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04.06.2010: The Estonian cultural magazine "SIRP" interviews Michael Cramer on the Iron Curtain Trail project

Interview during a press conference in Tallinn

The original article in Estonian can be downloaded below as a PDF file.

Here the English translation:

SIRP: You are one of the creators of the „Iron Curtain Trail“. This cycling and hiking route stretches over a distance of nearly 7000 km through Europe from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea following the Western border of the Warsaw pact states. What’s the aim of this trail – is it an historical, a political or an ecological project?

Michael Cramer: In 2009 we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For almost half a century the so-called "Iron Curtain" had forcefully divided Europe into East and West. In remembrance of Europe's reunification I developed the idea of a cycling and hiking trail all along the former separation line, the so-called "Iron Curtain Trail" combining sustainable tourism with historical discovery. The trail starts at the Barents Sea along the Norwegian-Russian and Finnish-Russian border and ends at the northernmost point of Turkey on the Black Sea coast. 20 nations are part of the Iron Curtain Trail project, among them 14 members of the European Union. The path crosses many national parks with interesting flora and fauna and connects many unique landscapes which - because they were either within the border areas or close to them - are hardly touched. The path also connects many monuments, museums and open-air establishments which remind us of the history of the division of Europe and it’s ending via a peaceful, a "velvet” revolution in Eastern Europe.

The original idea of combining sustainable tourism and history started 10 years ago in Berlin and is based on a very successful model of cycling tourism for Berlin and Germany. When tourists come to Berlin they often ask: "Where was the wall?" and since the city's surface changed so rapidly in the last years it has become difficult to find historical traces. Today, tourists in Berlin can cycle on the former wall stripe 160 km around West Berlin, experiencing urban changes and remaining monuments along the line. The trail is signposted and equipped with information boards in German, English, French and Russian. Every year in summer I guide the public for bicycle trips along the path giving historical explanations and anecdotes. That is not only interesting for tourists but also for Berlin inhabitants themselves.

A similar trail has been drawn along the 1.400 km long former German-German border line. The model of bicycle tourism has proved to work extraordinary well, this is why it has been transferred to the European level. Bicycle guides for Berlin and Germany as well as for the "Iron Curtain Trail" have been published in English and German and are permanently updated.

SIRP: Your earlier tourist guides „Berlin Wall Trail“ and „German German Border Trail“ have clear political back-ground. Do you think that the Western Europe understands well enough what was going on behind the Iron Curtain? Without this understanding we can hardly speak about unitary Europe.

Michael Cramer: You are right, without knowing the past we will not be successful in handling the future. But I think also in Western Europe there is knowledge and awareness of the European past. The cycling path through Europe has exactly this aim: to improve people's knowledge about their common past. This is why I would like the involved states to participate actively in restoring remaining monuments, build up museums and spread information material, keep their historical past alive. I know that some have difficulties since they want to overcome their political past, the same was the case in Berlin when I fought to keep some remaining pieces of the Berlin wall on their original spot. Only by preservation, the next generations will have the possibility to understand their history.

SIRP: When speaking about the differences between Eastern and Western Europe, then transportation is one field with great differences. The backwardness concerning the quality of roads and especially railway transportation is remarkable. What can be done to get rid of those differences?

Michael Cramer: Transportation is a very important issue - not only to bring people together but also to save our climate. Since 1990 the CO2 emissions from the transport sector have increased by 35% whereas in other sectors - for example in industry and housing - there was a decrease by 10%. The transport sector therefore undermines all the environmental efforts achieved in other sectors with billions of Euros paid by the European tax payer. Consequently, without a change in mobility we will neither be successful in our fight against climate change nor in becoming independent from oil. The recent environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico shows alarmingly the high risk oil companies undergo already in order to satisfy the worldwide demand for oil.

In cities transport is responsible for 70 % of all harmful emissions to the climate. If we take the example of Berlin again: every second household has no own car anymore and 90% of the inhabitants live less than 5 minutes cycling from the next tram, bus or metro stop. The German Ministry of Transport stated that in Germany 90% of all urban car rides are less than 6 km! A perfect distance to use tram or bus, to cycle or to walk!

The EU has always provided co-financing for all kinds of transport being it road, trains or waterborne transport. But member states, especially those having a strong car industry, lived long time believing that cars are the response to all our mobility needs. Therefore much more money was spent on building roads than rail for example. We Greens fought successfully for a minimum EU-spending of 40% in rail and also for the inclusion of the EuroVelo bicycle network into the Trans-European Transport network (TEN-T). The reality looks nevertheless different: Not only are the TEN-T constantly underfinanced by the EU but also national egoism prevents to invest into the most urgent and efficient modes of transport. The Eastern member states should not make the same mistake and rather invest directly into efficient co-modality and rail networks than only in highways. In 2003 going from Berlin to Tallinn (1700 km) by train took me 60h with an average train speed of less than 30km/h, the former steam train could make it in 27h! Unbelievable how our priorities changed in the century of high technology!

In addition to "SIRP", the following media reported on the Iron Curtain Trail project:




Press conference of the Transport Minister Mr Juhan (Estonia) on the "National Broadcast Television ETV"

Evening News on the "National Broadcast Television ETV"

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The article by "SIRP"Download (1140 kb)