Visiting Mesch: first place in The Netherlands liberated by Americans in World War 2
Picturesque Limburg village where American forces were welcomed September 12, 1944
There was a lot of fighting, a lot of costly effort still to be made before The Netherlands were to be fully liberated from Nazi occupiers. But on September 12, 1944, American forces entered Mesch on what was a truly historic occasion.
When I visited Mesch, within the municipality of Eijsden in the Dutch Limburg province, I soon found the plaque with the following inscription:
'Here in Mesch, community of Eijsden, the liberation of Holland by the allies began. Troops of the 30th Division (Old Hickory) crossed the Dutch - Belgian
border near this memorial stone on the 12th of September 1944 around
Mesch, in Limburg, The Netherlands, was thus the first place to benefit from President F D Roosevelt's commitment made to Dutch Queen Wilhelmina some years previously to do what was in America's power to liberate her country's people from the Nazi German invaders.
Peaceful, undulating countryside
Mesch itself is a quiet, village with some picturesque old houses, through which the visitor may stroll peacefully. The South Limburg area where Mesch is situated is topographically quite distinct from the flat scenery for which The Netherlands is renowned, with some justification. It is comprised instead of undulating hill country, ideal for long, recreational walks. Indeed, a hill several kilometers away — named Drielandenpunt, at the Vaalserberg — rises to 323 meters above sea-level: the highest point in the European Netherlands, in fact.
Don't argue with the neighbouring 's Gravenvoereners
Stroll 5 kilometres over from Mesch into the neighbouring Belgian village of 's Gravenvoeren (yes, 's Gravenvoeren...) where the limburgs dialect is also spoken, and the toposemantic furies explode.
Limburgs is spoken in both the Dutch and Belgian provinces of that name but the part of the Belgian province of Limburg adjacent to the area around Mesch is not, for practical purposes, geographical contiguous to the rest of Belgian Limburg and used to be part of the mainly French-speaking Belgian province of Liège. To some extent, the dispute revolves around whether a local writer Hendrik van Veldecke (or: Heinrich von Veldecke) wrote in Dutch or German. And, by the way, Mr. van Veldecke lived in the 12th century ... . Fast forward many centuries and I acquired a compilation of Dutch literature and van Veldecke was included therein. Later I was reading a compilation of German literature and guess who was included? The point being that if the good burghers of 's Gravenvoeren and district speak a dialect which is really a form of German, and since standard Dutch was never really spoken there at all, then surely the wishes of the sizable French-speaking local people to live in Liège province should be paramount. Others argue that the 's Gravenvoereners really do speak Dutch and so their inclusion in Belgian Limburg province, though not geographically contiguous with the rest of that province, is justifiable after all. This intractable issue has been the cause of the fall of Belgian governments, and the careers of certain Belgian politicians have been bound up with such nuances of the issue as they have cared to pursue. (And by the way, in the limburgs dialect they say Misj , instead of Mesch...but this need not detain us ... .)
So, rather than an outsider expecting to contribute meaningfully to this Belgian debate, maybe it's just preferable to stroll back quietly from the otherwise delightful 's Gravenvoeren to neighbouring Mesch, in The Netherlands, and continue your hiking in peace.
And as you peacefully stroll, you might care to muse that maybe — just maybe — the notion of the nation-state has just become fuzzy at the edges...
Also worth seeing:
Maastricht, (distance: 14 kilometres) on the Maas River, is an ancient, historic city, settled by the Romans. Be sure to see the city's two largest churches and the gate known as the Helpoort.
Eijsden (distance: 3.7 kilometres), on the Maas River, has an interesting and photogenic castle.
Gronsveld (distance: 5.4 kilometres) and Rijckholt (distance: 6.6 kilometres) are attractive villages, each with an old castle.
Vaals (distance: 30 kilometres) is close to the Vaalserberg with fine views of the area, where the borders of The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium meet.
How to get there: Airlines flying to Amsterdam Airport from New York include Delta Airlines and KLM. For North American travellers making the London, England area their base, the nearest sizable airport in The Netherlands to Mesch is Eindhoven Airport, to which Ryanair flies from London Stansted Airport, VLM from London City Airport, and Aer Lingus from London Gatwick Airport. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains rail services from Amsterdam and Eindhoven to Maastricht, near Mesch. Car rental availability includes options from Amsterdam and Eindhoven airports. 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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