Landlocked tripoints – the precise geographical point where three country borders meet – are a huge draw to those (like me) who love the novelty of standing in more than one country at the same time. As a result, these locations are often marked with a fancy monument, surrounded by a parade of national flags, and have at least one cafe nearby selling extortionately priced items of food not native to any of the countries that verge metres away from its counter.
The tripoint where Slovakia, Hungary and Austria meet however, appears to be the exception to the rule. The atmosphere around it is sombre and understated. The route to it is not straight forward, particularly on foot via Bratislava where one has to walk through a ditch for half a kilometre to get anywhere near it. There are no facilities around it, no bus route passing close to it, few signs and maps along the way to point enthusiasts towards it, and even less about the location online. With Bratislava being the only capital city in the world to claim to have a tripoint – the location is around nine kilometres from the city centre – it’s surprising Slovakia doesn’t make more of it as a tourist attraction. Even locals seem unaware that the tripoint exists close to their doorstep; I asked a couple of people in the neighbouring border village of Čunovo where the tripoint was but they didn’t have a clue what I was talking about, and I don’t think it was because my four words of Slovakian were too poorly pronounced for them to understand.
And yet this tripoint is arguably far more interesting than most of its European counterparts. As well as being a novelty geographical point, it was also a frontier during the Cold War. The Iron Curtain was physically draped across the border here with miles upon miles of barbed wire marking out the heavily guarded boundary between Western and Communist Europe. On one side was Austria and the capitalist freedom of the West, on the other Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. During that time many tried to escape the Soviet regime by attempting to cross into Austria from here, but not all were successful and some even paid with their lives.
Today (2017), all but one post from the barbed wire fencing remains here as a memorial. All three countries are now part of the European Union, and to mark the union and freedoms these countries now share, the area has been turned into a sculpture park; twelve original pieces of work created by international artists stand around the tripoint, symbolically comprising of triangular shapes and three-way conversion points.
But, with the Cold War and the Communist regime becoming a distant memory for Austria and Slovakia, Hungary has controversially resorted back to this harsh frontier approach, this time to prevent people getting into the country rather than trying to escape out of it. In response to today’s major Syrian crisis and mass Middle-East migration to Europe, Hungary has recently erected millions of Euros worth of fencing and guard posts along its southern border with non-EU Serbia to control the number of migrants trying to enter the EU via Hungary.
I felt proud as I circumnavigated the Austrian-Slovakian-Hungarian tripoint. Not only was I walking across three countries in less than thirty seconds, but I was amazed that I had reached the tripoint at all. As is evident from the accompanying photos and video, it was so cold during the day I attempted the journey that my ipad stopped working – I was using its GPS facility – my camera quickly drained of power and my flask of tea went cold as soon as I poured a cup out of it. Yet, on a more serious thought I wondered whether I would be able to enjoy the novelties of tripoints so freely in the future. With the rise of extreme right wing politics spreading across Europe in 2016 threatening the existence of the European Union itself (will Geert Wilders win in the Netherlands general election next month – March 2017 – or Marine Le Pen during the French elections later this year?), will there come a time in the not too distant future when barbed wire and guard posts will return to other European borders, and even around tripoints like this one?
If you wish to attempt to reach the Austrian-Slovakian-Hungarian tripoint via public transport, first choose a day when the temperature is at least above freezing and not -15C which is how cold it was the day I madly attempted the journey.
There are two regular bus routes from Bratislava – route 90 and route 91 – that pass within one-and-a-half to two kilometres from the tripoint. Both routes will take around twenty-five minutes to go from the city centre to within walking distance of the Hungarian border. Although route 91 stops further away, it is more frequent with three buses an hour, and is easier to catch from Bratislava starting and terminating at the bus station underneath the city’s iconic UFO bridge near the Old Town. The bus terminates in the pretty village of Čunovo. Try to alight at the last-but-two stop along the route – ‘MiÚ Čunovo’ – as this is located at the top of the road called ‘Schengenská’ which is the start of your journey by foot and leads directly to the Hungarian border. Walk the full length of this road. At the cross roads half way along is where the hourly bus route 90 stops before carrying on away from the tripoint and towards the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum east of Čunovo.
Below are all the other sculptures surrounding the tripoint (click on each one individually to see the image full size):
There were a few other pieces of stone lying nearby that left me wondering whether they were part of the sculptures on display, whether they were works of art in their own right, or just agricultural markers. For example…
Admittedly, the obelisk marking the tripoint itself is the least visually appealing piece of stonework in the collection, although it does show appealing evidence of its political past.
Here is a map detailing the journey from Čunovo to the tripoint (zoom in for more details).
Finally, here is a short video I made of the route and the tripoint itself. Just press the play button and enjoy.
The Drielandenpunt in the Netherlands, or Trois-Frontières if leaning a bit more to the right into Belgium, or the Dreiländereck if making four steps left into Germany. The tripoint close to the Dutch town of Vaals.
Baarle: the unique town full of Dutch-Belgian borders but is not a Dutch-Belgian border town. Confused?