Well, it used to be the main event – the differences between the Czech Republic and Austria are palpable but what truly punctuated the experience between the two was crossing the border by bicycle. A moment where passports were checked and stamped; people really felt like they were changing countries because they were! Well, no more. What was once an official checkpoint for our guests, following our “last” lunch in Nove Hrady en route to Weitra and all things Austrian, had become somewhat of a non-event a short time following the entry of the Czech Republic into the European Union and the end to controlled boundaries. Border patrol huts, a road with a line across it and approaching speed limits reducing down to 30 km/hour …and tumbleweeds.
A few years of tossing some ideas around (with little more than photo moments at the country signs being the result) have come and gone with my co-guides and myself. Until this year when Lacey Bartels, my fresh-faced co-guide with a fresh perspective decided that we were going to resurrect the crossing! No sooner had the decision been made then we found ourselves in an army surplus shop in Cesky Krumlov. Who knew? After 4 years working here I had never noticed this shop until this day. For a surprisingly nominal amount we were able to piece together a fairly convincing border guard outfit [from the waist up, at any rate]. Well, it was a Czech army jacket and we were playing an Austrian guard…but these are minor details, right?
Plan in place: the guide driving the van that day feigning necessary logistics. We must go ahead and prepare the border patrol for our group crossing. Instructions: everyone must have their passport ready and travel as a group to expedite the process.
I was first to experiment with our Customs and Immigration Theatre. I drove like a demon to the then unpopulated border. The original structure still in place, I quickly changed into the ‘official’ outfit and waited. In the meantime, outsiders had gathered. I must admit at this point I am feeling a tad foolish, having realized that I am making a mockery of their now defunct system. However, here come the riders…and every theatre needs an audience, I suppose.
As instructed, and led in by Lacey, they arrive as a group. I jump out from my hiding spot and yell ‘Halt’ with arm raised. I actually had them fooled for a moment. Just a moment but it was fun while it lasted. Hiding behind the aviator sunglasses provided by Lacey certainly helped. I demanded to see passports, and asked a few questions in a way that would have made my public school drama teacher proud, if not the Austrian national guard. The group tuned in quickly and, while laughing, played along. Same time next week, our roles were reversed and Lacey fine-tuned the experience. She was certainly far stricter–not everyone was allowed to cross. They would be forever enjoying beer for breakfast and would not be allowed to cycle to those hills so very much alive with the sound of music…. Well, not really. But it was fun to pretend.