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Visiting Vianden, Luxembourg and territory of the Grand Duchy east of the Our River: past, irredentist psychologies

Updated on July 15, 2014
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
Vianden, view from the castle
Vianden, view from the castle | Source
Map location of Vianden canton, Luxembourg
Map location of Vianden canton, Luxembourg | Source

Annexing a part of Germany adjacent to Vianden

For much of the course of the Our River, it forms the border between Germany and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. However, in the vicinity of Vianden (= French and German spelling; Létzebuergesch: Veianen ), Luxembourg, the situation is different. Much of the town and some of its hinterland is actually on the east bank of the river, thus breaking the seeming 'rule' of this apparent, natural boundary.

The history of World War Two and its aftermath has been significant regarding local geography in the Vianden area. When the Grand Duchy was in stages liberated towards the end of the War, the local castle at Vianden overlooking the town (from where the main photo, above, was taken) was actually liberated by partisans of the Luxembourg Resistance, rather than by the regular Allied armies. The area of Germany adjacent to Luxembourg was formally occupied by French forces, until the French, American and British areas of occupation united in 1949 to form the Federal Republic of Germany. During the French occupation, however, there were some smaller areas of western Germany which French forces, in turn, gave over to the Luxembourg army to occupy (1).

It was in this immediate post-war period that the Luxembourg government actually annexed outright a small area of Germany, adjacent to Luxembourg, known as the Kammerwald. (This was ostensibly for the purposes of war reparations.) Significantly, during this interesting period of irredentist policy on the part of the Luxembourg government, the area annexed was physically contiguous to the only area east of the Our river which belongs to Luxembourg.

As if to say, in terms of territorial psychology: the existence of Luxembourg territory around Vianden which lies east of the Our river proves that the river need not be regarded as a natural boundary.

However, this situation proved to be short-lived. In 1959, a treaty between Luxembourg and Germany returned the Kammerwald to Germany. With the European Coal and Steel Community, subsequently the Treaty of Rome's European Economic Community and the increasing reputation of the Luxembourg government for strong support for European integration, perpetuating territorial disputes with its large, eastern neighbour seemed increasingly outdated.

In the main photo, above, we see the town of Vianden, much of it east (to the left) of the Our river. The hill in the centre distance near the horizon is in the Rhineland-Palatinate (German: Rheinland-Pfalz ) Germany. This hill is located near the German village of Roth an der Our (Létzebuergesch: Ruet op der Our ), the current name of which is instructive, because clearly its location on the east bank of the Our river is being psychologically asserted. But interestingly, at the beginning of the 20th century, Roth an der Our was known as 'Roth bei Vianden': i.e., its proximity to a town beyond Germany's borders was being acknowledged as part of its natural, psychological locus: latent, toponymic fuel for irredentist Luxembourgers having wished in the past to stress the essential oneness of the adjacent Kammerwald area with Luxembourg? (2)

North Americans, accustomed to the now well defined borders of the United States and Canada, will readily understand how Continental Europe's many borders may thinly mask many psychological fault-lines, which in periods of history less committed to the principle of collective security, were able to flare up easily into cross-border disagreements.

December 8, 2012


(1) Luxembourg even introduced conscription in 1944, to cater for the army's increased rôle at the end of the War; this arrangement lasted until 1967. Interestingly, during this period, the people of Luxembourg seemed unable to agree among themselves about the rightness of maintaining a large, conscripted army. Historian Gilbert Trausch points out that the Social Christians, usually in government, tended to support conscription, while the Socialists and the Democrats would support conscription if they formed part of a coalition government, but once in opposition would revert to expressing more frankly their views on the matter: they were against conscription. (See: Gilbert Trausch, Le Luxembourg à l'époque contemporaine, Luxembourg: Editions Bourg-Bourger, 1981, p. 167.) This episode somewhat reminds me of the soul-searching nuances of Canada's defence policy during the Diefenbaker era.

(2) The Luxembourg government exercises caution, lest it be seen to be encouraging latent irredentist feeling regarding territories beyond its borders. A few years ago, Luxembourg's Minister of Culture became embroiled in controversy when she gave a hastily drafted Parliamentary answer which could have been construed as supporting a Liberation movement of Létzebuergesh-speaking separatists beyond the border in Belgium. The Prime Minister subsequently had to explain what the minister had wished to 'mean'.

Also worth seeing

In Vianden itself, its hilltop castle dates from 10th to 14th centuries; the town itself contains a museum to Victor Hugo, who stayed in Vianden at different periods; there are some interesting old church buildings.

Waldhof-Falkenstein , Germany (distance: approx. 10 kilometres); this craggy, partly ruined, Medieval castle overlooks the Our river.


How to get there: The nearest large international airport to Vianden is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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