Neutral Moresnet

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Neutral Moresnet

Coat of arms (1908) of Moresnet
Coat of arms (1908)
  Dutch Province of Limburg (1)   Belgian Province of Liège (2)   Neutral Moresnet (3)   Prussian Rhine Province (4)
StatusNeutral zone
GovernmentCondominium sui iuris
• 1817–1859 (first)
Arnold de Lasaulx
• 1918–1920 (last)
Pierre Grignard
Historical eraLate modern
• Aachen Agreement
26 June 1816
• Prussian annexation
27 June 1915
28 June 1919
• Belgian annexation
10 January 1920
• Total
3.5 km2 (1.4 sq mi)
• 1900
• 1914
CurrencyFrench franc
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kingdom of France
Today part of Belgium

Neutral Moresnet (French pronunciation: ​[mɔ.ʁɛ.nɛ]) was a small BelgianPrussian condominium in central-western Europe that existed from 1816 to 1920 and was jointly administered by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (Belgium after its independence in 1830) and the Kingdom of Prussia. After 1830, the territory's northernmost border point at Vaalserberg connected it to a quadripoint shared additionally with the Dutch Province of Limburg, the Prussian Rhine Province, and the Belgian Province of Liège.[1] Today it is known as the Three-Country Point, being the meeting place of the borders of Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.

During the First World War, Neutral Moresnet was annexed by Germany, although the allies did not recognise the annexation. The Armistice between France and Germany in November 1918 forced Germany to withdraw from Belgium and Neutral Moresnet. A year later, the Treaty of Versailles awarded Neutral Moresnet to Belgium, effective 10 January 1920, when the territory was annexed by Belgium to become the municipality of Kelmis. The area is especially of interest to Esperantists because of initiatives in the early 20th century to found an Esperanto‑speaking state, named Amikejo (lit. Place of Friendship), on the territory of Neutral Moresnet.

During World War II, Kelmis and the surrounding area was again annexed by Germany and had its name reversed to Moresnet, but the territory was returned to Belgium in 1944.



After the demise of Napoleon's Empire, the Congress of Vienna of 1814–15 redrew the European map, aiming at creating a balance of power. One of the borders to be delineated was the one between the newly founded United Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Kingdom of Prussia. Both parties could agree on the larger part of the territory, as borders mostly followed older lines, but the district of Moresnet proved problematic, mainly because of the valuable zinc spar mine called Altenberg (German) or Vieille Montagne (French) located there. Both the Netherlands and Prussia were keen to appropriate this resource, which was needed in the production of zinc and brass—at that time, Bristol in England was the only other place where zinc ore was processed.[2]

In December 1815, Dutch and Prussian representatives convened in nearby Aachen and on 26 June 1816, a compromise was reached, dividing the district of Moresnet into three parts. The village of Moresnet itself would become part of the Dutch province of Liège, whereas the Prussian village Moresnet (renamed Neu-Moresnet after World War I) would become part of the Prussian Rhine province, and the mine and the adjacent village would become a neutral territory pending a future agreement. The two powers, both barred from occupying the area with their military, established a joint administration.[citation needed]

When Belgium gained its independence from the Netherlands in 1830, the Belgians took over the Dutch role in Neutral Moresnet (though formally the Dutch never ceded their claim).[citation needed]


Formal installation of border demarcation markers for the territory occurred on 23 September 1818. The territory of Neutral Moresnet had a somewhat triangular shape with the base being the main road from Aachen to Liège. The village and mine lay just to the north of this road. To east and west, two straight lines converged on the Vaalserberg.

The roads from Germany and Belgium to the Three‑Country Point are named Dreiländerweg (lit. Three Countries Way) and Route des Trois Bornes (lit. Three Border Stones Road) respectively; the road from the Netherlands is called Viergrenzenweg (lit. Four Borders Way).[3]


Emblem of the Vieille Montagne mining company, which probably originated the colors of Moresnet Flag

From 1883, Neutral Moresnet used a tricolour with horizontal bars in black, white and blue as its territorial flag. The origin is unclear and has been explained in two different ways:[4]

  • Some hold that the colours were taken from the two conflicting powers' flags, with black and white standing for Prussia and white and blue for the Netherlands.
  • According to Flags of the World, "it seems more likely that the colours have been taken from the emblem of the Vieille Montagne [mining company]".[5]


Neutral Moresnet on a postcard c. 1900

The territory was governed by two royal commissioners, one from each neighbour. Eventually, these commissioners were commonly civil servants from the Belgian Verviers and the Prussian Eupen. The municipal administration was headed by a mayor appointed by the commissioners.

