I was poking around that place where Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands share a common border, better known as the BEDENL tripoint, using Google Maps satellite view the other day. I noticed an interesting topiary feature.
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It’s a hedge maze! I’ve seen them called garden mazes, labyrinths and various other terms, too. They all mean the same thing: a place where someone with sufficient foresight and a keen sense of humor planted shrubs in a pattern purposely designed to impede one’s progress for fun and amusement.
It pleases me that BEDENL has become something of a tourist attraction. Most multi-points don’t garner nearly that level of attention. There are some exceptions of course, however the preponderance are more likely to be marked with a simple stone pole or obelisk. It’s an attraction known as the Drielandenpunt at BEDENL. Pardon the clumsy auto-translation. Their website is in Dutch and this was the best that Google Translate could manage for English:
The Three Country Point is famous for the confluence of boundaries and the highest point of the Netherlands. Until 1919, the Drielandenpunt a Four Point Country with “neutral” Moresnet fourth country. In the beginning of the last century there was even an airport on the Four Country Point. There are now playing a lot of our games and outdoor activities such as off Drielandenpunt Sterrenslag and schietcompetitities consisting of clay pigeon shooting, archery, crossbow and air rifle shooting.
I’ve discussed Neutral Moresnet before. Also, I feel I should make a minor correction to their site. The Netherlands highpoint is no longer anywhere nearby. It’s now found on the Caribbean island of Saba. Nonetheless, there’s a tripoint here and they have a hedge maze so it meets all requirements for full 12MC approval.
The hedge maze stirred an old, distant memory from the back of my mind that comes to the surface every once in awhile.
It must have come from my early elementary school days, maybe I was six or seven years old. I recall visiting a hedge maze with my family. It was probably somewhere nearby, either in Virginia or elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic United States. We never traveled very far when I was that young.
The solution to the maze formed the basis of my recurring memory. Visitors went directly to the center of the maze if they took the very first left turn upon entering. They’d wander aimlessly in every conceivable direction if they took the very first right turn instead. It was based on a premise that most people turn right by instinct. I don’t know if any science actually exists behind that claim. I can vouch that I fell for it and turned right, whereupon I wandered around for awhile until I finally hit the center by chance. I found that simple solution utterly clever, and it’s a lesson that’s stuck with me ever since.
The other part I remember was that there was an earthen terrace or hillside outside of the maze where one could see the entirety of the structure from an elevated position. It was great fun to watch people take that initial wrong turn. They quickly become ensnared and disoriented within the maze’s devilish twists and turns.
The more I examined the memory, the more I came to believe that it must have been formed at Colonial Williamsburg on the Virginia Peninsula. The old Governor’s Palace Maze is located there, found appropriately enough behind the Governor’s Palace at the northern end of the Palace Green.
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I needed to examine the layout to make sure. A Google satellite view doesn’t do it justice. Too many treetops obscure the image especially on the left side of the maze. Fortunately I found a drawing of the layout on Early American Gardens. The "turn left" simple solution didn’t work, to my utter amazement. Sure, one can turn left and keep turning left and only left to finally reach the center — a solution to any hedge maze (works for all right turns too) — but my memory was turn left and walk immediately to the center.
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There is another maze located in Luray, Virginia, the Garden Maze at Luray Caverns. It’s a full acre covered with eight foot tall hedges with over a half-mile of pathways. I don’t think that’s the one I remember either. It’s of more recent vintage I believe.
This is an old memory. I’m willing to admit that the memory may have faded to where it no longer represents an accurate depiction of reality. I’m pretty sure it was Colonial Williamsburg filtered through the eyes of a small child and faded over time. However, I’d sure like to know if a turn-left-easy-solution hedge maze exists somewhere in the mid-Atlantic and whether it sounds familiar to anyone in the 12MC audience.
I found an entertaining article as I conducted my research. Apparently people have started using their mobile phones and Google Earth to find an easy solution: "Where’s the fun in that? iPhone cheats crack Britain’s biggest hedge maze in minutes."
I’ve always had a thing about collecting and counting geography. You’ve seen examples of that before on the Twelve Mile Circle, most notably my ongoing tally of U.S. counties that I have visited. Sometimes these "visits" are exceedingly brief, even measured to mere seconds, yet still count according to the arbitrary rules as I’ve applied them to myself.
I haven’t focused much attention on the blog on my international travel but the same rules apply. I may be arbitrary but I’m consistent. I would have to clip only the tiniest corner of a nation and I would consider the goal completed. I’d color-in that nation on my world map. Sure, I would prefer to experience the sights, meet the people and explore the nation in depth. That wouldn’t change this tally, though.
That describes my first trip to Germany. I’d been visiting with a friend in Brussels and we took a day trip down to Luxembourg. I mentioned that I’d never been to Germany, and it was oh-so-close, and couldn’t we just hop across the border please so I could say I’d been there?
