Introducing The Eastern Cantons
The 854 sq km Ost Kantonen (www.eastbelgium.com) is Belgium’s officially German-speaking area with its own Germanophone parliament. For visitors the zone's greatest attraction is the Haute Fagnes area of moorlands between Eupen and Malmédy. Both towns hold world-class carnivals, and the area’s history is intriguing. Stavelot-Malmédy had been semi-independent since AD 650 and remained so, albeit later co-ruled with Liège, until 1795. After Waterloo (1815), Stavelot stayed within the Netherlands but Malmédy, Eupen and St-Vith were given to Prussia, thus subsequently becoming part of Germany. The Netherlands and Prussia couldn’t agree who’d get a then-valuable zinc mining settlement now known as Kelmis, so that became ‘Neutral Moresnet’ and remarkably survived as one of Europe’s least-known semi-independent states until invaded by Germany in 1914.
In 1863, Bismark declared the speaking of French illegal in the Cantons. Eupen became thoroughly Germanised, but the citizens of Malmédy maintained their various forms of Walloon dialect as a kind of resistance (and remains essentially Francophone today). After WWI, the whole Eastern Cantons became Belgian but was claimed back again by Germany 20 years later. Men from these towns were forced to fight alongside soldiers of the Third Reich throughout WWII. In 1945, Americans liberated the towns and they were handed to Belgium once again.