Visiting the Bocholtz Railroad Halt, Heiweg, Bocholtz, The Netherlands: cross-border (dis)continuities

Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
ZLSM halt, Bocholtz, The Netherlands
ZLSM halt, Bocholtz, The Netherlands | Source
Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes (left centre), GOC 1st Canadian Corps, accepts the surrender of German forces in The Netherlands from General Johannes Blaskowitz, Wageningen, The Netherlands, May 5, 1945 Credit: Alexander M. Stirton/Canada. Dept.
Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes (left centre), GOC 1st Canadian Corps, accepts the surrender of German forces in The Netherlands from General Johannes Blaskowitz, Wageningen, The Netherlands, May 5, 1945 Credit: Alexander M. Stirton/Canada. Dept. | Source
Map location of Bocholtz, The Netherlands
Map location of Bocholtz, The Netherlands | Source

Interrupted memories at the end of WW2

My visit to Bocholtz coincided with the arrival of the train from the direction of Maastricht. Technically it was by railroad, and thus a train: it is, in fact, a light service which operates what is referred to as the Railcar or the Schienenbus.

The train halt is situated at Heiweg (close to where Heiweg becomes Dr. Nolennstraat), Bocholtz, which forms part of the Simpelveld municipality, in the Dutch province of Limburg, close to the border with Germany.

The geographically contiguous area of Germany close to Bocholtz is part of the City of Aachen. For many years after 1890, a rail service between Maastricht and Aachen was maintained.

In fairly recent years, a company named the South Limburg Steam Train Company (Dutch: Zuid-Limburg Stoomtrein Maatschappij) — often referred to as ZLSM — became responsible for the service to Bocholtz (1). This is not to say that the regular passenger service to Bocholtz itself is operated by steam trains! but the company which does maintain and keep in tourist service a number of steam trains in the area also maintains the Railcar link between Bocholtz and Schin op Geul, in the Maastricht direction. (Readers interested in travelling on this service, however, are strongly advised to contact the company in advance.)

Interestingly, it was the liberation of The Netherlands at the end of World War Two from Nazi German occupation that ended the cross-border rail service that had hitherto operated since the late 19th century. Many years were to pass before the service was re-established. No matter that neighbouring Aachen was the first large German city to be governed by an anti-Nazi mayor even in the closing months of the War. Despite the economic and geographical dynamics which had made the maintenance of such a link compelling for many, previous decades, it became difficult for railroad authorities to cooperate over the border in this way, after 1944.

Let us just consider the geography of southern Dutch Limburg (2). It is a fairly narrow strip of land containing the city of Maastricht, near to the province's western border with Belgium; part of the eastern border of Dutch Limburg adjoins Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia (German: Nordrhein-Westfalen; Dutch: Noordrijn-Westfalen); Bocholtz itself adjoins the German city of Aachen (Dutch: Aken). In between these two, urban poles, the interior of southern Limburg is partly rural, but also, as one approaches the Dutch-German border, partly built up around Bocholtz, Simpelveld and other localities. Thus there is a certain inevitability that transportation economies and business efficiencies would be a strong source of pressure for cross-border transportation links.

So it is very interesting that in the immediate years after World War Two, when figures who had been active in the anti-Nazi resistance were prominent in Dutch politics, the natural economic and geographic pressures for such a cross-border rail link were seemingly outweighed by the perception that the renewing of such a link lacked priority (2).

The train halt at Bocholtz is not what would be described as a visitor attraction, and would chiefly be of interest to train buffs, coordinating their visit with a railroad timetable.

But its history in relation to cross-border service rail services raises issues which I personally find interesting and thought-provoking.

January 17, 2013

Notes

(1) In recent years, in fact, the ZLSM has been operating a cross-border service between nearby Simpelveld, The Netherlands, and Vetschau, Germany.

(2) There is also a Belgian province of Limburg.

(3) Indeed, there were schemes among Dutch politicians to annex areas of Germany neighbouring The Netherlands; various German border localities were occupied by The Netherland, and returned in 1963; and an area called Duivelsberg (German: Teufelsberg or Wylersberg), was permanently annexed to The Netherlands by way of war reparations. A similar scheme was implemented by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which for a few years after World War Two annexed the Kammerwald area of Germany, in the Rhineland Palatinate (German: Rheinland-Pfalz; Dutch: Rijnland-Palts)

Also worth seeing

In Bocholtz itself, the Jacobus de Meerderekerk was completed in 1873; De Bongard castle dates from the 16th century.

Aachen , Germany (distance: 16 kilometres); sights 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 Bocholtz 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. You are advised to check with the rail company, Zuid-Limburg Stoomtrein Maatschappij at: http://www.zlsm.nl regarding preservation activities and services. 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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