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Visiting Steenwerck Railroad Station, Steenwerck, France: Multidimensional Geography and History
Local psychologies of transition
Steenwerck Station (French: Gare de Steenwerck), dating from 1921, is a pleasing, solid, redbrick building, typical of those built in the post-World War One period. Following the destruction of most buildings in Steenwerck in that War, the Railroad Station was one of many structures which had to be rebuilt. A particular, recurring stylistic feature of the building is the presence of segmental window arching.
Strictly speaking, today's Steenwerck Station is an unmanned halt, which continues to be administered by France's state railroad company, SNCF (1).
The line itself, which links Lille with Calais, is actually rather old: it dates from 1848. This put Steenwerck permanently on a communications network with a north-south (actually, north-west / south-east) alignment.
But historically the local area has also had an east-west (actually, north-east / south-west) dimension to its communications and, indeed, their rupture.
In the first place, Steenwerck, a completely French-speaking municipality in the French department of Nord, lies within walking distance with the Dutch-speaking Belgian province of West Flanders (Dutch: West-Vlaanderen; French: Flandre-Orientale), in the Flemish region (Dutch: Vlaams gewest). While the nearby town of Nieuwkerke is sometimes — especially in historical records — referred to by its French named Neuve-Eglise, it is in fact Dutch-speaking.
Then also came World War One, when the Imperial German Army fought the Allied armies on the Western Front: for four long years. At times, this Front passed through Steenwerck, as the opposing forces of Empires hurled munitions and destruction at each other at a high cost in blood. Here, the east-west (or, north-east / south-west) axis was predominant.
The location of Steenwerck Station, and names of the streets which intersect adjacent to it, are instructive. Close to the building, Rue de la Gare and Place des Ajoucs meet Route du Seau and Rue des Ajoncs: the road classification D66 applies to rue de la Gare and its continuation Route du Seau, as they run in a north-easterly direction towards the Belgian border. Crossing the Route de Lille (the D933), Route du Seau becomes Seulestraete while still on French territory, and a short distance further, Seulestraete becomes, in turn, Seulestraat once on Belgian territory.
This process of toponymic transition occurs within walking distance of Steenwerck Station, albeit strictly to its north-east.
The name 'Steenwerck' in Dutch means 'Stone work' or 'stone construction'.
The municipality of Steenwerck, within the Dunkirk (French: Dunkerque) arrondissement, is situated in the historic area known as French Flanders (French: la Flandre française). If, in fact, one bears in mind the greater, Flemish context of local history and geography, then the toponymic transitions to which I have made reference, above, can be understood more clearly.
January 7, 2014
(1) SNCF: Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français.
Also worth seeing
In Steenwerck itself, there is a museum of rural life and a thriving ceramic industry; a Romanesque-Byzantine church building dates from 1923; a Flemish House (French: Maison flamande ) has an ornate, gabled frontage; there is a regular procession of Flemish Giants, popular in local festivals.
Armentières (distance: approx. 9 kilometres); its Town Hall is noted for its belfry; the Meadows of Hem, close to the Belgian border, are a popular recreational area.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York to Brussels Airport (Brussel Nationaal / Bruxelles-National ), from where car rental is available. Brussels is the nearest large airport to Steenwerck (distance: 155 kilometres). Please note that facilities may change without notice. For up to date information, you are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent. 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