Katrin Bennhold has a great story in the International Herald Tribune about what works in the European Union.

She makes what could be a very dull policy story engaging by reporting from one of Europe’s liminal spaces — those border regions where the old nation-state cages of economic and social life are collapsing.

Even better, she picks a pair of towns in Alsace, allowing her to point out that this is one of those borders that was bitterly contested by France and Germany until the end of the Second World War.

The disappearance of borders in Europe is something that islanders like the British often underestimate. Historically, infrastructural developments ensured that border regions were tied to their national centres of economic and cultural life, even more than to a neighbouring town across the border.

But this story is providing a nice illustration of how this is changing in continental Europe:

“Here in Alsace,” [Reverend Joseph Musser] says, “Franco-German reconciliation is not just an abstract concept — it is a daily reality.”

That reality has left its traces everywhere. On both sides of the border most schools offer bilingual programs. The border police drive joint patrols twice a week and the mayors of Strasbourg and Kehl would like to create a “Eurodistrict” enveloping both their cities, perhaps with a joint telephone code and license plate

I can’t recall where, but a while back I read a similar thing about a town which has both Dutch and German post boxes. Postal distribution networks are a good example of the national networks that are breaking down in Europe. It makes very little sense to send things to a sorting office in the hinterland when you are just sending a letter across town, yet that has historically been the reality in border towns.