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Visiting the Ferry Station at Wasserbillig, Luxembourg: permanence of constant movement and international interaction

Updated on January 7, 2014
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
Wasserbillig Ferry
Wasserbillig Ferry | Source
The bank of the Mosel at Wasserbillig in the spring sun
The bank of the Mosel at Wasserbillig in the spring sun | Source
The Mosel at Wasserbillig
The Mosel at Wasserbillig | Source
Former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jacques Santer
Former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jacques Santer | Source

A leitmotif of stability?

Wasserbillig (Létzebuergesch: Waasserbelleg) is town in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg which, in its Downtown area, is approximately 270 degrees surrounded by German territory.

And by water.

The water courses in question are the Mosel (Létzebuergesch: Musel; French: Moselle) and the Sauer (French: Sûre) rivers, the former of which is much wider than the latter, which is linked by road and rail bridges to Germany at Wasserbilligerbrueck.

Links to the German side of the Mosel, however, are maintained by a ferry, which takes both passengers and small road vehicles. I have crossed the Mosel here via this ferry, and one would not describe it as really remarkable in isolation, but the fact that the crossing is an international one makes for interesting reflection. Every few minutes throughout the day, the ferry plies across this international waterway, which is both touristic and commercial in character, to Oberbillig in the Rhineland Palatinate (German: Rheinland-Pfalz).

I did wonder how many times the skipper of the ferry had 'been to Germany'...

More seriously, the ferry seems almost to be a figurative leitmotif to the way people from Luxembourg may relate to the outside world. They would typically travel outside their own country far more frequently than would, on average, citizens of other, larger countries: sometimes several border crossings in one day might not be unusual (1).

One can take the analogy further. A flat-bottomed vessel such as the small vehicle ferry at Wasserbillig needs to maintain its equilibrium by balancing the weight of the automobiles which it carries. Or in other words, Don't rock the boat! Developing this theme somewhat, Luxembourg businesses who depend heavily on exports have a strong interest in the stability of external markets, particularly those of neighbouring countries. Stated differently, for highly practical internal reasons. Luxembourg politicians and diplomats are especially likely to want to maintain equilibrium and stability in their relations with neighbouring countries. For them, European integration, while imbued with its share of high rhetoric, is actually an intensely practical matter because it speaks of stability. Anthropologists speak of spatial radiation: and the manner in which people from Wasserbillig naturally relate to close neighbours and customers may be said to represent an almost innate mental outlook.

Probably the most well-known personality from Wasserbillig is Jacques Santer (1937-), former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and former President of the European Commission. Without presuming to engage in simplistic psychoanalysis of this distinguished statesman, it is easy to see how a background in a border town, where cross-border commerce and interaction is not merely a conscious choice but an ingrained state of mind, was fitting for someone who led firstly a small country with large and powerful neighbours, and - later - supranational institutions which seek to bring about an ever closer union between the peoples of Europe (2).

Wasserbillig is situated in the Mertert (Létzebuergesch: Mäertert) municipality, in eastern Luxembourg.

November 23, 2013


(1) North Americans might find this novel, but the European Continent — particularly in the vicinity of the borders of smaller countries — can throw up interesting situations for travellers: I was once staying in France, and travelled to the German side of the Mosel River, the shortest route being across southern Belgium and Luxembourg: before lunch time I had been in four countries. A Luxembourger would — probably very politely — say, So what? The skipper of the Wasserbillig ferry might yawn and comment: Say something more interesting!

(2) Interestingly, another very prominent and distinguished personality from Luxembourg also came from the Mosel Valley: Joseph Bech (1887-1975) served continuously as Foreign Minister from 1926 until 1958, and Prime Minister from 1926 until 1937, and subsequently from 1953 until 1958. As a statesman, Monsieur Bech is regarded as a principal facilitator behind the European Coal and Steel Community, which developed into the European Economic Community, now known as the European Union.

Map of Luxembourg with Wasserbillig marked
Map of Luxembourg with Wasserbillig marked | Source

Also worth seeing

In Wasserbillig itself, the twin towers of the parish church are a conspicuous landmark; the town hall is housed in a former railroad station.

Langsur, Germany (distance: approx. 1 kilometre) is a picturesque, 1000-year old village, located on a meander in the Sauer River, three-quarters surrounded by Luxembourg territory.

Trier, Germany (distance: approx. 15 kilometres) is an ancient city, already settled in Roman times, from which era its amazing Porta Nigra dates.


How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel (distance from Luxembourg City to Wasserbillig: approx. 34 kilometrers);. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. 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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