Visiting Brûly-de-Pesche, Belgium: the macabre and the triumphant in a wooded hamlet
Pause for thought
Brûly-de-Pesche is a hamlet near Couvin, in southern Belgium's Namur province, situated in the Walloon region (French: Région wallonne ).
For varying reasons, this place is both sinister and pleasantly stimulating at the same time.
Sinister, because Adolf Hitler maintained his military headquarters and bunker here in 1940, at the time of the Fall of France. Quickly built by an advance part of engineers, this bunker in woodland at Brûly-de-Pesche was Hitler's coordinating base during the Blitzkrieg and subsequent negotiations in June of 1940. It was at Brûly-de-Pesche that the terms of the Armistice with a France now led by Marshall Philippe Pétain were drawn up (1). At headquarters known as the Wolf's Lair (French: Ravin des Loups ), the bunker is one of the few parts of the headquarters which remain; its interior may be viewed. Meauring 7 by 7 metres, the structure was erected with a view to withstanding possible Allied air attack. Even a small, open air swimming pool, ghastly because of its association with Hitler's use of it, may still be seen.
The Allied triumph
But it is also interesting that the woods at Brûly-de-Pesche, as well as having hidden the sinister Nazi leader and his entourage, later concealed Belgian partisans, assisted by the Allied armies, in their finally triumphant struggle against the invaders of Belgium. In fact, a wooden structure has been reconstituted in the woods of Brûly-de-Pesche, a replica of one which was erected to harbour World War Two partisans.
Thus, the historical memories which these woods at Brûly-de-Pesche evoke are both ones of the macabre violators of Belgian sovereignty, led by a sinister maniac, but also ones of patriots and liberators. Even in this small hamlet, the presence of a blot on history may be said to be complemented by memories of the seeds of constructive, historical developments.
The church building
The small church building in the hamlet has interesting architectural aspects. Built in 1855, on land given by the Duke of Croÿ, the structure incorporates stone entrance arching. The current spire is post-war, since Hitler's henchmen dismantled the existing one in 1940, in order to build a water tower to serve the military headquarters that Hitler and his staff were to occupy. It is known that the small building was used as a projection room.
The hamlet's setting in peaceful and picturesque woodland, and its historically informative associations with World War Two, thus make it a worthwhile place to visit.
May 4, 2012
(1) For the morally questionable arrangements with the Nazi German invaders, Marshall Pétain, distinguished World War One military leader, was condemned to death on conviction of treason in 1945, although out of respect for his age the sentence itself was not actually carried out. Jailed for the remainder of his life, Marshall Pétain died in 1951. In Belgium, however, the country's government chose in 1940 to go into exile, rather than deal with the German invaders. King Leopold III of the Belgians himself did not flee from the country and was essentially a prisoner, later deported to Germany and Austria, although after the Liberation of Belgium many Belgians associated various controversies with him, necessitating his continuing exile, and, later, abdication in favour of his elder son, who became King Baudoin I of the Belgians; Leopold died in 1983.
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How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Distance from Brussels Airport to Brûly-de-Pesche : 136 kilometres. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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