Geography buffs find particularly interesting places in the world where major urban centers come close together but under different jurisdictions: the greater New York City metropolis, say, or the Liège-Maastricht-Aachen area in NW Europe. But there is one other that is more interesting even than these, featuring major urban centers once divided by the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, and that is the Vienna-Bratislava area along the Danube. (Which, if you enlarge it even further, also includes the Hungarian city of Mosonmagyaróvár – OK, we’ll forget about that one for now . . .)
Indeed, a major Bratislava residential area known as Petržalka (to the south, and infamous for its very many drab panelák Communist pre-fab high-rise apartment buildings, still there today) has for years crowded right up to the line beyond which no one was allowed to be seen, lest they be shot. Ever since that regime fell in 1989, travelers heading to Bratislava on the bus from Vienna’s Schwechat airport (e.g. your humble blogger) have still found it remarkable the way the villages and fields lying to that city’s east abruptly give way to crowds of buildings once you cross the border.
But now there is no more “border” – that part of the world is now in the EU’s Schengen Area. Slovaks are no longer constrained, and so now they’re breaking out::
“Bratislavans are moving to Hungary and Austria,” it reads. Yes: “moving,” as in “house.” This article – and note, it’s on a Czech news website – mainly discusses Slovak settlement in two neighboring places, namely the Austrian village of Wolfsthal – which you ride through on that airport bus – and the Hungarian town of Rajka, in the other direction but still only about 20km from Bratislava.
As recently as 2007, there were only three Slovaks in Wolfsthal, out of a population of around 720; now it’s 230 Slovaks making up a population of 900. The mayor, Gerhard Schödinger, certainly speaks Slovak – he has a Slovak wife! (And he used to be an Austrian customs official, back when there was a border.) As we can see, he also makes sure that the public signs dotting this Austrian town are bilingual German/Slovak. The Slovaks living there like it mainly because, well, everything is so German – “It’s peaceful here,” says one, “with beautiful Nature, order and safety in the streets” – but also because the Austrian government offers great social welfare benefits, topped off by easily-attainable and cheap loans of up to €50,000 for home improvement. (more…)