Visiting Mamelis, The Netherlands: untypical hill country, and border complexities, too
Why South Limburg is different
I wasn't sure where I was. As I walked on the main Vaals-Maastricht road and looking up at the hill to my right — seemingly so untypical of The Netherlands — I reckoned from my map that the hill, with its big, towered ecclesiastical building, must be in Germany, if my calculations were correct.
Well, they weren't correct. But they were almost correct.
The border with Germany in this part of The Netherlands passes near Orsbach in Germany and Mamelis on the Dutch side. What I had mistakenly not reckoned was that after embracing Orsbach in Germany, the border suddenly curves about 90 degrees to the north, leaving behind part of a wooded hill which is completely in the Dutch province of Limburg. This hill is known as the Sint Benedictusberg. The long, towered building which I had thought may be in Germany seems to be named for the hill. But then the hill itself is apparently also named for the building, an abbey. (Which came first?)
In actual fact, my rudimentary map calculations had almost been correct: years of map reading have created in me an instinct which, for good or for ill, has left me with great satisfaction in map collecting and reading. The abbey was in The Netherlands, after all. But just beyond the monks' working abbey gardens lies the German border.
Later I discovered that therein lay a tale. The abbey was built from 1923 onwards and is now noted as a national monument. The original monks were largely German, from another Dutch monastery which received many members of German religious orders from the late 19th century because of the then climate of opinion — referred to as the Kulturkampf — in the Imperial Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm II. By the time the abbey building was completed, the Imperial system of Germany had met its demise at the end of World War 1. But in another sense, the German monks at Sint Benedictusberg — whether deeming themselves to be in formal exile or not — were both geographically and psychologically in a location where Germany was almost literally in their backyard.
Much of South Limburg is gently undulating. While the Maas River on the other side of the Province has sometimes proved susceptible to flooding, yet in principle Limburg — especially South Limburg — does not share the geographical history of several other Dutch provinces of a proportion having been reclaimed from the sea. In South Limburg in general, and, certainly, in and around Mamelis in particular, the sea is remote.
The village of Mamelis proper has some solid houses typical of the province. The area, however, is sparselu populated. From the point of view of German monks seeking seclusion and proximity to Germany, one can see why Mamelis would have been deemed to be ideally situated.
The hiking which I undertook around Mamelis was so invigorating and thirst-inducing that I repaired to an establishment for (non-alcoholic) fortification.
The district is great country for walking. But you will have to alter any preconceptions about The Netherlands being flat.
Also worth seeing
Aachen 's city centre (distance: 8 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: 12 kilometres, by road, but much shorter for hikers) 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: 4.8 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: 3.8 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: The nearest large city to Mamelis is Aachen, Germany. 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 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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