One of the first things to be noted about Armin Laschet, newly elected leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the party’s candidate to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, is that he is only just a German. He is from Aachen – Aix-la-Chapelle – and his entire family, as well as his wife’s, is of direct Belgian ancestry.

Laschet speaks fluent French as well as German, not because he was a good student, but because it was rooted in his upbringing. His heimat, or homeland, is the region embracing the cities of Aachen, Liège and Maastricht, that for centuries was the Burgundian Duchy of Limburg. The people hereabouts speak dialects of German, French and Dutch and trace their heritage back to no less a figure than Charlemagne, emperor of the Franks.