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Kelmis (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)

La Calamine

Last modified: 2012-02-25 by ivan sache
Keywords: kelmis | la calamine | moresnet | lion (white) | eagle (black) | stars: 3 (yellow) | hammer (white) | pickax (white) |
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[Flag of Kelmis]

Municipal flag of Kelmis - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 1 May 2005

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Presentation of Kelmis and its villages

The municipality of Kelmis (in French, La Calamine; 11,705 inhabitants on 1 January 2007, 1,816 hectares) is located near the "three-land point" where the borders of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands merge, some 10 km of Vaals (The Netherlands) and Aachen (Germany). During the period of existence of the Neutral Territory of Moresnet, it was even a "four-land point".

Since the municipal reform of 1976, which incorporated in the new municipality of Kelmis the former municipalities of Kelmis, Neu-Moresnet and Hergenrath, Kelmis is the northernmost, the second largest and the densest municipality in the German-speaking Community. It forms the north-eastern point of the Province of Liège and is bordered in the south by the German-speaking municipalities of Raeren and Lontzen, in the north by the French-speaking municipality of Plombières (especially the former municipalities of Moresnet and Gemmenich), and in the north-east by the German municipality of Aachen.

Kelmis is watered by the river Gueule, which flows into the Meuse near Iteren, north of Maastricht, in the Netherlands. Along with the calamine mine, the Gueule and its tributaries contributed to the economic development of Kelmis as soon as in the 14th century; there were several mills, whose traces are still present in the local toponymy. The only factory still active today is the felt factory Bruch, located on the brook Tuljebach near the German border. It is locally known as Schleifmühle (sharpening mill), which recalls an ancient needle sharpener.

Kelmis (Kelms) and Hergenrath (Heyenroth) are listed in an act dated 1280, written in the Cistercian abbey of Altenkamp (German State Archives, Düsseldorf). The ancient name of Kelms is closed to the dialectal form in use today, Kälemes. The name comes from Romanic Cal(a)mis, meaning "a place with calaminarious stones", which was Germanized into Kälminis in the 8th century. Under Charlemagne, there was a forge near the building site of the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, which might have used calamine from the Altenberg-Vieille Montagne mine. The map of Limburg drawn in 1603 by Egidio Martini uses the Romanic written form Calmine.
In the south of the municipality, the wood of Eynenberg, today in Hergenrath, is a remain of the domain of the same name, whose feudal castle, revamped and increased in the 19th century, still watches the valley. The castle is often erroneously called Emmabourg. Emma, Charlemagne's daughter, is said to have hidden in the castle after (or for) a romance. The castle is also erroneously said to have been used by Charlemagne as a hunting post.

Calamine exploitation in Kelmis is documented since 1344. That year, there was a conflict between the town of Aachen, owner of ancient forest rights possibly dating back to Charlemagne, and the representatives of the Duke of Brabant, owner of the land, for the exploitation of calamine in the wood of Preuss. The wood, which stretches to the three-land point and the forest of Aachen, still shows several boundary stones recalling that old conflict. In 1439, Duke of Burgundy Philip the Handsome, owner of Brabant and Limburg since 1430, solved the problem by confiscating the mine. The border between Limburg and Aachen was fixed on the top of the crest of the forest of Aachen and the unattributed, buffer zone between the two domains was suppressed. The mine was exploited as a farm or granted to a manager, and contributed to the wealth of the successive owners of Limourg (Valois of Burgundy, Hapsburg of Madrid and Hapsburg of Vienna) until 1794.
In the middle of the 17th century, Philip IV of Spain, desperately needing cash, decided to sell most of the feudal rights in Limburg, excepted on the fortress of Limbourg and the mining area around Kelmis. A justice court, with additional administrative functions, was set up in Kelmis. Progressively, administration was transfered to local civilians, called in the 18th century regeerders (regents), who acted like a Mayor.

After the French invasion in 1794, the feudal domains were suppressed. The Duchy of Limbourg was incorporated into the department of Ourthe, the forerunner of the Province of Liège. Kelmis and Moresnet were merged into the Municipalité de Moresnet et Kelmis, later the Mairie de Moresnet. The calamine mine was exploited as a national good by the French Republic; in 1805, Emperor Napoléon I decided the creation of a 8,200 ha concession around the Vieille Montagne des calamines du ci-devant Limbourg. The chemist Dony, a former Canon of the St. Peter's Chapter in Liège, was awarded the concession. Dony invented a zinc reduction oven known in the industrial world as the "Belgian oven" or the "Liège oven". In 1813, Dony ceded the concession to the banker Mosselman, who founded in 1837 with his family and the Bank of Belgium the S.A. des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille Montagne, of great renown. The Altenberg-Vieille Montagne mine was declared exhausted in 1884. Whereas the production of the mine between 1553 and 1787 was evaluated to 184,000 tons (raw), 1,255,000 tons of raw material was extracted from 1837 to 1884. The Schmalgraf mine produced 645,797 tons (raw) from 1869 to 1933, yielding 337,806 tons of concentrated product. The mine, although not exhausted, was abandoned in 1933 for economical reasons.
Before 1805 and Dony's invention, calamine was specifically used for the fabrication of brass and sold to the copperware manufacturers (dinandiers) established in the valley of Moselle in Bouvignies, Namur and mostly Dinant, and also in Aachen and Stolberg. As soon as the XVth century, calamine was exported to Nuremberg and later to Lorraine and Sweden.

