hidden europe 18

Europe's fading borders

by Nicky Gardner


With the expansion of the Schengen zone to encompass nine more countries, Europe's borders are fading fast. Communities once divided by international frontiers are happily united. But there is a downside, for fading borders within the European heartland are creating some formidable frontiers further east in Europe.

Wander along the Danube valley upstream from Budapest and you will surely stumble upon Komárom. It is a place that spreads out along both banks of the river. A trio of neat Habsburg fortresses on the south bank, and across on the north side some impressive fortifications, a surprisingly elegant town centre and an appealing Orthodox church - oddly out of place perhaps, for Komárom seems papal to the core.

A kilometre or two upstream from the town a railway bridge makes the hop over the river, connecting the Hungarian and Slovak portions of Komárom - for this is a divided city. Not a lot of locals use the train, though, preferring to walk over the road bridge which crosses the Danube in the very heart of town. Passports to hand, of course, for even those crossing on foot are required to show some ID to secure access to the other half of Komárom.

On the maps the two halves of the community have different names: Komárno for the Slovak side and Komárom for the smaller part of the town that lies on the Hungarian bank of the river. In practice though, Hungarian is the main language used on both sides of the river, and, whatever the Slovak maps say, it is the Hungarian name that has popular currency.