Keith Kahn Harris

Metal Jew

Tag Archive: best water skier in Luxembourg
  1. My TEDx Krakow talk on ‘The Power of Small Worlds’

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    The talk I gave in September of this year at TEDx Krakow is now online. In it I talk about ‘The Power of Small Worlds’ and the pleasures of being a big fish in a small pond:


  2. The first review of The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg!

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    There’s a review of the first chapter of The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg in Souciant webzine – it’s a really nice one and I’m really chuffed. Read it here.

    …the sad truth is that most small ponds are also unnoticed ponds. It’s for that reason that I hope that the rest of Kahn-Harris’s book is funded and is able to see the light of day. Just as he uncovered the heroes and nuances of the small water ski and wakeboard community in Luxembourg, there are many more small ponds left to be explored.

    I agree!

  3. Read all about the Best Water Skier in Luxembourg!

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    I’m pleased to announce that the first chapter of my book The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds, has been published and is ready to download. It finally reveals the identity of the best waterskier himself and contains lots of juicy stories about the Luxembourg water skiing scene. If you have already pledged towards the book, go to my author ‘shed’ to download it. If not, then please considersupporting the project.

    Here’s the cover:

  4. The pleasure and pain of crowd-funding

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    I bared my soul in a modest way in an article for The Literary Platform about my experience of crowd-funding my book, The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg, through the Unbound project. Here it is again:

    I’m stalled – there’s no other word for it – at 8% funded. After a promising start in which a steady trickle of supporters pledged towards my book, no one has signed up for over a week. The giddy hopes that accompanied the start of my project are being replaced with cold, hard reality.

    That’s crowd-funding a book for you. Unless you are a household name or have a loyal following, it’s an insecure and even gut-wrenching business. However, my experience of crowd-funding has mainly been positive. Over the last year I’ve been working with Unbound, the crowd funding platform in which authors pitch their ideas directly to readers. Unlike other platforms, Unbound is not open to all and you have to submit your idea to them as you might do any other publishing company. If you’re picked up, Unbound kicks in a significant amount of money towards making a professional-quality pitch video and if the book gets funded, it’s published through their own imprint – so you’re not self-publishing.


    My Unbound project, The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds, is a travel book in which I set myself the challenge of meeting the unknown heroes of obscure small worlds. I was one of the first projects Unbound took on and I benefited from the wave of publicity that accompanied the launch of the company. We started cautiously, as while I have published academic books, this was my first trade non-fiction work. From September to December 2011 the first chapter of the book, in which I aimed to meet the best water skier in Luxembourg, was open for funding. A gratifying number of people supported the chapter (helped by some novel incentives such as a postcard from me from Luxembourg) and I raised enough to visit Luxembourg and investigate the water skiing scene.

    So far so good, but the real challenge has been the full ‘phase two’ of the project, in which I need to raise a lot of money to visit Iceland, Malta, Alderney, Suriname and Botswana. Since the project went up in the start of July, it’s been noticeably tougher to get support for the book than was the case last year. Pledges come in fits and starts, without any real momentum.

    Crowd funding a book through Unbound requires hard graft. If you’re a relative unknown like myself, you have to get out there and ‘sell’ the project. And I’ve done just that: I’ve blitzed my Twitter and Facebook followers, sent emails, written articles and blog posts, appeared at literary nights and followed up any conceivable lead. I’ve risked annoying my friends with not-so-subtle requests for their pledges.

    There are three principle challenges to this. The first is that it’s almost impossible to know in advance what will work. Some literary nights have brought me new supporters and others have not. Some tweets get retweeted and others never do. An email to something called The Listserve – a giant email list for which one person gets chosen at random every day to post to the list – unexpectedly resulted in many new pledges.

    The second challenge is in converting interest into pledges. Everywhere I’ve talked about the book, I’ve had people approach me to say how interesting it sounds. I give them a promotional postcard and often never hear from them again. There’s plenty of good will but this doesn’t necessarily translate into cash.

    The third challenge is finding people who will pledge at a high level. My project has levels of support, going up from £10 to £2000, with incentives to match. While every pledge is precious, what I really need is a few ‘whales’ – people who will give larger sums of money without necessarily being motivated by what they will get in return. On phase one of my project, the generosity of a couple of people like this did much to get me funded.

