The borders of Central Europe have shifted many times over the last couple centuries, effected by war and revolution, rises to power and compromises between nations. Germany has had its share of reformations as well, most notably the 1990 reunification of East Germany and West Germany. But the western border of Germany has an interesting history too, and as the most western point of Germany is not too far away from where we live, I decided to check it out.
According to this map, the Westlichster Punkt or “westernmost point” of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland resides in Selfkant, only a dozen or so kilometers from the town in which I reside. It should only take an hour or so for me to get there, pending I make all the correct turns. This, of course, never actually happens. But I’ll get there nonetheless, I assure myself.
From Waldfeucht, it is only a matter of minutes before crossing over into the Netherlands. Although I am trying to reach a waypoint in Germany, the best way to get there is by following the Dutch Cycling Network waypoints, which typically coincide with bike-friendly paths and farm roads. Many of these roads look like the one above: low-traffic, lined with trees, and a pleasure to ride on. If you enjoy “tree tunnels”, this is the place for you.
With that in mind, I quickly realized that I was no longer on the right track when I came to this infrastructure anomaly, some 40 minutes into my journey:
What you’re seeing is the entrance to a train underpass that is not only two-way for cyclists, but motor vehicle traffic as well. Notice that the car lane is really only wide enough for one car at a time. Worse yet, once you enter the underpass, it is essentially a cave:
Sure enough, just after I took that picture a car came screaming through. I hope the lady on her bicycle made it out okay. It just goes to show that even in the cycling paradise that is the Netherlands, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
After a few 50/50 guesses at which way to go, I was back on track again. Even if you’re off of the route you intend to follow, there are signs and posts that point you in the direction of the nearest waypoint. Soon, I saw the sign indicating I was leaving the Netherlands, and then sign for visitor parking at the Westlichster Punkt. Being a weekday afternoon, there was nobody there except an older couple that were content to remain in their RV in the parking lot.
The actual rest area had a bathroom and a nice summation of the area’s history. I read what I could in German, but had to supplement that with the English Wikipedia article describing the history of Selfkant. Basically, this whole region has been passed back and forth between the Germans and the Dutch several times, and it was until 1963 that it was given back to Germany. By then, the Dutch had left an indelible mark on the area, and by that I mean windmills.
Since the physical border between the two countries is actually a creek, the pole that designates the westernmost point is suspended over the middle of the water. There is a walkway from the parking lot to this point, at which you are encouraged bilingually to “sit in the Netherlands with your feet in Germany”.
So I did just that.
I will say that in spite of having crossed the border countless times before, there was something very entertaining about this scenario, and I amused myself crossing back and forth between the two countries so effortlessly.
On the way back home, I looked again at the map and realized that it was a much simpler route than I had tried to follow on the way here. There were two waypoints, 20 and 22, between me and where I wanted to go. So, I followed the signs leading that way, and was pleasantly presented with a solitary bike path through the woods, leading me exactly where I needed to be.
Now that I know the route, this will be my go-to bike trip for anyone that wants to visit someplace of significance while staying in the area. It’s so close by and I can annotate along the way my recently-acquired knowledge of the region’s history-- really a win-win scenario in my opinion. As far as the other geographical extremes of Germany, I can’t say when I’ll get to those, but hopefully they don’t change on me before I do.
- Bicyclist Abroad