The Passerelle Mimram/Mimram-Brücke straddling the river Rhine at Strasbourg is one of the bridges joining two border regions that were once bitterly divided. Before the Alsace region was the stage for a series of bloody battles between France and Germany over who could rule this region. The guns have now fallen silent and locals are more than content to sample the best of what both countries have to offer in terms of employment, housing and education.
Looking across the bridge from the French side, you will see the German town of Kehl. Its residents like to cross the bridge to enjoy the many cultural shows available on the other side, just as the people of Strasbourg like to come over to pick up bargains. Many also come down to simply enjoy the park stretching across the river.
Nadège Barre's café in Strasbourg's Deux Rives quarter has been seeing more and more German clients while Axel Tabor, owner of a prospering second-hand car business in Kehl, said his firm was perfectly located and that Europe worked for him. “We are selling to the two biggest car markets in Europe, we’re online in both markets and actually it’s the biggest market in the world,” Tabor said.
The Mimram bridge is emblematic of the constructive and pragmatic collaboration between the two regions. The original railway bridge constructed in 1861 was destroyed at the onset of the Second World War, but these days it has been replaced by a high-speed twin-track railway bridge that was built thanks to EU funds.
The war was not the only catalyst behind this changing relationship. The EU played a vital role in bringing the regions closer together. To prevent another devastating conflict, the European Coal and Steel Community was launched in the 1950s in which countries agreed to pool their coal and steel industries to make a new war not just unthinkable but also impractical.
This later developed into the European Union, which created cross-border opportunities for companies and people alike, helping to foster closer links between former enemies. To symbolise this new partnership, Strasbourg was selected as the seat of the European Parliament.
In Strasbourg and Kehl this has transformed the way people live. Every day thousands of people cross the border on their way to work in the neighbouring country, made possible by the freedom of movement in the EU. Every day 36,000 cars cross the road bridge.
This year the first bilingual kindergarten will open in Kehl, giving 30 French and 30 German children the chance to learn both languages perfectly. If this pilot project works well, more bilingual educational projects could follow. “The French and German educators will speak their language and the children will grow up with the two languages and the two cultures. Children do not choose their friends by nationality, they chose by sympathy. And thus parents will also know each other better, and maybe will become friends as well,” said Annette Lipowsky, head of communications and transborder cooperation at the city of Kehl.
Meanwhile the two cities are becoming ever closer. A new bridge opens next year to extend Strasbourg's tramway system to Kehl. Its construction will be co-financed by the EU’s Interreg programme to the tune of €4 million.
The local authorities have committed to creating a union between the two cities and a real transborder agglomeration, said Nawel Rafik-Elmrini, the deputy mayor of Strasbourg responsible for European and international affairs. “There are no longer physical borders and now there will also no longer be borders in the minds of people," she said.