Question: Can you name the six founding members of the European Union?
Answer: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands
In the aftermath of World War II, European heads of state were eager to avoid the pattern of disputes arising between neighboring countries, which had twice escalated into global conflict. In 1951, six countries made a pact to align the management of their coal and steel industries; in 1958, they expanded the pact to encompass people, goods, and services, allowing free trade across borders under the name European Economic Market. Renamed the European Union in 1993, the now 28-member community is the intersection of cultures and commerce.
Here are some fascinating facts that you might not know about the precious commodities in each founding state:
- Belgium is building a beer pipeline: Yes, Belgians love their local beer—and so does the rest of Europe. But one of the busiest routes for beer transport rumbles heavily through medieval Bruges. Local authorities came up with a unique plan to lessen the burden on the centuries-old streets and preserve the historic setting: an underground beer pipeline crossing the city. Just under two miles long, the pipeline (already in construction) will deliver 36,000 gallons of beer a day from local brewers to vendors outside the city, reducing street traffic by 500 trucks daily.
- French king Louis XIV hired a potato publicist: While it might be hard to imagine now, potatoes were not always a staple of French cuisine. Considered hog feed and rumored to cause leprosy, potatoes were banned from consumption by law. But Louis XIV extolled Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the Inspector General of the Health Service, to promote the humble spud as a way of reacting to near-famine conditions. Parmentier used novel marketing methods, including planting potato fields and then posting guards (who were instructed to fail at their duties) to make the crop look desirable enough for locals to steal. He presented bouquets of potatoes to the King and Queen in lavish public ceremonies and cooked an all-potato banquet for visiting luminary Ben Franklin.
- German bandits pulled off a five-figure chocolate heist: Chocolate bars, chocolate balls, chocolates filled with brandy—countless cacao-based confections originated in Germany (though “German Chocolate” cake is actually an American creation). Germans are second only to the Swiss when it comes to chocolate consumption, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the biggest crime news of 2013 was a spectacular heist of 5.5 tons of Nutella, the creamy chocolate-hazelnut spread Germans love. More than 6,000 jars of the stuff—valued at $20,000—disappeared overnight from a rail depot in a crime that, to the embarrassment of German police, remains unsolved.
- Italy has a cheese bank: Everyone knows Italians take their food seriously, but the Credem Bank literally puts its money where its mouth is: it treats cheese as currency. Since the 1950s (in a tradition that was practiced by the Medicis) this bank in the Emilia Romagna region has offered cash loans secured with deposits of locally made Parmesan cheese of the highest quality. The cheese (over 400,000 wheels at last count) is kept in locked vaults and cannot be withdrawn until it has aged to maturity (two years) and the purveyor may either retrieve the cheese when the loan is paid or, if they default, lose the cheese to the bank, which sells it to recoup its investment.
- Luxembourg’s favorite “water” is 80 proof: Despite France being synonymous with fine wine and Ireland’s love affair with its pubs, the surprise holder of the record for highest consumption of alcohol in Europe is tiny Luxembourg—where each citizen on average drinks more than 23 gallons of beer and over 4 gallons of hard liquor per year. Much of this liquor consists of Drëpp, locally-made fruit brandy sold as eau-de-vie—“the water of life.” Government-certified eau-de-vie may be flavored with honey, nuts, Mirabelle, and plum, and though the highly perfumed sipper may go down easy, Drëpp (at 80-86 proof) packs the same wallop as bourbon.
- The Netherlands got its livestock off drugs: Europe’s biggest exporter of meat is the Netherlands. There are 118 million farm animals, but only 17 million people, meaning that everyone residing outside a city lives in relatively close proximity to farms. In recent years, scientific studies revealed that the addition of antibiotics to livestock feed has aided the rise of so called “superbugs,” like drug-resistant MRSA, which spread to humans, beginning with a Dutch farmer’s daughter in 2004. The Netherlands took the lead in fighting back, cutting use of antibiotics by more than half within three years, and another 20 percent by 2013. Drug-resistant bacteria has declined in all livestock and its meats are now more in-demand than ever as the cleanest, most natural product on the continent.
Grand Circle’s Romance of the Rhine & Mosel River Cruise brings you through Belgium, the Netherlands, France, and Germany, with the option of adding an excursion to Luxembourg, for a taste of five of the original European Union nations.