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Visiting Clervaux in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg: rich architectural heritage and Battle of the Bulge memories

Updated on January 27, 2015
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
Clervaux | Source
19th century view of Clervaux
19th century view of Clervaux | Source
Map location of Clervaux Canton, northern Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
Map location of Clervaux Canton, northern Grand Duchy of Luxembourg | Source

Monumental castle and churches: in a word, history — some of it linguistically complicated

Clervaux, the name of a municipality and an administrative canton, is one of those places where history seems to tread everywhere you look.

The medieval castle which stands in the centre of town was founded in the 12th century and restored in the 17th century. The castle is currently an art gallery for the work of the photographer Edward Steichen, who lived for many years in the United States.

Also in the town itself is the monumental church of Sts. Côme and Damien.

On a hill nearby, up a thickly wooded lane from the town, which I climbed, is the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maurice and St. Maur, largely hidden from the town, except for its tower.

Poignant Battle of the Bulge memories

American forces engaged in the liberation of Europe met with some of the fiercest fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, which was partly fought on the territory of the Grand Duchy.

In 2004, a statue of an American soldier was unveiled in Clervaux at a solemn ceremony.

By the castle at Clervaux a US Sherman tank has been put on display.

These memories are particularly stirring to older members of Luxembourg's civilian population in that, while much of Luxembourg was liberated in the late summer of 1944, in December of that year there was another Nazi German onslaught in the Ardennes country, a strategy known as the von Rundstedt Offensive. A substantial portion of the Grand Duchy — and adjacent areas of Belgium too — was reocuppied. The price of fierce and costly warfare in terms of soldiers' lives, munitions and matériel was to be paid before the whole territory of the Grand Duchy was once again free of the Nazi invaders.

It is fair to say that Luxembourgers make every effort never to forget how costly this period was.

The three spellings of the town's name

Now for something completely different. 'Clervaux', the most commonly known name of the town among visitors to the Grand Duchy is the French version of the name. 'Clerf' is the German version. The Letzebuergesch version — in the Grand Duchy's national language — is 'Klierf'.

But why would the town need three names? This is nothing, some local people might retort, because some places in the Grand Duchy have no less than four spellings to their names. For example, the name of a certain village, also in the northern Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which in French is written 'Doncols', has a German version: 'Donkholz'. Then there is a Letzebuergesch version: 'Donkels'. Then there is — wait for it — a Walloon version, a dialect spoken in neighbouring parts of Belgium: 'Doncô'. When you further learn that the village in question has barely 200 inhabitants, you begin to wonder just what is going on.

And then there may be another place in Luxembourg which has a certain form in theory, but it is not regarded as polite in practice to mention it in everyday speech. Example: the village known in French as 'Lasauvage' is known also as 'Zowaasch' in Letzebuergesh . Right, so what is the German form? Excuse me, it's 'Lasauvage', too. But isn't this the French form? Well, yes, but when speaking German Luxembourgers use the French form. Right, so there isn't a separate German form, then? Oh, well, actually, a German form exists: 'Rohrbach', but it's not used. And what is the reason for this? It's because Germans used it during WW2...

And what about the name of the hilly area of northern Luxembourg in which Clervaux is found? In French — 'borrowed' from the German — it's 'Oesling'. In German itself, the purist form is 'Ösling'. In Letzebuergesch it's 'Éislek'.

Bear in mind, too, that the word 'Luxembourg' can refer to at least three distinct places: the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Belgian province of Luxembourg, and the City of Luxembourg, capital of the Grand Duchy. And of course there are three spellings: the French is 'Luxembourg', the German is 'Luxemburg' and the Letzebuergesch is 'Letzebuerg'.

(Lost already? Don't worry; it only gets more complex as you get to know this fascinating country...)

Also worth seeing

Be sure to visit also the photogenic and historic Luxembourg City (distance: 64 km).

Nennig (distance: 90 km) in Germany's Saarland, has an interesting Roman villa museum.

Bastogne , Belgium (distance: 27 km), is visited by many Americans on account of its Battle of the Bulge associations .


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). The Luxembourg railroad company CFL maintains a regular service to Clervaux from Luxembourg City. 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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