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A curious piece of Empire in southern Europe

"Even the weather is British," says the Spanish customer in the Main Street bookshop.

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A curious piece of Empire in southern Europe

"Even the weather is British," says the Spanish customer in the Main Street bookshop. Karen, the friendly shop assistant, has to smile. Although the sky over Gibraltar is quite gray that day, the weather on the narrow tongue of land at the interface between Europe and Africa is actually as little "very British" as the lifestyle of the 30,000 inhabitants in the almost seven square kilometer small crown colony.

At the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Mediterranean lifestyle meets British understatement. The Spanish town of La Línea de la Concepción is just a stone's throw from the British Overseas Territory; a narrow piece of no man's land separates the two neighbors - and the gray strip of asphalt of the runway.

The local airport is the first curiosity on the long peninsula, because if a plane actually lands – mainly from Great Britain – a traffic light signals traffic on the four-lane road to stop.

Is Gibraltar, this prominent rock on the Bay of Algeciras, now British, or are its inhabitants rather disguised Spaniards with British passports? Book seller Karen doesn't hesitate for a second with the answer: "Of course we're British," says the young woman with red hair and an army of freckles. Her answer could not have been any other way, after all she was born in England but moved to Gibraltar two decades ago – “because of the better weather”.

The impressions when walking through the town, the eternal bone of contention between the British and the Spaniards, are less clear. The red double-decker buses with an open top are familiar from London, the red telephone booths from picturesque towns on the island and the pupils who leave school at 1 p.m. are of course wearing dark blue school uniforms with the emblem.

But the little houses that nestle along the winding streets at the foot of the "Rock" - the ubiquitous giant limestone cliff - could also be somewhere in the Spanish hinterland. Traffic on the streets is on the right-hand side, and on Main Street, the shopping and promenade for tourists and locals, snatches of Spanish clearly dominate. In addition to the Llanito dialect, a mishmash of Spanish and English words.

There are stores owned by the British retail chain Marks

In 1704, the British had wrested the spot between the continents from the Spaniards: the Anglo-Dutch fleet, led by Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt, took advantage of the Spanish soldiers' siesta and annexed the strategically important rock in a coup d'etat. Since then, the Union Jack has been flying over City Hall, despite all Spanish requests for return and blatant threats.

And although only a quarter of the residents are of British origin today, belonging to Great Britain is undisputed. In a referendum in 2002, for example, almost 99 percent voted in favor of retaining the status of a crown colony.

For the British, the densely populated spot at the junction of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic is not just a curiosity far from home, it is also an economically important outpost. The territory is a shopping and low-tax haven that attracts tourists and companies. The port is a popular stop for freighters and cruise ships, who stock up on cheap marine diesel here.

Real estate and investment companies are based in Gibraltar, online betting shops generate huge sales. The local economy is fueled by the 10,000 commuters who can easily commute to work in Gibraltar thanks to free border traffic with Spain.

All of this is one reason why the people of Gibraltar - despite their sympathies for Great Britain - are interested in good relations with the EU. Nowhere else was the rejection of Brexit as great as here, where 96 percent of residents voted against leaving.

At the top of the limestone cliff, the monkeys brace themselves for the onslaught of tourists who either float comfortably, if not cheaply, on the cable car to the top station or struggle 400 meters up the rather rocky Devil's Gap Footpath.

Around 300 specimens of these curious and thieving Barbary apes are said to live on the landmark. Huge signs announce drastic penalties if tourists should get the idea to feed the animal gang members. Which is also not necessary, after all, a specially assigned corporal from the British army takes care of the weal and woe of the lousy louts.

The fact that the small monkey colony is so self-sacrificingly nurtured and cared for is due to an old legend: according to it, the Union Jack flies over Gibraltar for as long as monkeys do gymnastics over the rocks. Winston Churchill himself is said to have commissioned the import of Barbary macaques from Morocco to provide blood replenishment for Europe's only wild monkey colony.

Seen from the water, the Rock of Gibraltar is reminiscent of the hull of an ocean liner rising up. At the top, the view sweeps over the growing sea of ​​high-rise buildings. Developable land is scarce here: Gibraltar already has a higher population density than Los Angeles or Chicago.

The coast of Africa looms on the horizon; at the end of the headland, at Europa Point, the red and white lighthouse and the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque, inaugurated in 1997, stretch into the sky.

The newest attraction on the Rock is the Skywalk. At a dizzying height, the steel construction with its glass floor slides over the edge, where those with a head for heights can take a look at the sandy beaches a few hundred meters below.

As indestructible as the block of rock may seem, inside it has holes like Swiss cheese. Erosion has washed out more than 100 caves, plus 50 kilometers of tunnels that served as an underground fortress for 10,000 soldiers during World War II.

Probably the most famous cave is the Gorham complex, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016. 40,000-year-old scratch marks indicate that the last Neanderthals may have found refuge here.

Even more spectacular is St. Michael's Cave with its forest of gigantic stalactites. For a long time there was a legend about the cave that Gibraltar was connected underground with Africa: The cheeky monkeys are said to have gotten onto the rocks through the passage.

But that's just a pretty legend about this miracle of nature, which is used today for concerts and theaters and shines in the kitschy colors thanks to a sophisticated light show.

Arrival: Gibraltar is suitable for a day trip. If you are driving a rental car in Andalusia, you should park it on the Spanish side. Parking spaces in Gibraltar are rare and extremely expensive. The border is just a five-minute walk from La Línea bus station and is open 24 hours a day.

Entry: Crossing the border is possible without any problems. Unlike in Great Britain, the ID card is still sufficient as a document for entry in Gibraltar, writes the Foreign Office.

Accommodation: Accommodation on the Spanish side is also recommended here, because the prices in the crown colony for holiday apartments or hotel rooms are significantly higher.


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