Monday, April 17, 2017

[AACHEN] The Geographical Ménage-à-trois

Oh no, you got offended by the word “Threesome!” I’m so sorry that you’re such a prude. But we’re not really going to talk about sex in this blog entry, but rather about this spot in the forest where the borders of Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands converge. There’s nothing erotic about that, unless you find hiking a la Blair Witch Project into the woods somehow titillating. But I’m not judging you, dude. To each his own fetish, no? Now let’s talk about the super sexually-charged topic that is political land borders.

For most of us Filipinos, the concept of a land border is a little bit strange. I mean, we live in an archipelago and we need to board a plane to reach another immigration desk somewhere. Of course, some of you might claim that you can row a boat all the way down to Sabah. Ask the illegal Filipinos there who do so and “forget” to drop by immigration on the way. Simply put, crossing a land border for us is not as common as in other countries that are part of a bigger geographical landmass.

The advent of the modern nation state meant the establishment of political borders, the geographic manifestation of a country’s sovereignty. The most common border is that shared by two states but there are those that border more than one country. And so exists what they call in German as a Dreiländereck, that common point at the border that three countries share. Four-point borders exist in some parts of the world but in Europe, two and three are the norm. Germany has several, including the Euregio area.

From Aachen, we boarded a local bus going to Vals which is the Dutch town right across the border. We hopped off a few stops away from Vals itself and began our hike into the woods. The sky was gloomy but the scenery was still epic. It felt like Aachen friend and I were Hobbits being led by Gandalf (for the purpose of this narrative, Gandalf is her six-footer husband) to the Fellowship of the Ring. And then we got lost and ended up in Belgium. Or the Netherlands. Or Germany. Or that common point that all three of them share.

But it’s not always a threesome when it comes to these land borders. In fact, the first border we reached was the German-Dutch border. And so we took the obligatory selfie on those thin wooden logs with the flags of both countries emblazoned on them. The weird thing is that there weren’t so many people there. A few cartwheels up the hill will lead you straight to this tower thingy that gives you a panoramic view of the three Euregio neighbors. Entrance to Saruman’s tower is not free, but Gandalf paid for our sins.

You can use the elevator if you tend to become squeamish with heights. The topmost deck has this glass floor which shows you how high the fall would be if you were to be so unlucky as to break it with your weight. There are also binoculars aplenty if you want to spy on the Belgian and Dutch neighbors. You can rely on the map they have on top to distinguish which country is which. After some selfie galore, we decided it was time to go back down and go to the three-border point itself.

The main attraction is surrounded by a park complete with a playground and a labyrinth. You can also find some shops selling food. I bet the one hawking fries is Belgian, just like the panoramic view from above which features windmills is Dutch. And the side lacking sense of humor is German. Hahaha. Oops, offensive. Germans can be funny, too. Moving on, the spot in question is always tourist-infested. It’s basically a mini obelisk within a flat sphere divided by three lines delineating the borders.

And then there are three flags behind you if you are taking a selfie. I wonder how things were like before the Schengen zone was implemented. I don’t think the immigration office was here exactly. What if you didn’t have a Dutch visa and accidentally stepped on the Dutch side? Would they arrest you? But if you quickly stepped back to the German side, that’s like some sort of quick asylum? But who cares about that now. Seriously. You can literally country hop all you want in this small circle on the ground.

We then headed to Vals after that. It’s a really small town that offers cheap groceries and food supply, based on what we did there. After some snacks, we waited for the bus back to Aachen. It wasn’t that long a trip and I had enough time to rest a bit before riding another bus going to Cologne for my flight back to Berlin. Thinking about it now, that was indeed a long day. You can make everything simpler with a train ride but that will take more time I guess. Overall, it was a fun three-country day trip.

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