Latvian Ruins No 3

This weekend, as Latvia has a big party to celebrate 100 years of independence, it’s worth taking a nostalgic peak at this modest yet symbolic reminder of the not too distant past.

The picture is of a now-abandoned border checkpoint at Ainaži, where Latvia meets Estonia. How do you explain to youngsters today the hours weary travelers once spent waiting, being bored, philosophising, yawning, smoking, taking a leak, the more enterprising doing some smuggling, in such places? Same down Lithuania way, then the Polish horrors. Oh, and if you wanted to get into Germany, the queue started in Riga to get a visa.

I think Schengen is a modern miracle which alone kills any nascent eurosceptic sentiments in me. In this same Europe, war plagued, divided by a wall in my own not too ancient lifetime, you can now cruise from Tallinn to Lisbon without showing your passport, and buy kebabs on the way with the change in your pocket from home.

This is not only convenient, it’s deeply civilised progress. We make the rules in our own land about things dear to us, and at the same time us and our neighbours can scurry back and forth for fun, profit, love or no reason at all. Like, in the finest European tradition, the Estonians buying cheap booze in the brand new alko mart next to this lonely relic of red tape.