The Schengen Treaty has transformed Trier/Trier-Saarburg beyond recognition. The city looks much the same as it always has – at as much as I remember. Every now and again there is a new building, another development or something that’s always been reinvented. Never-the-less, it’s a city transformed. Luxembourg pulsates with life. Clever statesmanship allowed for a country with some 300,000 citizens (nearly half of Luxembourg’s population comprises immigrants) to serve as home to several key EU agencies. The blindingly brilliant chicanery of Jean-Claude Juncker turned an anomaly of history, a fluke of a country, into an economic and financial centre that punches well above its miniscule weight. Trier/Trier-Saarburg in my youth was economically stagnant and backwards. It relied on a few light industries, wine and tourism to survive – just. Anyone with ambition had to leave. Unless one had the fortune to find employment as a cog in Germany’s gargantuan bureaucratic machine or the right connexions in the few industries, having anything resembling a life was a difficult task to manage. One was born there; one grew up there, went to school there – perhaps even read at Trier’s ancient university – and then left. Many chose to return in time, many never came back.
The opening of the border and Luxembourg’s glittering economic success changed matters. Trier has an economy; there is finally money in the region. Dying towns dotting the border have become desirable places to live. Land prices in Luxembourg are truly eye-watering. An unremarkable detached house in a suburban town will cost at least €1 million. In Luxembourg City, a shoe box so small that it would turn London mouse claustrophobic costs at least as much. A few miles away, a sensible house is available for a mere €350,000. Ten, fifteen miles from the border – perhaps €150,000, €200,000. People from throughout Europe have come to live here – even Luxembourgers. But something hasn’t changed. One is given certain allowances. To move to Luxembourg is accepted, as is moving to Belgium, Switzerland, Austria and Germany’s myriad regions. Hardly anyone hasn’t done it, or at very least, is related to someone who has left for a time. Some things, however, are not so readily forgiven or forgotten. One may not leave the Continent. To take on the stench of Britain taints one for life. Naturally one can’t be told to “sod off”, but there will always be a pressure to leave again. There will forever be a lingering resentment harboured by those once intimately knew. Leaving for more distant shores – Canada or Australia, New Zealand or whatever’s south of Canada creates a permanent break. “You’ve left use, as is your right – best of luck to you, but you may never come back to what you left. You will never again be truly one of us”.
Having too much ambition, moving to Japan, Taiwan or Korea taints one for years. “Very well, you’ve gone and returned – but you’ve lost our confidence and must now start again at the bottom. Let this be a lesson for you”. In this way, Trier is as it always was. One may leave, but if one’s life diverges too much from what is accepted, one will never be welcomed back. One becomes a foreigner in the city of which s/he is a child.