States Of The Blonde Hedgehog
Just fifteen kilometres off the french coast, in the midst of the English Channel, lies the little island of Alderney.
On eight square kilometres, two thousand people are living here. And blonde hedgehogs.
The inhabitants of Alderney suffered centuries of occupation by changing powers. The traces of these occupations are carved highly visible into the island.
On this hollowed out structure of the past, the people today live in a kind of miniature world marked by european power politics,
proud of their political independence but at the same time shutting their eyes to their own dependence of a Europe in flux.
An island in the grey sea between France and Britain - a microcosm and its own world, which in its simultaneousness of the dark chambers of history
and the search for a contemporary european identity surprised me again and again.
Due its strategically interesting location in the channel and the closeness to the french coast, Alderney was always exposed to the desires of european potentates.
In the third century, the Romans were the first to fortify the island, carried on later by the French and the British building forts all over Alderney.
Lastly the Germans occupied the island during World War II, which was evacuated just days before the german invasion.
During the occupation, Nazi organisation Todt, which was responsible for Hitler’s Atlantic wall, set up two concentration camps and two labour camps
utilising jewish slave labourers and prisoners of war from Eastern Europe, Spain and Russia to further fortify the island with countless bunkers and defence works,
more than 700 inmates lost their lives.
There never was any fighting on Alderney, neither during the war nor during the liberation of Alderney by allied troops a week after the war in Europe had ended.
Today Alderney is an independent British Crown dependency and has its own parliament, The States Of Alderney.
It is neither a part of the UK nor the EU, although English is the spoken language and the pound sterling is the currency in use.
Since victorian times, the island’s own language Auregnais was on the retreat. With the evacuation of Alderney’s population to the UK during the second world war,
it finally became extinct as a whole generation grew up only speaking english. Nevertheless, a lot of places show signs of this norman dialect in their names.
There is almost everything on Alderney, but always in small scale: a harbour, an airport, a beauty competition and even a railway. QuayFM is the island’s own radio station,
there is a school, a fire station, two police cars, a hospital, a few pubs and last but not least the “States Of Alderney”, the island’s parliament with its own president.
Despite the island’s turbulent history in the heart of Europe and the still clearly visible marks of the occupation, Alderney is almost unknown in Germany.
Hardly any german tourists ever come here.
My interest is in the scars the german occupation left in the landscape as well as in how the people deal with the island’s history, which they are confronted with on a daily basis.
The small community of islanders with its limited possibilities was never able to get rid of the remains of war.
The impact was too big an the fortifications built too massive. And the process of discussing recent history just starts,
there are only very few places of remembrance for the victims of the the nazi occupation.
Rather bunkers get used as birds hides, party locations, storage rooms or holiday homes.
In parallel there are no signs of reparation by the perpetrators or a process of revisiting the past coming from Germany.
And so Alderney remains an unnoticed and almost forgotten island with its very own cosmos in search of identity in the middle of Europe.
States Of The Blonde Hedgehog