Where is the Only Area in Europe Where no Borders Exist?

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Lake Constance (Konstanz in German) is a freshwater zungenbecken (or tongue-basin) lake that was formed by the Rhine Glacier during the last Ice Age.  Known locally as Bodensee in German, the lake is located at the northern foot of the Alps and is found at 395 meters (1,296 feet) above sea level.  The third largest lake in Central Europe (after Lake Balaton and Lake Geneva), it serves as a major source of drinking water for southwestern Germany and covers and area of about area of about 540 square kilometers. 

Lake Constance is actually made up of three bodies of water: the Obersee (“upper lake”), the Untersee (“lower lake”), and a connecting stretch of the Rhine, called the Seerhein. The Rhine river flows into the lake from the south, which then flows out of the lake to the west

Lake Constance has a surface area of 536 square kilometers  (207 square miles). A long lake, Lake Constance measures 63 km (39 mi) in length and is 14 km (8.7 mi) across at its widest point.

Lake Constance is the third biggest freshwater European lake in terms of surface area (and the second largest in terms of volume).

Bodensee (Lake Constance).  Satellite imagery: NASA World Wind, 2005.
Bodensee (Lake Constance). Satellite imagery: NASA World Wind, 2005.

Countries Surrounding Lake Constance

Lake Constance’s shoreline touches three different countries: Germany to the north, Switzerland to the south and Austria at its eastern end.   

This map shows the location of Lake Constance (known in Germany as the Bodensee) in relation to Germany (Deutschland), Swizterland (Schweiz), and Austria (Oesterreich).
This German map shows the location of Lake Constance (known in Germany as the Bodensee) in relation to Germany (Deutschland), Swizterland (Schweiz), and Austria (Österreich). Map: MediaWiki Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

The water body itself contains no borders since there is no legally binding agreement between the three countries.  The lake outside the 25-meter isobath is not considered a common area but an area that doesn’t belong to any country.  

Unlike other lakes that border countriesin Europe that have a well-defined border, Lake Constance’s lack of an international border results from a lack of agreement by the three countries on the border’s location.

Called “a curiosity in international law” (Orbig, 1990), Lake Constance remains without an international border in the middle of the lake due to a difference on how to delineate the boundaries. While Switzerland would like the border to run down the middle of the lake, Austria wants all three countries to share sovereignty over the lake. Germany has no official stance on where the border should be.

This makes it the only area in Europe that doesn’t have borders.

References

Daniel-Erasmus Kahn (2004). Die deutschen Staatsgrenzen: rechtshistorische Grundlagen und offene Rechtsfragen (“The German national borders: legal-historical foundations and open legal questions”). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9783161484032.

Orbig, Karl-Ernst. (1990). “Gewässerschutz am Bodensee.” Wasserwirtschaft 80, nr. 7/8: 374–380.

This satellite image of Lake Constance was acquired on May 10, 2014 in ‘interferometric wide swath mode’ and in dual polarization. The radar instrument gathers information in either horizontal or vertical radar pulses, and colors were assigned to the different types. In this image, buildings generally appear pink, while vegetation is green. Areas with lowest reflectivity in all polarisations appear very dark, like the water. Source: ESA.
This satellite image of Lake Constance was acquired on May 10, 2014 in ‘interferometric wide swath mode’ and in dual polarization. The radar instrument gathers information in either horizontal or vertical radar pulses, and colors were assigned to the different types. In this image, buildings generally appear pink, while vegetation is green. Areas with lowest reflectivity in all polarisations appear very dark, like the water. Source: ESA.

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