December 2007



SchengenIn the category of geeky places I’ve visited, I added one of the more obscure ones to my list yesterday.

It started with a childhood visit to the Four Corners—a truly man-made and obscure political point where four US states meet: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. It’s the only place in the States where four states meet. I still remember my family’s visit and my sister driving around the monument before finding a parking space, just so that could claim that she’d driven in all four states before my father had.

Some of the places I’ve visited on my list are not political points, but natural extremes, like Cabo de Roca, the western most point of continental Europe, an easy drive north of Lisbon, or last May when I went to Cape Agulhas, the southern most point of the African Continent.

Yesterday’s place falls on the political list: Schengen, Luxembourg.

Schengen is an obscure village, despite having a name well known to many Europeans. The name is known not because of the village, but rather the Schengen Agreement which was signed on a boat docked on the quay. The agreement, initially between France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, allowed for transborder travel without passport control.

Schengen MemorialGone are stops at the border as you go from Germany to The Netherlands, or, as the agreement grew, France to Portugal. This month it will expand to include going from Estonia to Latvia; and, a few months later, going from Estonia to The Netherlands, as border controls are eliminated first on the ground, and then in the air amongst 9 of the new EU-10 and those already members of the Schengen group.

I could digress and go all technical here, but that would bore you—basically the Schengen group currently consists of the old EU-15, minus two (Ireland and the United Kingdom), plus two (Norway and Iceland). Starting December 21st, 9 of the new EU-10 will join the group (excluding Cyprus). Sometime next year Switzerland, the planetary non-joiner is joining.

Schengen MemorialThis means that by the end of next year one should be able to drive from Helsinki to Lisbon via Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, down to Budapest, back up to Graz, through Zurich, stop off in Milan, and then through Nice, Madrid and over to Lisbon, all without going through passport control and getting more stamps in your passport. This is a boon for frequent travelers—passports do not fill up with stamps as quickly meaning that the usable lifespan of these documents is extended. However, it is a disappointment for American tourists who seek stamps in their passports: there are no structures and no way to get passports stamped at most border crossings within the Schengen group.

In fact there was no indication that there had ever been passport control between Germany and Luxembourg as we passed across the Mosel River, crossing into Schengen.

In Schengen we stopped and visited the Schengen Monument—a simple structure located on the shores of the Mosel River. It’s truly a nerdy/geeky stop—if it weren’t for the monument there probably wouldn’t be any tourist attractions in this town.

Total Station de SchengenAfter our five or ten minutes at the monument, we decided to explore town a bit—only to accidentally drive out of town and into France. It took awhile before we could turn around and head back to Schengen, but when we did, we looked a bit more at town, stopping to buy inexpensive gas at a local Total station: we bought gas from a French company in Luxembourg, and were given a small piece of Swiss-branded Milka chocolate owned by an American company.

Globalization is in full effect.
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6 comments to Schengen

  • When Bugs Bunny pops up out of the ground somewhere in Europe holding a map, does he say, “I knew I should have made a left turn in Luxembourg…”?

  • We didn’t even get stamped when we went to Prague, and that’s not even part of the agreement, is it? Tough times for people who like to check out new stamps….;)

  • Ed

    I don’t understand why they are called the new EU-10 when there are many more nations than that as memebers.
    I think very soon they will lose all borders and become one nation.
    Even though it’s called European Union it is allowing members like Turkey and soon many other countries to join that are not in Europe.

  • @cq: Luxembourg is more of a traffic circle.

    @CN: I think that some countries stamp less than others. Prague isn’t in the group until the 20th, and then not by air until March sometime.

    @ed: The members of the EU are divided into classes–when we talk about the EU15, we are talking about the core group of countries that were teh EU before 2004. The EU10 refer to the ten countries (mostly post eastern bloc nations) that joined in 2004. There are another EU 2, Romania and Bulgaria, that joined at the beginning of 2007. These are important classes to keep track of because although all the nations are, in theory, equal members, there are significant differences in economic development between these groups. Academics keep track of these differences in research because it helps set policy courses.

  • P

    Well, perhaps it’s no big deal for white folks who carry an American passport, but for brown people such as myself, even with a residence permit, there were still quite a substantial non-random moments when I found myself explaining to a border cop why I was crossing whatever border. 🙂

  • @P: I wish I could have your experiences. I’ve only seen immigration officials check my passport on ICEs to Amsterdam from Germany, and once or twice on trains from The Netherlands.

    On my entire trip this time, I never saw an immigration official–not once out of the 8 border crossings I made!