The Napoleonic civil and penal codes, introduced under French rule, remained in force throughout the existence of Neutral Moresnet. However, since no law court existed in the neutral territory, Belgian and Prussian judges had to come in and decide cases based on the Napoleonic laws. Since there was no administrative court either, the mayor's decision could not be appealed.

In 1859, Neutral Moresnet was granted a greater measure of self-administration by the installation of a municipal council of ten members. The council, as well as a welfare committee and a school committee, were appointed by the mayor and served an advisory function only. The people had no voting rights.[6]

Life in Neutral Moresnet was dominated by the Vieille Montagne mining company, which not only was the major employer but also operated residences, shops, a hospital and a bank. The mine attracted many workers from the neighboring countries, increasing the population from 256 in 1815 to 2,275 in 1858 and 4,668 in 1914. Most services, such as the mail, were shared between Belgium and Prussia (in a fashion similar to Andorra). There were five schools in the territory, and Prussian subjects could attend the schools in Prussian Moresnet.

Living in the territory had several benefits. Among these were the low taxes (the national budget being fixed at 2,735 fr. throughout its history), the absence of import tariffs from both neighbouring countries, and low prices compared to just across the border. A downside to their special status was the fact that people from Neutral Moresnet were considered to be stateless and were not allowed a military of their own. However, there is no record of Neutral Moresnet taking a hostile international stance.

Many immigrants settled in Moresnet so they would be exempt from military service, but in 1854 Belgium began to conscript its citizens who had moved to Moresnet, and Prussia did likewise in 1874. From then on, the exemption applied only to descendants of the original inhabitants.[7]


Neutral Moresnet did not have its own currency. The French franc was legal tender. The currencies of Prussia (and then Germany, after 1871), Belgium and the Netherlands were also in circulation. In 1848 local currency began circulating, though these coins were not considered the official medium.[8]

Uncertain future[edit]

The Three-Country Point on the Vaalserberg today. Until 1915 this was also the location of Neutral Moresnet's apex.

When the mine was exhausted in 1885, doubts arose about the continued survival of Neutral Moresnet. Several ideas were put forward to establish the territory as a more independent entity:

In 1886, Dr. Wilhelm Molly (1838–1919), the mine's chief medical doctor and an avid philatelist, tried to organise a local postal service with its own stamps. This enterprise was quickly thwarted by Belgian intervention.[9]

A casino was established in August 1903 after Belgium had forced all such resorts to close. The Moresnet casino operated under strict limitations, permitting no local resident to gamble, and no more than 20 persons to gather at a time. The venture was abandoned, however, when Kaiser Wilhelm II threatened to partition the territory or cede it to Belgium in order to end the gambling. Around this same time, Moresnet boasted three distilleries for the manufacture of gin.[10]

The most remarkable initiative occurred in 1908, when Dr. Molly proposed making Neutral Moresnet the world's first Esperanto‑speaking state, named Amikejo ("place of friendship"). The proposed national anthem was an Esperanto march of the same name,[9] set to the tune of "O Tannenbaum".[11] A number of residents learned Esperanto and a rally was held in Kelmis in support of the idea of Amikejo on 13 August 1908,[9] and a coat of arms was unveiled.[11] The World Congress of Esperanto, meeting in Dresden, even declared Neutral Moresnet the world capital of the Esperanto community.[9]

However, time was running out for the tiny territory. Neither Belgium nor Prussia (now within the German Empire) had ever surrendered its original claim to it. Around 1900, Germany, in particular, was taking a more aggressive stance towards the territory and was accused of sabotage and of obstructing the administrative process in order to force the issue.

First World War[edit]

The First World War brought about the end of neutrality. On 4 August 1914, Germany invaded Belgium, initially leaving Neutral Moresnet as "an oasis in a desert of destruction".[12] A total of 147 Neutral Moresnet citizens were killed, though it is unclear whether they were killed inside the territory or in fighting outside its borders. On 27 June 1915, Neutral Moresnet was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia, although the annexation never received international recognition.