From 1816 to 1918, Kelmis was partially included in the Neutral Territory of Moresnet.
On 18 May 1940, Hitler decreed the annexation to Germany of the canton of Eupen and the former Neutral Territory of Moresnet. The Belgian law was reestablished in September 1944.

On 13 October 1972, the name of the municipality was fixed as Kelmis-La Calamine, replacing the Flemish written form (Kalmis), adopted in 1919, by the Limburgian written form Kelmis.


Ivan Sache, 1 May 2005

The Neutral Territory of Moresnet (1816-1918)

After the fall of Napoléon, the Congress of Vienna decided the creation of a new Kingdom of the Netherlands, made of Belgium (the former Spanish Netherlands) and the former Republic of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Prussia increased its territory at the expense of the former episcopal principalities of Cologne and Trier. According to several separate agreements between Prussia and the Netherlands and to the final act of the Congress, Prussia obtained some cantons of the former department of Ourthe, including Eupen, and the point of the canton of Aubel, south of Aachen; Prussia expected to annex the calamine mine of Kelmis, but the Dutch did not agree. A joint Dutch-Prussian commission was appointed to fix the new borders. The Borders' Treaty was signed on 26 June 1816 in Aachen, but the question of Altenberg-Vieille Montagne remained unresolved. Article 17 granted the neutrality of the Territory, whereas Article 31 stated:

It is explicitly agreed that a change of the authority or government will not harm the rights of Mr. Dony & Cie. to exploit calamine so that his concession will remain undamaged and he will continue to enjoy the advantages and rights which were originally conceded to him. The original burden under the concession remains applicable, like the obligation to deliver calamine to the zinc mills of both contracting parties against the price stipulated in the concession agreement.

The municipalities of Gemmenich (not mentioned in the treaty) and Moresnet were divided into three parts: the eastern part and the part located south of the road Liège-Aachen were allocated to Prussia, as Neu-Moresnet (New Moresnet); the western part was allocated to the Netherlands, and known as Moresnet Français, Moresnet Belge after 1830; the median, triangular part of Moresnet (344 ha), including the calamine mine, remained disputed. A provisory municipal administration was appointed and the area was demilitarized, therefore its name of Moresnet Neutre, or Territoire Neutre de Moresnet. The two sovereigns each appointed a Royal Commissionner for the territory; the two Commissionners worked together. A Municipal Council was appointed in Moresnet Neutre in 1854 only. The French law was applied except in case of common initiative by the two sovereigns, and Dutch and Prussian courts had competency for the application of the French law. The population of Moresnet increased from 248 in 1816 to 2329 in 1855, due to the industrialisation of zinc production.

In 1830, Belgium got its independence. The inhabitants of the neutral territory asked the King of the Belgians and the Chambers to keep the status quo. However, they rejected the division of Moresnet and asked to be incorporated to Belgium if the statu quo were to be suppressed. Most of the Prussians who had settled in Moresnet Neutre supported the Belgian claims.
By Article 32 of the Treaty of Versailles (28 June 1919), Germany recognized the entire sovereignty of Belgium over Moresnet Neutre. By Article 33, Belgium was retroceded the part of (Prussian) Moresnet located north of the road Liège-Aachen. By Article 34, Belgium was retroceded the southern part of (Prussian) Moresnet and Hergenrath. The Law of 15 September 1919, with effect on the same day as the Treaty of Versailles (10 January 1920), set up the municipality of Kalmis-La Calamine. The Mayor and the Council Municipal of Moresnet Neutre remained in office until the election of a new Council on 7 February 1923.

Dr. Wilhelm Molly (1838-1919), a German general practitioner, attempted to turn Neutral Moresnet into the Esperantostate Amikejo. In 1906 Molly had met the French professor Gustave Roy. Roy and Molly, both very keen Esperantists, decided to establish an Esperantostate. In 1908 a great propaganda demonstration was held in the pavilion of the shooting association. The complete population was drummed up and in the decorated hall glowing speeches were given for the establishment of the Esperanto freestate Amikejo (place of great friendship). During this gathering the miners' band played the Amikejo-march, which was composed by Willy Hoppermans. This march was to be the national anthem. After the meeting many international newspapers did mention that an Esperantostate had been founded. During the Fourth Esperantist Congress it was decided to make Neutral Moresnet the new seat of the global organisation instead of The Hague.

[Flag of Moresnet Neutre]

Flag of the Neutral Territory of Moresnet - Image by Mark Sensen, 20 December 200O

The unofficial flag of the Territory was horizontally divided black-white-blue. It was designed ca. 1883.
The origin of the flag is obscure. One could think that the colours came from the black and white from Prussia and the Nassau blue of the Netherlands to symbolise both countries originally controlling Moresnet. However, it seems more likely that the colours have been taken from the emblem of the Vieille Montagne.


