Where is the heart, the center of the European Union? There is really an official answer for that. The Institut Géographique National (IGN) in Paris is calculation the official midpoints of the Union, based on the center of gravity method. Since 2004, the midpoint of the European Union is located in Germany, located in different places. I visited all of them, three of them in late May 2020. It was a stunning trip, also through European history.
The European Union Midpoints before 2004
The first European European Union Midpoint ever determined was in 1987. The first two official midpoints are based in France, the next one is located in Belgium:
- As the midpoint of the 12 member European Union (i.e. Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Greece, Portugal, Spain), the IGN determined the village of Saint-Andre-le-Coq in the Auvergne. It is a village of some 500 inhabitants between Clermont-Ferrand and Vichy. There is no memorial in the village.
- The reunification of Germany in 1990 made the midpoint move by some 25 kilometers Northeast. The new midpoint was a place called Noireterre in the village of Saint-Clement (also Auvergne). According to wikipedia, there is still a small monument.
- In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden joined the Union. By that, the midpoint moved to Viroinval, Belgium, South of Charleroi and quite close to the French border. There is still a monument for that.
In 2004, the midpoint of the European Union moved to German territory (see below).
The European Union Midpoints since 2004
With the eastward enlargement in 2004, the midpoint of the European Union moved to Germany. The map below marks all four places, with reviews of all points underneath.
2004 – 2006: Kleinmaischeid (near Neuwied)
Kleinmaischeid is a small village which belongs to Neuwied county. You can easily reach it by car, it is just few kilometres away from the Dierdorf exit of the A3 motorway. Kleinmaischeid became midpoint of the European Union by the Eastbound enlargement of the union including Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The midpoint monument is located in the very center of the village, right next to the Bürgerhaus (community center), so that you just cannot miss it. There are also still some commemorative signs in the village.
2007 – June 2013: Gelnhausen-Meerholz (near Hanau)
Meerholz is a borough of the city of Gelnhausen. When Romania and Bulgaria joined the Union on 1st January 2007, the midpoint moved to a wheat field right outside the village. There are signs when you enter Meerholz in memory of that time, it is however tricky to find the midpoint without preparation: preferably, you park your car at the Am Schwarzerlich road, from where you walk along a farm lane along the clay pit and turn right. On another website I saw that there used to be signs to guide you to the place, but they seem to be either very unfortunately positioned or taken down nowadays.
The midpoint is quite nice in its arrangement, but unfortunately run down. The blue “European Central Bank” has turned grey, the flags are taken town, but there are still some information signs. The key memory stone, which is showing the directions of all 27 (at that time) member states’ capitals, is in quite well conditions, though. There is also a small sign listing the member states on a small rock next to it.
As Meerholz and the following midpoint, Westerngrund, are quite close to each other (even though they are in different German states, Hesse and Bavaria), there is a hiking route between those two places which is giving you some really nice scenery and information signs about all member states at that time. Unfortunately, it is a one way route with not too much infrastructure (like bus services) supporting it. The hiking route is managed by the Spessartbund, which is promoting hiking in the region.
July – May 2014 // May 2014 – January 2020: Westerngrund (near Aschaffenburg)
Westerngrund is a village in Aschaffenburg county. It is the only town which (so far) ever in fact hosted two midpoints of the European Union: on 1st July 2013, Croatia joined the European Union and the midpoint moved away from Meerholz to Westerngrund. This place, which is located at a hill, has unfortunately never been marked in any way as it was already known that the French overseas department Mayotte will join the Union about one year later, on 10th May 2020. This shifted the midpoint by 500 meters. This midpoint is maintained and managed privately by an organization. It is located at the Kahler Straße, you will find it quite easily as it is signposted at the village’s main road.
The midpoint is the most beautiful one I visited on my trip. The flags are still up, the scenery as such is really lovely and there are a lot of major and smaller nice features around. First of all, the midpoint has its own parking lot, which is very handy, but there is for example also a guestbook, which I felt to be a nice idea. A showcase shows the European Union and the other midpoints, including the current one in Gadheim (see below). There is also soil from all 27 member states at that time and soil from Westerngrund has been brought to some European locations. A very nice idea is the Westerngrund Frame.
You see that there is really a lot of love and engagement in the information provided. The information panel is holding quite some information in German, English, French, Polish and Chinese, for example.
It is the end of the EU-Mittelpunkte-Weg, the hiking route I mentioned before. There are also touristic information available (including a leaflet about that route, which you could not find in Meerholz). As said, this place is majorly driven by a private initiative and I felt very lucky to happen to run into one of the people behind that – I had a really long and good chat with him – and I am now even gifted with some midpoint souvenirs. Definitely love that and feel very thankful for them!
In case you want to tune your GPS, there is also a geodetic calibration point at this place. The last picture shows roughly the European midpoint on the next hill before the inclusion of Mayotte.
Since 1st February 2020: Gadheim (Veitshöchheim near Würzburg)
Since 1st February 2020, the village of Gadheim is the new midpoint of the European Union. The village is belonging to the town of Veitshöchheim and is some 15 minutes North of Würzburg (which also means that, funnily, all four spots in Germany are not too far away from the A3 motorway). There is a small sign about being midpoint of the European Union when you enter the village. The shift of the midpoint, of course, has some sad reason, as it has been caused by the Brexit.
Gadheim’s role is quite new, so that there may be some change in the future, but they already created quite a nice place there, which is located on the Southwestern tip of the village. A pole is marking the midpoint, there are flags of the city, the European Union and Germany and a sign with all member states. They also did quite beautiful gardening around the spot, so that I really liked it, as well. They also seem to do some funding around the place, so that I could imagine that some more events and information will be added in the future.
Discussion about Midpoint Calculation
As said above, the midpoints listed in here are the official ones by the European Union. Of course, you could use multiple very different calculations from very simple to very sophisticated ones. You could for example simply connect the Northernmost and the Southernmost point, draw a line, do the same with the Westernmost and Easternmost point and take the intersection. For some other countries and regions, there is also something like the center of population. Due to similar reasons. Thus, there are here and there discussions about the correct midpoint of certain geographic areas. Sometimes, you may even want to “buy” a certain method so that your place gains the popularity.
“Unofficial Midpoint”: Cölbe (near Marburg)
One of these unofficial midpoints is Cölbe near Marburg in Germany. The Bonn University Institute of Theoretic Geodesy defined in 2004 (i.e. under the conditions of the Kleinmaischeid “regency”) that a place at the Kaschubenweg is the real midpoint of the European Union. I visited the place, as I was curious whether the memory sign is still existing, but it is just an ordinary living area and the people rather feel to be pissed about it when you ask them about that topic.
The European Union Midpoints – My View
I hope I could take you on a small travel of European history in that posting. To me, it was fascinating that an in fact quite nerdy idea of traveling midpoints on the union also gives you so much history and also emotions. Bad luck that neither of the four places (maybe except of Gadheim, who just have that geographic honor for some months) really took the profit they could take of that opportunity. Especially talking with the Westerngrund organizers showed me how much interest there is in these place and how many people actually visit them.
Traveling in Germany
Here are travel reviews about places and sights related to Germany:
Here are all other postings on Historic Museums: