Sunday, 13 May 2012

Through the Iron Curtain

When I knew I would be riding through Germany, it was natural that I would contact old school friend Alison Metzger (nee Martin) and her husband Franz who live in Nurmberg, and when they realised I would be crossing into Austria near Sopron, they in turn put me in touch with their good friends Michael and Traude Floiger, who live just across the border at Loipersberg in Burgenland.   Restrictions on horse riding in Austria meant that crossing the country might not be as easy as I had anticipated, but Micheal and Traude threw themselves into the task of ensuring a smooth passage, contacting Austrian horse organisations and the media. Here they both are outside their beautiful house where Mike and I stayed for a night

As a keen local historian, Michael made a perfect guide when they took us on a evening walk round the beautiful old town of Sopron, ending with dinner in one of the many former wine merchants' cellars with which the inner town is riddled.  And of course no meal in Sopron would be complete without a carafe of Kekfrancos, the local red wine for which the area is famous....

The night before the big day Mike and I stayed down the road from the stables in Kophaza at the Levanda, a quiet, cosy and friendly little hotel - the proprietor very generously refused payment for the stay when they found out what I was doing!   Much recommended if you are ever passing this way.

On April 15th I rode over the hill to meet up with Mathias Rendl who had ridden down from St Margarethen in Austria on his quarter horse to accompany me back over the border.   He took me along a lovely route along the reedy side of  Lake Neusledl (or Lake Ferto on the Hungarian side) to the frontier.

The crossing point turned out to be an extremely significant one, as it was the location of the Pan European Picnic.  I had never heard of this before, but it was a momentous event which marked the first step in the collapse of the Iron Curtain, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Officials on both the Austrian and Hungarian sides agreed to open the border for a few hours to allow a peaceful picnic and demonstration on the Hungarian side of the border.  About 600 East Germans took the opportunity to flee across the border, leaving all their material possesions behind, including in many cases the cars they had driven to the border - and one had to wait years to acquire a car in East Germany. 
Mathias himself rode his horse into Hungary to attend the picnic, and told me he passed people running across the border into Austria with tears in their eyes, sometimes with young children. 

It was an extraordinarily moving experience to cross at this location which marked a turning point in the return to freedom for so many people.
Here are Zorbee and I behind a symbolic stretch of Iron Curtain at the border. In the background you can just see the large monument which has been erected in memory of the events that occurred that day......
.....and here I am crossing the border with Zorbee and Bolashak.  The only danger now is not armed border guards, but cracking one's head on the low beam across the road.....
...and it was all captured on film for Austrian TV, not forgetting the local newspaper.
 Arrival to a reception at the stables in St Margarethen ....

Also present but not shown here was the amazing Erich Huber-Tentschert who masterminded our crossing of Austria - more of him later!

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