Visiting Mouscron / Moeskroen and its historic railroad station: remembering the early rail network of Belgium

Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Mouscron / Moeskroen Station
Mouscron / Moeskroen Station | Source
Mouscron / Moeskroen Station
Mouscron / Moeskroen Station | Source
Map location of Mouscron / Moeskroen, Hainaut / Henegouwen, Belgium
Map location of Mouscron / Moeskroen, Hainaut / Henegouwen, Belgium | Source

Very evident bilingualism, too

Mouscron (the French spelling) is a bilingual town in Belgium, also known as Moeskroen (the Dutch spelling). It is situated in Hainaut province (Dutch: Henegouwen ).

Some history and features

Located close to the French border (one can stroll across into the French Nord department at Tourcoing), it has long been of importance from a communications perspective.

Belgium was one of the first countries in which an extensive rail network was established in the first half of the nineteenth century. The railroad station at Mouscron (I shall use the French spelling for convenience) was built in 1842. Features include recurring arches at its simple, classical style frontage, incorporating crafted stone-masonry. The building was refurbished in 1967. Given the high degree of industrialization of this area of Belgium and neighbouring part of northern France in the 19th century, the station was soon to take on considerable commercial importance.

Mouscron is within a mainly French-speaking province, but with a protected Dutch-speaking community. Official bilingualism in Belgium is somewhat complex; and woe betide any official who forgets — to the last square metre! — where he or she is and initiates dialogues with members of the public in the 'wrong' language! At the railroad station, the name of the town is thus scrupulously given in both languages. Interestingly, near Moescron, the line goes into a corner of West Flanders (Dutch: West-Vlaanderen ) province., when for a few kilometres the guard is supposed to initiate conversations in Dutch only, and then the train passes again into another part of the bilingual Mouscron arrondissement (its parts are not geographically contiguous) he or she is 'allowed' to initiate conversations in French again!

To a foreigner, this situation may seem highly strange; to Belgians, such rituals are observed with the utmost solemnity! (It is almost as if there needs to be a stewardess's announcement, Aeroflot-style: 'You are now entering Soviet airspace!' 'You are now entering an officially bilingual area!' '... an officially monolingual area!', and so forth. Otherwise: the language policy enforcement commissars will be after you!)

However, with the frequent presence in the station of trains from neighbouring France, many visitors will be only dimly aware of the bilingual issues which engage officialdom locally.

October 1, 2012

Also worth seeing

In Mouscron itself, there is a striking neo-Gothic City Hall and the château des Comtes / Gravenkasteel , which dates from the 14th and 15th centuries.

Tourcoing , France (distance: 6 kilometres) has a number of impressive buildings, including its City Hall and its former Chamber of Commerce.

...

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Mouscron (distance: 113 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company SNCB/NMBS maintains a service between Brussels and Mouscron . Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. 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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