'The European Spirit is Really Taking Hold Here' Birth of a Bilingual Newspaper on the German-Dutch Border

A regional cross-border newspaper for communities living near the Dutch-German border illustrates how relations between the populations have improved. The Schengen agreement has helped change the groups' attitudes toward one another.
Von Annette Toonen

The first issue of Buren (Neighbors) has just landed on the doormats of 400,000 residents in the region around Enschede on the Dutch-German border. The special collector’s item, as the paper’s editorial identifies itself, is a combined effort by the Dutch regional newspaper Twentsche Courant Tubantia, and the German titles Westfälische Nachrichten and Grafschafter Nachrichten.

Journalists from all three newspapers double as translators for each other’s articles in Buren, which is published in both Dutch and German editions. The new paper was launched to celebrate 50 years of collaboration between the border communities in the area.

Close Relationships

The stories focus on the close relationships that have developed between the Dutch and the Germans over the years. “We've come up with some remarkable statistics,” says Jan Haverkate, one of the Dutch journalists working on the project.

“To give you some examples: 1,600 Dutch-German couples get married every year." said Haverkate. "And how many Germans go to Enschede to study? Some 3,000 a year. And 30,000 Dutch people live on the German side of the Euro-region border while 40,000 Germans have homes on this side. And 160,000 Dutch people use Munster airport every year.”

These are impressive numbers, says Haverkate. “We haven’t done any in-depth research but I think I can safely say that ever since the Schengen agreement [on open borders], the integration process has accelerated considerably. And it won’t stop here.”

Attitudes are changing. Buren journalists interviewed a Dutch woman who married a German. “Her father wanted to take her passport away when she told him but then reconciled himself to the fact,” says Martin Borck, a journalist with Westfälische Nachrichten. Now, mixed marriages are common place.

Prejudice Disappearing

During the 1990s, researchers found there was still widespread prejudice among young Dutch people towards their German counterparts -- given that the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. This was not the case in the border region.

“The University of Munster did its own research,” Borck says, “and it turned out that youngsters here were much more open-minded about each other.”

Cultural differences are disappearing too, says Haverkate. “The popular German disco Zak in Uelsen, just across the border, used to organize Dutch evenings -- the Germans were usually a little slower than the Dutch at getting into a party mood. But now the two groups party together.

“Germans also go to Dutch schools. If you live in Ahaus it makes sense to go to the nearby University of Twente or Saxion College. The students speak Dutch. It’s one of the subjects on the curriculum in German schools.”

Borck is optimistic about the future. “The European spirit is really taking hold here. The introduction of the euro helped, of course. The Second World War has been a great influence on how people feel, but the war ended 63 years ago. It will never be forgotten but it’s slowly fading into the background.”

Die Wiedergabe wurde unterbrochen.