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Visiting Wemb, Germany, and former RAF Laarbruch in Nordrhein-Westfalen: borders and history in proximity
For your visit, this item may be of interest
Seemingly Dutch rural scenes, and multifaceted aviation heritage
This article arises out of a visit which I paid to Nordrhein-Westfalen's Wemb (or, more formally, Weeze-Wemb) and to the former British Royal Air Force Laarbruch.
The gentle, pastoral scenes in this corner of Germany merge imperceptibly into the Dutch province of Limburg. In more ways than one, the unalert visitor might be forgiven the assumption that Wemb were indeed in The Netherlands.
Wemb's windmill and spired church
Along with a number of other localities in this part of Nordrhein-Westfalen, Wemb has a windmill which is even referred to in Germany as a Hollaender, or Dutch, variety. Maybe significantly, this area of Nordrhein-Westfalen actually used to be part of The Netherlands. After the Napoleonic Wars, the area which had hitherto been Dutch in language and culture were Germanized by the Prussian authorities.
But the yellow roadsigns in German and the white number plates of local automobiles supply instant proof of the country where Wemb is situated — until, as I did, the visitor strolls across the tranquil border to Well, in the Dutch province of Limburg, with its woodland and attractive stores.
In Wemb, the Holy Cross church, (die Pfarrkirche 'Heilig Kreuz' ) was built between 1889 and 1893. Its tall spire remains a landmark in the immediate locality. Previously a self-standing parish church, it was joined to the 'St. Cyriakus' parish of Weeze in 2004.
The former RAF Laarbruch and the Royal Air Force Museum
I also looked with interest at St. Peter's church, at the former RAF Laarbruch, and I am pleased to note that, since my visit there, an aviation museum has opened at the former RAF station, centred on this former church building. The Cold War and the Korean War formed a substantial part of the background to the opening of RAF Laarbruch in 1954, and the base's long history of operational activity lasted until 1999. The Royal Air Force became the local area's main employer of thousands of German people, and, in a hitherto unprecedented way, 1974 RAF Laarbruch was given the Freedom of Weeze.
The station passed to civilian aviation use, and subsequently opened as Niederrhein airport in 2003, later changed to Airport-Weeze . Following the opening of the Royal Air Force Museum at Laarbruch-Weeze, an RAF Tornado flew into Airport-Weeze for a special event in 2008, and the Museum's photo records now have interesting and maybe unique scenes of Tornado and Ryanair Boeing 737 aircraft side by side on the tarmac.
Many RAF squadrons — distinguished but too numerous to mention here — were based at Laarbruch over several decades, and the aircraft types stationed at there provide a real inventory of familiar — and now less familiar — types. With Meteor, Javelin, Hunter and Canberra on the list of aircraft types, aviation buffs will readily admit that this shows just how far back goes the history of the former Laarbruch station. Other types more recently stationed at Laarbruch included Harrier, Tornado, Jaguar and Phantom and helicopters Puma, Chinook and Gazelle.
Royal Netherlands Air Force presence
Interestingly, as well as the widely known four power zones maintained by the United States, the military of some of the smaller, Allied countries also served in Germany after WW2: The Netherlands, Belgium and (yes) Luxembourg all had a military presence in areas of western Germany. During the Cold War, as a NATO ally of their German and British hosts, the Royal Netherlands Air Force also had squadrons based at the former RAF Laarbruch.
Aircraft types operated by the Dutch squadrons at the base included the Shooting Star, Thunderjet, Thunderflash and Harvard.
The predecessor B.100 Goch landing ground
In fact, the history of aviation goes back way prior to RAF Laarbruch's opening in 1954. Previously, what became RAF Laarbruch was known as B.100 Goch (named for another nearby town, which was also a significant railroad junction).
Toward the end of World War 2, when No. 184 Squadron RAF of Typhoons came to B.100 Goch, this was the first RAF squadron to be based in Germany.
Royal Canadian Air Force presence at B.100 Goch
Canadians will be interested to note that, toward the end of World War 2, Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons were based briefly at B100 Goch.
Canadian squadrons included No. 403 (Wolf) Squadron RCAF, No 416 (City of Oshawa) Squadron RACF, No 421 (Red Indian) Squadron RCAF, No 443 (Hornet) Squadron RCAF: all these Canadian squadrons were equipped with Spitfires.
In addition, equipped with Typhoons, were No 438 (Wildcat) Squadron RCAF, No 439 (Westmount) Squadron RCAF and No 440 (City of Ottawa and Beaver) Squadron RCAF.(1)
Shared space, shared skies
The German writer Christa Wolf has discussed the thought-provoking results of people defined externally: by garden spaces, air corridors and political boundaries, and internally: by pursuit of personal space, movable perceptions of reality, and memory. In 'The Divided Sky' (Der Geteilte Himmel, 1963) and 'June Afternoon' (Juninachmittag, 1965), the writer brings together many strands of thought which inform the individual and collective experience of Germans in her home area of Kleinmachnow (2). Interestingly, prior to 1990, Christa Wolf was an East German citizen. But these ideological, historical and spatial juxtapositions apply startlingly well to this corner of Germany also, where Germans living very close to The Netherlands, in an area formerly Dutch, have made friendships with several formerly adversarial nationalities. This, in the context of crowded flight paths by an international border, but which is also delightfully rural.
I am looking forward to my next visit to this interesting area of Germany's Nordrhein-Westfalen.
Also worth seeing
Weeze, Germany, (distance from Wemb: 6 kilometres) has three castles: Kalbeck, Wissen, with a moat, and the ruins of Hertefeld.
Well, The Netherlands, (distance from Wemb: 11 kilometres), with its woodland and 14th century castle (Dutch: Kasteel Well ), which is today a branch of Emerson College, Massachusetts.
(1) Includes sourcing information from laarbruch-museum.net .
(2) General sourcing from: David Clarke, Renate Rechtien, eds., The Politics of Place in Post-War Germany: Essays in Literary Criticism, Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009; H-Net review by Paul O'Hanrahan . General acknowledgement also is made to Reading University's, course in East German literature, which I took nearly 30 years ago.
How to get there: Lufthansa flies from New York Newark to Duesseldorf, where car rental is available. For North American travellers making London, England, their base, Ryanair flies directly to Airport-Weeze , where car rental is also available. 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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