Neighbors of Switzerland, Germany and Austria are beginning to ease border restrictions this weekend, before a full reopening, including France in mid-June.
Relaxation means that friends, families and lovers divided by the closing of borders can meet.
The four countries, all members of the open Schengen border area, closed their borders in March to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Road, rail and air travel has been cut.
Tens of thousands of people have been turned back at the borders. In Switzerland, only Swiss citizens, holders of a permanent work permit and essential health workers were allowed to enter.
Three months ago, such restrictions were unimaginable. The 26 Schengen countries are used to traveling smoothly. Taking a train from Berlin to Basel, Geneva to Paris or Vienna to Zurich was a daily event that everyone took for granted.
Who has been affected by the closings?
The restrictions particularly hit border communities.
In the “Basel Triangle” where Germany, France and Switzerland meet, local businesses are interdependent, thousands of people cross borders daily, to work, to meet friends and family, or to do business. shopping.
A few people whose workplaces remained open could still travel, but most residents of border communities, accustomed to spending their days in two or even three countries, found themselves confined to one, and often separated from their family members or close partners.
Why this reopening is important
In early May, as virus cases fell, Schengen governments began to discuss reopening.
No one wanted to be the first, but no country wanted to keep its border closed if its neighbor opened theirs.
The strategy has been agreed: to reopen the internal borders of the area, such as those between Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria, in unison, in a careful step-by-step process.
For the border towns of Constance in Germany and Kreuzlingen in Switzerland, the relaxation of this weekend is very important.
Over the years, these cities have become one. Short streets can be Switzerland at one end and Germany at the other.
When a fence and barriers were erected to enforce border closings, this caused consternation for many and grief for some.
The quarters were divided. The couples who lived on both sides of the border found themselves separated. Different generations of the same family could no longer visit each other.
Instead, they gathered at the fence, to talk and exchange news through the wire. The fence, later doubled to keep people from kissing it, quickly became decorated with flowers, notes and pictures of broken hearts.
Kreuzlingen mayor Thomas Niederberger told Swiss SRF News that his city and Konstanz “are really considered here as a common living space, so there are many cross-border links”.
“In one fell swoop, with these border closings, these links were prohibited. Of course, people feel it in our city. “
In other border regions, couples and friends have traveled to the most distant sections of the border, divided only by tape, to see each other.
Borders remain closed for ordinary travelers
Now, after intense lobbying in Berlin and Bern by the mayors of the border regions, the borders will reopen for separated lovers and divided families. And people with responsibilities across the border can finally treat them again.
But for tourists, buyers and the curious, the borders remain closed.
The police of this arrangement will be delicate. Those wishing to move from Switzerland to Germany must fill out a form explaining why they want to go there and who they want to visit.
Proving that you have family members across the border should be fairly straightforward, but it can be difficult to confirm that you are in a long-term relationship with someone.
Mayor Niederberger said: “It is certainly difficult for border guards to break to properly control and manage this detente”.
It’s a long way from that time, just three months ago, when communities across Europe lived, worked and played together without thinking that borders would divide them.
Switzerland, France, Germany and Austria expect to fully reopen their borders in mid-June. But only if the coronavirus cases remain low.
It is not known if this fence in Kreuzlingen will fall immediately. And the border with neighboring Italy, hard hit by the pandemic, remains closed.