Visiting Kortrijk-Wevelgem International Airport, Belgium: An Aviation Facility With A Complex Multilingual History
Linguistic oddities Made in Belgium
Flanders International Airport — as it is sometimes known — was started by the German military.
So, another legacy from World War Two?
Actually, no. The year was 1916, and World War One was in full flow, and furiously so (1). The civilian use to which the airfield later switched developed particularly into a business and general aviation category.
The Airport is close to Kortrijk, in the West Flanders (Dutch: West-Vlaanderen) province of the Flemish Region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest). Some non-Belgian readers may already be familiar with the name Kortrijk but in a different spelling: Courtrai, which is the French spelling. This is the form which would formerly be found frequently on maps and travel and historical literature. Kortrijk is indeed close to the boundary both with Belgium's French-speaking Walloon Region (French: Région wallonne; Dutch: Waals gewest) and with the international border with France.
Thus aircraft which take off from Kortrijk- Wevelgem Airport can very quickly be flying over French airspace.
So in terms of airspace now, Belgium being a highly decentralized country, the airport is just into Flemish territory, close to the Walloon region and in addition close to the international border with France. While English is generally the international language of aviation, yet this convention is sometimes not too strictly enforced in France (and, indeed, in Canada over Quebec and Ottawa).
I have included a photo (above) of the entrance sign outside this airport: Does the word 'Luchthaven' look familiar to speakers of German? one can certainly see the closeness between the German word for 'airport': 'Lufthafen' and the equivalent word in Dutch. (Indeed, one may reflect historically that the original facility operated through the medium of German, while World War One raged round about.)
One can only imagine how the pilot of a stick-and-string Imperial German biplane from Kortrijk, forced down in a field in the nearby borderlands might, if asking a surprised onlooker, 'Sprechen Sie Deutsch?', receive a fierce response from fixed bayonets if the aircraft had actually strayed across the Western Front...)
Just a few kilometres from this airport also, further linguistic oddities abound. In the Belgian town of Menen — officially Dutch-speaking, but joined in conurbation to the town of Halluin in France's Nord department — municipal employees have amazingly been instructed by the local mayor to reply non-verbally in gestures if (gasp!) someone asks them a question in French! (2)
Dutch, French, English, German; horizontally, vertically: what an at times explosive concoction within the space of a few kilometres! To 'plane-spotting add language spotting...
May 2, 2018
(1) Interestingly — even by way of a macabre footnote — during World War One Adolf Hitler was stationed nearby just a few kilometres away from what is now Kortrijk - Wevelgem International Airport.)
(2) See also: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/fran-ais-interdit-belgian-town-of-menen-bans-the-use-of-french-8800788.html
Also worth seeing
In Kortrijk itself, visitor attractions include the Béguinage (Dutch: Begijnhof), Sint-Maartenskerk with a 83 metre belfry, and the Town Hall (Dutch: Stadhuis), with its impressive frontage.
Halluin, France (distance: 16 kilometres) has the fine, neo-Gothic St.-Hilaire church; the town has a riverfront on the Lys river (French: Lys; Dutch: Leie) shared with Menen, Belgium, which has an interesting town hall with an octagonal tower.
How to get there: Brussels has the nearest large international airport to Kortrijk . Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. The Belgian railroad company NMBS / SNCB maintains a service between Brussels and Kortrijk . Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to 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.
Also of interest
- Visiting the Church of St. Martin, Kortrijk, Belgium: splendid Brabantine Gothic structure, built be
A massive Brabantine Gothic belfry stretches 83 metres high, at this Medieval church building in Kortrijk, Belgium
- Visiting Halluin, France, and its Saint-Hilaire church: a neo-Gothic landmark in a border town
A striking, religious monument in an intriguing borderland town.