Franco-German sophistication in the Mundat Forest

By Claire Stam
Schwarz-weiß Portrait von Claire Stam

Do you know the Mundat Forest? An ordinary German forest, you might think. But it has a special history – especially a certain section of the forest that belongs to the Upper Mundat Forest. This 680-hectare area is administered by the French Office National des Forêts and managed according to French law.

The Upper Mundat Forest covers a total of 40 km² and is located on the French-German border, near the Alsatian town of Wissembourg. And here, a short historical review is absolutely necessary to properly enjoy this real German-French treat:

In the Middle Ages, the forest and the town of Wissembourg belonged to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Centuries later, both were incorporated into France through the conquests of Louis XIV. Much later, in 1815, Napoleon lost at Waterloo and France signed with the victors the Second Peace of Paris, which curtailed its borders.

Forest belonged to Germany, then again to France

By this treaty, Wissembourg remained in France, while the Mundat Forest was divided between France and the Kingdom of Bavaria. And this is where the problem has its roots: Wissembourg is in fact one of the main owners of the Upper Mundat Forest; and due to the not-easy Franco-German relations – at that time, mind you -the town had difficulties using its forest on the German side, especially after World War I. The forest contains water sources that supply the city of Wissembourg.

A confusing back and forth ensued: The city of Wissembourg lost its rights to the forest on the German side. The French state got it back in the meantime before selling it to the German state on Dec. 16, 1937 for 1.35 million Reichsmark. After 1945, the Upper Mundat Forest belonged to the French occupation zone. Shortly thereafter, in 1948, a committee including the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France discussed the possibility of revising Germany’s western borders.

As a consequence, France finally got the forest area back.

But beware: for the committee that approved this rectification, it was only provisional. Only a treaty between the French state and the German state – which did not exist at that time – could make this annexation legally binding, with the necessary approval of the Americans and the British. This point was settled with the foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany. Ten years later, the process of reconciliation between the French and the Germans began.

An original agreement

In this context, on July 31, 1962, an agreement was signed by which the FRG recognized that the area of the Upper Mundat Forest belonged to France. But in the FRG the deputies of the Bundestag refused to ratify the agreement. To whom did these 680 hectares belong now? Neither the French, who hold on to this historically grown forest in Wissembourg, nor the Germans, who lost many territories after the war, seemed willing to let go. It was not until the 1980s, an idyllic time for the “Franco-German couple,” that the situation changed. At the height of their honeymoon, the former enemies actually tried to settle their old quarrels.

So the case of the Upper Mundat Forest came to the table, and it was the then French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson who finally proposed to separate the question of sovereignty from the question of ownership. Therein lies the subtlety. On May 10, 1984, France promised to repeal the decree annexing the 680 hectares to France, and Germany undertook to recognize France’s ownership of the forest, together with its rights to the water sources and hunting.

Article B of the agreement states: “Free access to the forest and to the sources for the personnel in charge of their care and use.” Concretely, this means that the personnel of the Office National des Forêts, employed under French law, can cut wood in Germany and bring it to France and sell it with French VAT.

In fact, therein lies the originality of the agreement: Frenchmen are allowed to manage German territory. Although the part of the forest belongs to Germany, French law applies there. Is the Upper Mundat Forest, therefore, German or French? It is probably both – and that is quite charming.


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