Visiting Lemiers, Germany and the Senserbach: memories and reflections at a Nordrhein-Westfalen village
Bordering its linguistically complex namesake in The Netherlands
When I first arrived at the tranquil village of Lemiers, Germany (today within the borders of Aachen), I did not quite realize what was in store.
Defined by the 'Senserbach'
Lemiers gets its name from the fact that the local stream called the Senserbach (which rises at the Vaalserberg , a few kilometres away) would easily flood and facilitate the manufacture of loam, useful in building; and the place-name took on a reference to the word for 'loam' in the local dialect. The Senserbach runs through the village of what is nowadays referred to sometimes as Alt-Lemiers (Old Lemiers). The east of the village borders onto the Aachen subdivisions of Laurensberg and Orsbach. The road to the neighbouring village of Orsbach — where a private Medieval castle may be viewed from the outside — runs up a hill known as the Lemierser Berg ; indeed, the road itself is referred to by that name. Running through the village, parallel to the Senserbach , is a road called the Senserbachgweg . The whole setting of this place is quietly rural.
Linguistic complexities and Medieval history
Step over the Senserbach and it becomes intriguing. On the northern bank of the Senserbach , the stream is referred to officially as such. On the southern bank of the stream, it is referred to officially as the Selzerbeek . Why? because Selzerbeek is the Dutch spelling of the word and the southern part of the village is situated in The Netherlands.
While German side of the village is sometimes referred to as Alt-Lemiers, the immediately adjacent side of the village in The Netherlands is sometimes known in Dutch as Oud-Lemiers. A few hundred metres further south, on the main Vaals to Maastricht road, a part of the village has grown up, known simply as Lemiers. In the more modern part of the village on the main road, the large church known as the Sint-Catharina en Luciakerk is situated. In Oud-Lemiers is found the Medieval, stone chapel known as the Sint-Catharinakapel ; this picturesque building dates from the 12th century.
Close to the Senserbach lies a moated castle, a wing of which used to operate as mill from 1667 until the early 20th century. Given that the castle moat runs parallel to the stream on the south side, I had better refer to the stream here as the Selzerbeek. The oldest existing part of the castle dates from the 15th century; the castle was expanded considerably in the 17th century. Although the interior of the castle is not open to the public, the exterior is visible from a number of publicly accessible locations off the property. Historically, the castle has changed family ownership many times from initial records of a 10th century Bavarian count called Katelo; it subsequently belonged to the Cathedral of Aachen. (But Lemiers also goes back much further than 10th century Bavarian counts: some Roman remains have also been found in the village.) During part of the Medieval period in the castle's history, the occupants were known as the Lords of Lemiers.
Historically also, the local population of the village has spoken a dialect known as Limburgs (because the part of The Netherlands where Oud-Lemiers is situated is in the Dutch province of Limburg; I say Dutch province of Limburg, because there is also a Belgian province of Limburg; but let's not get too complicated). However, since the northern part of Lemiers is in the German state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, it is less customary to refer to the local dialect there as 'Limburgs'. Be that as it may, in the local dialect, the village is known as Lemieësj . This is sometimes written Lemiesch .
The Senserbach / Selzerbeek , also, is not immune from further linguistic complication. On the Dutch side of the stream, both the Dutch language version of the name and the Limburgs dialect version have their variants. In Dutch, the Selzerbeek is sometimes known as the Senserbeek (recalling the settled spelling on the northern side of the stream); another Dutch language variant is Sinselbeek . Moving on to the various variants of the stream's name in Limburgs, these are: Selzerbaek , Sinzelbeek or Sinselbaach .
For the serious-minded, then, the moral is: remember which side of the stream you are on... .
Where do we go from here?
So where do we go from here? This article could just as easily have been written and classified as being about Lemiers, The Netherlands, while also referring to Lemiers, Germany. What does this say about the theory of the nation-state, if such identities can in reality be so fluid? Lemiers invites reflection, cut in half, as it is, by the Senserbach (let me just stick to the German, for the sake of ease...) and rooted in centuries of history, where rivers and streams, castles, and agriculture mattered more than notions about modern statehood and national sovereignty. We visitors to Lemiers may question ourselves, are we driven by ideologies which we scarcely grasp?
Meanwhile, in Lemiers, a quiet German-Dutch village — essentially one place in practice, if vehemently deniable in theory — life goes on.
Also worth seeing
Aachen 's city centre (distance: 7.2 kilometres) has sites and cultural treasures too numerous to mention here, but make sure you see the monumental Cathedral (Dom ), with its associations with Emperor Charlemagne (circa 742-814) , and the City Hall (Rathaus ), with its impressive façade.
Orsbach , Germany (distance: 1.6 kilometres) has a Medieval castle, which may be seen from the exterior. (Although not open to the general public, it can be hired for private functions.)
Vaals , The Netherlands, (distance: 5.4 kilometres) is a busy border town to which the neighbouring Vaalserquartier seemingly functions as a suburb as much as it does to Aachen. The tall church spire of St Pauluskerk is a local landmark.
Holset , The Netherlands (distance: 8.5 km) has an old stone church, the site of which is reputed to have early Christian associations from about the year 360.
How to get there: Lufthansa flies from New York Newark to Duesseldorf, where car rental is available. A46/A61/A44 lead to Aachen. The German railroad company Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB) links Duesseldorf (distance: 93 kilometres) to Aachen. 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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