Sustainable Trivialization?

Once again the leaders of the European Union have demonstrated their inability to see the past as anything either than a ruthlessly exploitable economic resource or a convenient political excuse for happy talk.

Case in point:  The Iron Curtain Heritage Trail.

From the slick marketing of this cultural route (and the generous EU funding to support it), one might be tempted to think that the Cold War is over and forgotten– as safely irrelevant to modern Europe present as Caesar’s Gallic War.

Sure sites are neatly memorialized and marked, but they are wrapped up in a blissfully recreational package that includes nature, cuisine, and bed-and-breakfasts– all in the name of economic development.  Whether the actual revenue will exceed the EU investments is a matter for later statistics.  But one thing is for sure:  this kind of themed vacation consumption of “history” renders it harmless and discourages any kind of reflection other than the tourist activity itself.

But what about the serious problems of East-West economic imbalance; of xenophobic western fear of eastern migrant workers, infrastructural gaps and social upheaval; of the legacies of nuclear confrontation and secret police?

Never mind. Just make your reservations for a healthful countryside vacation.  In its inevitable march toward Themeparkhood and profitable recreation, Europe’s Cold War dividing line is now a bicycle path.  And the pity is that it’s not even done with a sense of humor, with a conscious awareness of history’s grand ironies.  It is done with a dangerous amnesia and all the jargon of modern development.

Michael Cramer, a member of the European Parliament from Germany, initiated the project, according to his own description, to “transfer the idea of ‘experiencing history’ to a European level… This 6,800 km trail guides cyclists with an interest in history from the Barents Sea on the Norwegian-Russian border to the Black Sea along what used to be the Iron Curtain, which is now no longer a dividing line but a symbol of a shared, pan-European experience in a reunified Europe.  This was also a reason why, in the autumn of 2005, my proposal to include the project in the European Parliament’s report on ‘new prospects and new challenges for sustainable European tourism’ was adopted by a large majority. Twenty countries, 14 there of EU Member States, are involved. The “Iron Curtain Trail” is part of Europe’s collective memories which can help promote the much talked-about European identity.

“Cycling tourists spend more money than those travelling by car”, Michael Cramer said.

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