The Center

I once saw a documentary about the center of Europe (Die Mitte, by Stanisław Mucha). The maker of the film traveled along all kinds of villages in Central and Eastern Europe, all claiming to be the real center. Many of them had a pretty monument and tried to market their center as a tourist attraction. These were not neighboring villages that rivaled for the real center, the points were hundreds of kilometers apart, in Germany, Poland, Hungary, to Belarus. It was a funny documentary about people who could not agree what the real middle is.

Closer to home, it’s not that easy to decide what is the center either. In Belgium, for once tehy agree: there is one geographical center of Belgium, which is located in Nil-Saint-Vincent.

Geographical centre of Belgium. Minolta AF-C and Ilford Pan F 50 film.
Geographical centre of Belgium. Minolta AF-C and Ilford Pan F 50 film.

There are already a lot more centers in the Netherlands: there is the center of gravity in Putten, the ‘real’ center in Lunteren, and the cadastral center in Amersfoort, all marked with a memorial of sorts. Other centers have not been marked, but they are identified: a center of gravity including water in Drenthe, the official defense-centered center at Soest. Someone even calculated what the average of all these centers is. As small and stable as the Netherlands are, it is apparently very difficult to find out what the middle is.

Centre of gravity of the Nederlands. Minolta AF-C and Kodak Ektachrome 100 film.
Centre of gravity of the Nederlands. Minolta AF-C and Kodak Ektachrome 100 film.
Holga 120 CFN and Lomography CN 800 film.
Center of the Netherlands, Lunteren. Holga 120 CFN with Lomography CN 800 film.

It all depends, of course, on how you calculate the center. An intersection of two lines, the center of the encompassing circle, or rectangle, the point furthest of all the edges, including bodies of water, excluding bodies of water, and do we count the Antilles? You can vary endlessly.

Even if you can pin down the center point, decide THIS is the right way to calculate it, this is the real midpoint. What use is it? Why do people want to claim that center? After all, it is a fairly arbitrary issue. Because once some nobleman sold his daughter for an extra patch of land, the boundary is where it is, and the center is where it is. So what?

Now the Netherlands and the European Union are clearly defined areas, but it is more interesting to look at a less defined area. The continent of Europe for instance, to come back to Die Mitte again. Where Africa ceases is clear, and Antarctica is easy to circle on the map. But where is the border between Europe and Asia exactly? What is “us”, what is “them”?

The Urals, it is said, but a mountain is not a river with a clear border: where does a mountain end? In fact, even a river won’t always stay put. Whole civilizations have collapsed when the water decided to seek another way. Thus, a seemingly objective boundary in practice can still be diffuse.

And do you have to look at this geographically? There is something to say for a cultural border. For instance, Cyprus is considered part of Europe, although geographically it is part of Asia. (Also: Greenland is not really considered European, though it’s formally part of Denmark.) It seems a cultural border is even more difficult to determine than a geographical one. Cultures are often not cut off at the border, but flow into each other.

The center is not so simple.

Widelux 1500 and Lomography X-Pro Slide 200 film.
Center of the Netherlands. Lunteren. Widelux 1500 with Lomography X-Pro Slide 200 film.

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