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Visiting Groenendaal Railroad Station, Groenendaal, Hoeilaart, Belgium: echoes of King Leopold II

Updated on September 15, 2014
Flag of Belgium
Flag of Belgium | Source
Groenendaal (Hoeilaart) train station
Groenendaal (Hoeilaart) train station | Source
Groenendaal (Hoeilaart) train station
Groenendaal (Hoeilaart) train station | Source
Groenendaal (Hoeilaart) train station
Groenendaal (Hoeilaart) train station | Source
King Leopold II of the Belgians and Consort Baroness Vaughan
King Leopold II of the Belgians and Consort Baroness Vaughan | Source
Keble College brickwork, Oxford, England
Keble College brickwork, Oxford, England | Source

Some ornate work, dating from 1896, by E. J. Roberts

This railroad station at Groenendaal, Hoeilaart, Flemish Brabant (Vlaams-Brabant) province in Belgium's Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest), dates from 1896. Its design is by E. J. Roberts. The original station was opened in 1854.

Features include somewhat ornate patterning in its multicolour brickwork (1).

This building, in its time, was regarded as relatively expensive-looking, bearing in mind that Groenendaal is a small locality, albeit not far from Brussels (French: Bruxelles; Dutch: Brussel). However, a clue to this may lie in the fact that King Leopold II of the Belgians (1835-1909) was known to take an interest in the development of the railroad line to which the station is connected, and in activities at a nearby hippodrome.

King Leopold II, a widower for several years, is shown in later life (below, right) with his Consort Baroness Vaughan (2).

Interestingly, Groenendaal was formerly spelt also 'Groenendael' — the French spelling, and therein lies a tale. The municipality of Hoeilaart, of which Groenendael forms a part, lies south of Brussels, in the Province of Flemish Brabant. Previously, Brussels, and what are now Flemish Brabant and Walloon Brabant (French: Brabant wallon; Dutch: Waals-Brabant) together formed the province of Brabant. But now the rail link to which Groenendaal station is connected passes through three regions: Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia; indeed, the section of the line Flanders in which Groenendaal is found is only a few kilometres long. But travelling in this short section of the railroad, a train ticket collector may not initiate a conversation in French. (Whereas when the train started its journey in Brussels, he or she may start to speak in both Dutch and French; a few kilometres south of Groenendaal, he or she must start to speak in French only!). Thus it is also that the French spelling 'Groenendael' which technically exists, has no official status.

The bemused vistor might ask: Does this really matter?

The short answer is: To Belgians, yes!

If the now more confused visitor were to ask: But why? Belgians — especially language activists, whose influence in Belgian administration and politics is pervasive — would probably try to explain by asserting: It's the principle of the thing!

In the map of Hoeilart Municipality (below, right), its presence in a narrow strip of land between Brussels and the Walloon region may thus be distinguished.

Groenendaal, within Hoeilaart municipality is also situated within Halle-Vilvoorde arrondissement, within Flemish Brabant and the Flemish region, and this is also marked (shaded) on the map supplied. Interestingly, in recent years, a language dispute within Halle-Vilvoorde arrondissement has been at the origin of a Federal government crisis which lasted nearly two years: a Federal government, led by Prime Minister Yves Leterme, tried to resign, and only after nearly two years of manoeuvring was another one appointed by former King Albert II (3). At the origin of the language dispute was the right of residents just outside of Brussels region to receive billing and services in French if they so wished: a right they had enjoyed since before Belgian decentralization reforms. A court in Flanders found that this right did not exist; and accordingly both Flemish and Francophone politicians found it hard to be seen to back down on such an issue. (Blaming activist judges didn't solve the problem.)

Oh well.

September 19, 2013


(1) I am very generally reminded of William Butterfield's brickwork at Keble College, Oxford: a building of approximately the same era.

(2) Their union, solemnized in 1909, was not recognized by the Belgian government of the day.

(3) Now succeeded by King Philip I (French: Philippe I; Dutch: Filip I).

Map location of Hoeilaart municipality
Map location of Hoeilaart municipality | Source

Also worth seeing

In Groenendaal itself, the John van Ruysbroeck Forest Museum (Dutch: Bosmuseum Jan van Ruusbroec) recalls a Medieval mystical writer; the nearby Sonian Forest (Dutch: Zoniënwoud) has many kilometres of walks.

Brussels (distance: 15 kilometres); included among the many outstanding visitor attractions are: The Royal Palace (French: Palais royal ; Dutch: Koninklijk Paleis), and the nearby BELvue museum of the royal dynasty; the architecturally astonishing Grand' Place; and many others.

How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National), from where car rental is available. A regular service by the Belgian railroad company NNBS / SNCB is maintained between Brussels and Groenendaal. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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