For six-and-a-half years, from January 2007 to July 2013, the German town of Gelnhausen described itself as “The Heart of Europe” because it was the geographical mid-point of the European Union, as calculated by the French National Institute of Geographical Information in Saint-Mandé, near Paris.
At the beginning of the year 2007 Romania and Bulgaria became members of the European Union (EU). This had the effect of shifting the geographical center of the European Union 110 miles (177 km) to the east. So the geographical center was then at 50° 10′ 21″ North, 9° 9′ 0″ East, which is a point in a wheat field in the Kinzig Valley, within the city limits of Gelnhausen.
Before that, from May 2004 to December 2006, the mid-point of the EU was in the German village of Kleinmaischeid (population 1,300), about 25 miles southeast of Bonn. And before that it was in the Belgian town of Viroinval.
On July 1, 2013, Croatia joined the European Union. This shifted the geographical mid-point a dozen km to the south-southwest, to a place called Westerngrund in Bavaria. After Brexit the mid-point will again move, this time 80 km to the east.
There are various ways of calculating where the geographical center of the European Union is. For one thing, you have to decide whether to include all the outlying islands that belong to France, Spain and Portugal. The various institutes involved have now agreed that most of these islands should be included, with the exception of those on the other side of the world, such as French Polynesia.
The German Federal Ministry of the Interior explains the calculation as follows: “The landed areas of the member countries of the EU are divided into equal surfaces and then averaged, thus leading to the central point.” In other words, “one may imagine a huge atlas, excise the surface covered by Europe and then watch out at what point this surface would have to be suspended to make sure that the whole surface is in a position of equilibrium. This point would at the same time constitute the geographical center.”
After becoming the geographical mid-point of the EU, Gelnhausen started becoming more Europey (is there such a word?) than it used to be. They even put up signs pointing to the exact mid-point, where they set up a circle of benches and banners.
In the summer of 2010 Gelnhausen hosted the first “Heart of Europe” choir competition, with visiting choirs from most European countries but also from Taipei and Brazil. During this competition, the streets of Gelnhausen looked more international than usual, since some of the visiting choir members wore their traditional national or regional costumes for the occasion.
The finale of the competition was broadcast live on the regional radio station hr2. The winner was the choir ANIMA SOLLA from Latvia, closely followed by choirs from Estonia and Sweden.
No, crêpes are not a typical custom of Gelnhausen, but because the “Heart of Europe” Choir Competition was an international event with lots of foreign visitors, some crêpe makers came from great distances and set up their stands in the Obermarkt or Upper Market Square, which was also the site of the outdoor stage.
My photos in this post are from 2010. I revised the text in 2018.
See more posts on the town of Gelnhausen, Germany.