It is July 15th, 2022. The early hours of the day are still morning-pleasantly fresh, although it will turn into a very hot day. There is even a bit of a drizzle in between. The kind of summer rain that you don’t bother hiding from, because you know it will be over soon. And anyway, rain is better than rockets.
It is day 142 of the Russian attack on Ukraine, of which, by now, nobody believes that it will be over soon.
Over a rickety wooden bridge, I walk across the river Tisa. From Romania into Ukraine.
Completely legal. Brief, friendly border checks on both the Romanian and the Ukrainian side. No warnings. No precautionary instructions. No questions about what the hell I want in Ukraine in the middle of the war.
And I would have had such a good answer: I am looking for the center of Europe.
“In Ukraine??”, many will wonder, considering that most people in the world didn’t know anything about this country until recently. Ukraine, Ural, Ulan-Ude, it was all the same. Far away. Somewhere near Siberia.
But back to that day in July 2022. From Solotvyno, the border town, buses go to Rakhiv, I had read. On the way, I could get off near Dilove. But the bus station, in reality merely a container by the main road, looks as if abandoned.
The station manager, a helpful lady, steps out and informs me that the timetable is no longer valid. The drivers were called to the front, the buses are now serving in the war.
Well, I guess I will have to hitchhike then. Hitchhiking in the middle of a war. Not as easy as I thought, I find out. But, as always with hitchhiking, if you wait long enough, someone will stop. After an exaggeratedly fast and furious drive through the beautiful Carpathians, always along the Tisa river and not seriously bothered by the military checkpoints on the way, Vasyli drops me off at the hamlet of Kruhlyj in the Dilove commune of Rakhiv county – not without wondering what the hell that weird foreigner is looking for exactly there.
The roving reporter, however, can hardly grasp his luck. He really found the place and the stele he was looking for, marking the geographical center of Europe. Built in 1887 and looking as tattered as you’d expect after that much time.
It was built by Austrian engineers during the construction of the nearby railway. Back then, the district of Rakhiv was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Actually, this place is much more European than you would think. In the 20th century alone, it belonged to almost a dozen countries. (Successively, not simultaneously.) The people here spoke and still speak Ukrainian, Russian, German, Yiddish, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Czech, Ruthenian, Romani and, as I found out, a smattering of English.
Historically, linguistically and ethnically, this valley in the Carpathians is more European than Berlin, Paris or Rome. But more about this in my detailed article about Kruhlyj, coming soon, in which I unfortunately have to decipher the Latin inscription of the “locus perennis” and inform the world that it has been the victim of a translation error for 135 years. The Austrian railroad engineers had never claimed this to be the center of Europe.
Hence, my quest shall go on.
I remember that, many years ago, I had stumbled across another alleged center of Europe. It was in Lithuania, and they even called the place Europe Park. Back then, too, I was surprised to find that point in what I would have thought of as the periphery of Europe.
The underlying calculation in this case dated from 1989.
Over a hundred years, it may be possible for a continent to grow a bit, shrink a bit or move around a bit. After all, the continental drift had been invented in the meantime. But from Ukraine to Lithuania, that’s a stretch – at least geographically. Other places laying claim to that fame are in Slovakia, in Hungary, in Germany, and so on. Different methods of calculation must have been used.
The first problem is to determine what Europe is. Do we interpret it politically? Then it would be the Habsburg Empire or the European Union. With or without candidates for accession? Is the United Kingdom suddenly no longer European? And what is the effect of that Swiss hole in the middle of the European cheese? Do we include the islands which expand the territory of the EU all the way to Guadeloupe and New Caledonia? Aren’t French Guyana and Ceuta so obviously in South America or Africa, respectively, that they cannot be part of Europe? What about Northern Cyprus? Questions upon questions. Good that Germany lost all its colonies, from Samoa to the Bismarck Archipelago, for otherwise the map of the EU would be even more complicated.
But even leaving political interpretations aside, a mere geographical calculation of the center of the continent can be debated without end – and without result – as well. Where to draw the eastern boundary? What about Turkey? What about the Caucasus? Is Malta European or African? Do you simply connect the most outward points to determine the center? Or do you consider the boundaries of the landmasses? Possibly weighted for the product of surface times density, because an acre of Switzerland weighs more than an acre of Holland. Or do you pick the center of a circle drawn around Europe? One could also weigh the result by population, to prevent the Scandinavian countries from taking themselves too important. Or calculate an economic midpoint, weighed by GDP.
