Defining Central Europe

The Third Dimension

A three-dimensional map of the region tells a compelling story: Central Europe is less a geographic entity and more a community formed by a shared history. 

Central Europe is more than an “imagined space”. In Britain, you can see it in the satellite photo of Europe at night, broadcast every evening at the beginning of the television news. It shows up in the west as a swathe of light running down the edge of what was once the Carolingian Middle Kingdom, illuminating the landscape from the estuary of the Rhine to the Alps. East of this line, the patchwork is still bright, clustered around the Ruhr and the River Main, Hamburg, Berlin, and Vienna. A dark hunk of space marks the Carpathians, but the light show leaps the mountains to illuminate Budapest and Zagreb. Then it peters out. It is the same on the other side of the Carpathians. Once past Wrocław and Warsaw, the darkness presses in. Except for the pinprick of Minsk, it is black all the way to Moscow.

„Central Europeans have been Central Europe’s most important export, . . . powering North America’s industrial growth in the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth century, intellectually re-stocking Britain, France, and the United States. “

Or consult a map of Europe’s railways. The hubs and the webs of lines that connect them are crowded around the Upper Rhine, Leipzig, Prague, Berlin, and Cracow, with a separate interlocking web based upon Budapest. Warsaw is an outlier. Cut off from the Western networks in the period of tsarist rule, Congress Poland is still evident on account of the patchiness of its grid. Bosnia is also just about visible. There, Habsburg officials pushed the railway lines into its mountainous interior and down towards the Dalmatian coast, building viaducts and tunnels, and where the terrain was forbidding, laying down narrow-gauge track. On the light map, Bosnia barely stands out, but its railway still links Sarajevo to the hub at Vinkovci in Croatia and to Split on the Adriatic, although no longer to Kotor.

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