    This ‘upfront’ work to get the book published is nerve-racking. What will happen if I don’t get funded? Here there is a parallel with more traditional publishing models. Unless you’re a writer with a proven track record and a multi-book contract, you have to do a lot of work to get picked up by a publisher or agent. For those at the start of their writing careers, it can take years to hone a book or book proposal into a state in which it will be picked up – with absolutely no guarantee that there will be anything at all to show for it. At least with Unbound I didn’t have to go through the agonies of drafting and redrafting proposals and sample chapters. Once I have the funding, it will be full steam ahead.

    I’m sure that many would argue that it would be ultimately more beneficial for one’s career as a writer to front-load the actual writing of the book rather than front-loading the publicity for thebook. Yet there is a hidden benefit. One thing that will console me if my book never gets funded is that much of the work of selling my book idea has not only been fun, it has been worthwhile for its own sake: I’ve spoken to people I would never have spoken to before, I’ve written for publications I’d never have written for before (such as this one!), I’ve forced myself to get out there on twitter not just for self-promotion, but to contribute to the vast ongoing discussion.

    In a much quoted and retweeted article a few weeks ago, Ewan Morrison convincingly argued that social media was not an effective tool for promoting self-published and other books. This may be correct – although social media have brought me new supporters – but it also misses the point a bit. If the networking and publicity work that crowd funding and other new publishing models require is not seen as a means to an end but an end in itself, then perhaps frustrated authors should learn to enjoy the process more. The challenge then is to find modes of self-promotion that are satisfying even if they do not lead to sales. This is why literary nights, speaker events and festivals are so important. Even if they don’t ‘work’ as forms of publicity, they certainly do work in being fun to take part in and as a way of meeting and connecting with people.

    So I’m frustrated at how my project seems to have stalled. But I haven’t given up hope. And I don’t regret the work I’ve put into it. It’s been a blast even if the dream of a book at the end of it might be deferred for a while.

    Keith Kahn-Harris is a London-based writer and sociologist, and you can find out more about his Unbound project here

  5. Why I want to visit Malta

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    This is the third in a series of posts explaining the background behind the choice of places I am aiming to visit on my travels for my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds.

    The book is being crowd-funded via the innovative publisher Unbound and I would appreciate anyone interested in it to support me in reaching my goal.

    Malta was an obvious choice of destination for a chapter of my book. A nation of about 450,000 people, densely packed into three densely populated island of only 121 square miles in total, it is similar to Luxembourg and Iceland: countries that are big enough to have the full range of features of other states, but in miniature.


    At the same time, the chapter that I hope to write about Malta is a little different from some of the other chapters. With Luxembourg, Alderney, Suriname and Alderney I knew virtually nothing about the object of my mission before starting out. With my mission to find Malta’s favourite soft drink, I’m drawing on a longstanding obsession – not so much obsession with Malta but an obsession with soft drinks.

    I’m not addicted to sugary liquids, although I do enjoy them. Rather, it’s what soft drinks represent that interests me. Soft drinks are neglected by writers and gourmets in favour of alcoholic drinks, which have an image of complexity and sophistication that soft drinks do not. Soft drinks are vulgar, filled with sugar and chemicals. They are childish, fit only for those who cannot drink alcohol and are too immature to be content with water as a thirst-quencher. Even more expensive soft drinks like Elderflower pressé are seen as, at best, substitutes for alcoholic drinks.

    Part of the problem is that soft drinks are dominated by the leviathans of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and the like. Even for those who have no problem with multinational corporations per se may see corporate soft drink culture as something difficult to treasure.

    But soft drinks are more interesting than they might at first seem. For one thing, if you look beyond the obvious – the Sprites and Cokes – there is a whole world of taste sensations that awaits the aspiring soft drink aficionado. A drink like Japan’s Pocari Sweat doesn’t just attract because of the bizarre name, but by the extraordinary and indefinable range of flavours it contains.

    What really excites me about soft drinks is how you can trace the characteristics of globalisation and contemporary capitalism through them. It is striking how far the diversity of soft drink provision has declined in recent decades. When I was young, there were still places, like cinemas, where you couldn’t get Coke or Sprite, where the likes of Panda Pops or obscure orange squash drinks ruled. Every country had its Coke substitute or competitor, like Israel’s Kinley Cola. Today, the last bastions of resistance to Coke and Pepsi have mostly been conquered.

