- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 6, 2007

GELNHAUSEN, Germany — Some think the center of Europe is in Brussels. Others, more financially inclined, say London.

But according to meticulous calculations by French specialists, geographically speaking, the European Union’s center has shifted — with Romania and Bulgaria joining the bloc last week — to a wintry wheat field outside the small town of Gelnhausen in Germany.

“I never thought this would happen,” marveled Eckhard Paul, a 47-year-old truck driver whose family owns the land — leased to a farmer — where the would-be center lies.

In joining the European Union on Jan. 1, Romania and Bulgaria — former communist nations on the southeast fringe of Europe — moved the bloc’s geographic center 110 miles east, says the French National Geographic Institute.

City officials in Gelnhausen happily erected three white flagpoles to mark the new center, locating them some 30 yards from the exact spot so as not to trample on crops.

City official Michael Schwaab said the town, population 23,000, hopes to add a sandstone monument and benches at the site to help market the distinction.

Horst Rasbach, the mayor of Kleinmaischeid, a German town that was the previous “center,” said his town did gain some visitors during its brief reign.

Kleinmaischeid — which held the title only since May 1, 2004, when the bloc expanded from 15 to 25 countries — put up a 15-foot-high sculpture of calipers marking the spot on a mosaic map of Europe.

The $26,000 statue stays, said Mr. Rasbach. “It signifies the center of the EU of 25 members, and we’re still that,” he argued.

Kleinmaischeid’s predecessor, Viroinval in Belgium, put up a “glass cathedral” sculpture to mark the center when the European Union had only 15 members.

Gelnhausen may enjoy more longevity. EU public opinion opposes further expansions, and candidates such as Turkey — whose bulk would yank the midpoint considerably farther east — may have to wait years.

Meanwhile, there’s a lack of outright consensus on where Europe’s center lies.

Depending on the method used, and what countries and islands are included as “Europe” — Russia, a non-EU country, makes a big difference — there are other claimants to the title.

One of them is a spot in Lithuania, where the authorities have put up a large white granite column with a crown of golden stars and a visitor center. The western Ukrainian town of Rakhiv also lays claim, with a monument dating to the 1880s, and the German town of Neualbenreuth attracts tourists to a liberally defined “Midpoint of Europe” marker on the nearby German-Czech border.

The French institute’s calculation takes into account far-flung European territories such as Britain’s Falkland Islands and France’s Reunion in the Indian Ocean.

Whatever the methodology, the center could have landed inconveniently — in the middle of a body of water like the Adriatic, or even in a non-EU territory like Switzerland, which lies only a few hundred miles due south.

But the institute’s Christophe Grateau is quite clear: The center of Europe lands precisely at 9 degrees 9 minutes 0 seconds west longitude and 50 degrees 10 minutes 21 seconds north latitude.

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