Where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet Black cat
In the dark, all cats look grey. The ones here used to be jet-black. Hundreds of them used to cross the sparsely-guarded farmland border from Belgium on their way to Aachen, night after night, in the aftermath of 1945. Hidden in satchels and rucksacks or even wrapped inside underwear, tucked into car tyres, motorbike tyres or even bicycle tyres, ever on the run from customs officials and British soldiers.
“Black cat” (chat noir), a.k.a. real ground coffee beans, was the hard currency after the war in this corner of Europe, like packets of Chesterfield and Camel elsewhere. “Smuggling for survival” was the order of the day. However, even back then it was said of Aacheners that they were driven to it not just by the extreme conditions, but by a sense of inner conviction. Beating the borders – under cloak of darkness if need be – was a regional pastime which survived well into the 1950’s.
Living the European dream as an everyday occurence
Long before the Treaty of Schengen opened up Europe’s internal borders, Aachen was already experiencing the European dream where living in one country, working in another and shopping in yet another was simply an everyday occurrence.
Today, the city is a firm feature of the Euregio – the region where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands come together with three national languages, five regional cultures, large conurbations and rolling countryside, working together across national boundaries at local government level and beyond – on environmental protection, sport, culture, the arts, education, academia and the economy, and also in matters such as tax legislation, social security and employment law. It’s no coincidence that Aachen City Council has a department called “Economic Development & European Affairs”.
Aachen today is a place where “the living is easy”, but it’s also a place of innovation and a hive of activity, somewhere you can know intimately – but with no borders. European, you might say. In fact, you could even argue that “black cat” was the forerunner of the euro!
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