Valga/Valka twin townSunday, December 23, 2007 at 11:42 | Posted in Estonia, eu, Personal | 2 Comments
Tags: latvia, schengen
Martin-Eric was in the twin town of Valga/Valka at the Estonian Latvian border when the Schengen treaty enlargement took effect at midnight Friday. He has posted a comprehensive description of the last hour of the old border procedures and the first hour of border freedom.
The first time I was in Valga/Valka was late 1990’ies. The mid town border crossing point (picture) was then open for Baltic citizens only. The Estonian border guard would have allowed me to pass but her Latvian colleague checked with his boss who said no way.
I had to take a walk of good two kilometers to the international transit point outside mid town. The road I walked was practically on the border which was only marked with a sign. I could have jumped the border without a problem as no border patrols were to be seen on either side but I wanted a stamp in my passport. Besides, I did not want to risk getting in trouble on my way back to Estonia.
Ironically, I only got an Estonian stamp that time because the Latvian border guards had none to issue. I did get a Latvian stamp as I returned to town a year later so I have that old passport among my dear souveniers. Incidentally, that very same passport also has the last stamps issued in Berlin both from Checkpoint Charlie and Friedrichstarsse Railway Station when the Brandenburg Gate was opened and East German border guards no longer stamped the passports.
As I was less than enthusiastic to walk back and forth between mid town and the international border point I decided to stay overnight in Valka in the only very modest hotel in the Latvian side. The hotel was run by an elderly lady who spoke fluent Estonian. She told me that she had lived near Pärnu for decades during the Soviet occupation. During my stay she was the only person I was able to communicate with in Estonian. At that time Russian would have been a useful language to command, very few people in town spoke any English at all.
When I returned to Valga/Valka in August 2004, both Estonia and Latvia had recently joined the EU. The mid town border point was open for all nationalities which speared me from a five kilometer walk to get to exactly the same point. The formalities were somewhat easier than before. Latvians checked my documents when I was entering Latvia and Estonians in the other direction. A double check in both directions was performed earlier.
At that time I did not stay overnight and did not even go to see if the old lady was still running the hotel. I just went for a couple of beers near the border. I had changed 100 Estonian crowns which is around 6 €. That money bought me two pints in the pub and eight bottles to take with me back to Estonia which almost qualifies to free beer.
I had considered celebrating the lifting of border barriers either in Tallinn or Valga/Valka but unfortunately I had other matters to take care of. The twin town is the closest open land border to Helsinki. Since there are no longer any formalities, I am certain to return there sooner or later.
On a more frequent basis I am going to notice the benefits of the Schengen treaty in the harbours of Tallinn and Helsinki where lines for the passport control no longer exist. But that is nothing compared to the relief that a number of Estonian families in Suve street in Valka are experiencing. They have the rest of their life in Estonia but their houses were left on the Latvian side of the border when Estonia and Latvia regained their independence. Now they are able to legally cross the border at the most convenient spot rather than taking a long detour through the official crossing points.