CC / Flickr
CC / Flickr

There’s nothing that manages to get my annoyed quite the way that border guards do. Especially when they are fat, pompous Austrians with a gun in a holster at their hip that greet you with ‘Grüß Gott’ and control your passport a few minutes after your train has left Brenner at the border between Italy and Austria.

Why am I especially annoyed? Theoretically, Italy and Austria are in Schengen and border checks should not take place. So instead of a ‘Grenzkontrolle’ you get the normal police asking you for ID just after the border.

Under Austrian law there is no obligation to carry a passport but in Schengen you have to “seine Identität der Behörde durch geeignete Dokumente nachweisen können” – be able to prove your identity with an approved document, so it’s essentially a border control Brenner, there’s no way to resist.

Anyway the pompous fat git had a glint in his eye when he took a look at my passport; it’s so old and worn that the coat of arms has worn off. ‘We’ve got one here’ he was thinking as he spoke my name and passport number loudly into his walkie-talkie to HQ without explaining to me what was going on.

When I then asked him – in German – what he was doing as Italy and Austria are in Schengen and hence there should not be a border control he quickly lost the smirk. “Das ist eine Schengenkontrolle! Wir sind nicht an der Grenze!”

So what, I asked him, is any different now than before Schengen? A control a few kilometres into Austria rather than on the border. Oh, and by the way I’m a EU politics teacher and I know my rights (not quite true, but it had the desired effect!) His mate on the other end of the walkie talkie had of course confirmed that I was legitimate, and he gave my passport back to me with a snort and left.

Wilkommen in Österreich!


  1. police in many EU states esp near borders ,airports, train stations, controlling passports, since 2015 schengen information system second generation means every uniform police radio check is an automatic search in the schengen information system (operates in 30 european countrys) massive database for wanted persons by the european arrest warrant and/or mutual legal assistance requests (specific checks)
    the database has over 10s of millions european citizens flagged passports (aka alerts on suspects, alerts include any travel ban in schengen , baggage checked, secret surveillance etc.

  2. @Mike – I’m well aware UK is not in Schengen, but as an EU citizen crossing a Schengen ‘border’ I should not be checked…

    As for your reaction to AK’s comment – I agree with you. These checks are just designed to make paranoid citizens think the world isn’t ending.

  3. A K said:

    “…they are indeed protecting us by finding illegals- even though it might be annoying.”

    Really? You think illegal immigrants and traffickers take the train? Good grief.

  4. Britain is not in Schengen.

  5. Thanks very much for the Gardner link.

    I thought you’d be a little more outraged by this. As much as I disagree with Wilders on most things, I find it extremely odd that the right to free movement should only apply to those whom the British government would not consider a threat to “community cohesion”. A lot worse than Austrian border controls if you ask me.

    What’s the point of free movement if a EU government can kick me out for holding an opinion that they don’t like?

  6. Same would apply to Wilders – generally speaking – but the Le Pen case might have been before the new terror legislation post 9/11. See this post by Carl Gardner for more.

    Essentially I think they should have let him in. He’s an unpleasant chap, but by not letting him in the government managed to make him look a martyr and gave him much more publicity than he deserved!

  7. Just out of curiosity:
    What’s your take on Geert Wilders being refused entry to the UK? I remember that a few years ago, David Blunkett refused to deny entry to Jean-Marie Le Pen on the grounds that Le Pen was an EU citizen. Why doesn’t the same apply to Wilders?

  8. Belgians are nice. But do not ever (ever) try anything like questionning a French policeman during a passport check, you could end up in jail for a night… Not that you would ever be controlled, you’re as white as milk…

    Bienvenue en France…

  9. As for it becoming a patter: the same happened this evening between Aachen and Liège on the way back to Brussels. The Belgian police were not unpleasant or pompous though. But are these checks becoming more common once more?

  10. I’ve been told correct answer to “Grüß Gott” is “Wenn ich sehe ihn”. Can’t contact you on your contact page as the captcha image isn’t showing up, please ping me an email.


  11. Hettie

    I’m glad there is still border control inside the EU. Patrols could be a bit nicer though and your passport more presentable.

    I travel in Europe on Eurolines buses 2-3 times a year so I am used to passport checks.

  12. Any way you look at it, pre- or post- schengen, these people are doing their jobs. I don’t think they chose to patrol the border or airport. Beyond just that, they are indeed protecting us by finding illegals- even though it might be annoying

    The same thing happens in flights coming from Greece to Belgium. As soon as you exit the gate the police is there to check passports.

    In any case, sporadic checks are okay; but it becomes somewhat of an issue when they are indeed not sporadic, but quite regular.


  13. I know what you mean – two years ago I went on an Interrailing trip, which ended up passing through Austria a few times, and I remember having my passport checked quite a few times. Most of them where night trains, so unfortunately I don’t have a clear memory of exactly what borders I was crossing at the time. I had thought that it was because some of the eastern countries weren’t fully Schengen-ized (probably true back then, and I’m not sure of the situation now), but they might have checked for passports at the German border too…

    Will you be going to Germany? Maybe you can tell me if the Austrian’s don’t like the Gruene Grenze there either.

  14. You poor thing. I had a similar experience with a stupid policeman in Spain a few years back travelling from Bilbao to Madrid. After the bollocking I gave him (in Spanish), quoting all sorts of EU “I know my rights” legislation at him (I was in year 3 of the European Studies degree), I thought “you’ll never harass another minding their own business, female, tea drinking, British Guardian reader ever again!” 🙂 Happy travelling and enjoy your weekend, my dear 😉 xx

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