    Yet some redoubts of soft drink diversity remain – and one of them is Malta. The small Mediterranean island state is home to one of the glories of the soft drink world: Kinnie. Kinnie is a bitter orange based drink that manages to balance complexity (its exact formula is a secret), the sharp bitterness of orange and the kick of sugar. It tastes great in the sun as I discovered on my visit to Malta in 2000.


    From what I can tell, Kinnie appears to be thriving. It’s 60 years old this year and the company that makes it, Farsons, has even made tentative forays into selling the drink abroad. From conversations with Maltese, it appears that Kinnie is an important part of Maltese identity – they even serve it at the Maltese embassy in London.

    If it looks like I already know what I am going to find on my mission to find Malta’s favourite soft drink, things aren’t as simple as they might seem. Coke et al are sold on the island and I need to establish what drink actually sells the best. As with every other chapter in the book, I’m on the hunt for stories. I want to meet the people from Farsons, as well as the local representatives of Coke and Pepsi and hear what they think. I want to visit the Kinnie factory and learn about its history. I want to get under the skin of what it is to be Maltese and what part Kinnie plays in Maltese identity.

    It may be of course that Coke or a similar brand may be Malta’s favourite soft drink in terms of sales. Still, I make this vow: when my book is published, Kinnie will be the drink of choice at the launch party.

    So that’s my Malta mission. Please support it!

  6. Why I want to visit Iceland

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    This is the second in a series of posts explaining the background behind the choice of places I am aiming to visit on my travels for my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds.

    The book is being crowd-funded via the innovative publisher Unbound and I would appreciate anyone interested in it to support me in reaching my goal.

    The chapter I plan to write on Iceland represents the toughest challenge of the whole book. Not that visiting Iceland is difficult – it’s cheaper than ever before since the economic crisis of a couple of years ago. It’s what I want to investigate in Iceland that’s the tough part. The subject of the chapter is Iceland’s special forces, the Víkingasveitin or ‘Viking Squad’.  And generally speaking, special forces tend to be publicity-shy, especially to long-haired sociologists writing strange travel books.

    Why the Icelandic special forces? Soon after I came up with the idea of writing a book on big fish in small ponds, I decided that I really wanted to do a chapter on a small country’s armed forces, preferably the armed forces of a country that did not have a history of conflict. Iceland seemed the sort of place to try but after looking online I found out that the country does not have an army. What it does have though is the Víkingasveitin. Officially a branch of the police, they perform functions that special forces do in other countries, such as counter-terrorism and hostage rescue. And that was all the info I needed – I would travel to Iceland and meet the Víkingasveitin.

    As with all my other missions, what interests me most is the squad members stories and experiences. What’s it like to be the only real military in a small country? Is it frustrating training so hard for a day that may never come? Is there a sense of being an elite? How hard is it to be chosen for the Víkingasveitin? How do they manage to stay discreet in a place where it is hard to stay anonymous? What do they do on a daily basis?

    I have to confess also to being slightly in awe of special forces. I’m not a bellicose person and I don’t celebrate conflict. But even if I may sometimes be highly critical of the conflicts that the UK SAS, the US Delta Force and the Russian Spentnatz are sent into, I have no doubt that they are incredibly skilled and disciplined. I have no contact with the military in the UK and certainly not with the SAS, so in meeting the Víkingasveitin (hopefully) I know I will be a fish out of water. Will I be able to make a personal connection with people who have lives that are massively different to my own?

    Of course, there’s no guarantee that I will be allowed to meet members of the Víkingasveitin. There are no shortcuts here – I have to respect hierarchies and approach people in the right way. I will presumably have to use pseudonyms, ensure confidentiality and allow them to vet what I write.  I’ve already approached people and hopefully access will be granted.

    So that’s my Iceland mission. Please support it!

  7. Why I want to visit Alderney

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    This is the first in a series of posts explaining the background behind the choice of places I am aiming to visit on my travels for my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds.

    The book is being crowd-funded via the innovative publisher Unbound and I would appreciate anyone interested in it to support me in reaching my goal.

    I’ve always been fascinating by ‘things in between’, things are not the biggest or the smallest, the famous or the unknown, the successful or the unsuccessful. Wherever there is a spectrum or continuum you’re likely to get attention paid to both ends but the middle gets neglected.

