Friday, 6 July 2007

Vennbahn: Ruitzhof Enclave

The most confusing, but possibly most interesting part of the Vennbahn enclave complex is Ruitzhof. This is at the southernmost end of the section of railway that passes through German territory, being just north of the former Kalterherberg station. I had briefly visited here in September 2005 but had left quite confused so I was eager to investigate thoroughly this time.

Here is the map that I provided in my writeup of that visit to set the stage

I spent about an hour here in total this time as I had to get back to my hotel for breakfast which was served at 9am, but this was enough to figure out most of the peculiarities "on the ground".

For some additional "stage setting" I have also produced some images from Google Earth and marked them up to use as a reference in the following (click on these for full size images).

The image above is the south-east corner of the enclave around the Kalterherberg station and level crossing. I have marked my best efforts at delineating the actual borders in blue based on topographical maps (German and Belgian) available to me as enhanced by observations "on the ground". The section of border marked with a hatched line is, to me, uncertain, but follows a stream between two points about which I am confident. Topographical maps have been unhelpful in determining the exact line here - I would need to do more research. It is evident from the topographical map shown above that there are problems using them to determine the exact border line - even the road layout is incorrect around the level crossing!! (Update: see my update at the end of this posting for additional information subsequently received)

I have also marked specific locations that I shall refer to in the following text.

The image above is of the entire enclave. Again borders are marked in blue as well as the spot where I took some photos on the north west border.

OK - onto the details.

First of all the station itself is of general interest. It has now become the office for a business that rents out "rail bikes". People can use these to travel along the rails to the south - the track bed has been reasonably well maintained for this purpose in this direction. Unfortunately they cannot be used to go northwards along the section that runs between German territory - one can speculate on all kinds of reasons why - the problems of maintenance and jurisdiction (in the event of incidents) probably play a part here.

A view of the station building:

These look a lot of fun - but possibly hard work - they were all chained up so I couldn't have a go!!

Looking southwards into Belgium where you could take the rail-bikes.

Moving round to the left from the previous photo is this building that has the sign "Agence en Douane" (Customs Agency) on the wall. I somehow doubt it is still active in that role.

I also took a short video to show the entire area. It was a windy day so apologies for the noise!


Moving up to the level crossing, the first thing I noticed was an old stone that looked as though it could be a boundary marker. This is to the north-east of the level-crossing. In this photo you can see it just tucked into the bush, where the tarmac meets the grass.

I took some close ups of this stone but it was so weathered that it was not possible to tell if, indeed, it was a boundary marker.

This is viewed from the German side.

And this from the Belgian side.

This video is taken from the level crossing, starting by looking south-west, to provide the whole scene.


I then drove down the road, across the small bridge which you could just see in the distance after about 3 seconds of the previous video and again in the following photo (which is taken after I had crossed the bridge and is looking back towards the level crossing, i.e. north-east). At this point I thought, incorrectly it seems, that I was in the enclave. You see, I had misread the rather difficult to interpret topo map and was under the impression that the border was along the stream that this bridge crossed. It was not until I took a closer look at the pumping station and noticed that the signs were in French that I realised that I was still in Belgium and that it was a different stream that delineated the border.

Beside the pumping station was a tourist map of the cycle paths in the whole region - in German interestingly enough.

I still hadn't completely twigged so I went back to the bridge and took another video from there - but of course the commentary on this video is TOTALLY WRONG!!


This photo is from outside the pumping station again looking south-west into this small Belgian community - there is no public road access beyond these houses although there are forest tracks down there.

Finally, having figured out where I was, I went around to the right and headed a few metres north to where the road crossed a small bridge which actually IS the road entrance back into Germany.

This is standing on the bridge looking along the border to the east, Germany (Ruitzhof enclave) on the left, Belgium on the right.

This is looking in the other direction.

Standing in Belgium looking north-east across the bridge. Note the boundary marker on the far bank of the stream just to the left of the bridge.

A closer up view of the boundary marker taken from the bridge.

The very top of the boundary marker. This seems to imply that the border is not actually in the centre of the stream, but on the north bank of the stream.

And a view from the German side

This video gives the complete circle picture of the area. I am standing on the Belgian side of the bridge and you can see the pumping station in the background at the start and end of the video clip.


Close up of the sign as you enter the enclave. Zollgrenzbezirk means "Customs District" - I'm not sure exactly what that signifies. Could it perhaps mean that this little area has special treatment for Customs purposes (like Campione d'Italia for example)?

and from behind the sign looking back at Belgium.

I then drove to the far end of the enclave along the "main road" through this farming community. Any of the side roads that you see on the map or Google Earth leading to the railway to the north were marked as "no vehicles except farm vehicles" and "private property", and anyway I really didn't have time to explore them. I did however reach the border as shown on the second of my Google Earth captures above and here are a few photos from there.

Border marker 669

...and a close up of that marker

The view to the south-west, along the border

...and to the north-east along the border

...and, of course, I took the complete circuit video.


Time to head back for breakfast now, but first another stop at that first bridge to try to figure out things from there. This photo shows the border stream coming into the larger stream from the top left of the picture.

A clearer view of the border stream entering the larger one.

There was nothing to indicate whether the border turned to follow the larger stream away from me (I am standing on the bridge) but it seems a likely possibility. I wonder if anyone has more definitive information.

I think I had found out as much as I could by now and it was time for breakfast - so - back to the hotel so I can get ready for the rest of the Vennbahn.

One thing I did realise as a result of this visit is that this enclave would be a pene-enclave even if the Vennbahn track were German territory since there is no public road into this area anyway without passing through Belgian territory. I wonder how it is policed if the German police have to pass through Belgium (and not just a small bit of Belgian railway line) to get there.


Since originally posting this Len Nadybal has kindly provided the following images from the original treaty which make the actual position of the border much clearer in this area around the bridge. He has kindly allowed me to include these in this blog page.


Nicky and Susanne said...

An absolutely super account of one of Europe's most peculiar border curiosities. Thanks! As it happens, we have just been investigating exactly this same area for an article that will appear late this year in hidden europe magazine.
Susanne Kries and Nicky Gardner

Anton Zeilinger said...

Dear Hugh,

Regarding the designation as "Zollgrenzbezirk" (customs border district):

This has two consequences:
One is that residents of the area have lower customs allowances than other citizens (due to their proximity to the border).

The other is that Customs Officers have higher powers in the Zollgrenzbezirk, in that they can search for suspected smugglers etc basically anywhere without the need of a warrant (very simplified).

Obviously, though, this does not make any sense since 1968, when the Customs Union was implemented and all customs borders within the European Community were eliminated. The sign looks newer though...


PS: Thanks for your blog! I always enjoy reading about your trips!

Anonymous said...

Vielen Dank für die hilfreichen Beitrag! Ich würde nicht anders bekommen haben!

Anonymous said...

Vielen Dank für den guten Sachen