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Visiting St.Vith, Belgium: German-speaking town with Battle of the Bulge memories

Updated on October 17, 2012
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Tank of the 7th Armored Division on display at St. Vith
Tank of the 7th Armored Division on display at St. Vith | Source
Tanks of the 7th Armored Division, near St. Vith, 1944
Tanks of the 7th Armored Division, near St. Vith, 1944 | Source
Map location of St. Vith, Belgium
Map location of St. Vith, Belgium | Source

Town in the 'Ostkantone' which suffered severe WW2 damage

The Belgian town of St Vith, in the east of the country, is in the German-speaking Ostkantone area of Liège Province. While two of Belgium's languages, French and Dutch, are well-known features of the countries complex, bilingual practices, the fact that there is also an area of the country which is officially German-speaking is less widely appreciated.

Battle of the Bulge

Given its strategic geographical location, the town was heavily caught up in the Battle of the Bulge toward the end of World War Two, when Nazi Germany's von Rundstedt Offensive caused a massive but desperate and ultimately unsuccessful, rearguard action against the hitherto advancing Allied Forces which had landed in Normandy in June 1944.

The fierceness of the fighting in and around St Vith between mainly American units and German SS Panzer troops lay partly in the fact that the town contained important road and railroad junctions. The possession or loss of access to this junction thus had considerable implications for control of the wider district. While the town was heavily bombed by the Royal Air Force — indeed, these raids destroyed over 90% of the town — these stark topographical facts laid emphasis to the notion that air power alone does not resolve conflicts, but rather troops on the ground need to take and retain metre by metre possession of strategically important localities.

This US Forces struggled to do in December, January and February of 1944 and 1945 and were ultimately successful, although a particularly severe winter made the task more difficult.

Today, a tank of the 7th Armored Division is on permanent display at St. Vith, by way of tribute to the costly defence of the town by US forces.

The 'Vituskirche'

A noted architectural feature of this quiet town is the Vituskirche ; its distinctive, tall spire is a local landmark.

This building was completed in 1959.

The 'Buecheltoren'

A survivor of Medieval fortifications at St.Vith is the Buecheltoren , a circular, stone tower. These fortifications have otherwise disappeared.

Noted local people

Noted people associated with St.Vith include Silvio Gesell (1862-1930), monetary theorist and businessman born in the town.

The Jesuit phililogist and writer Paul Aler (1656-1727) was born in St.Vith.

Also worth seeing

Wiesenbach (distance: 2 kilometres); the Medieval Sankt-Bartholomaeus-Kapelle is a chapel with interesting, old wall paintings.

Burg-Reuland , Belgium (distance: 15 kilometres), has an imposing castle and some noteworthy buildings.

Ouren , (distance: 25 kilometres), is linked administratively to Burg-Reuland; in this picturesque village situated in the Our Valley, a small park marks the location where the meeting occurs of the borders of three countries: Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg.

Bastogne , (distance: 53 kilometres) was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the Battle of the Bulge toward the close of World War Two and attracts many American visitors. Bastogne is situated in Belgian Luxembourg province (Belgium also has a province called Luxembourg, and this province was formerly united with the Grand Duchy of the same name before their official split in 1839).

Clervaux , Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (distance: 32 kilometres), with its castle, fine ecclesiastical architecture, and scenic location, attracts many visitors.

Dasburg , Germany (distance: 38 kilometres), in a picturesque setting on the Our River, has some castle ruins.

Pruem , Germany: (distance: 35 kilometres) possesses some outstanding ecclesiastical architecture in a scenic location.

...

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport (distance: 165 kilometres), where car hire is available. The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel (distance: 94 kilometres), where car hire is available. For North American travellers making the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. 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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