It seems to be my destiny to be obsessed with borderlines, both geographical as well as psychological.
I was raised in Argenteuil County, Quebec, on the border of Ontario´s Prescott-Russell County.
Most Canadians live within 100 km of the US border, because the land north of this tends to be unarable (i.e. can´t be farmed as the ground is more stone than earth), so popping over the border to shop less expensively is almost a rite of passage for Canadians.
The US-Canada border remains the world´s longest “undefended” border, though one can notice quite quickly a vast psychological difference between customs officials working the border posts.
I have visited and lived in countries where borders, past or present, have had a great effect on the psyche of those nations.
Witness the impact of the Berlin Wall on Germany, or the Green Line in Cyprus, or the military zone separating the two Koreas.
I will never forget taking a tunnel tour on the Korean border where one comes to a narrow, neon-bright section to see a South Korean soldier standing with his back to the border.
Less than 50 metres behind him, his back also to the border but facing the opposite direction, a North Korean soldier stands guard.
50 metres apart, both speak the exact same language, but should they speak with one another they will be shot to death for treason.
I have lived in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, close to the French border; in Lörrach, Germany, close to the Swiss border; Osnabrück, Germany, close to the Dutch border; and Landschlacht, Switzerland, close to the German border.
And always these bordering countries acted like irresistable magnets on my soul.
I have spent many a happy day exploring Alsace, Basel, the Netherlands and Konstanz.
Perhaps my brain is directly wired to the mentality of “the grass is always greener on the other side”.
On Tuesday, I exercised this borderline compulsion to full effect as the commencement of my Four Points Switzerland project.
As previously written in this blog, I want to explore Switzerland slowly on foot to discover the land both geographically as well as socially.
The project, constantly a work in progress in both its planning as well as implementation, will have me walk from one extreme geographical point of Switzerland to the three others – the northernmost to the southernmost, etc.
The northernmost point of the Swiss compass is Oberbargen´s Grenzstein (border stone marker) at 47 degrees, 48 minutes, 25 seconds.
From this exact point, it is possible to follow the Swiss National Trail, Via Gottardo, all the way to the southernmost point, Pedrinate, Chiasso, Ticino, on the Italian border, a distance of 330 km or 20 days of walking.
The border between the modern states of Germany and Switzerland extends to 362 km, mostly following the High Rhine River between Lake Constance (Bodensee) and Basel. The Oberbargen Grenzstein stands on the border of the canton of Schaffhausen and the state of Baden-Wurttemburg.
To begin this great project I took a train from Landschlacht to Schaffhausen, Schaffhausen canton capital.
(Of the 26 Swiss cantons, 14 canton names are also the canton capital city names.)
Women, of all ages, fashion types and sizes, dominate Schaffhausen streets in the morning.
Only unemployed or ancient men occasionally make an appearance.
Red helmeted young and fit construction workers unloaded large wooden crates full of metal parts as I dined happily on coffee, orange juice, croissants, nut bread, eggs and fruit.
As Oscar Wilde famously quipped: “I love work. I could watch it all day!”
Tuesday is Market Day in Schaffhausen along Vordergasse.
One stall in particular made me smile with its “Make tea not war.” T-shirts.
A stationery shop´s card rack elicits another grin with a card reading “Shock your parents. Read a book.”.
Bus 23 north to Bargen and the end of the road as public transport goes.
To the border is now all on foot, a 3 km uphill climb to the border and the magic of the Tannbüel Nature Preserve.
Imagine a pine forest interspersed with all sorts of orchids: bright yellow lady-slipper, pink helmut, wild fox, just to name a few of the colourful flora unique to this spot.
Picture a path made of woodchips, and guarded with red and white plastic border tape one might find on a construction site or a crime scene, wending its way through the shadowy forest.
Feel my disappointment in learning that orchid season is a short three-week period in May and long gone by mid-June.
Well, the path did feel nice underfoot but the restrictive trilingual (French/German/Italian) warning tape distracted me from a natural enjoyment of the forest.
Still the path did provoke my imagination and memory…
Don´t stray off the path or you´ll change history.
(“A Sound of Thunder”, a Ray Bradbury sci-fi short story about the Butterfly Effect – kill a butterfly in the past and affect/infect the future.)
Follow the yellow brick road.
(The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum)
Good-bye, yellow brick road.
(Great song by Elton John)
We´re on a road to nowhere.
(Another great song by Talking Heads)
And the fir trees evoke memories of the Second World War…
(Operation Tannenbaum (fir tree or Xmas tree) was the 1940 German plan (never implemented) to invade Switzerland.)
Via Gottardo dances back and forth across the Swiss – German border.
White stone markers delineate each time the border is crossed and recrossed.
I reached the northernmost point of Switzerland at 1415 hours on Tuesday 23 June 2015.
The adventure has begun…