Visiting Mamelis, Limburg, The Netherlands: discovering the Selzerbeek Valley and the Kolmonderbos

Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
Sint Benedictusberg: view from the provincial route
Sint Benedictusberg: view from the provincial route | Source
Map location of Vaals, Limburg, The Netherlands
Map location of Vaals, Limburg, The Netherlands | Source

An ancient amalgam of landscape and church traditions?

The Selzerbeek, a stream shared by two countries — The Netherlands and Germany — is a relatively short watercourse: 13 kilometres in all.

In The Netherlands it is called the Selzerbeek; in Germany, the Senserbach. Thus also, local people in the Dutch province of Limburg and the Germany state of North Rhine-Westphalia (German: Nordrhein-Westfalen; Dutch: Noordrijn-Westfalen) respectively speak also of the Selzerbeek Valley (Dutch: Selzerbeekdal; German: Senserbachtal).

The course of this small, but significant stream falls roughly into three categories:

i) its part which is wholly in Germany, where it rises;

ii) its part where it forms the border between Germany and The Netherlands, including at the village of Lemiers, which is thus divided into Dutch and German sections, under separate admistration;

iii) the part of the stream onwards from where, at Mamelis, and woodland called the Kolmonderbos, it enters wholly into Dutch territory (it eventually flows into the Geul river, itself a tributary of the Maas).

These lines focus principally on the third of these categories. I have elsewhere described how, even since World War Two, the upper course of the Selzerbeek has been the subject of a border dispute pursued (and later abandoned) by the Dutch government, yet no controversy has been attached to any political dimensions of the Selzerbeek's course once it flows into territory wholly in The Netherlands.

A notable feature of the Selzerbeek Valley is woodland known as the Kolmonderbos. This wooded area is close to further woodland called the Platte Bos. Sometimes the names of the these areas of woodland are given together: The Kolmonder- and Platte Bos (Dutch: Het Kolmonder- en het Platte Bos). One sometimes also sees alternative spellings for these adjacent woods: Kolmonderbosch and Platte Bosch respectively; the earlier spellings reflect an orthographic reform in the Dutch language.

I have elsewhere described a little of the history of the Sint Benedictusberg monastery, but significantly this structure is situated not only on a hill uncharacteristic of The Netherlands (if not for Limburg), but also within the Kolmonderbos. Its conical twin towers peeking above a building half-hidden by this woodland's foliage. This arguably adds somewhat to a sense of 'separateness' which the monastic environment and architecture have traditionally sought to heighten. Being near Aachen (9 kilometres away), Germany, this area of The Netherlands can call upon a long sense of ecclesiastical architectural tradition; for example, the Sint Servaas Basilica in Maastricht incorporates a westwork feature, redolent of the former German Emperor's combined imperial and ecclesiastical rôle. So are the conical towers of this monastery, with strong hits of Byzantine-inspired, Romanesque style, and half hidden by the Kolmonderbos, part of an ancient building? Well, actually, no; this structure dates from the 20th century and has also received substantial additions in recent years. But its presence within woodland, near a stream, fosters a sense of 'separation' from the world: part of the monastic idea. Could one almost say, paraphrasing Voltaire, that in such an area with Carolingian, ecclesiastical traditions, if a monastery in a wood such as the Kolmonderbos did not exist, it would be necessary to invent one?

There is a sense in which the latent background of Limburg's culture and traditions lie deeply rooted in an amalgam of hilly, wooded landscape with church traditions which long predate more modern notions of national borders and separation of church and state.

Organized walks through the Kolmondenbos area of the Selzerbeek Valley are arranged from time to time (1). Frequently occurring species of tree in the area include oak and beech.

Mamelis is located in the Vaals municipality of Limburg province of The Netherlands.

March 5, 2013

Note

(1) One of a number of hiking maps of the area may be accessed at: http://www.wandelgidszuidlimburg.com/wandelroutes/141.html

Also worth seeing

Holset (distance: approx. 3.1 kilometres) is an ancient stone church structure with ecclesiastical associations said to be over 1600 years old.

Vaalserberg, Vaals (distance: approx. 5 kilometres); at this wooded hill the borders of The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium converge.

...

How to get there: The nearest large city to Mamelis is Aachen, Germany. By road, an approach to the Kolmonderbos from the Maastricht or Aachen directions is via the N279, then the N281 and finally the Kolmonderbosweg. Lufthansa flies from New York Newark to Duesseldorf, where car rental is available. A46/A61/A44 lead to Aachen. The German railroad company Deutsche Bahn (DB) links Duesseldorf to Aachen (distance: 93 kilometres). 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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