ARTICLE 50 / Leaving The European Union
In the early 90’s photographer Michael Thomas Jones spent a month inter-railing in Europe. Ever since, whenever he thinks of Europe he always thinks of trains. Railways are its skeleton, holding it all together. In 1994, not long after the Maastricht Treaty had cemented the EU in legislation, the Channel Tunnel opened connecting the railways of Britain with those on the continent. The UK’s marriage to Europe seemed celebrated then. It has now been annulled by Brexit. So in the summer of 2017 Thomas Jones moved to Belgium and took to the trains once again in search of Europe. Schengen Area Railway Borders is the resulting project and a work in progress.
Train stations. tombstones, borders between the living and the dead, between infinitude and the hermetic world of the city, city gates, cities unto themselves. When identities vanish train stations sprout. If every border had a train station of its own, what marvellous confusion would ensue, what a crush, what mockery -Dasa Drndik. Trieste
My grandfather was born in Amsterdam. He was from Jewish descent but he wasn’t practising. He married my (non-Jewish) grandmother and became a well to do businessman. He produced and sold gramophones in cabinets. In 1920 my mother was born in Amsterdam and her brother 2 years later. They lived in Vondelstraat 7, in a posh part of town and had servants. In 1932 because of bankruptcy due to the world economic crisis, they fled to Belgium with hardly anything, hoping to make a new start there. They settled in a house in the countryside near Brussels. My grandfather had decided to start dealing in vegetables and fruit. So he went to the early morning wholesale market in Sint Katelijne Waver (close to Mechelen) and delivered to customers and shops. My mother recalled she only had one pair of shoes. She had to go to a French-speaking school and while she didn’t speak French she learned quickly and did well. She enrolled in the university of Brussels to study Germanic philology in 1939. She met my father there and they fell in love. On 10 May 1940 the Germans invaded Belgium. My grandfather fled to France with his family. Near Bordeaux among all the refugees my mother met my father again by coincidence and they promised to wait for each other.
He had also fled southward with his parents, planning to travel by boat from Spain or Portugal to Congo. His father was working as a bookkeeper for Unilever and was commissioned to work in the plantations there. In Congo my father joined the Allied Army against the Germans. He travelled all over Africa and the Middle East. He got back to Congo after three and a half years and started working for the Belgian radio world broadcast as a journalist. By autumn my mother’s family returned to their home near Brussels. On return they found their home had become a headquarters of the Germans. I wonder how my grandfather managed because although he denied being Jewish, he certainly had the looks. I think he changed his mother’s name on his birth certificate. When the war finished in September 1945 it still took some time for my father to come back. Upon arrival he got very ill with malaria, having stopped the quinine medication too soon. After two malaria attacks, a very cold winter helped him recover. He started working for Belgian radio in Brussels. My mother worked as a teacher. On 31 August 1946 they got married.
The Schengen Agreement was signed on board the Princesse Marie Astrid passenger boat on the Moselle River at the town of Schengen, Luxembourg on the 14th June 1985. The Agreement facilitates the freedom of movement of people and goods via the removal of border controls within the Schengen Area.
I visited Schengen in Luxembourg. I was looking for the boat that the Schengen Agreement was signed on. I wanted to take a picture of it but I found out that it is not there anymore and that it was moved to Germany and now sails as the MS Regensburg near the town of Regensburg in Bavaria. It takes people on day trips from that town to the Walhalla Memorial which, I found out, is a hall of fame overlooking the Danube that houses busts of distinguished people in German history.
As I left Schengen, after planning to visit the boat in its new home in Germany and to take the day trip to Walhalla, I saw a car parked by the side of the road. The car had an image painted on it. The image, which didn’t occur to me until later, depicts a scene from Norse mythology in which a Viking ship sails past another Walhalla, this one being the great hall of Odin, where warriors who have died in battle gather in heavenly revelry. The car had Russian registration plates.
I come from Ludvigslust. It’s between Hamburg and Berlin, in the former East Germany. I was born in 1976 and I stayed there until 1995 when I turned 18. I finished my secondary school there. My parents were divorced and I lived with my mother. My father lived in Leipzig. My father was always quite active in that whole thing. His dream was to leave East Germany basically. He was always very active in opposing, in his mind and his way of doing things, the life in East Germany. He was married again my father. I have a half sister. My parents got divorced when I was three. In East Germany, if you had relatives in the West, you could go and visit them and so his wife left for West Germany to visit an Aunt, because she had an 80th birthday or something, and then they had agreed in advance that she would not come back. You could request for family reunification and so he did that. He didn’t really know what would happen though you know. Everything was possible at that time.
Some people could never leave. That was one option. They were held in East Germany forever. The other option was that you could leave immediately or you had to wait a couple of years and even then another option was that they put you away… you know? So it was really quite uncertain. It was very difficult for him. He couldn’t work anymore. He had to stop working as teacher because, you know, they were afraid that he would corrupt the minds of the poor little children… Although when you are a sports teacher, what can you tell about the system? During running breaks you tell them the capitalist system is much better? (laughs) But seriously, they told him he had a pedagogical task and that he could not perform that anymore. So he did some black (market) work. But it was not like here, now you know, where everyone does that and it’s sort of accepted. In East Germany everyone had a job. Jobs were guaranteed, the wages were all very similar.
This is an excerpt from the story Schengen Railway Borders by Michael Thomas Jones