    Alderney is an archetypal place in between. Of all the Channel Islands, dependencies of the UK near the French coast, Alderney is probably the one that outsiders know least about. Jersey and Guernsey, the two largest, are well-known as tax havens and holiday destinations. Sark and Herm, the two smallest (excluding a number of tiny islets) are reasonably well-known as Lilliputian, idyllic havens (although Sark has received quite a bit of attention recently due to the machinations of the Barclay Brothers in the island’s affairs). But Alderney? Well it’s somewhere in the middle and so it often drops off the map.


    Alderney is small – 3 square miles with a permanent population of around 2,400. From photos it looks lovely, but it is by no means untouched by civilization. It has the only railway on the Channel Islands, it’s dotted with fortifications left over from the wartime Nazi occupation (as well as the remains of the only concentration camps ever set up on British soil) and although it hasn’t opened itself up wholesale as a tax haven, it does host various e-commerce and offshore gambling companies. It also has a reputedly vigorous nightlife, with numerous pubs – islanders sometimes joke they are ‘2000 alcoholics clinging to a rock’ – and parties held in abandoned World War Two bunkers.  


    But while Alderney may have some interesting and quirky features and may well be a great place for a holiday, this isn’t really why I want to visit. What really attracts me is how power and politics works on a small island with a small island.

    And that’s why my mission for the book is to find ‘the most powerful politician on Alderney’.

    As with all the chapters of the book, the mission doesn’t just involve meeting one person – it involves finding out about an entire small world. Because the question of who is the most powerful politician on Alderney isn’t a simple one.

    Of course, Alderney’s elected representative body, the States of Alderney, has a President (currently Stuart Trought). But pinning down who holds power is often an elusive matter, like nailing jelly to a wall. For one thing Alderney’s constitutional status is complex – it is a British crown dependency, part of the Balliwick of Guernsey, but with a high degree of self-government. On top of that, politicians are never the only people with power – who are the real movers and shakers behind the scenes of Alderney politics?

    I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am really looking forward to finding them out. I’m looking forward to meeting the key people in Alderney and hearing their stories. Above all, what I want to know is what it’s like being involved in the politics of a small island. How do people deal with political disputes in a place where everyone knows each other? Does that make for more civil disagreement?

    So that’s my Alderney mission. Please support it!

  8. The surprising rewards to connecting via The Listserve

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    A few weeks ago I signed up for The Listserve. It’s one of those ideas that are so simple you wonder why no one thought of it before. You sign up to the e-mail list (currently it has 20,000 subscribers and they are aiming for 1 million). Every day one person is selected randomnly and is given the opportunity to post to the list – up to 250 words and with no photos or hyperlinks, otherwise they can say whatever they like. And that’s it.

    I was selected at the weekend and my post went on the list on Monday. Naturally my post explained my project The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg (although I was careful not to make it too obvious a plug).

    I didn’t expect much of a response, but to may amazement I have been inundated with delightful e-mails and tweets, many of them offering assistance. The project has also attracted a lot of new funders from the list. It’s been really heartening to have so many people express interest in and support for what I’m trying to so.

    It’s also been a real surprise as, given the flood of e-mails most of us receive every day these days, I didn’t expect my one to cut through the noise. It’s actually been a much more effective publicity tool than anything else I’ve done to promote my project – including appearing on TV and radio.

    I suppose part of the reason must be that even given the masses of spam and other e-mails that everyone receives all the time, it’s still a fairly personal medium. An e-mail addresses you directly, however imperfectly. It’s nice to be reminded that personal(ish) communication still has a value.

    Anyway, here’s the text of the e-mail I sent:

    Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE

    Dear The Listserve people

    I doubt you’ll recognise my name.

    I’m not famous. I’ll never be famous.

    But I have always aspired to be ‘someone’, a person who made some kind of small but significant contribution to ‘something’ . As it happened, I found such a modest niche. I’m a sociologist, working on two very specialised areas – the sociology of hevy metal and the sociology of the British Jewish community. Needless to say, there aren’t many of us working in either area. I’m really just a reasonably big fish in a couple of pretty small ponds.

    So for the last few years I’ve made a joke about being such a big fish in a small pond. I’ve said that really I’m just like ‘the best water skier in Luxembourg’. Needless to say I didn’t know anything about water skiing in Luxembourg.

    But about a year ago I had a brianstorm: why not go and meet the best water skier in Luxembourg? Why not write a book about him/her and about other big fish in small ponds too? The idea seized me with excitement. This could be a polemic against power and celebrity, a celebration of the unknown heroes in obscure small worlds, a tribute to commitment and community.

