Change Edition

Schengen: The birthplace of a Europe without borders

Schengen: The birthplace of a Europe without borders

by VANESSA CHALLINOR 4 min. 02.01.2019 From our online archive
The wine-making village is integral to Europe's border-free travel and also offers nearby wine tasting, hiking trails and river cruises
There are hiking trails, wine tasting and river cruises in and around Schengen Photo: Shutterstock
There are hiking trails, wine tasting and river cruises in and around Schengen Photo: Shutterstock

Schengen is a small village in the east of Luxembourg with a population of just under 540. It is a 35km drive from Luxembourg City and sits on the banks of the Moselle river, in the border triangle of Luxembourg, Germany and France. It is here that the Schengen Agreement and the Schengen Implementation Convention were signed on a river cruise boat in 1985 and 1990.

The Schengen agreement – a treaty which abolished many of the EU's internal borders allowing free movement between countries – has changed the way we travel in Europe forever.

About 1.7 million people commute to work across a European border each day. According to Luxembourg's statistics office, Statec, just under 195,000 people travel to work in Luxembourg from neighbouring France, Belgium and Germany each day. Luxembourg residents don't even think twice about crossing the border to go shopping or to visit friends.

On 14 June 1985, representatives of Belgium, France, Luxembourg, West Germany (as it was known then) and the Netherlands gathered to officially sign the Schengen Agreement. The signing was very low key – five of the 10 European Economic Community (EEC) member states were against it and there wasn't a single head of state present at the signing. Officials from all sides simply didn't believe it would come into force or succeed.

By the early 1980s the concept of unilateral internal border-free travel had split the members. Fast forward to today and the Schengen area covers 4,312,099 square kilometres and 400 million people and includes 26 member states. Of these, 22 are members of the EU, while four – Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein – are not.

Why Schengen?

As Luxembourg was soon to take over the EEC presidency, it was entitled to choose where the signing of this treaty would take place.  The winemaking village of Schengen was selected for the signing ceremony for these agreements owing to its geographic location the place where France and Germany both join Luxembourg, a member of Benelux – making up the first five signatories to the protocol.

As the meeting place of three countries, the choice of Schengen was drenched in symbolism. To ensure it was the most neutral affair, the signatories assembled on the MS Princesse Marie-Astrid cruise boat to officially put ink on paper. The boat was moored as close as possible to the tri-point border, which happens to run down the middle of the Moselle river.

European Museum Schengen

One thing not to be missed if you visit Schengen to discover more about the agreement is the display of all the official border control caps from each member state as they joined the Schengen area which are on display in the European Museum. It has recently been refurbished and updated to provide a comprehensive overview on all things related to the agreement. Sections of the Berlin Wall are also situated outside the museum.

Next to the entrance is the An der Aler Schwemm café with a terrace serving coffee, cakes or a glass of local wine or crémant. It is open daily from 10am-9pm and is wheelchair accessible.

Further along the riverfront are the three steles. The three 3.5m high steel steles symbolise the origins of Europe with the ECSC while the three brass stars symbolise France, Germany and the Benelux Economic Union.

In 2010, a new pontoon on the Moselle river opened to accommodate the Tourist Information Centre. It was completed in time for the 30th anniversary of the signing of the accord in 2015. The unusual, eye-catching building was designed by the renowned local architect François Valentiny, whose work features prominently in the region.

In the neighbouring village of Remerschen – the home village of François Valentiny – a spectacular building displays a varied selection of his work, which includes drawings, sculptures, and designs. The Valentiny Foundation was created to honour and preserve the works of the famous Luxembourgish architect.

Things to do in and around Schengen

Wine Tasting

While in Schengen why not try a glass of the local wine or crémant. The excellent reputation of wines from the Luxembourg Moselle extends far beyond the Grand-Duchy's borders. Discover the famous Coteaux de Schengen range of wines at a tasting session with local producers.

Schengen without borders hiking trail

Why not try the 'dream loop' Schengen grenzenlos – Schengen without borders hiking trail. It has starting points in all three countries: Tourist Info Schengen, Train station Perl (Germany), Contz-les-Bains (France) and is 7.7km long.

Moselle River Cruises

Throughout the year  you can enjoy the region along the Moselle river aboard one of the cruise ships. Departures are mostly from Remich with stops in Schengen. 

Get the Luxembourg Times delivered to your inbox twice a day. Sign up for your free newsletters here.