World Cup clash stokes Franco-German rivalry
- 4 July 2014
Unless you're really paying attention as you drive along Rue Victor Hugo, you don't really know when you leave one country and arrive in the next.
There's no border post on the outskirts of Schoeneck in Lorraine, even though it's only a few miles to the German city of Saarbrucken.
The Schengen Agreement has made the border an invisible line, and most European citizens don't give it a second thought.
But this is still a symbolic frontier because the relationship between France and Germany is the most important in Europe. It forms the strategic heart of the European Union.
And while there has been mounting concern recently that the French are falling well behind, the rapprochement across the Rhine has helped give Western Europe 70 years of peace.
But let's not forget the 1980s, when rivalry on the football pitch was nothing short of ferocious. And now French and German flags are suddenly fluttering from car windows again.
For people of a certain age France versus Germany in the World Cup still conjures memories of 1982 in Seville when (West) German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher's unpunished chest-high karate-kick tackle on Patrick Battiston left the French defender with broken teeth and broken ribs.
France led 3-1 before West Germany went on to win on penalties.
Four years later, they met again in Mexico - another semi-final, another West German victory.
So France has been waiting nearly 30 years to get its revenge, and this will be the first competitive international between the two sides since German reunification.
At a time when there is huge soul-searching about French identity and the direction the country is taking, a win over the neighbours who seem to have become more successful at almost everything else would provide a welcome boost.
That's why local supermarkets have sold out of flags and the newspapers are looking in different directions. The French papers are full of photos of Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba; the German papers focus on Miroslav Klose and Philipp Lahm (should he really play in midfield?)
It is a reminder that even in the European Union, the nation state still reigns supreme. Especially when it comes to football.
In mid-afternoon in a small bar right on the border in Schoeneck, it's too hot to get too excited. But opinion is predictably divided.
"I think France will win," says Brice. "We have the better players."
"Three nil to Germany," says his German friend, as he walks in for a drink.
There are certainly more visible signs of German enthusiasm at this particular border crossing. One man has even staked out the corners of his radish patch with the national flag.
But fear not France.
"They may have more flags out at the moment," said the receptionist at the local mayor's office. "But wait until we win."