Friday, February 4, 2011

At some point today U.S. president Barack Obama and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper will sign a deal aimed at shrinking what has been described in trade circles as our “thickening border.” Although designed to both encourage commerce and tighten security, this leaner (and meaner?) border will no doubt include a new set of controls governed more by its aspirations than the means by which those aspirations are achieved.

Not sure the last time I drove across the border into the U.S., but I have experienced the lineups and they are grueling. Still, I am intrigued by the concept of a “thickening border,” where that which meets up with something else allows for a third space, like the DMZ separating North and South Korea, or Checkpoint Charlie, back in the days when Berlin was divided into East and West.

A couple years ago I visited the former site of Checkpoint Charlie and recalled how that border space felt in the winter of 1980, surrounded by sand bags, razor wire and soldiers with bayonets, where I exchanged 50 West German marks for East Germany’s lighter, thinner equivalent. Thinking back on it now I can still smell the bratwurst in the Zollgebiet’s shed.

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