Is this the world map of the future?

North America and Europe peripheral on China's 'vertical world map'

Strange Maps
  • Europe has dominated cartography for so long that its central place on the world map seems normal
  • However, as the economic centre of gravity shifts east and the climate warms up, tomorrow's map may be very different
  • Focusing on both China and Arctic shipping lanes, this vertical representation could be the world map of the future
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This WWII map taught Americans to sympathise with the Soviets

By transplanting Operation Barbarossa on a map of the US, it showed the devastating effects of the Nazi invasion

Strange Maps
  • How did wartime America generate sympathy for the Soviets?
  • By transplanting Operation Barbarossa to America's shores
  • This is what the Nazi invasion of the USSR would have looked like, had it – somehow – happened to the US.
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Who are the people running away from Europe?

UNHCR data shows a small but intriguing flow of refugees from countries like France, Germany and the UK

Image: Reddit / trinitronbxb
Strange Maps
  • The countries of Europe are not just a destination for refugees, they're also a source
  • UNHCR data reveals a small but intriguing flow of refugees from countries like France, Germany and the UK
  • What are the stories behind the raw figures? Here are some of their stories

Refugees in

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Ggia - CC BY-SA 4.0

Syrian and Iraqi refugees crossing from Turkey to Greece in October 2015.

The 2015 refugee crisis saw Europe struggle to manage a massive inflow of Syrians and other migrants, displaced by war and poverty at home. Numbers have since gone down, but at a price – both Europe's attitudes towards migrants and its external borders have hardened; last Thursday, 150 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya.

The Mediterranean's deadliest shipwreck this year – at least partly attributable to the withdrawal of official search and rescue operations and the criminalisation of NGO rescue boats – sparked few headlines across the continent.

Refugees out

Image: Reddit / trinitronbxb

Even the wealthy, liberal democracies in Western and Northern Europe generate refugee flows.

The UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, keeps track of the movements of refugees and tries to manage them as best as possible. Buried beneath the more important numbers of refugees flowing into Europe are smaller figures, for refugees from Europe.

  • As this map shows, Syria remains red-hot, in terms of refugee population. According to the UNHCR, 6.7 million Syrians are refugees.
  • Next-level sources of refugees are Iraq, Iran and Israel/Palestine (between 100,000 and 1 million from each country).
  • As red turns to pink, we're entering Europe, with the former Soviet Union, ex-Yugoslavia and Turkey as major source countries (between 10,000 and 100,000 from each).
  • A big chunk of Eastern Europe (as well as Northern Africa and some other bits of the ex-USSR) are yellow (between 1,000 and 10,000 refugees per country).

Escape from Monaco

Image: Ruland Kolen

Iceland, Monaco and Andorra are some of the more unlikely source countries of refugees registered by the UNHCR.

To varying degrees, war, civil strife, oppression and poverty could be cited as push factors for people to flee any of those countries. But as we move into shades of green, the countries become more affluent and liberal, and the reasons more mystifying.

  • Two Baltic countries (Estonia and Latvia) and three Balkan ones (Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece) are the source of between 100 and 1,000 refugees. These places may be struggling economically but are generally considered to be peaceful and free.
  • Even west of the former Iron Curtain, most countries generate between 10 and 100 refugees – not just larger ones like the UK, France and Germany, but also smaller ones like Belgium, Portugal or Austria.
  • In the lowest category (less than 10 refugees) are Europe's least populous nations, including Ireland, Iceland, Denmark and Switzerland. But not even the micronations are refugee-free.

As this infographic shows, Andorra, Monaco and Luxembourg are the home countries of three refugees each. Two refugees hail from San Marino, the other micronation enclaved within Italy (no refugees from the Vatican, though). Even Gibraltar the the home of a single, solitary refugee. Who are these people? Why did they run away from places many more people are struggling to get into? Here are two of their stories.

A clash of parenting cultures

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Thomas Quine - CC BY-SA 2.0

The stalinist skyscraper of the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw, where Norwegian Silje Garmo and her child were granted asylum.

A recent article in the German press (Die Zeit, 15 May 2019) discusses the case of a Norwegian woman who fled her country because she feared the state would take away her baby. Silje Garmo claims she was harassed by Barnevernet, the Norwegian child protection agency. The agency claimed Garmo led a "chaotic life", which prevented her from adequately caring for the child.

The woman feared the agency would take the child into custody – as had happened with her older daughter. In May 2017, mother and then newborn baby went into hiding – fleeing to Poland shortly thereafter. Garmo eventually applied for asylum in Poland. This was granted in December 2018, triggering a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Barnevernet is frequently accused of heavy-handedness, including by a number of Polish immigrant families who have lost custody of their children. This could be ascribed in part to the difference in cultural attitudes towards child-rearing between liberal Norway and conservative Poland.

That point of friction may also be why Poland eventually decided to grant Garmo asylum, something Polish authorities do exceedingly rarely: it offers Poland moral leverage in its fight for the Polish parents in Norway who are seeking to regain custody of their children. That fight has escalated earlier this year, with first Norway and then Poland expelling consular staff from each other's diplomatic missions. Relations between the two countries are now at their lowest point in living memory.

Homeschooling away from home

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Jason Kasper - CC BY-SA 2.0

A mother homeschooling her daughter (no relation to the families mentioned below).

In 2008, the Romeike family fled from Germany to the US and applied for asylum. Devout Christians, Uwe and Hannelore Romeike believe in homeschooling their five children – a practice strictly forbidden by German law.

After taking their children out of Germany's public school system, the Romeikes received fines running into thousands of euros, and lived in the fear that the German government would take custody of their children. So they fled to the US, where up to 2 million children are homeschooled legally.

