An Anecdote

An Anecdote by Hubert vom Venn*

On the return journey to the North Eifel I always like to take a small break at the “Hotel Balter” in Losheim. Not only for the potato soup this time round, but also because Hermann Josef Balter had promised to tell me a typical border crossing story. In 1958 Belgian Losheim became German so the “Eifel Tricksters” had made good use of the changeover. 

There has always been a straight road running from Aachen to Trier through Losheim (now belonging to the commune of Hellenthal) - some people put the blame for this on Roman sandals, others on Napoleon’s marching boots. Anyway this country road suddenly led through Belgium after the Second World War, becoming a transit route with four customs checkpoints within quite a short stretch of road. The German-Belgian border treaty of 1956 declared that Losheim would revert back to being German on 28. August 1956.

The “Eifel Tricksters” had thought up a few ideas for the night when the change of nationality would take place. At that time Hermann Josef Balter worked as an apprentice for a butcher in the Belgian Eifel. On 27.August he brought forty Belgian pigs to Losheim, and lo and behold at midnight they became German pigs. In those days that meant within one night they both earned DM 100 more per pig.

However the other Losheim residents had more than pigs up their sleeves; vast amounts of cigarettes and coffee “wandered across the border”- without any need for smugglers and without the goods being moved an inch over the customs barrier. At the beginning German customs officers turned a blind eye, but soon realised that the flow of coffee and cigarettes would never end.

Hermann Josef Balter: “One day our house was suddenly surrounded by German customs officers who wanted to take a look at the coffee. What we didn’t know was; if you opened the bottom of the coffee bags, the date of roasting would be revealed. Our bad luck; it was 27. August. No-one believed us that the coffee had already arrived in Losheim on the day of roasting.” 

The penalty is part of Eifel smugglers’ history and needn’t be mentioned here…. However the battle with red tape continued. One day officers from the planning authority appeared because Mother Balter had constructed a porch without planning permission. However the courageous woman sent them back to their office with just one reason: “Those people who bombed our house to pieces didn’t have planning permission either”. 

But that wasn’t enough for the officials. The Balters’ sons went to school in the Belgian village of Manderfeld and the administrators were of the opinion that the German village of Udenbreth was the legislative school district responsible for them. So for the rest of their school days the children moved in with a Belgian friend of the family....

(*Author and Cabaret Artist)