Wars and migrations, annexations and upheavals, the comings and goings of despots and kings – central Europe’s borders have shifted frequently and dramatically over the years. The fortunes of towns and cities likewise change; peripheral trading posts can become central transport and industrial hubs, growing quickly in prominence or influence. Or the reverse can happen; cities accustomed to being influential in culture and trade can, with a simply redrawing of a map, come to inhabit the literal margins. Gone are the major train lines that used to bring people through, west-east travel no longer easy or feasible. Institutes of higher learning then move to more accessible towns; businesses and entire industries follow.
Of special interest is the current German-Czech-Polish border area. Situated in Silesia or Bohemia or Hungary at various times, then in the heart of the Prussian empire in the 19th century, then in the heart of the Nazi Reich up until the end of World War II, these towns then found themselves wedged between wounded, angry Poland and Czechoslovakia, and an isolated, communist East Germany. Pushed to the fringes and with little remaining contact with Western Europe, the towns became vague ghosts of their former selves. After the German Democratic Republic fell in 1990, the impoverished East German states were absorbed by the Federal Republic of Germany, and then the European Community, then the European Union. Now with a generation of investment in eastern Germany and an economically resurgent Poland and Czechia, this border area is returning to prominence. Tourism and investment are returning and some long-disused train lines are being reopened.
Castles, circular bridges, abandoned airfields, riverside towns with cobblestone streets and national parks – the region has many architectural and scenic gems. Photogenic towns like Bad Muskau and Görlitz are in Germany on one side of the river and in Poland on the other, with Czechia only a few kilometres upriver, and are slowly being rediscovered from all sides. While still not the most accessible of regions, more and more people are happy they made the journey.