The Swiss photographer Roland Schmid is used to photographing crisis areas. “When the pandemic broke out in Europe, it had just arrived from Donbass, Ukraine,” he told P3 in an email interview. And since a crisis is a crisis, Roland decided to document what was going on before his eyes. “Between March 16 and June 15, Switzerland closed its borders for the first time since the Second World War due to the Covid 19 pandemic,” he explains.
A historic moment, he said. “There were now signal bands that separated areas that were last separated by barbed wire. In border towns like Riehen and Kreuzlingen, citizens have lived for decades without realizing that there is a border between two countries.” Schmid drove along the borders with Germany and France and found that “lovers and friends met hand in hand on the barricades”.
Barriers became meeting points, not boundary marks. “The situation has become funny and unusual,” describes the photographer. “I have seen couples who put blankets or mattresses under the signal tape: one was on the German side, the other on the Swiss side. Another couple even drew the line on the ceiling that they shared.” Some people came from far away to meet at the border. “The father lived in Switzerland, the mother and son in Germany. They were the only place they could see, next to the border. It must have been difficult.”
Schmid also remembers the story of the couple kissing in one of the images of the project he developed entitled Cross-Border Love, which is nominated for the World Press Photo Awards in the Generalist News category. “Their love was still fresh. Katarina from Fauenfeld in Switzerland and Ivo from Konstanz met on New Year’s Eve in Zagreb. They could only meet once a week at the closed border.” Later, at this particular border, the authorities erected another fence two meters from the first so that people could not be physically nearby, “which led to violent protests,” the photographer describes. “When I asked the local people what they thought of the situation, many expressed a lack of understanding.”
If the erection of new barriers had a negative or positive weight, Roland Schmid doesn’t know how to specify. “This is the first pandemic for all of us in Europe in the 21st century, which is why I understand that many politicians are making mistakes.” However, he doesn’t think these closures will be repeated anytime soon as traffic has been restored without restrictions. “We are so used to having open borders that the barricades give us a feeling of oppression.”