Visiting the Vijlenerbos, in South Limburg, The Netherlands: the merging of trees and identities and spellings

Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
Maze at the Vaalserberg
Maze at the Vaalserberg | Source
Els Diederen
Els Diederen | Source
Map location of Vaals, Limburg, The Netherlands
Map location of Vaals, Limburg, The Netherlands | Source

Hidden, historical referents and natural heritage of a unique province

This large area of woodland is located in South Limburg (Dutch: Zuid-Limburg), The Netherlands, near the town of Vaals. The woodland is known in Dutch as the Vijlenerbos (1), a name taken from nearby village of Vijlen.

This long stretch of woodland continues up to the German border at the Vaalserberg, where the boundaries of The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium come together; the trees merge imperceptibly into what in Germany is known as the Aachener Wald: woodland named for Charlemagne's nearby, historic city of Aachen.

Noted fauna in the Vijlenerbos include weasel, badger and polecat. Tree species present in these woods include holly, hornbeam and cherry. For over 70 years, the Dutch state forestry commission has administered the Vijlenerbos.

Visitors may wend their way around a maze, planted as a visitor attraction. Two observation towers, one on the Dutch side of the border and the other on the Belgian, offer fine panoramic views.

Interestingly, place-name spellings are somewhat in a state of flux, locally. Or, rather, these place-names have their Standard Dutch form, but also their form in Limburgs, the local language.

For example, in Limburgs, the woodland itself is Vielenderbusj, while the village for which it is named is Viele (2). The nearby town of Vaals is Vols, in Limburgs, while the Vaalserberg is Völserberresj. In turn, the historic city named Aachen in German, Aix-la-Chapelle in French and in historic documents, is Aken in Standard Dutch, and Aoke in Limburgs. The large, South Limburg city of Maastricht, as it is written in Standard Dutch and known internationally also, is Mestreech in Limburgs.

Thus, imagine this rolling, thick woodland which crosses the Dutch-German (and, indeed, the Dutch-Belgian) border, where, hidden below its historical and legal surface, languages, identities and spellings coalesce and diverge (3). It's a remarkable place to visit, anyway.

In Limburgs, even surnames may be different from their Standard Dutch forms; for example, the writer and poet Els Diederen (Limburgs)(4), is also known as Els van Dedere, in the Standard Dutch form of her name.

The various localities in Dutch Limburg (5) that I have visited in any case make me surmise that, in some ways, the province seems almost as linguistically complex — with nuanced identities — as the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

February 28, 2013

Notes

(1) Even in Standard Dutch, the name of the Vijlenerbos was not always spelt this way; formerly it was written: Vijlenerbosch, but changed to the way it is currently written after an official spelling reform. One still occasionally sees written references to this woodland in the older spelling. Given the size and elongated shape of the woodland, its name is also sometimes written in the plural, thus: Vijlenerbossen.

(2) There is also the Limburgs spelling Ville, but this is now considered archaic.

(3) Interestingly also, there are signs that this wooded area has seen human habitation for thousands of years; many burial mounds have been found in the Vijlenerbos, which archaeologists reckon to be thousands of years old; linguistically, of course, they would have been quite different from the speakers of different Germanic languages present here today (and from French, also, south of the border).

(4) Els Diederen (1946-) is a prolific Limburgs-medium writer, poet and editor; among her works, some of which take up local Limburg legendary, naturalist and lexicographical themes, is De waerwouf van Ieëtselder which relates a local legend, retold for young people, about a werewolf associated with a hamlet on the Dutch-German border. Curiously, and coincidentally, in 1945, Aachen Mayor Dr Franz Oppenhoff was assassinated by a German resistance team allegedly known as the Werewolves (German: Werwoelfe), parachuted for this purpose into woodlands adjacent to the Vijlenerbos.

(5) Belgium also has a Limburg province.

Also worth seeing

Lemiers (distance from the Vaalserbeg: 5.3 kilometers) this village near Vaals has a Medieval chapel and a castle with a moat; the Dutch-German border runs through the locality.

Mamelis (distance from the Vaalserberg: approx. 7.7. kilometres) has a prominent abbey built upon the wooded Sint Benediktusberg.

...

How to get there: The nearest large city to the Vijlenerbos and the town of Vaals is Aachen, Germany. Lufthansa flies from New York Newark to Duesseldorf, where car rental is available. A46/A61/A44 lead to Aachen. The German railroad company Deutsche Bahn (DB) links Duesseldorf to Aachen (distance: 93 kilometres). Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Checking with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information is advisable, as is also referring 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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