Insight Slovakia

Slovakia’s boundary stones and the fluidity of Central Europe’s borders

As all pub quizzers know, the best questions are the ones which provoke debate in the teams. Here’s one that recently came up in a Bratislava quiz night, “The village of Devin was part of which country from 1939-45?

We could quickly discard some possible answers. We knew enough about the Second World War to be able to reject “Czechoslovakia”. And it couldn’t be “Slovakia” or why would they ask that question? So, how about Hungary? There were border readjustments in Hungary’s favour during the pre-War years.

Eventually, we settled on ‘Austria‘ as our answer. After all, the modern Austrian state is literally a stone’s throw away on the opposite side of the River Morava from Devin.

We were wrong. The correct answer was, of course, “Germany”. We had overlooked the annexation of Austria by Germany when  a country whose border is now 400 kilometres away, became a neighbour of Slovakia for a brief period.

Dubravka forest, Slovakia. Credit: David Keys, 2021

This inspired further investigation and the discovery of several old border stones in the forests above Bratislava. Each one stands about half a metre tall and is solidly embedded deep into the soil. Many have been defaced, most probably during the post-War era when few locals wanted reminders of the Third Reich’s presence on Slovakia‘s territory.

Other stones, however, are marked with a ‘D‘ for Deutschland on one side and an “S” for Slovakia on the other. It’s possible to follow these markers through the forest to get a good idea of the strategic thinking and power relations that unfolded in the area not that long ago, and which awarded Germany control of the high ground over Bratislava.

These old markers are a reminder of the fluidity of Central Europe’s borders and the complexity of the region’s history. Their size and weight suggest a desire to make Germany’s territorial gains permanent.

Despite this, the “Thousand Year Reich” fell 988 years short of its ambition.

Dubravka forest, Slovakia. Credit: David Keys, 2021

As for the pub quiz, well, we lost. But not before another team complained that the Devin question was entirely wrong. They asserted that the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, the one in London, which in reality was just one of three exile governments set-up during the Second World War (the other two being Moscow, and Washington DC) had in fact rejected all the border changes enforced by Nazi Germany.

Thus, Devin had legally remained a part of Czechoslovakia throughout the War. The border stones would beg to challenge which reality was more ‘real’, the intangible or the tangible markers – that can still be found on near and around Devin Castle?  

The counter-claims certainly provoked some buzz among the teams and a temporary state of chaos, before the quizmaster restored order. The interpretation of history can certainly do that…

So, what do you think was the correct answer?

David Keys, Zuzana Palovic and Gabriela Bereghazyova are the authors of “Super Slovaks” – an exciting new book exploring the History of Slovakia through the stories of 50 significant individuals, such as Alexander Dubček and Eugene Cernan.

You can support their Super Slovaks – Book Campaign!