Czechs & Austrians celebrate being together again

Celebrations at the Guglwald-Predni Vyton border

15 years ago the fences and barbed wire first came down at the Guglwald-Predni Vyton border that had separated Austria from communist Czechoslovakia for forty years. After the fall of communism, despite difficulties, the process of renewal and dialogue between both countries grew through the 90s - reaching a milestone Friday night, when both entered a new era: together in the European Union at last.

Celebrations at the Guglwald-Predni Vyton border
And, as Czechs and Austrians began boisterous celebrations at the Guglwald-Predni Vyton border, I spoke with Michael Jungwirth of the Bureau for the Austrian State Secretary. Mr Jungwirth is himself a native of the upper-Austria region and I was curious to see how he viewed this historic night.

"The Czechs have always been closely linked to Austria during the monarchy - as a matter of fact we were divided for almost forty years from our neighbours by the iron fence and now are very eager to rediscover, as a matter of fact, our neighbours. And I think, also, in an economic sense, a lot of advantages and cooperation between both countries, now we are rediscovering them."

Celebrations at the Guglwald-Predni Vyton border
It is certainly an exciting time. One of the ironies, though, some observers have said that the process of joining the European Union that by the time it has happened, or is happening, some people are already "exhausted" by it.

"No, there is absolutely no exhaustion and I think people will now start to recognise that this process is going to increase. Step by step we are growing together, I'd say. The process has just started."

And what a way to begin - Friday night the Czech-Austrian border had been transformed beyond recognition. Stands celebrating the richness of Czech and Austrian life, as well as a podium featuring Czech and Austrian radio personalities busy introducing their cultures...

...including many local folklore and musical groups.

Still, who would have expected breakdancers?!!

Guglwald-Predni Vyton border
On the other hand, judging by the hundreds of people came out to watch, no one this night could do wrong. Nearby, a massive tent was filled to capacity with people who had come rom both sides of the border to tuck into local dishes and compare Czech and Austrian beer.

I even spoke with an Austrian cyclist who had made Guglwald the destination of his day's trek and watched the festivities from behind space-age cycling goggles.

"I think it's a good idea that the Czech Republic will join the EU because we are neighbours and we visit often! I think it's a beautiful place and an international place."

Others weren't disappointed either:

"We thought that this will come true! That the Czech Republic will be in the EU!"

though here and there I did run in to a few disgruntled visitors who had somehow expected more:

"I don't know, it seems to me that we're like poor relatives."

On the whole, however, it has to be said the evening was entertaining for most, especially touching was a particular moment when a children's choir sang "Ode to Joy" - that performance somehow embodying an innocence about the Czech Republic's joining of the European Union - that at least for that moment - swept away months of scepticism and doubt.

Will those return? With post-celebration hangovers on both sides of the border it is likely that grumblings will be heard - nothing is ever that easy. But it is a new start, and of course there is not really any going back. For the majority of visitors on the Czech Republic-Austrian border Friday night, there weren't many who would really want to.