A tale of two posts: les poteaux sur les frontières

After the establishment of the new German state, it was essential for the German authorities to indicate the new boundaries as quickly as possible. At each of the crossing points through the Vosges mountains, they erected wooden posts painted in the German colours. But soon it was obvious that these were susceptible to the extreme weather variations and to vandalism.

By contrast, and probably understandably, the French authorities were rather slow in marking the hated frontier and eventually, in 1885, the German ambassador had to intervene and insist that the work was carried out, arguing that there were risks to France in not indicating the border. A survey was carried out to evaluate the problem and twelve crossing points were identified. Reluctantly, the French agreed to erect their own posts. The Ministry of the Interior made a grant available to fund ten posts at the most important crossings and they were ordered in July, 1886, from a foundry in St-Dié. The Ministry of Public Works funded two more, one at the Col de Ste-Marie between St-Dié and Sélestat and one at the Col du Bussang north of the Ballon d’Alsace. They were in place by the end of 1886. Painting them was considered too expensive.

 Col de Ste-Marie & borne before War written 1918

(Col de Ste-Marie. Borne centre, poteau to right)

Of course, they soon began to deteriorate. Newspapers began to complain about the shameful lack of maintenance of the national symbol, comparing them to the pristine condition of the German markers. Meanwhile the foundries of Kaiserslautern were busy making imposing plaques declaring to all travellers that they were entering the German Empire. From 1889, these were in place, dominating the less cared-for French markers, often mounted on striped posts in the Empire’s colours.

Col de la Schlucht frontiere franco-allemande 1911 2 people

(Col de la Schlucht, German and French customs officials)

Col de la Schlucht German customs, tram

 (Col de la Schlucht. Tram arrival, poteau to left.)

Many cards and pictures show the joyful destruction of these loathed posts in the early days of the Great War and many messages declare the writer’s pleasure in …

 Col de la Schlucht plus de frontiere

… ‘Plus de frontière!’

(Above: Col de la Schlucht, deserted customs building. The Hotel Français was destroyed during the Great War. More of that anon.)

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