Amidst rolling countryside and beautiful woodlands just a few kilometers southwest of Aachen, lies a patch of land imbued with meaning way beyond its size thanks to the intersection of the borders of three countries. In the space of a few meters it is possible to enter and exit Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands in quick succession. Yet that is not the most exciting thing about Three Country Point.
As any Dutch person will tell you, the hill on which the three countries collide is known as Vaalserberg and, at a towering 323 meters, this is the highest point in the Netherlands. During the past eight years I’ve lived in all three countries, so the opportunity to stand at this symbolic junction and simultaneously stand on top the highest peak in the ‘Dutch Alps’, was too good to be true.
It was scorching hot the day I visited Three Country Point. I’d set off early from Brussels to make sure I could do the walk and be back in Aachen before the heat became too much. Even then, I was glad much of the route was through shady woodland. Aachen’s not a big place and I soon found myself strolling through lovely landscapes populated by dog walkers and horse riders.
I was grateful that the walk was so attractive and peaceful because Three Country Point itself is oddly tacky. Unless you’re there with kids, in which case it’s probably brilliant. The tourist shops, cafes and other assorted distractions, hide one of the more ridiculous pieces of European history. In 1920, Belgium was given a piece of Germany that included the towns of Eupen and Malmedy as reparations for the First World War.
Within the larger transfer of land to Belgium, was a parcel of land that wasn’t German. With a circumference of only 11km, it had been created at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1816 . This tiny island, at the time wedged between Prussia and the Netherlands, became the Undivided Territory of Neutral Moresnet. It would be an independent state for a little less than a century and it straddled Three Country Point.
Created because the European powers who remade Europe in 1815 couldn’t agree who was to get control of a zinc mine in the middle of what became Neutral Moresnet. So it became a neutral zone, its inhabitants known as The Neutrals. This bizarreness ended only when German troops invaded in 1914. At the end of the war The Neutrals were awarded Belgian citizenship and their ‘country’ ceased to exist.
Until 1830, Neutral Moresnet had a shared border with Prussia and the Netherlands. But when Belgium gained independence, four countries met on this patch of land. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up. I wandered around the current border for a few minutes. It was still early and none of the cafes were open, so I plotted a route back to Aachen.
I set off down the Viergrenzenweg, German for the Four Borders Way, and a nod to the bizarre history of this tiny piece of land, then cut across country through small hamlets and more rolling countryside until I hit the outskirts of Aachen. It didn’t take long until I was in the historic heart of the Old Town and happily ensconced in the shady garden of the Café Kittel with a snack and a glass of local beer.
3 thoughts on “Aachen and the odd history of Three Country Point”
And now I know something I also didn’t – to whit, Moresnet. I did manage a run when we stayed locally that took in two of the three countries but didn’t get into Belgium as well. Perhaps next time.
I’ve also been to Three Country Point (https://operasandcycling.com/three-countries-corner/), but I never knew about the Undivided Territory of Neutral Moresnet. A weird piece of history.
There are bizarre bits of history to be found in the least likely of corners. I really wanted to do the Amstel Gold when I lived in the Netherlands, but it was always hugely oversubscribed. Looks like it is fun.