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Geography, Economy and Culture in the Centre of the New European Union
(by Rolf Stein)

*** Sorry, some links are outdated ***

Kleinmaischeid as seen from the direction of Brussels

The New Center: Kleinmaischeid

With the enlargement of the European Union on May 1 the geographic centre of the Union has shifted eastwards. In the former EU 15 the centre was located in Viroinval, Belgium. According to calculations of J.-G. Affholder (Institut Géographique National, Paris) the new geographic centre of the Union with presently 25 member states is now in Kleinmaischeid Germany. 

Precisely, the coordinates of the centre are: Longitude=7° 35´ 31´´ East Greenwich, and Latitude = 50° 31´ 31´´ North, a point which is to be found in the triangle (see maps below) between the town of Kleinmaischeid and its neighbouring towns Rüscheid and Thalhausen. Where the latter is my place of birth, which makes it for me, as an economic geographer, almost mandatory to write something about the new EU centre and its regional setting.



How to find the centre of the new Europe? Kleinmaischeid is positioned between the agglomerations of Cologne and Frankfurt, approximately 70 kilometres southeast of Cologne. The Freeway passes nearby (Exit Dierdorf) and also the recently opened new high speed train track for the Intercity Express (ICE). Geographically Kleinmaischeid belongs to the Westerwald region, the area between river Rhine in the West, and the small rivers Sieg in the North and Lahn in the South). In administrative terms it is part of the county of Neuwied (EU speak: NUTS 3),  itself being part of Regierungsbezirk Koblenz (NUTS 2). Kleinmaischeid is thus situated pretty much in the centre of the ´blue banana´, the core economic region of the EU, stretching from the metropolitan city of London in the North along the river Rhine down to the booming regions of the Mediterranean coast.


Map 1: Kleinmaischeid and neighbouring villages with administrative borders and settlement areas.
Map from www.bund.de, type ´Kleinmaischeid´ for Gemeinde.)

County of Neuwied with administrative borders of all its towns
Map from www.bund.de, click on ´Neuwied´.)


Some indicators for the region Koblenz are given in the table below. Since this region includes towns along the Rhine valley, population density is higher than it would be for its hilly areas of Westerwald part alone, though there was a marked increase of inhabitants in many of these little towns  over the past decades. In Kleinmaischeid e.g. the number of inhabitants grew from 930 in 1989 to 1300 at  present. The gross domestic product (GDP) per head is not too far below EU average. The percentage of population younger than 15 years exactly equals the EU15 figure, and is thus considerably higher than in Germany alone. Unemployment is strikingly lower than in Germany or on the European level. Although the  region Koblenz has in large parts still a pretty rural settlement structure, the index for patent applications (per million inhabitants) indicates the existence of a relatively innovative industrial structure. Educational attainment (of the population aged between 15 and 64) of the region shows the structure typical for Germany in extreme. A very large percentage of medium qualified people dominates and is much higher than in European average.

Selected Indicators for Kleinmaischeids region Koblenz, Germany and the EU (2000-2002)


Region Koblenz


EU 15

EU 25

Population Density





GDP/Head (EU15=100)





GDP/Head (EU 25=100)





% Pop. < 15 Years





Unemployment Rate





Patent Applications





Low educat. attainm. 





 Med. educat. attainm.





High educat. attainm.





Source: Third Report on Economic and Social Cohesion, Commission of the EU, 2004.

Only one or two generation ago, many people in the hilly areas of the region were still rather poor part time farmers, combining employment in the usually quite remote factories with small scale farming. Meanwhile many small scale firms have settled in the area and employment in services has risen, though in general requiring commuting to the cities. In industry a broad mix of branches exists, with some firms in advanced technology sectors (e.g. Kern Gmbh). In the neighbouring county Westerwaldkreis many firms are specialized in ceramics and glass production, making the area famous as Kannebäcker Land (´pot bakers country´). All in all Kleinmaischeid belongs to a rather well to do region with a comparatively young and well qualified population, living in a society that is subject only to minor social cleavages and can enjoy a quite undamaged natural environment. A sustainable region?


Alan und the old beech wood tree

Toni’s fantastic beech wood - for his stove!



With Kleinmaischeid now being the geographic centre of the EU a symbolic shift has occurred. While the former centre in Belgium was situated about 200 km West of Rhine valley, the new centre lies East of river Rhine, if only about 10 km (as the crow flies). Also, this new centre is located a little East of the ancient Roman wall, Limes, that once separated the Roman world from the Germanic territories. From an elevated point in Kleinmaischeid it is well possible to see the woods - one or two kilometres West - where the Limes once cut through. In the middle ages Kleinmaischeid was under the rule of the formerly influential noblemen of Isenburg, today a little town a couple kilometres South on the main road. Following that road further, one reaches the Rhine valley not far from Koblenz where the Middle Rhine Valley starts, now declared as a world cultural heritage. The valley is surrounded by numerous castles and ancient monuments, numerous picturesque tows and still is an important vine growing region.

Chapel und Ruins of the Isenburg

Chapel Hausenborn in Isenburg 

In the old German Reich the noble’s religion determined the religion of his people, so Kleinmaischeids population was roman-catholic as much of the surrounding eastern towns, but opposite to the adjacent areas West of Kleinmaischeid, that came to be protestant after the reformation. This divide existed for a very long time and caused animosities still couple decades ago but with modernization the importance of religions differences finally vanished.

Most towns possess strong local traditions and a vivid social life supported by many associations for cultural and other activities like e.g. choirs, football teams or environmental goups. Many locals still speak the regional dialect (Westerwälder Mundart), hard to understand for those who understand ´High-German´only. Kleinmaischeid, for instance, would be Kläänmääschd (needs German pronunciation) in that dialect.

Particularly remarkable is celebration of Carnival in Kleinmaischeid, where probably the little villages new celebrety will play a major role and has to compete for ironic attention with local and national politics.

Nothing Lasts Forever

To conclude, the honour of being the geographic centre of the EU will exist only temporarily. Already, some media report on other calculations maintaining that the centre of the EU is Golzow, a small town 70 kilometres southwest of Berlin. This, however, seems rather uncertain currently according to a report of AFP. But surely, there is no absolute correct way how to define the centre of a geographic space, it depends for example on the method of map projection. Anyway, after the accession of the new members Romania and Bulgaria, probably in 2007, the centre will shift further southeast. But for now Kleinmaischeid and its region can stand for some type of average European region in a positive sense: fairly prosperous and young, in touch with new technologies, a balanced social structure and a rich cultural heritage.


Further Links:

Hiking the Limes Trail: http://www.wwv-hg.de/limesweg1.htm

German Limes - Bike Path: http://www.limesstrasse.de/radweg_etappen.htm

Homepage Kleinmaischeid: http://www.kleinmaischeid.de/

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© Gabriele Jäger, Rolf Stein (2005)