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.

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

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.

    A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

    An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

    Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
    Surprising Science
    • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
    • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
    • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

    The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

    Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

    "It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

    The Barry Arm Fjord

    Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

    Image source: Matt Zimmerman

    The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

    Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

    Image source: whrc.org

    There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

    The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

    "This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

    Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

    What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

    Moving slowly at first...

    Image source: whrc.org

    "The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

    The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

    Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

    Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

    While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

    Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

    How do you prepare for something like this?

    Image source: whrc.org

    The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

    "To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

    In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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