In 1918, the Armistice between France and Germany, signed on 11 November at Compiègne, forced Germany to withdraw from Belgium and also from Moresnet. It also led to the ousting of Mayor Wilhelm Kyll, a German national who had been appointed after the German invasion.

On 28 June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles settled the dispute that had created the neutral territory a century earlier by awarding Neutral Moresnet, along with Prussian Moresnet and the German municipalities of Eupen and Malmedy, to Belgium.[13] The treaty became effective on 10 January 1920, ending the territory's existence and turning it into a municipality in Belgium.

To distinguish it from the already existing town of Moresnet (in the neighboring municipality of Plombières), Neutral Moresnet was renamed Kelmis (in French: La Calamine) – after kelme, the local dialect word for zinc spar.

Despite the annexation, Neutral Moresnet Mayor Pierre Grignard effectively stayed in office and became the first mayor of Kelmis. The ten members of Neutral Moresnet's council were confirmed for the Kelmis municipal council after its Prussian members renounced their nationality. They remained in office until the election of a new municipal council on 7 February 1923.[14][15]

Post-annexation history[edit]

Local museum dedicated to the former territory

After 1920, Moresnet shared the history of Eupen-Malmedy.[16] Germany briefly re‑annexed the area during World War II, but it returned to Belgium in 1944. Since 1973, Kelmis has formed a part of the German‑speaking community of Belgium. In 1977, Kelmis absorbed the neighbouring communes of Neu‑Moresnet and Hergenrath.[17]

A small museum in Neu‑Moresnet, the Göhltal Museum (French: Musée de la Vallée de la Gueule), includes exhibits on Neutral Moresnet. Of the 60 border markers for the territory, more than 50 are still standing.[18]

As a company, Vieille Montagne survived Neutral Moresnet. It branched out and after two centuries continues to exist as VMZINC, a part of Union Minière, the latter renamed in 2001 as Umicore, a global materials company.[2]

On 26 October 2016, Catharina Meessen became the last surviving citizen of the former territory after the death of Alwine Hackens-Paffen.[19]. In early 2020, Meessen, age 103, passed away [20].

List of executive officers[edit]

List of Royal Commissioners[edit]

Name Term Notes Name Term Notes
Appointed by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands: Appointed by the Kingdom of Prussia:
Werner Jacob 8 December 1817 – 2 December 1823 lawyer Wilhelm Hardt August 6, 1817 – 1819 Mining consultant
Johann Martin Daniel Mayer 22 April 1819 –
March 1836
Mining consultant
Joseph Brandès December 2, 1823 – 1830 School inspector
Vacancy due to the Belgian Revolution, followed by Royal Commissioners appointed by the Kingdom of Belgium:
Lambert Ernst 8 June 1835 – 1840 Deputy Prosecutor, Court of Appeal in Liège
Heinrich Martins 9 July 1836 – 9 November 1853 or 1854[clarification needed] Mining consultant
Mathieu Crémer 1 February 1840 – 1889 Judge from Verviers
Peter Benedict Joseph Amand von Harenne 11 August 1852 or 1854[clarification needed] – 7 January 1866 District commissioner of Eupen
Freiherr von der Heydt 12 December 1866 – 1868 Former district commissioner of Eupen
Edward Gülcher 1868–1871 District commissioner of Eupen
Alfred Theodor Sternickel 18 June 1871 –
April 1893
District commissioner of Eupen
Fernand Jacques Bleyfuesz 30 November 1889 – 27 March 1915 District commissioner of Verviers
Alfred Jakob Bernhard Theodor Gülcher 18 April 1893 –
1 January 1909
District commissioner of Eupen
Walter Karl Maria The Losen 13 January 1909 – 1 November 1918 District commissioner of Eupen
De facto end of Belgian control due to German military occupation on 4 August 1914
Dr. Bayer (acting) 27 March –
27 June 1915
Civil commissioner of Verviers
Annexed by Prussia in 1915, without international recognition
Fernand Jacques Bleyfuesz November 1918 – 10 January 1920 District commissioner of Verviers Vacancy due to the Armistice of 1918