It was the first time refugees to the US used the right to homeschool their children as grounds for protected status. Following their lead, a few other German homeschooling families have sought refuge in the US. Other German homeschoolers have gone to New Zealand and Canada.

In 2010, the Romeikes were granted asylum in a ruling that was subsequently overturned. However, in 2014 the Department of Homeland Security allowed them to remain in the country indefinitely.

It's likely they will remain in America for the time being: in January 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld Germany's prohibition of home education. The ECHR ruled that the law did not violate the human rights of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, a German husband and wife who had been homeschooling their four children. The children were forcibly removed from their home near Darmstadt for three weeks in 2013, after which the Wunderlichs nevertheless refused to stop homeschooling them.

School attendance has been compulsory in Germany since 1918. The only exceptions are children with a severe illness, children of diplomats and child actors. Despite the ban, between 300 and 600 German children are being homeschooled at present.

These two examples point to child custody issues as a main source of refugee cases originating in Europe's affluent liberal democracies. Based on fairly partial evidence, that may be an unwarranted conclusion. As mentioned, individual stories of refugees from these countries in Europe are hard to come by. If you know of any, please send them in.

Map by Reddit user trinitronbxb, found here on Reddit's MapPorn section. Country overview by Ruland Kolen, dataset found here at the World Bank.

Strange Maps #982

Got a strange map? Let me know at

Can you guess the legend to this map?

It shows Europe divided into two bafflingly unfamiliar blocs - what do red and blue stand for?

Image: Vivid Maps
Strange Maps
  • Europe divided into two blocs? That's not unheard of in history.
  • However, this map of Red vs. Blue countries is indecipherable without its legend.
  • That key is both trivial and unexpected. Can you guess what it is?

Red vs. Blue

Image: Vivid Maps

What do Iceland and Greece share that distinguishes them from what France and Poland have in common?

What does this map show? Don't skip ahead. See if you can guess what it's about. We'd be pretty amazed if you could.

It shows Europe divided into two blocs. That's not unheard of in history. It's just that these two are bafflingly unfamiliar. It's not the EU versus the rest, nor NATO versus the Warsaw Pact. Not Triple Alliance vs. Triple Entente. Neither Napoleonic France and its satellites versus Britain and its allies. Rome vs. barbarians? Nope.

Let's have a look at who's actually in these two blocs.

  • In red: a contiguous slice of Europe, from up in Norway all the way down to Greece, anchored on Germany – the only one of Europe's Big Five (1) in the club. However, the red zone also includes outliers such as Iceland and Ireland.
  • In blue: everybody else, in two zones separated by the red one. In the south and west, we find the other four members of the Big Five, and some smaller countries. In the east and north, there's Russia, Turkey and places in between and nearby, including Poland and Ukraine.

These colours denote a difference that is intriguing because you probably never even realised it existed. After this, you won't be able to ever un-see it.

Distance sequencing

Image: Vivid Maps

You may have never noticed, but you can't un-know it now: red means 'furthest first', blue means 'longest last'.

  • In Red Europe, road signs show city distances from furthest on top to nearest at the bottom. As the example provided shows, if you're driving north on the E4 in southern Sweden, distant Stockholm (557 km away) is listed first, nearby Åstorp, just 13 km down the road, last.
  • In Blue Europe, it's the other way around: nearest cities on top, furthest ones at the bottom of the sign. On the E40 in Poland, nearby Kraków (58 km) comes before Jędrzychowice, far away on the German border, 465 km to the west.
It's quite likely you never gave a moment's thought to the sequencing of distances on road signs. But plenty of traffic experts must have – and as this map shows, they're divided in two diametrically opposed blocs. In the red one, 'Furthest is First'; in the blue one, 'Longest is Last'.Which option is better? That's an esoteric riddle on par with the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. To any but the most rabid exegetes of road signage, the answer is unimportant and trivial. And that's precisely why this map is so fascinating. It scratches the surface of the world to reveal a layer of reality slightly outside the realm of the expected – at least to the vast majority of us. The result is a map that is arrestingly unfamiliar. A few other examples come to mind.

Latin vs. Greek

Image: Strange Maps

Some involve mysterious lines on the map that divide the world into two wholly unexpected halves. Take for instance the Jireček Line, which divides the Balkan peninsula into areas of Roman and Greek influence, based on archeological finds (see #128).

Football vs. rugby

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Or the Barassi Line, which cuts across the east of Australia from the Northern Territories to New South Wales, demarcating the part of the country, west and south of the line, where Australian-rules football is more popular, from the part to the line's east and north, where rugby (league or union) sets more hearts racing.

The Hajnal Line

Image: Demography Resources

And then there's the Hajnal Line, roughly from St Petersburg to Trieste, that divides Europe into two distinct zones of 'nuptuality': west of the line, marriage rates and fertility are comparatively low, even before the 20th century; to the east, both are (or were) comparatively high. Prior to relatively modern times, the late marriage pattern in Western Europe was fairly unique in the world.

The Siktir League


Here's a map that fortuitously flashed up the screen a few days ago, showing a weird coalition of countries, from the western Balkans all the way to the borders of China.

Alexander the Great's empire? Not quite. It's a map of countries where the swear word 'siktir' ('get lost' or 'f*ck off') appears in the native language. Considering that these languages include members of the Romance, Slavic, Turkic families, that's quite a feat (2).

Do you have any other examples of lines, colours and coalitions on maps that show the world in a different light? Let me know at

Strange Maps #981

(1) The EU may consist of 28 (soon 27) members, but just five countries constitute around 80% of the bloc's population and GDP: Germany, France, the UK, Spain and Italy.

(2) Croatia may be one country too many included on this map: speakers of that language report never using or hearing the word.