Visiting Bivels, Luxembourg: a bridge to Germany; recalling post-WW2 annexation, and the road to a professional army
Strolling through - and away from - local and international history
"Hey, wait a minute: don't you mean 'WW2 annexation' rather than 'post-WW2 annexation'?"
Well, this sounds like a good observation. Nazi Germany did indeed invade the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg during World War Two, and many Allied — and especially American — lives were lost during the Battle of the Bulge, and many Luxembourgers — forcibly enrolled into the Wehrmacht — were killed, before efforts to liberate the whole of Luxembourg and neighbouring areas of Belgium were successful.
However, I do mean 'post-WW2' annexation.
And I am not thinking now of Nazi Germany's annexation of Luxembourg.
But, rather, I am referring to events since World War Two, when Luxembourg's army seized, and the Grand Duchy's Parliament annexed, an area of Germany in the Rhineland Palatinate (German: Rheinland-Pfalz; French: Rhénanie-Palatinat) known as the Kammerwald. The Grand Duchy even maintained military conscription for some decades after World War Two; one of the significant roles of the conscript army was to hold the neighbouring area of Germany that Luxembourg had annexed. Until 1955, as well as the annexed area of neightbouring Germany, there was an even larger area under Luxembourg's military occupation.
The edge of ths annexed area was situated within hardly a few hundred metres of the bridge depicted in a number of the photos supplied.
Regarding the annexed Kammerwald, this state of affairs lasted until 1959, when, with post-war Europe having moved on politically from the specifics of the previous world conflict, Luxembourg signed a treaty whereby it would give back to Germany the territory which it had annexed.
This footbridge at Bivels (Létzebuergesch: Biwels), in the Vianden (Létzebuergesch: Veianen) municipality, which links the Grand Duchy with the Rhineland Palatinate over the Our river, was built in 1962. Responsible for its building was the Our Electric Company (French: Société électrique de l'Our), often known as SEO (1). The structure has a total length of 89.93 metres. I have supplied three views of the bridge (right); the third shows the Our river with the footbridge just visible in the middle of the photo, in the distance.
Today, the great majority of Germans and Luxembourgers are thoroughly disinclined to aspire to annex parts of each others' countries; and the governments of the Federal Republic of Germany (German: Bundesrepublik Deutschland) and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg are such close allies and partners in many well-known international organizations that a repitition of events 60 to 70 years ago seems unthinkable.
Thus it is that villagers from Bivels may stroll across the bridge to Germany, if wandering around the sparsely populated area on the opposite bank should take their fancy. The German municipality with which Bivels is linked via this footbridge is Bauler, in the Rhineland Palatinate.
So what about the Grand Duchy's conscript army, maintained substantially to counter a previously perceived German 'threat' and in order to police German territory formerly annexed to Luxembourg? Well, within a few years of the Kammerwald being given back to Germany, the steam seemed to run out of Luxembourg politicians' willingness to maintain a conscript army. Conscription was abolished in 1967, making way for entirely professional armed forces.
Luxembourg's armed forces are thus integrated into NATO; and, with other countries' troops, its batallions have served in hotspots such as the former Yugoslavia. Significantly, 18 NATO AWACS E-3 early warning airplanes have been registered in Luxembourg in recent decades. Despite its past history of post-World War Two conscription, the country would not be described as having a strong military ethos. But the Luxembourg government would firmly argue that, for its part, it contributes proportionately and fully to its responsibilities among the Grand Duchy's NATO allies.
Interestingly, in recent years one of the Luxembourg Army's more famous members has been Corporal Tessy Antony (1985-), who served in 2004 in Kosovo in NATO's KFOR peacekeeping force. During this period in Kosovo, Corporal Antony met HRH Prince Louis of Luxembourg (1986-), whom she subsequently married (2); and she was later also conferred the title of HRH Princess Tessy of Luxembourg. It would probably be fair to say that Luxembourgers tend nowadays to be more interested in matters such as the uniqueness of the career route of this former NCO of the Luxembourg Army, than in the country's border squabbles of the past, with which Luxembourg's small military formerly had to contend.
Considering the bride's NCO rank, the conferral of the royal title upon Tessy Antony is also more widely indicative of a less strict approach to the conventions of the Almanach de Gotha than was formerly the case among members of the Grand Ducal family.
September 30, 2013
(1) This is a company associated with a nearby hydroelectric plant and dam.
(2) Princess Tessy, as she now is, is mother to two children — Prince Gabriel and Prince Noah — by Prince Louis.
Also worth seeing
Close to Bivels, on the German side of the Our river is the Medieval and partly ruined castle of Falkenstein .
Vianden (distance: 3.6 kilometres), a town also on the Our River , has a museum dedicated to Victor Hugo and an imposing, Medieval castle.
The photogenic and historic Luxembourg City (distance: 54 kilometres) has many visitor attractions.
How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental 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). Some facilties may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to 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.