Visiting the Hoofdstraat district of Best, The Netherlands: some architectural heritage in Noord-Brabant
Even in a modern town, the past looms
One of the overriding features of Dutch social life after World War 2 was the massive urbanization, with its huge demands on housing stock and infrastructure building. The town of Best in Noord-Brabant province is one of the many Dutch towns which reflect this. It is maybe a truism to record that much of the residential and civic building which did take place in the mid-20th century in the Netherlands — and elsewhere — reflected uniformity and functionality to the extent that architectural distinction was not always the result.
On the edge of the beautiful and tranquil Oirschot heath area is the town of Best, in Noord-Brabant province. When I visited the town, I got a sense that, amidst the large and relatively recent urban expansion that had taken place, local civic leaders had tried to identify the measure of older architectural heritage that they possessed. In this town, by way of example, the Hoofdstraat district reflects architectural merit dating from years and decades prior to the post-World War 2 era.
The Odulphus church, in the Hoofdstraat, was built between 1880 and 1886, and was named for Olulphus, who is believed to have been born at Oirschot (of which Best was once a part) toward the end of the 8th century and died c. 854. Odulphus is known as the 'Apostle to the Frisians'. He was also a member of the Benedictine order. This massive parish church exhibits a solidity doubtless contributing to its adoption as a national monument.
The patron saint of Best's main parish church also appears on the arms of the town.
Some years ago, another building of note in Best's Hoofdstraat which I came across was No. 68, which struck me at the time as being of some distinction. The combination of a gabled frontage, with careful stone carvings around the substantial doorway, made for a pleasing whole. Some years later I discovered that this building, as the nearby Odulphus church, had also been designated a national monument. There was just one feature which was disturbing, if this is the right word: the date of its erection: 1942; in other words, during the Nazi German occupation. Discovering this made me pause for thought; was it wise thus to designate a building which was built during such an ethically questionable era? but on reflection, the wisdom of doing so seemed apparent: in principle, the alternative of leaving a building for developers to buy up and demolish and erect something of more debatable merit in its place is not a solution. My mind also went to examples of post-WW2 overreaction in other countries: to the Belgian castle I visited which was confiscated in 1945 because its owners were German; to the Sudeten Germans who were expelled from their property in the former Czechoslovakia because of their ethnic background. In any case, The Netherlands continues to do much to commemorate the great suffering undergone during the Nazi occupation. One can thus see the wisdom of recognizing architectural heritage on its merits, and then robustly confronting the totality of its historical context. The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges defined history as what is remembered and forgotten. In terms of architecture, visible heritage often does not allow one to forget.
Other structures in Best
Among other structures of note in Best are the following:
At St.Oedenrodenseweg 15 there is an old thatched farmhouse dated 1686, in a style typical of Noord-Brabant.
At Molenkampseweg 10, there is an 18th century thatched dwelling.
At H. Hartstraat 1a, there is the Volharding mill, built in 1850, and recently restored.
There is the 'De Platijn' clog museum in Best, at Broekdijk 12, which displays a large family collection of this typical Dutch item of footwear, and an old clog-making machine.
Between Best and Son is situated the Bevrijdende Vleugels (Liberating Wings) museum, which details the activities of the 101st Airborne Division, Operation Market Garden, and other World War 2 events. In the town of Best, a number of monuments commemorate fallen US service personnel, including Private First Class Joe Mann, of 101st Airborne, who won a posthumous Medal of Honor for single-handed bravery shown at Best in 1944, for whom the USNS Private Joe E. Mann was also named.
Also worth seeing
Eindhoven (distance: 11 kilometres) has a number of large, photogenic churches, and the usual amenities of any big city. Its DAF museum will be of interest to automobile buffs and anyone interested in the history of engineering and transport.
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, Eindhoven Airport (distance from Best: 9 kilometres) is served by Ryanair from London Stansted Airport, by VLM from London City Airport, and by Aer Lingus from London Gatwick Airport. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains rail services from Amsterdam to Best and Eindhoven. There is car rental availability at Amsterdam and Eindhoven airports. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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