Amikejo, the World's First (and Only) Esperanto State

Amikejo was located in Neutral Moresnet, a geopolitical anomaly that managed to survive for a whole century after the Congress of Vienna.

The story of Amikejo is a fantastic piece of obscure cartographic and cultural history: Amikejo was the world’s first and only state based on the ideals of the Esperantist movement. It was founded in a tiny (3,5 km²), wedge-shaped area that for a hundred years was an easily overlooked ‘neutral zone’ in Western Europe.


 To find the general area where this neutral zone once was, take a map of Europe and find the point where the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium meet. This Drielandenpunt (‘trinational point’ in Dutch) even today is a bizarre enough place in itself:

  • It’s the southernmost point of the Netherlands, a country world-renowned for its flatness, is at the same time its highest point.
  • The German city of Aachen, once the capital of Charlemagne’s empire, is a mere 5 kilometres away.
  • And across the Belgian border lies a hazy zone of transition between Germanic and Latin cultures, and Dutch, French and German language zones.
  • This is where it gets really weird: this Drielandenpunt once was a Vierlandenpunt (‘quadrinational point’) – the only one in the world ever, to my knowledge. Please correct me if I’m wrong! I’ll briefly summarise the history of the place to give you some background to the map accompanying this post. Please visit Cees Damen’s thorough and beautiful website for more background.   

    1815: Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo. The victorious powers convene in the Congress of Vienna to re-draw the map of Europe. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands was constituted as an anti-French buffer state, consisting roughly of the three present-day Benelux states (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg). Its border with the German state of Prussia was left undefined in the area of Moresnet, because of an important zinc mine claimed by both powers.

    1816: in a separate treaty concluded at Aachen, the Netherlands and Prussia decide to divide Moresnet into three areas, one controlled by the Netherlands, one by Prussia and one ‘neutral’ area in between (where the zinc mine was located), to be administered by a Dutch and a Prussian commissar.

    1818: the boundaries between the differert areas are demarcated, leading to a ‘trinational’ point at Vaalserberg, where the Netherlands and Prussia share their border with ‘neutral Moresnet’.

     1830: Belgium secedes from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, taking ‘Dutch’ Moresnet with it. The ‘trinational’ point at Vaalserberg now is a ‘quadrinational’ point. Belgium assumes the commissary rights over Neutral Moresnet (rights which, incidentally, were never officially relinquished by the Netherlands).

    1856: due to the economic good fortunes of ‘Vieille Montagne’, the local zinc mine, the number of inhabitants of Neutral Moresnet grew fivefold from 500 (in 1850) to more than 2.500 in this year. Living in neutral territory had pluses and minuses. These ‘neutrals’ could escape military service in the surrounding countries, for example, but were stateless when they traveled ‘abroad’.

    1863: Wilhelm Moly, a German doctor, moves to Neutral Moresnet. He becomes very popular as a general practitioner, and gets involved with the local ‘Verkehrsanstalt’ (traffic organization), issuing stamps that seem to indicate an aspiration for independence.

    1906: Moly and Gustave Roy, a French professor – both keen Esperantists – decide to establish an Esperanto state in Neutral Moresnet. Esperanto being an artificial language developed some decades before by L.L. Zamenhof, a Polish doctor. This language, devoid of nationalistic connotations, was supposed to transcend the linguistic divides crippling Europe.

    1908: a great demonstration is held in Neutral Moresnet, attended by the whole population, advocating the establishment of an Esperanto Free State to be called ‘Amikejo’ (Esperanto for ‘Friendship’). The local band played a tune which would be the national anthem for Amikejo. It’s unclear whether this gathering constituted the official formation of Amikejo, although some newspapers at the time reported the event as such.In the mean time, tensions had been building between Belgium and Prussia/Germany over the neutral territory (which had outlasted its usefulness since the depletion of the zinc mine). The locals petitioned Belgium for annexation, following some strong-arm tactics by Prussia/Germany.

    1919: The Treaty of Versailles, following World War One, officialised the annexation of the territory to Belgium, thus ending its neutral state. It’s unclear what happened to ‘Amikejo’, although it’s likely its high-minded idealism was simply swept away by the brutal forces of war…

    This German postcard, dated 20 June 1905, clearly shows the Dutch, Belgian, German and Neutral areas, and the ‘Vierländerpunkt’.

    If you read German, here is an interesting contribution by the grandson of Dr Molly.

    Strange Maps #41

    Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

    Befriend your ideological opposite. It’s fun.

    Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.

    Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
    • Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
    • Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
    • "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
    • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
    Keep reading Show less

    3 ways to find a meaningful job, or find purpose in the job you already have

    Learn how to redesign your job for maximum reward.

    Videos
    • Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
    • There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
    • "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
    Keep reading Show less

    Physicist advances a radical theory of gravity

    Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.

    Photo by Willeke Duijvekam
    Surprising Science
    • The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
    • The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
    • While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
    Keep reading Show less

    UPS has been discreetly using self-driving trucks to deliver cargo

    TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.


    PAUL RATJE / Contributor
    Technology & Innovation
    • This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
    • UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
    • TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.
    Keep reading Show less