Visiting Kettenis, eastern Belgium, in the German-speaking Ostkantone: castles and past, official equivocation
Echoes of Sudeten German expulsions, but the German character of the 'Ostkantone' is now officially honoured
I visited Kettenis, eastern Belgium, with its moated Libermé castle (Schloss Libermé ). There did not seem to be any doubt as to where Kettenis was situated, geographically and culturally. Kettenis, situated on the road to Aachen (Aachenerstrasse ), is in eastern Belgium's Ostkantone, which is German-speaking; indeed, the Ostkantone were part of Germany prior to 1918.
But in 1945 the proprietors of Libermé castle were actually deprived of it by the Belgian government, because of their nationality: German. This has echoes of past, official Czech antagonism toward Sudeten Germans, who were expelled from the former Czechoslovakia on account of their nationality, after World War 2.
However, it must be said that today the Federal Belgian authorities respect and honour the German culture and rights of the people of the Ostkantone. (Just as In the Czech Republic leaders such as Václav Havel have made efforts to build bridges with German families affected by the post-WW2 expulsions.)(1)
Canadians will also be aware of events in places such as Waterloo, Ontario, with its large German-speaking population before World War 1, which led local men such as William Lyon MacKenzie King to tread very carefully indeed at a time of strenuous British Imperial war effort. Subsequently, the factors which have informed the exigencies of Canada's official multicultural policy have compelled Canadian authorities to attempt to tread with great sensitivity among its culturally diverse peoples.
In any case, Kettenis 'belongs', in the fullest sense, geographically and culturally, to the German-speaking community and it is situated between Eupen, the capital of this Community, and Aachen, Germany. (Indeed, Kettenis is now officially part of Eupen, though previously separate until the 1970s.)
Having said this, it is equally true that Kettenis and the Ostkantone generally are at somewhat of a crossroads, with The Netherlands, Germany, and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg not far away.
Earlier history of Libermé Castle
The Libermé family owned a castle on the present site in the 14th century; the male line of the family became extinct, but the family name has continued with the castle. Much of the present visible structure of the castle dates from the 16th century.
In the intervening centuries the castle changed ownership repeatedly. In the 19th century, a longstanding mayor of Kettenis lived at the castle.
Some of the later 19th century alterations to the building would probably be judged by contemporary standards as contributing little to its preservation, but the whole is still a pleasing and noteworthy entity.
Other noted buildings
Also in Kettenis are a number of other noted structures. These include:
Thal Castle. The structure was originally built in 1760, but the castle has been recently restored its proprietor, who is a gifted artist, and has specialized in mural painting.
The St. Katharinakirche is a church in Kettenis, with some noted 17th century artwork in its interior.
Waldenburg and Weims castles are also in the locality.
(1) Mr Havel died in 2011.
Also worth seeing
Eupen , (distance: 2.2 kilometres) is the capital of Belgium's German-speaking Ostkantone. It has several historic buildings, including spired churches.
Aachen , Germany, (distance: 23 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.
Burg-Reuland , Belgium: (distance: 69 kilometres), also in the German-speaking Ostkantone , has a large, Medieval castle, with other noted buildings.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport, where car hire is available (distance from Brussels Airport to Kettenis: 127 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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