    So I’ve been working on the book. I actually met the best water skier in Luxembourg last year and I’m preparing further trips to visit such other obscure figures as the Icelandic special forces, the top novelist in Suriname and the best heavy metal band in Botswana.

    The book is being crowd-funded so I need the help of strangers to complete my project. You can’t post links on The Listserve but if you google ‘best water skier in Luxembourg’ or e-mail me, you can find out more.

    In the meantime thank you to The Listerserve for making me a little bit famous for one e-mail.


    Keith Kahn-Harris

    London, UK

  9. The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg – The Next Phase

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    So I’m pleased to announce that the next phase of the book I’m crowd-funding The Best Water Skier in Luxembourg: Tales of Big Fish in Small Ponds is now open for funding. The first chapter is virtually completed and those who funded it will get a copy in the next week or two.

    If you want, you can help by liking the Facebook page or by mentioning the project on twitter. But the best thing you can do is to help fund it!

    There’s a great new pitch video:



    And you can also read an extract from the first chapter.


  10. Botswanan Metal on CNN Inside Africa

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    CNN’s Inside Africa programme has a story this week on Botswanan Metal. I haven’t caught it yet but it’s repeated several times during the week. I’ve had an interest in Botswanan metal for a while and I hope to visit the country and explore it’s metal scene as part of my Unbound project. Obviously I have some bitter-sweet feelings about the ‘discovery’ of the scene by CNN – selfishly I guess, I wanted to be the one who ‘revealed’ it to the world!

    With names like Demon and Gunsmoke it would be easy to dismiss the rockers as thugs. In fact, the titles come with a strong awareness of social responsibility.

  11. Who’s Afraid of Greater Luxembourg? – by Frank Jacobs (from the NY Times Opinionator Blog)

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    Borderlines explores the global map, one line at a time.

    Luxembourg is about as cuddly as countries come: prosperous, picturesque and delightfully tiny. At 999 square miles, it is the smallest but one of the European Union states [1]. You could drive its length (55 miles) or its width (35 miles) in less time than it takes to watch a feature-length movie — provided you don’t stop at one of the many touristy villages or vineyards along the way. The capital, also called Luxembourg [2], is a cozy city of barely 100,000 souls; its major problem is not drugs or urban decay, but the apparently unfixable fact that it’s rather boring [3].

    Luxembourg is the only country in the world ruled by a grand duke [4], which sounds more like the setup to a fairy tale than a real-world constitutional arrangement. The grand duchy is a founding member of the European Union and NATO [5], and hosts the European Court of Justice, Eurostat (the European Statistical Office), the Secretariat of the European Parliament and other supranational institutions. Luxembourg expects to be listened to and taken seriously by its international peers. And it is: of its last four prime ministers, one went on to become president of the United Nations General Assembly, another of the European Commission, and a third of the Eurogroup [6].

    All that from a country less populous than Hanover, Germany’s 13th largest city. It is so small that even tiny Belgium is able to smirk about the grand duchy’s size, replicating the scorn heaped upon itself by its own larger neighbors. Why is Luxembourg so determined to punch above its weight? Could it be that it has a grander idea of itself than its neighbors have? An elevated sense of self is a useful survival tool, for countries as well as people. But Luxembourgers could argue that they don’t have delusions of grandeur, but rather memories of grandeur. Once upon a time, you see, there was a Greater Luxembourg.

    Joe Burgess/The New York Times

    The state’s roots go back to 963 A.D., when Siegfried, count of the Ardennes, acquired Lucilinburhuc, an old Roman fort with a Frankish name [7]. Over the next few centuries, the House of Luxembourg would choose its wars and wives wisely, and the County of Luxembourg would grow to encompass an area four times the size of the present grand duchy.

    Indeed, Luxembourg’s international ambitions, mainly within the vast and chaotic German Empire, are almost as old as the house itself. It produced three Holy Roman emperors, several kings of Bohemia and a fair share of archbishops. Perhaps Luxembourg’s most lasting impression on the empire was the Golden Bull of 1365, a decree that would determine how Holy Roman emperors would be elected for over four centuries, until the empire’s dissolution in 1806. It was issued by Emperor Charles IV of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia [8], who in 1354 elevated his ancestral county to a duchy.