The Schengen Agreement had been inked at the time but it hadn’t yet been implemented so there was still a border control station heading into Germany. The guard asked us about the nature of our trip and how long we planned to stay. My friend explained that we’d be in Germany for about ten minutes until we crossed into France, and only doing it because the strange American in the passenger seat wanted to say he’d been to Germany.
The guard chuckled, smiled and waved us through. It was probably the most entertaining thing he’d seen all day. In my defense, I will say that I’ve been back to Germany subsequently and i’ve seen much more than my original 9 km strip [map].
As I think back on it, I wonder if there might be other 3-nation excursions that are even more ridiculous in their minuscule length and duration. There are something on the order of 150+ international tripoints, so plenty of opportunities exist. I imagine the better instances would occur in areas with well-developed road systems matched with relaxed border controls. That sounds like the Schengen Area. Indeed I found a number of great examples in western Europe.
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In fact, I could replicate that same Luxembourg to Germany to France confluence in a considerably shorter distance: a single kilometre. One would depart Luxembourg from the town of Schengen. Indeed that’s the same Schengen where the agreement was signed. I find that incredibly appropriate.
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One could clip Poland departing from the Czech Republic and ending in Germany. It’s not quite as short as the previous example but it’s still rather diminutive at only 1.5 km.
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Head on over to the BEDENL tripoint where the Neutral Moresnet condominium used to exist. This time the Netherlands gets clipped on a journey from Germany to Belgium, a distance of about 2.1 km. Right at the tripoint, however, there seems to be an old gravel path on the German side. With a motorcycle or a 4-Wheel Drive I bet one could do the same thing but remain in the Netherlands for only a couple hundred metres!
Other situations I found in Europe included:
- A 3.1 km section of Belgium between Germany and Luxembourg
- A 3.7 km section of Lichtenstein between Switzerland and Austria (although I believe a border control still exists for crossing into Austria)
There are many examples worldwide. I saw a good one in South America and a couple of others in Africa. I didn’t want to take away any of the fun from the readership, though. I know many of you will enjoy taking the challenge and seeing if you can add equally impressive examples to the list. It has to be a real road though, not some hiking trail or goat path, and displayable on a Google Maps link like the one’s I’ve provided. I might want to convince a friend to drive me across it someday and I prefer pavement.
All this recent talk on Twelve Mile Circle about strange European borders and condominium arrangements brings me to one of my favorite former anomalies: Neutral Moresnet, which existed as somewhat of a no-man’s-land lodged firmly between sovereign neighbors from 1816 to 1920.
Europe looked different as Napoleon’s empire dissolved. Negotiations took place and territories were doled out among the victors. A United Kingdom of the Netherlands emerged. The Kingdom held discussions with its neighbor, the Kingdom of Prussia, to formalize their common border. Talks between the two kingdoms were generally successful since they agreed to recognize older, established boundaries.
They carved and they sliced and they compromised, until they were down to a single small triangle of land of just 3.5 square kilometers (1 square mile) left unresolved. This was a spot containing a zinc mine with valuable mineral deposits coveted by both nations. Temporarily they decided to leave it as neutral territory to be administered jointly — a condominium — until they could figure out how to deal with it. This quick fix would last for more than a hundred years, with Belgium inheriting the Dutch role upon its independence in 1830.
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These are the approximate boundaries of what was once Neutral Moresnet, now part of Belgium. The southern border followed a road between Liège and Aachen. The northern tip terminated at the spot that today is the Belgium-Germany-Netherlands (BEDENL) tripoint at Vaalserberg. It’s main town is Kelmis and its inhabitants speak German as their native language. This is somewhat unusual for Belgium. Even though German is one of its three official languages, it is used by less than one percent of its population except within these borderlands.
A mining company dominated the history of Neutral Moresnet, employing its populace, owning the homes and running its shops. It was a company town that existed solely to extract zinc from the surrounding countryside within the borders of the condominium. At its height perhaps 4,000 people lived here, enjoying full employment, low taxes and an exemption from compulsory military service to either of its custodians. The sovereign neighbors each designated a royal commissioner who in turn appointed a mayor to run the little territory. Neutral Moresnet had neither independence nor inclusion within a sovereign nation, rather it existed in an odd limbo in-between.
Condominium arrangements collapse over time and Neutral Moresnet met this predictable fate. First the zinc played out and weakened its underlying premise for existence. Next, Belgium and Germany fought on opposing sides of the First World War. To the victor go the spoils and Neutral Moresnet became part of Belgium in the aftermath, to be formally annexed in 1920. Germany briefly reclaimed it during the Second World War but it returned to Belgium permanently afterwords. A much more detailed discussion of its colorful history (including an odd tie-in with the Esperanto language) can be found on Wikipedia’s Neutral Moresnet page.
Vaalserberg literally means "Mount Vaals." I love it when a whole bunch of strange geographic coincidences collide. Not only is this point the northern terminus of the old Neutral Moresnet condominium and the location of the current BEDENL tripoint, but in addition it’s the Netherlands Highpoint at 323 meters (1059 feet). Outstanding!