Regardless of whether you strive for the United States of Europe or tend to be rather sceptical about more and more national sovereignty being shifted to Brussels – we might agree on the fact that exchange between people from different European countries is essentially a good thing. This magazine certainly does believe in the virtues of bringing Europeans together. So we bring you the top five structures that actually did, do or will help to connect people of different European nationalities, ethnicities, cultures and religions – symbolically as well as physically.

# 5: Gotthard Base TUnnel

Photo: Daniel Schwen (CC BY-SA-2.5)
The construction site of the Gotthard Base Tunnel deep below the Alps

31 March 1996, deep below the Alps: drilling experts are carrying out geologic tests, when suddenly a mixture of water and sand bursts out of the walls. The drillers have struck the Piora Mulde, one of around 90 'geological problem zones' to be overcome in order to build the longest rail-tunnel in the world. The workers are lucky and nobody is injured. Within the 14-year construction period of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, eight of the 2,500 workers involved are less fortunate. They die in accidents repeatedly occurring during the completion of one of the world's most spectacular technological projects.

Drilling a tunnel underneath 3,000 metres of rock is a dangerous and highly sophisticated endeavour. Various experts doubted whether the project could succeed at all. The geology was unknown and potential problems could not be anticipated in advance. Consequently, the overall costs for the AlpTransit project (which also encompasses some other, smaller tunnel projects) ultimately nearly doubled to 15 billion euros. However, throughout its implementation, the project enjoyed strong support among the Swiss population, which gave its approval in a referendum in 1992.

It is ironic that the Swiss of all people pay billions of their taxes for a project of such European character without batting an eyelid. After all, this major contribution to the European high-speed rail network benefits their neighbour states more than it benefits them. When the tunnel opens in 2017 it will significantly decrease travel time through the Alps for both passengers and freight and thus move Northern and Southern Europe closer to each other. Indeed a very European move by this non-EU country.

# 4: Charles Bridge

According to a legend, Charles IV ordered egg yolks to be added to the bridge's mortar in order to increase its stability. It might have been these egg yolks that ensured the long lifespan of Charles Bridge. Ever since the Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor commissioned its construction in 1357, the Gothic stone bridge has been an important traffic link and one of Prague's finest landmarks. Populated by artists, musicians and souvenir merchants as well as both tourists and locals, the bridge remains the main pedestrian route between the two banks of the Vltava.

However, it always linked more than just Prague's Old Town and its 'Lesser Quarter'. The oldest still existing bridge crossing the Vltava has been an integral part of the trade routes between Eastern and Western Europe and contributed to the rise of Prague as a trade city. As one of the oldest connections between East and West it remains a major symbol for the linkage of the two parts of Europe that have been artificially separated for more than half a century but are now unmistakably connected again.

Meanwhile the question of whether eggs were used for its construction or not remains contested. In 2008, an analysis by the ICT Prague confirmed protein ingredients in the cement. However, around one year later, scientists from Charles University came up with a different result.

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