    Unfortunately, Luxembourg soon lost control of its own fate. In 1441 Duchess Elizabeth sold it to Burgundy; it later passed into Hapsburg hands and was eventually integrated into the Netherlands as one of its 17 provinces. Lack of an independent dynasty meant an end to Luxembourg’s influence in the world, and it eventually fell under the geopolitical knife. Like once enormous Poland, to the east, it suffered three partitions, resulting in the bonsai nation it currently is.

    In fact, the three countries surrounding present-day Luxembourg all own territory that once belonged to the Duchy of Luxembourg, and they all at one point or another demanded its total annexation into their own territory. In 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees [9] accorded just over 400 square miles (or 10 percent of its size at the time) of Luxembourg to France, which gained the fortified cities of Stenay, Thionville and Montmédy. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Prussia got the fort at Bitburg, and all lands west of a new riverine border [10], further reducing Luxembourg by 880 square miles (or an additional 24 percent of the original). Part of these lands would go to Belgium after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

    But the worst loss occurred in 1839, when the Netherlands accepted the Treaty of London, formally recognising Belgian independence. In return, the Dutch king William I got to keep the eastern halves of Limburg and Luxembourg, provinces which had nevertheless cheered on Belgium’s secession. As a result, the grand duchy lost its western half (1,687 square miles, or 42 percent of its territory at its largest extension) to Belgium, which still has a province also called Luxembourg. William remained grand duke of the eastern half of Luxembourg, establishing a personal union [11] with the Netherlands that would last until 1890.

    And of course the country didn’t avoid the horrors of 20th century Europe, either: in the first half of the 20th century, Germany brutally occupied Luxembourg twice, annexing it outright the second time.

    More From Borderlines

    Read previous contributions to this series.

    That list of unfortunate events would be enough justification for a grand duchy to be brimming with resentment, with local politicians falling over one another demanding the return of the lost territories, a condition common to many once grand nations. But political extremism is a fringe movement in Luxembourg politics —probably so small that it can be identified as that one guy fuming behind his Weissbier in a bar in Echternach.

    Instead, Luxembourg has sublimated irredentism, that unpalatable side dish of nationalism, into something much more powerful. Outwardly, the Luxembourgers are the best students of the European class. Their national motto, rendered in Luxembourgish, is: “Mir wölle bleiwe, wat mir sin” (“We want to stay what we are”), a good summary of the folksy, don’t-rock-the-boat conservatism that dominates the political scene.

    But the real slogan might just as well be: “We want to become what we were”: European power brokers, as they were in the Middle Ages. Luxembourg is stealthily positioning itself as the central pivot of a new supernational zone within Europe, generically called the Grande Région.

    This Greater Region of Luxembourg is one of Europe’s many cross-border cooperations called Euroregions, welding Luxembourg with the Walloon region of Belgium (including its German-speaking area), the French region of Lorraine, and the German states of Saarland and Rhineland-Palatinate. The Greater Region [12] is much wider than the old Greater Luxembourg, comprising an area of 25,250 square miles and counting more than 11 million inhabitants [13].

    Ostensibly only a forum to discuss economic, social, cultural and tourist affairs, the Greater Region of Luxembourg could nevertheless be seen as the inchoate resurrection of an ancient European entity: Middle Francia [14], the centerpiece of Charlemagne’s empire. It’s been a long time coming: While the empire’s eastern and western parts later evolved into Germany and France, Middle Francia — extending in a narrow corridor from the North Sea to the Mediterranean — did not survive its creation at the Treaty of Verdun, in 843 A.D., for very long.

    Perhaps this is Luxembourg’s insurance policy in case the European Union goes to the dogs. Plan A is to be the best student in the European class, at which is excels. Plan B is to recreate Middle Francia, but this time as a viable third way between France and Germany. Middle Francia’s undoing was its lack of cultural cohesion. Perhaps the Luxembourgers, fluently trilingual, can turn that defect around to an advantage. And maybe one day, Europeans tired of a superstate dominated by France and Germany will resolutely declare, from Amsterdam to Athens: “Mir wölle bleiwe, wat mir sin.”

    Frank Jacobs is a London-based author and blogger. He writes about cartography, but only the interesting bits.

    [1] And about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island, smallest of the 50 American states. Luxembourg held the distinction of being the smallest member state until the 2004 accession of Malta, which is only 121 square miles in size, about twice the size of the District of Columbia.

