31-Aug-2004 -- The Geographic Center of the European Continent (Europos Geografinis Centras).
We, members of the team of the Explorer Magazin, were on our tour through the Baltic states. As the European Community expands on 01-May-2004 to the East we decided to visit our new European partners and the center of the European Continent.
Through history the center of Europe moved many times depending on the leaders of the countries, on the expansion of the European Community, on the definition whatever "Europe" means and on other political, social and philosophical critera.
E.g. you can visit the former center of the European Community in Belgium at Viroinval and a historical center in Germany at Neualbenreuth, where it is told that Napoleon I set a stone to mark the center of Europe and you can now visit the new center of the European Community in Germany at Kleinmaischeid or a former geographic European center in Ukraine at Rachiv.
The answers for the question of "Where is the center of Europe?" are so worrying that the Polish director Stanislaw Mucha found enough odd stuff to shoot 2003 the amusing German film called "Die Mitte" (The Center).
In 1989 French scientists of the IGN (National French Institute of Ordnance Survey) defined the expansion of the European Continent: In the North the islands of Spitzbergen, in the South the Canary Islands, in the East the mountains of the Ural and in the West the islands of Azores. They included Iceland and Madeira and they did not include Nowaja Semlja in the North of Russia and Malta in the Mediterranean.
The inclusion of Malta would shift the center only about 100 m. Many surveyors agree that however you refine on the borders of the continent, the center will be somewhere in Lithuania. But it is not really astonishing that some surveyors try to shift the center to Poland. It seems to be just a question of the "right" borders and a question of political influence and it seems not to be a question of mathematical calculation.
But nevertheless in 1992 the Lithuanian parliament defined a reserve for the European Center including important historical places in the area.
On 1-May-2004 a monument created by the Lithuanian sculptor Gediminas Jokûbonis - a white granite column with a crown of golden stars - has been unveiled as a symbol for the link of Lithuania with Europe.
The exact center is marked near the column with a metal plate on a big boulder (nine tons!), which has been found in this area. Visitors left different coins on that boulder and we added a Euro coin as a sign for a future united Europe.
Near the boulder is a wooden house where the Administration of the European Center resides. We entered the house and a friendly official gave us a heartly welcome in English and offered us the souvenirs: Baseball caps of best quality and an official certificate of the visit.
You can get the certificate in different languages and you can get a discount if you take one certificate for the whole family. But the certificate is not very expensive. It costs about 1,50 EUR and it is worth the money because the procedure is emotional and the certificate looks pretty nice!
We bought a personal certificate for each one and the official could hardly believe that we did not take the discount certificate with all our names on it. He feared that we might get ruined.
Thus the official took a list, gave the first of us a unique number, wrote down name and address, took one certificate out of a locked up locker and filled it out carefully (unique number, name and date) with good handwriting. Then the official stood up and gave the first of us the seal to press it on the certificate. The official stood to attention during the sealing ceremony . Every step of the procedure was earnest, slow and a little bit pompous.
The procedure restarted for the second certificate. At the end the official wrote a really complicated receipt of the Lithuanian Finance Ministry for both certificates. It goes without saying that the receipt got again a unique number and that we and the official had to sign it. We got a carbon copy of it.
After the official part had been finished, the official gave us flyers about Vilnius and Kaunas and he told us to be aware of pickpockets in the cities and he warned us not to walk alone in the night through Kaunas. As we wanted to tip him he refused it firmly. He is an upright official!
If you assess the complicatedness of the procedure you come to the conclusion that the administration of the European Center already works according the bureaucracy standard of the European Community ;-)). The refusion of the tip was not European Community standard but very likeable. But we do not have the illusion that the other officials of the European Community in Bruxelles will take this nice official as an example :-(((.
We enjoyed the visit of "Europos Geografinis Centras" and we finish our report with the invitation written in the footnote of the certificate:
Everyone who is fond of travelling must visit the geographical center of Europe at least once.
If you want to read the whole story about our trip, you will find it (in the German language) in the Explorer Magazin (from issue 11-12/04).