If you are playing around with methods and figures, you will always find some center of Europe situated in a small village hoping to benefit from Euro-centrist tourism. Because one thing is striking. All the centers of Europe have so far been in places where nothing else is happening. Or, in the case of Flossenbürg and Braunau am Inn, where they want to divert attention from what they are really infamous for. This is a – probably incomplete – list of all the places that have ever claimed to be the center of Europe or the European Union:
- Braunau am Inn, Austria
- Polotsk, Belarus
- Vitebsk, Belarus
- Ives at Lake Sho, Belarus
- Viroinval, Belgium
- Mount Dyleň (Tillenberg) on the German-Czech border
- a hill east of Čečelovice, Czech Republic
- Mount Melechov, Czech Republic
- Locus perennis near Lišov, Czech Republic
- Pupík Evropy (the belly button of Europe) in Jakubovice, Czech Republic
- the astronomical center of Europe outside of Kouřim, Czech Republic
- the point calculated by Jára Cimrman in Havlíčkův Brod, Czech Republic
- Mõnnuste on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia
- Saint-André-le-Coq, France
- Noireterre, Saint-Clément, France
- Hildweinsreuth near Flossenbürg, Germany
- Kleinmaischeid, Germany
- Cölbe, Germany
- Gelnhausen-Meerholz, Germany
- Westerngrund, Germany
- Veitshöchheim, Germany
- Tállya, Hungary
- Purnuškės, Lithuania
- Europe Park, Lithuania
- Suchowola, Poland
- Landskrona, Sweden
- Kremnica, Slovakia
- Kruhlyj (between Dilove and Rakhiv), Ukraine
And here is a lovingly and laboriously prepared interactive map. The blue check marks indicate the places where I have already been. Green check marks will soon decorate the points I have already published an article about.
This map is especially handy to find out if you happen to live near one of these points of global importance. In that case, please let me know, because I have set my mind to visit all the centers of Europe and to write about them. No superficial travelogue, of course, but, as you have come to expect from me, diving deep into the history. (Even if Flossenbürg and Braunau am Inn aren’t too happy to hear about that.) And because I travel mostly by hitchhiking and hiking, there should be one or the other adventure happening on the way. Speaking of adventures: Keep your fingers crossed that I get the visa for Belarus! Otherwise I’ll have to sneak across the border somehow…
And, come to think of it, that’s quite a neat project to turn into a book, isn’t it? Because I really think that I can discover more about the essence of Europe by traveling to all those little places, rather than by sitting around in Brussels.
If you find the idea interesting, I appreciate any kind of support! Especially a couch for a few nights, if you happen to live near one of the many centers of Europe. Or on the way.
Do you want a posctard?
Actually, you would be surprised how hard it has become to find postcards in some places. But for you, dear reader, I’ll walk the extra miles!
And here was I thinking it was Brussels! Actually Andreas, I have calculated the one-and-only, official, ultimate Center of Europe for you. This method is going to be ISO certified, believe me.
It’s simple. You add up all the votes cast in the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest (4603), and divide by the number of countries (25). This gives 184.12. Norway scored 182 points which gives them the official title of “Center of Europe 2022”. This removes all economic arguments and political shenanigans. End of argument. €10.00 to you. Thanks.
Oh gosh, I hadn’t even thought of the Eurovision Song Contest, thank you!!
Now I am wondering how to include Azerbaijan and Australia into the calculation.
And next, someone is going to suggest football instead of singing…
I am actually glad that no big city like Brussels is on the list, because that would be overwhelming to write about.
I like those little places, that most people wouldn’t waste a second look on, but I will – hopefully – find some interesting people/stories and some hooks and angles from where to delve into history.
Although I really don’t know what to expect of that field or forest near Viroinval. But then, it’s Belgium, so there has to be some World-War-I-stuff.
I think Viroinval must have received that honor when Europe was made up of 12 or so countries. Nice place to visit though. https://www.discoveringbelgium.com/walking-around-viroinval/
It was at the time of the EU-15. Until then, the geographical center had been in France, and with the eastern enlargement, it moved to Germany (and then a few times within Germany).
But I bet France was mighty angry about the move to Viroinval, because just a few km to the south, and it would have remained in France.
Thanks for already checking out the area! Although I wouldn’t have expected to have to walk 23 km… Good that I don’t have a car, having read about the imprisonment of yours.
And now we know the reason behind all the flags around the church in Nismes!
It seems to me that the question, what is Europe, is best considered as a geological question rather than a national/political question. I think some countries must lie in more than one continent. I guess I would first ask the question, what is a continent.
Some people say Europe is only a subcontinent anyway, like India.
But even then, I think the traditional boundaries of the Ural and the Caucasus mountain ranges are a good demarcation.
On the question of whether Malta is in Europe or Africa, does being closer to Europe than to Africa count? I’d be happy either way, as long as Malta remains part of the EU. Speaking of the geographical centre of things and including Malta in the argument… it’s an undeniable fact the Malta lies exactly in the centre of the Mediterranean. Given that the Mediterranean means, literally, the centre of the earth, one may then conclude that Malta lies in the centre of the centre of the earth.
Haha, I like that argument!
And now that you have made it, it seems so blatantly obvious, convincing and undisputable that I can’t even imagine how I could not see that myself.
Well, the question for the center of Earth, civilization and humanity is therefore resolved!
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