse valley. Hard on the west bank of the river, nestling below what ...
Letter from Europe

In the heart of the Pyrenees, just to the east of Andorra, lies a great depression in the mountains that is a sunny oasis of fertile soils in an otherwise rather wild region. It is known as Cerdanya on the Spanish side and Cerdagne on the French ...
Letter from Europe

Sidonie was not the only place to change hands on that July day. Fifty kilometres away to the southwest, the hamlet of U Sabotu was ceded to Slovakia by the Czech Republic. Most of the population secured a handsome financial windfall from the ...
Letter from Europe

Fifty-five years ago today, Lichterfelde was very much in the news on account of the fate of Walter Linse, a local lawyer who was kidnapped at his front gate - destination Moscow. Linse had made a reputation for himself in exposing abuses of the ...
Letter from Europe

Capital cities are hardly regular hidden europe territory but Stockholm would surely be a firm contender if ever we were pressed to pinpoint our favourite European capital. Others that would certainly make it onto the shortlist would be Luxembourg ...
Letter from Europe

There is an old Russian proverb that suggests that a man consists of a body, a soul and a passport. But passports are not such an age-old institution as the proverb might imply. A hundred years ago, travellers might wander hither and thither across ...
Letter from Europe

Early European travel was hugely driven by Christian virtue. Those of the truly devout who had the resources would try to visit Rome, Jerusalem or Santiago de Compostela. The fifteenth century English mystic, Margery Kempe, managed all three, and ...
Letter from Europe

Grodno, a historic religious and trading centre that sits comfortably on the bluffs above the Neman river. The onetime Jewish population, which one hundred years ago numbered sixty per cent of the population, was the victim of Nazi purges. An empty ...
Letter from Europe

The Black Sea region bristles with diaspora curiosities, and, in an earlier issue of hidden europe magazine (in July 2005), we explored Estonian villages in the breakaway province of Abkhazia in northwest Georgia. In the upcoming issue of the ...
Letter from Europe

Today, 23 February, is the Festival of Terminalia - not a date that features prominently in any modern ecclesiastical calendar, but one that was laden with meaning in the Roman world. For Terminus was the deity who presided over boundary stones and ...
Letter from Europe

In the picture perfect world of wooden houses and picket fences that is Lutepää (on Estonia's eastern border with Russia), every household has neatly stacked piles of wood ready for winter. The rich autumn whiff of burning wood has already eclipsed ...