Visiting Monschau, Germany and Its Red House: Picturesque Town on the Rur River, with Past, International Disputes
Remembering the local, 18th century textile industry
The most picturesque town of Monschau, in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (German: Nordrhein-Westfalen ) is situated on the Rur River.
But wait a minute, the visitor might say. Doesn't the name of this river sound familiar? Well, maybe, or maybe not. The Ruhr River (please note spelling) is a river which gives its name to a widely known industrial district in western Germany. The Rur, however, though mainly in Germany, also has part of its course in Belgium and The Netherlands; indeed, in The Netherlands, at Roermond, the Rur (or, in Dutch, Roer ) flows into the Meuse River (Dutch: Maas ). The Ruhr River, then, is redolent of heavy industry and urban agglomerations. The Rur, in contrast, is know as a river which flows through some rather scenic territory.
At Monschau, overlooking the Rur River, one of the town's most well-known buildings is the Red House (German: Rotes Haus ). Its several stories, together with its riverside location, give it a particular aura of height. With the Baroque-style Red House a popular attraction for tourists, the building thus features in many photographs taken by visitors. The house may be visited; it contains a textile museum, featuring significant developments of a local industry with which the Scheibler family was associated from the 18th century, from when the house dates. The Red House was built by manufacturer Johann Heinrich Scheibler (1705-1765).
Thus, with its timbered structures and narrow streets, Monschau arguably gives the impression of being a peaceful, typically German town.
It was not always so, however. First of all, one must remember that there was not a united modern state of Germany until 1871. Interestingly, the Monschau area, like the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, used to have pockets of speakers of the Walloon language. The town even had a frequently used French name: Montjoie (however, this French form has fallen into relative disuse). In the early 20th century, the existence of this Walloon-speaking minority gave some Belgian nationalists the pretext to claim that Monschau should be incorporated into Belgium at the end of World War One. (France had annexed the area during the French Revolutionary wars.) In the event, what are known as the Ostkantone, German-speaking cantons in eastern Belgium, which had been in Germany until 1918, were indeed annexed to Belgium. But Monschau was spared annexation, even though the border with Belgium lies very close to the town up to the present day (1).
But even among Germans, the town was usually known as Montjoie until 1918, when, shortly before the end of World War One, it was officially named Monschau.
(1) The border between Germany and Belgium has been revised a number of times during the course of the 20th century.
Also worth seeing
In Monschau itself, Burg Monschau, a castle dating from the 13th century, overlooks the town from a hill.
Aachen (distance: 26 kilometres) has associations with Charlemagne; noteworthy, historic buildings include the City Hall and the Cathedral.
Pruem (distance: 75 kilometres) has some striking ecclesiastical architecture.
Eupen (distance: 21 kilometres); this town, across the Hohes Venn area from Monschau, is the capital of the German-speaking Community of eastern Belgium; it has several fine, historic buildings.
How to get there: The nearest large, international airport to Monschau is Cologne/Bonn Airport (Flughafen Koeln/Bonn ), t o which Lufthansa flies from New York Newark. Car rental is available at Cologne/Bonn Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. For any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities, please refer to appropriate consular sources.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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Michelin provides very clear mapping and the edition for Germany is no exception; I have spent many hours pouring with interest over it.