List of mayors[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Martin, Lawrence; Reed, John (2006). The Treaties of Peace, 1919–1923. 1. Lawbook Exchange. p. 46. ISBN 978-1-58477-708-3. LCCN 2006005097. Neutral Moresnet, added to this map as an independent country, is a mile [1.6 km] wide and 3 miles [4.8 km] long. It is so small that it has never been shown on maps of Europe as a whole. It has an area of 900 acres [360 ha] and about 3500 people . . .
  2. ^ a b "VMZINC : un leadership enraciné dans l'histoire". Qui sommes nous? (in French). VMZINC. Retrieved 24 October 2008.
  3. ^ "Route 4: Landgraben" (PDF) (in French). GrenzRouten. 2009. pp. 45–46, 49. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 March 2016.
  4. ^ Neutral-Moresnet: History Archived 12 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Sache, Ivan; Sensen, Mark (1 May 2005). "The Neutral Territory of Moresnet (1816–1918)". Flags of the World. OCLC 39626054. Archived from the original on 28 September 2015.
  6. ^ Robert Shackleton, Unvisited Places of Old Europe, 1914, p. 161.
  7. ^ Charles Hoch, The Neutral Territory of Moresnet, trans. William Warren Tucker, 1882, p. 13.
  8. ^ Damen, Cees. "Coins". Neutral Moresnet. Archived from the original on 4 November 2008. Retrieved 24 October 2008.
  9. ^ a b c d Hoffmann, Eduard; Nendza, Jürgen (19 September 2003). "Galmei und Esperanto, der fast vergessene europäische Kleinstaat Neutral‑Moresnet" (PDF) (in German). Südwestrundfunk. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 March 2016. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  10. ^ "Awaiting a Crisis in Belgium" (PDF). The New York Times. 13 September 1903. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 March 2016.
  11. ^ a b Middleton, Nick (2015). An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States. London: Macmillan. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-4472-9527-3.
  12. ^ Musgrave, George Clarke (1918). "The Belgian Prelude". Under Four Flags for France. New York: D. Appleton & Company. p. 8. hdl:2027/uc2.ark:/13960/t8qb9xr4b. LCCN 18003816. OCLC 1157994. OL 7209571M. As a proof of German preparation, war had come automatically at 7 a.m., 3 August [1914]. At 23  o’clock (Belgian time) the outposts on the main roads holding Pepinster, Battice, Herve and smaller hamlets, were heavily engaged and finally forced back to the fortified lines of [Liège]. The pretty towns defended near the frontier were soon flaming ruins, the quaint neutral territory of Moresnet rising as an oasis in a desert of destruction. open access
  13. ^ "Peace Treaty of Versailles, Articles 31 - 117, Political Clauses for Europe and Annexes".
  14. ^ "Kelmis (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)".
  15. ^ "Startseite - Ihre Gemeinde Kelmis-Hergenrath-Neu Moresnet".
  16. ^ Wenselaers, Selm (2008). De laatste Belgen, een geschiedenis van de oostkantons (The last Belgians, a history of the eastern districts). Meulenhoff/Manteau. ISBN 978-90-8542-149-8.
  17. ^ Gemeinde Kelmis (in German)
  18. ^ Berns, Eef (2002). "In search of the bordermarkers of Moresnet". Retrieved 1 September 2008.
  19. ^ "Dwergstaatje Neutraal Moresnet heeft nog slechts één oud-bewoner". Trouw. 5 November 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2017.
  20. ^ "Catharina Meessen (1914-2020), de laatste Moresnetter, is overleden. De ministaat is nu echt historie". Trouw. 7 February 2020. Retrieved 8 February 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Earle, Peter C. (4 August 2012). "Anarchy in the Aachen". Mises Institute. Retrieved 7 September 2017.
  • Earle, Peter C. (2014). A Century of Anarchy: Neutral Moresnet through the Revisionist Lens. Intangible Goods. ISBN 978-0-9913059-5-7.
  • Press, Steven Michael (29 June 2010). To Govern, or Not to Govern: Prussia, Neutral Moresnet. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. SSRN 2096313.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°43′49″N 6°00′48″E / 50.73028°N 6.01333°E / 50.73028; 6.01333