Ivan Sache & Mark Sensen, 1 May 2005

Municipal flag of Kelmis

The municipal flag of Kelmis is vertically divided black-white-blue with the municipal coat of arms in the middle of the white stripe.

The municipal website shows a facsimile of the Decree of adoption of the coat of arms. The Decree, signed on 29 April 1996, grants a municipal coat of arms to Kelmis. It refers to the reform of the institutions in the German-speaking Community (31 December 1983), the fusion of the municipalities of Kelmis, Neu-Moresnet and Hergenrath (30 December 1975), the autorisation given to the municipality to bear arms (23 October 1995), and - most important - the Royal Decree (14 February 1913), amending a previous Royal Decree (6 February 1837) regarding the seal and arms of the municipality. Then the importance of a design recalling the history of the municipality is highlighted. And we finally come to the single article of the Decree, saying:

The municipality of Kelmis shall be allowed to bear the arms described and represented as:
Below a chief sable, charged with a pickax argent and a hammer of the same crossed per saltire surrounded by three stars or, a field per pale firstly azure a lion rampant argent armed or secondly argent an eagle deployed sable armed or.

According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones [w2v03], the arms of Kelmis, Parti : au premier, d'azur au lion d'argent, armé et lampassé d'or; au deuxième d'argent à l'aigle de sable, becquée, membrée et languée d'or; au chef de sable chargé d'un maillet et d'un marteau d'argent posés en sautoir, accompagnés de trois étoiles mal ordonnées d'or ("Per pale, 1. Azure a lion argent armed and langued or, 2. Argent an eagle sable beaked armed and langued or, a chief sable a mallet argent and a hammer of the same crossed per saltire three stars or 1 + 2") were adopted by the Municipal Council on 23 March 1995 and confirmed by the Executive of the German-speaking Community on 29 April 1996.
The arms recall that Kelmis was once split between Prussia and the Netherlands. The hammer, the mallet and the three stars come from the emblem of the Société des Mines et Fonderies de Zinc de la Vieille Montagne. The three stars can also be seen as representing the three former municipalities merged into Kelmis.

Arnaud Leroy, Ivan Sache & Pascal Vagnat, 20 April 2008

Calamine as an ore of zinc

Water circulating into faults perpendicular to geological foldings deposits minerals and constitutes metalliferous deposits. In Kelmis, the deposits are rich in zinc, lead and iron. In the depths are found sulphurous ores such as blende (ZnS), galenite (PbS) and pyrites (FeS2). Closer to the surface, in the so-called "iron hat", ore oxidization by air and water gives calamine, a mixture of zinc carbonates and silicates; cerusite, a lead carbonate; and limonite, an iron hydroxide.
The exact definition of calamine is still controversial among mineralogists. Quoting the Chemistry Daily website:

Calamine is the common name for an ore of zinc. In the late 18th century it was discovered that what had been thought to be one ore was actually two distinct minerals: zinc carbonate ZnCO3 and zinc silicateZn4Si2O7(OH)2.H2O. The two minerals are usually very similar in appearance and can only be distinguished through chemical analysis. The first to separate the minerals was the British chemist and mineralogist James Smithson in 1803. In the mining industry the term calamine is still used to refer to both minerals indiscriminately.
In mineralogy there have been attempts to restrict the name calamine to one of these minerals, with the other called smithsonite after Smithson. Unfortunately there have been some differences over how to do this. To an American mineralogist, calamine is zinc silicate and smithsonite is zinc carbonate. To a British mineralogist, however, it is zinc carbonate that is usually called calamine.
The International Mineralogical Association offers some guidelines as to the naming of minerals. They have defined calamine as the silicate of zinc. However, in practice, you may find that calamine refers to either the silicate, the carbonate or both.

Grand Robert de la Langue Française says that the word calamine appeared at the end of the 13th century as calemine and as calamine in 1390. It is derived from low Latin calamina, a linguistic alteration of cadmia, itself derived from Greek kadmeia (petra), ore of zinc, refering to a mine located near Thebes, in Greek, Kadmos. Cadmium, discovered and named in 1817, has the same etymology.

Soils rich in calamine deposits or contaminated during the mining process harbour a very specific vegetation, called calaminarious. Its flag species, which can grow only on such soils, are the calaminarious pansy (Viola calaminariae), the calaminarious silene (Silene vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. humilis), the calaminarious stool (Thlaspi alpestre ssp. sylvestre var. calaminare), the Olympe's lawn (Armeria maritima var. halleri), the calaminarious alsina (Minuartia verna var. hercynica, found in only two places in Wallonia) and the Westfalian fescue (Festuca ovina subsp. guestfalica). Such plants enjoying soils contaminated with metals are called metallophytes. The species listed above, except the stool and the silene, are protected in Wallonia by decree of 6 December 2001. The most interesting calaminarious site in Kelmis is the slag heap of the Casino pond (Terril à l'étang du Casino); it hoists also a specific fauna, including two very rare species, both protected in Wallonia, the blue-winged grasshopper (Oedipoda caerulescens) and the small nacreous butterfly (Issoria lathonia, which reproduces on the calaminarious pansy).

Ivan Sache, 1 May 2005