On track to end Berlin walls


I am writing this letter before I head off into the country on my by now very familiar train route to Mariánské Lázně. The route has been plagued now by improvements, read European Union funded optimization as it is termed, for the last three of four years now. I think the idea is that eventually the trip to Nuremberg, Germany, will take 20 minutes or a half hour less. The result for the recent years had been 20 or 30 minutes more on the travelling time.

A side effect of these improvements has been the building of long anti-noise barriers to accompany the arrival at every town, village or even hamlet. These concrete barriers are all the same and have the irritating result that you can’t see the towns, villages or hamlets as you go by.

The phenomenon takes me back to what I suppose I might term my home town in North Wales, though I haven’t been there for two decades now. I think I was there soon after finishing university for some training on a local newspaper. I met a former school friend, well make that acquaintance, who I remembered from my diligent reading of the local press had just been charged to appear in a local court. He had daubed in paint the words “Berlin Wall” on some such large concrete construction that was to accompany work on a new motorway that was to slice though the area. Historically, the real wall had yet to fall.

He asked me to appear at court as a character reference for him. I think I represented a sort of model with a very big question mark for him since I had progressed up the academic grades at school from bottom to top in a manner which was not common at the time and, I suppose, not too common now. He, while intelligent, had not made much of school and was frequently in trouble for minor breaches of discipline.

Shamefacedly I said I would not be in town for long and could not go to court. In all honesty I wondered what they would have made of a fresh faced student speaking up for him. Later, once my journalistic career was launched, I got a lot of experience filling notebooks at such courts. That experience developed a fairly cynical appreciation of their activity with one level of local society sitting in judgement on another.

Anyway, to fast forward a few decades and return to the Czech Republic, as I take stock of the last year there is maybe one political pledge which gives me some pleasure; Transport Minister Vít Bárta’s pledge to cut down spending on rail noise barriers. Berlin walls, it seems, will be a thing of the past.