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Visiting the Weser Valley Dam, Belgium: scenic waters, changing language policies
A developing historical and linguistic context, and an increasingly forgotten Regent
In French, the sign reads:
This dam was inaugurated on 9th February, 1950 by His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Belgium Regent of the Kingdom...
In 1950, Regent Charles of Belgium inaugurated the Weser Valley Dam (German: Wesertalsperre ). Regarding this true statement, a number of aspects may be further noted.
Firstly, many people are unaware that Belgium had a Regent and are also unware that Prince Charles of Belgium was such a Regent. Belgium was then (and is now) a Kingdom, rather than a Regency. The Regency was a more of a Belgian institutional concept which was deemed to exist when the Regent's brother, King Leopold III (reigned 1934-1951) was, for various reasons, unavailable.
Secondly, the dam in question didn't use to be referred to officially as the Wesertalsperre (Weser Valley Dam), when Regent Charles inaugurated it, but, rather, in French, the Barrage de la Vesdre . (The fact that, in the locality of the dam and its lake, local people speak German wasn't at the time regarded as significant.)
Thirdly, the dam wasn't built anywhere near the year 1950. In fact, it was built in 1938; and by the time Regent Charles presided over its ceremonial opening, rather a lot had happened in between, to say the least.
But, yes, the original statement is true, namely, that, in 1950, Regent Charles of Belgium inaugurated the Weser Valley Dam. In fact, after inaugurating the dam, Regent Charles didn't do much else in official capacity for very long, because during 1950 his brother King Leopold III decided to return from exile, where the Belgian Government had kept him, and Prince Charles's Regency powers reverted to King Leopold. But not for long. After riots and threats of more riots, King Leopold announced, not that former Regent Charles would be back, but that Prince Baudouin, his elder son, would reign on attaining his majority the next year, 1951, when King Leopold's abdication would take effect.
Thus, the context surrounding the plaque erected (in French) at the Weser Valley Dam in 1950, now seems increasingly like a relic of a rapidly receding era.
Location in eastern Belgium; linguistic aspects
The Weser Valley Dam is situated about 6 kilometres from Eupen, in eastern Belgium. Visitors staying in the Eupen area may find a short trip out to the Weser reservoir a very worthwhile exercise, and for those accustomed to hiking, it can be walked from the Downtown area of Eupen. I thought it was well worth a détour. The wooded surroundings of its scenic reservoir are on the edge of the Hohes Venn area (French: Hautes Fagnes); this area of outstanding natural beauty falls with areas which are both French-speaking and German-speaking, and a cross-border nature park, the Hohes Venn-Eifel, stretches into neighbouring Germany.
In recent decades in Belgium, official recognition of the German language has been increasing maintained; indeed, with its capital at Eupen, the German-speaking community has its own government and Prime Minister. Thus, the manner in which the Belgian state relates to local issues in this part of eastern Belgium has changed greatly since the opening of this dam facility, which now supplies a substantial proportion of the water supply to other parts of the country also.
Which Weser River?
It is to be noted also that the Weser River in Belgium is distinct from the river of the same name in northern Germany. The latter river, being much longer than its Belgian namesake, tends to feature more overtly in literature and references with which English-speaking visitors might be familiar: hence the possibility of confusion between the two rivers.
Also worth seeing
Eupen , (distance: 6.1 kilometres) is the capital of Belgium's German-speaking Ostkantone . It has several historic buildings, including spired churches.
Kettenis , (distance: 7.8 kilometres) has Libermé Castle surrounded by a moat, dating from the 14th century, with much of the current structure being 16th century. Kettenis now linked administratively with the City of Eupen.
Aachen , Germany, (distance: 28 kilometres); Charlemagne 's historic capital, with many architectural treasures. Its Vaalserquartier suburb borders the Dutch town of Vaals and the Dreilaendereck , where the borders of three countries meet: Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands.
St.Vith (distance: 63 kilometres); has many Battle of the Bulge memories, and a church with an interesting spire.
Burg-Reuland (distance: 76 kilometres), also in Belgium's German-speaking Ostkantone , has a large, Medieval castle, with other noted buildings.
Ouren (distance: 79 kilometres), also in Belgium's German-speaking Ostkantone , has a park commemorating the meeting nearby of the borders of three countries: Belgium, Germany and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. It also has an 18th century church.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport, where car hire is available (distance from Brussels Airport: 134 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company SNCB maintains a service from Brussels to Eupen. 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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