Every schoolchild in Luxembourg learns about the foundation of Luxembourg City in 963. That year is noted on a charter that nobleman Siegfried signed with the Saint Maximin Abbey in Trier to acquire a promontory overlooking a river. ‘His intention was less to found a settlement, which developed naturally around the first small castle, but rather to strengthen Emperor Otto’s ambition to integrate Lotharingia into the Holy Roman Empire,’ Gilles Genot from the Luxembourg City Museum states. Indeed, the promontory was located in an excellent strategic location: it was defendable, close to water which could turn mills, and on a major trade route connecting Trier and Reims. All of which made Luxembourg a popular location to settle. The charter itself received much attention during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the year came to be regarded as the official foundation year of Luxembourg City. ‘This year is a very important part of Luxembourg’s collective memory,’ Gilles Genot adds. And the surrounding myth of the mermaid Melusina and the curse hanging over the city certainly did its part to popularise the date.
1839: Independence to end turmoil
'The most defining element about Luxembourg’s independence in 1839 is its borders' says Simone Feis, curator at the M3E/MNHA. Indeed, even though the country lost nearly half of its territory to newly constituted Belgium (today the Belgian Province du Luxembourg), the 1839 Treaty of London defined its borders to the shape we know today, marked by a series of boundary markers (see picture). The treaty put an end to a decade of turmoil, in which the population had been torn between its allegiance to the Dutch king who formally ruled the Grand Duchy, the Prussian occupation of Luxembourg City and the strong sympathies of large parts of the country’s population for the democratic principles that the Belgians had been fighting for. Even though Luxembourg continued to be ruled by the Dutch king and was far from being completely independent, 1839 marks a turning point in our history. The treaty and constitutional charter of 1841 conferred to the country a political stability that allowed us to continue building a state and a nation that set us apart from our neighbours.
1867: 'Perpetual' neutrality and European engagement
In 1867, Prussia and Napoleon III’s France were ready to go to war over Luxembourg, or rather its mighty fortifications. A last-minute conference in London prevented what could well have become a large-scale continental conflict. The 1867 Luxembourg Crisis and subsequent Treaty of London brought down Luxembourg City’s famed fortifications – and conferred the status of neutrality upon the county. 'Luxembourg City was finally able to grow and reinvent itself as a European capital', thus Ralph Lange, scientific assistant at the M3E/MNHA. The country retained its strategic position in the middle of Western Europe, although not based on military might: economy and peaceful engagement with the neighbours was now on the agenda, and the following decades saw the evolution of a powerful industrial complex, some of which rings through to today. 'The ripples of that crisis are perhaps more felt today than they were in 1867', Ralph Lange says. Indeed, they may well mark the beginnings of Luxembourg’s engagement for a peaceful coexistence in Europe.
10 May 1940: The start of 4 years of hardship
The beginning of the Second World War in Western Europe on 10 May 1940 is an important date in many countries in Europe. For Luxembourg, it has a special meaning however, and one that left its mark on how Luxembourgers perceived themselves. Indeed, Luxembourg was a neutral country in 1940, with but a small force to call army, in any case not enough to resist a German onslaught. Nonetheless, the country adopted defensive measures on the eve of war; measures that would leave no doubt that Luxembourgers would not stand aside and that affirmed to the world our will to remain an independant country – thus Benoît Niederkorn, curator of Luxembourg’s National Museum of Military History. The blocks you can see on these pictures were part of the so-called ‘Schuster Line’, roadblocks that were built on all of Luxembourg’s borders, but which, on the eve of invasion, were only closed on the German border.
14 June 1985: Opening Europe's borders in Schengen
‘Open borders beget open minds’, thus Martina Kneip’s definition of the Spirit of Schengen, which is omnipresent in this small Luxembourgish village on the Moselle. The German and French borders are so close, and yet barely noticeable, an abstract concept in a region where people live open borders on a daily basis. And when Martina Kneip talks about the region, it is without a doubt that she defines it independently of national borders. ‘The Schengen Agreements are emblematic for our country’, the head of the European Museum explains. ‘Through them, Luxembourg did get known as the country where the principles of the EU are lived like they should.’ The Agreements, which were signed on 14 June 1985 by Luxembourg, Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands on the passenger ship MS Princesse Marie-Astrid, are today’s cornerstone of the free movement between member states, and stand for an openness of mind which is lived in Luxembourg every day.
Delve some more into Luxembourg's history
Luxembourg's history is full of important events that shaped the country and its population - here are some key events that did not quite make the final cut but that you should know about.
1919 is no doubt one of the most turbulent years for Luxembourg. Political and social conflicts that had been simmering for a few years boiled over after the end of the German occupation in 1918. While the clash between the Crown and the Government could potentially have threatened Luxembourg’s independence, the 1919 Referendum and changes to the electoral system, especially universal suffrage, steadied not only the monarchy but also Luxembourg’s institutions. Indeed, Régis Moes, one of the MNHA’s curators, points out that all contemporary institutions, including political parties and unions, were founded during those years.
The ‘Luxembourg model’ of social concertation continues to be a major factor in the political and social stability of the country. The premise of this model is that employers, unions and the government seek agreements and compromise in negotiations, rather than relying on industrial action. The origin of this model is rooted in the violent miners’ strikes in the south of the country in 1921, which the government was only able to put down with the help of the French army.