Talking about too far and too quickly: I had to make a business trip from Hamburg to Nuremburg in October, ’89, driving down in a Mercedes with West German number plates. It was a couple of days after the wall came down in Berlin. Looking at the map, the shortest route appeared to be cutting through a large chunk of the newly liberated East, the dreaded DDR.
The border crossing was unmanned, but I soon got lost because of my western, inadequate maps. Eventually, I stopped at a large army base to ask a guard the way. He didn’t seem to understand my German, so I asked in English. Only when I saw his face screwed up in rage did I realise that I was talking to a Red Army soldier with a loaded rifle.
I sped away, thankful for the power of my car, but the car backfired after a short distance and when I looked in the mirror I saw the soldier crouched on the road with the rifle pointed in my direction. Had my car backfired? I sped on, swerving from side to side.
I got to a place called Suhl and a kindly Vietnamese gave me directions south. I was still in the DDR when I got to a place called Hildburghausen, a border town only a short drive from my destination. I got lost again and asked a lone pedestrian the way.
He pointed me in the right direction, but then took a closer look at my car and its number plates. Then he started kicking it and spitting at me at the same time.
I sped through the unmanned border crossing at a ridiculous speed.
And people want to go back to that kind of hatred between people speaking the same language? Where would Europe be without the Treaty of Rome? I don’t know the answer, but suspect that there would have been several wars since then.