Visiting Simpelveld, The Netherlands: Limburg town nestling against the German border

Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
View of Simpelveld from De Huls
View of Simpelveld from De Huls | Source
Map location of Simpelveld, Limburg province, The Netherlands
Map location of Simpelveld, Limburg province, The Netherlands | Source

'Flat' Germany merges into hilly Dutch Limburg, with its complex, institutional past

The town of Simpelveld, The Netherlands, is situated close to the border with Germany, near the city of Aachen. The conventional expectation would be that, since The Netherlands has the reputation of being flat, then the approach to the Dutch border must supposedly be marked by a 'flattening' of the topography.

In fact, the opposite is the case. Simpelveld is in the Dutch province of Limburg (1), where many assumptions about the nature of The Netherlands are turned on their heads. As one enters The Netherlands from Germany at Simpelveld, the basically flat land enters a more undulating topography. As may be seen in the main photo, above, Germany in the distance, in the vicinity of Aachen, looks approximately flat, while the foreground from where the photo was taken in the Huls (or, De Huls) district of Simpelveld, is already on a steep hill (2).

Historically, what is now the Dutch province of Limburg had been administered by the French Empire and previously had a long history as a Habsburg Duchy, within the Holy Roman Empire, of which Aachen had once been the ancient capital, as the seat of Charlemagne. From 1830, the year of the Belgian Revolution, the Duchy of Limburg was in a state of administrative complexity, since it was governed from Brussels. (interestingly, also, in Medieval times the Duchy of Limburg had been in personal union with the Duke of Brabant.) After 1839, the Duchy of Limburg was considered part of the German Confederation, but in personal union with the Dutch monarch; in 1867, the Duchy of Limburg formally became a province of the Kingdom of The Netherlands (3).

In a provincial and ducal past marked by many discontinuities — albeit with the looming heritage of the Holy Roman Empire and Charlemagne's Aachen not far in the background — Simpelveld enjoyed in terms of local personalities a remarkable sense of personal and family continuities during parts of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. For example, the van Wersch and Houbiers families supplied a number of mayors of the town between 1799 and 1958: this despite the frequent change of régime. Significantly, in The Netherlands, mayors are the formal appointees of the Dutch monarch; interestingly, J W H Houbiers,who was mayor of Simpelveld between 1923 and 1958, retained his titular rôle in the eyes of the Dutch state during the World War Two years, when there was no Dutch monarch that ruled de facto .

February 2, 2013

Notes

(1) There is also a Belgian province called Limburg.

(2) A sign seen in the photo indicates a gradient of 1/10: hardly according to the stereotypical image of The Netherlands!

(3) In 2013, the abdication of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands, in favour of Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, was announced; and, interestingly, while Limburg is now a province of The Netherlands, Queen Beatrix also carries the title of Duchess of Limburg; thus, when Willem-Alexander accedes to the Dutch throne, the Medieval title of Duke of Limburg will again be one of the titles used by a Dutch monarch.

Also worth seeing

In Simpelveld itself, visitor attractions include the Remgiuskerk and a station which is the base of a steam railroad administered by the South Limburg Railway Company (Dutch: Zuid Limburgse Stoomtrein Maatschappij - ZLSM).

Bocholtz (distance: 3.6 kilometres) the Jacobus de Meerderekerk was completed in 1873; De Bongard castle dates from the 16th century.

Aachen , Germany (distance: 14 kilometres); visitor attractions in Aachen include the historic City Hall (German: Rathaus ) and the Cathedral (German: Dom ), with its Charlemagne associations.

...

How to get there: The nearest large international airport to Simpelveld is at Duesseldorf. Lufthansa flies from New York Newark to Duesseldorf, where car rental is available. A46/A61/A44/A4 lead to the Aachen-Vetschau / Simpelveld border crossing. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to 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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