There is something about borders and the crossing of them that I find fascinating. One of the great things about being based in Germany is that much of Europe is there for the taking . Pick a direction, hit the road and soon enough, you’ll cross a border into a whole new country. With the Schengen agreement opening borders within the bounds of Europe, crossing from one country to another doesn’t always feel as significant as it may have in the past. I don’t let that stop me making excited announcements to the family when driving out ofDeutschland and into, say, Holland or Belgium. I still find crossing borders and exploring the area around them fascinating. Especially in this part of Europe where fairly recent history has seen borders contested, fought over, redrawn.
We recently took a trip from our home in Germany across into Holland. Plotting the route I realised we would be driving fairly close to the three country border point, where Germany, Holland and Belgium meet. Since this place was more or less on our way , I couldn’t resist adding it to our itinerary. Not just a border, a three country border. Got to be worth a look, right?
The tri-border, or Dreilandereck in German, is close to the German of city of Aachen and the Dutch city of Vaals but the border area itself is fairly rural and open with lots of woodland and hiking routes. Sturdy walking boots or wellies recommended especially if visiting in Autumn or Winter. Baby pink Nikes, it turns out, are not the best choice for this place.
The border its self is marked by three flags and a line carved in the stone on the ground. I couldn’t resist encouraging…ok, making… my three children stand in a country each. I thought it would make a nice photo, but the faces on them scream, ‘Mum made me do this.’. So maybe not. It didn’t help my case that they were distracted by the other activities on offer. This piece of land might have started out as the place where the meeting of three countries was marked ( and a spot very popular with smugglers, apparently) but it has developed into quite the visitor attraction.
If you have a head for heights, and the legs for the climb, you can ascend the viewing tower. From the top you can take in views across the German, Dutch and Belgian country side. If, like us, you want to earn your views with a little bit of a challenge thrown into the mix then pit your wits against the Drielanden Labyrinth. This beautiful maze was actually designed and built by a British landscape artist by the name of Adrian Fisher. Planted using 17,000 shrubs, the aim is to crack the labyrinth in order to access the viewing platform in the middle, from where you will be rewarded with views across the borders and surrounding landscape. Beware though, it is harder than it seems and laced with various distractions and water features designed to catch you out and force you off course. Unless you have a savvy pre teen who can figure out the sensor system and switch the water off long enough for you to pass. Some would call that cheating. We say adapt and overcome.
Driving back into Germany to continue our travels, I was intrigued by how quickly the landscape changes as you pass from Dutch ground to German. The border lies on a road that runs from Vaals in Holland to Aachen in Germany and almost instantly the architecture, the language on the street signs, the style of the cafe and restaurants, everything changes. I have visited other border towns and regions where there is a sense of merging . Where the buildings will reflect a blend of style, street signs will be dual language and so on, but I didn’t get that sense here. It’s as if the three countries are happy to meet but the residents are working hard to assert and retain their own national identities. For the visitor that certainly creates an interesting and diverse experience.
The tri border area is a microcosm of the wonderfulness of free movement within Europe. You can, literally, step across the border without impediment or checks or worrying about passports, paperwork or currency. More than that, exploring this area with its quirks and multinational character is just plain good fun and easy to bolt on to a break in one of the neighbouring cities. With three countries and lots of options, the hardest part would be picking which one to plump for.
Until next time,