    [2] The French and standard international name of the city and country; in German, it is called Luxemburg; in Luxembourgish, it is called Lëtzebuerg. All three are official languages, with French the sole legislative language, German used for fiscal matters and in the press, and Luxembourgish (French vocabulary grafted on a German dialect) deployed in everyday conversations.

    [3] So boring that at least one local girl found no way better to spend her spare time than to correspond with an adolescent, pre-famous Morrissey: “Spending warm summer days indoors, writing / Frightening verse to a buck-toothed girl in Luxembourg.”

    [4] A grand duchy is a rare nomenclature, defining the sovereign territory of a monarch below the rank of king but above that of prince. One of the earliest, and longest-lived, examples is the grand duchy of Tuscany, which existed from 1569 to 1860. Napoleon created a handful of semi-independent grand duchies to solidify his European conquests (e.g. the grand duchies of Würzburg and Frankfurt). The Congress of Vienna, undoing Napoleon’s work, showed a curiously similar predilection for grand duchies, creating a dozen of them in and near Germany. Of these, only Luxembourg has maintained its independence, and its grand duke.

    [5] There has been a contingent of about 10 Luxembourgish soldiers stationed in Afghanistan since 2003, integrated with a Belgian battalion tasked with the defense of Kabul airport.

    [6] In order: Gaston Thorn (1975-1976), Jacques Santer (1995-1999) and Jean-Claude Juncker (2005-present). The Eurogroup is the council of euro zone finance ministers maintaining political control over the euro currency. Luxembourgers also have their hands on the levers of power across the Atlantic. J. Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007, is a Luxembourgian-American. That same community produced a United States governor (Richard F. Kneip, of South Dakota), an Oscar winner (Loretta Young), a Nobel Prize laureate (the chemist Paul Lauterbur) and a baseball Hall of Famer (Red Faber). For more on this tiny but fascinating community, see the archives of the Luxembourg News of America.

    [7] The name was long thought to mean “little fortress,” but the prefix could also refer to a type of fortified promontory known in German as a “Letze.” In the 19th century, Luxembourg’s heavily fortified Bock hill was known as the “Gibraltar of the North.”

    [8] Presiding over a Golden Age for Bohemia, Charles is considered father of the nation in the Czech Republic. He founded the university in Prague that is still named after him.

    [9] Concluded between France and Spain on Pheasant Island, mentioned earlier in this series.

    [10] Which was installed and still operates as a condominium, previously discussed here.

    [11] One monarch ruling over two (or more) distinct countries. The personal union between the Netherlands and Luxembourg ended in 1890 when William III left only a female heir. Wilhelmina became queen of the Netherlands, but as Luxembourg followed the Salic Law (allowing only men to the throne), William III was succeeded by Wilhelmina’s distant relative, Adolphe of Nassau-Weilburg.

    [12] Banality is an excellent cloak for deviousness. Hence the even more abstract alternate name for this Euroregion: SarLorLux.

    [13] Larger than West Virginia and more populous than Michigan.

    [14] Its northern part was later also called Lotharingia, after its king Lothair II. Its southern parts included Burgundy, the Provence and the kingdom of (northern) Italy.

    This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:

    Correction: April 18, 2012

    An earlier version of this article misspelled the Luxembourg national motto and incorrectly compared the land areas of Malta and Washington.

  12. My travel feature on Luxembourg

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    I had a travel feature on partying in Luxembourg published in the Guardian. View it here. The first chapter of my Best Water Skier in Luxembourg book should be published within the next month or so.

  13. Heavy metal Jewish water skiing

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    I am interested in unexpected intersections. That’s one of the reasons why I blog about Jews and metal. It’s how the whole best water skiewr in Luxembourg thing came about.

    In an idle moment recently I wondered how far these intersections could go. Is there a crossover between metal, Jews, water skiing and Luxembourg (other than me?). Google suggests not. Heavy metal water skiing perhaps? This is more likely – I’m sure some people are into both, although I can find no direct evidence of this. Jews and water skiing? Again, I’m sure plenty of Jews water ski and there appears to be water skiing in Israel. Jews, water skiing and Luxembourg? Two of the top water skiers in Luxembourg in the 60s, whom I interviewed for my book, married Jews who also water ski.

    But I guess these intersections aren’t really at the top of anyone’s cultural imagination. I did find this semi-amusing cartoon online though: