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Visiting Troisvierges in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg: quiet town, but historically and militarily important

Updated on October 8, 2014
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
Troisvierges and its railroad station
Troisvierges and its railroad station | Source
Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide
Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide | Source
German, Luxembourg and Belgian border officials at Huldange-Forge in 1910
German, Luxembourg and Belgian border officials at Huldange-Forge in 1910 | Source

On August 1, 1914, at this railroad station, the reign of Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde slowly began to end

Why refer to a less than striking railroad station, albeit with scenic surroundings, at a quiet town in the northern Grand Duchy of Luxembourg?

The short answer is that here is where World War One started on the Western Front on August 1, 1914. These were the circumstances: after Gavrilo Princip shot and killed Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand in Bosnia, Sarajevo, a series of diplomatic and military measures got underway. In turn, Germany's troops violated Luxembourg's neutrality on the first day of August by disembarking troops at the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg's Troisvierges railroad station (1).

With an eye on invading Belgium, Germany's military did not want French or other troops using Luxembourg's railroad system to bring troops up to eastern Belgium and threaten to cut off their supply lines. So when the German authorities explained to Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde that military necessity had forced Germany to intervene with troops on Luxembourg's sovereign territory, there was a certain grim logic to their argument. However, this argument was not logical enough — and understandably so — for thousands of men from Luxembourg who fled the country and volunteered to fight in the French army, most of whom did not survive. (The Gelle Fra war memorial in Luxembourg City was built after World War One to commemorate their sacrifice.) It was not logical or convenient enough, either, for Luxembourg's political class in 1919. For the secularist left in Luxembourg, resentful at pious Marie-Adélaïde 's hesitations before signing pre-World War One education legislation, anything less than the complete shunning of prominent Germans would be held against her.

So when German boots hit Luxembourg's ground at Troisvierges railroad station on August 1, 1914, it was not quite a foregone conclusion that, when the Germans eventually were to leave, Luxembourg's political class, who would have to face the bereaved relatives of thousands of war dead who perished within the ranks of the French army, would force Marie-Adélaïde from her throne. But if not a foregone conclusion, the likelihood that something akin to this would happen was real. Indeed, for the political class, it would be easier to put pressure on Marie-Adélaïde to abdicate than to extrapolate whether from a German point of view the logical point of those boots first hitting Troisvierges was at all sound. In any case — and conveniently for those who already wanted to be rid of the Grand Duchess — Marie-Adélaïde did not succeed in distancing herself from a number of German courtiers at her Palace, and this added to the psychological resonance of the German boots. A hastily arranged meeting with visiting Kaiser Wilhelm II , against her wishes, but on the advice of the Prime Minister of the day, was subsequently cited also as supposed evidence of pro-German sympathies (as was paying her respects following the passing of a German aunt!)

And so, metaphorically, in Luxembourg's institutional terms, the rhythm of those boots hitting Troisvierges railroad station on August 1, 1914 continued to resonate until in 1919 — after the colossal and sanguinary conflict had consumed much of Europe — Marie-Adélaïde did indeed have to go. This somewhat tragic personality abdicated in favour of her younger sister Charlotte , decided to concentrate on charitable and medical causes, took a religious vow, took ill, and died in 1924 at the age of 29.

But in terms of other, underlying historical resonances, when French leaders such as Emile Combes and his colleagues unleashed their version of a Kulturkampf in 1904, causing thousands of members of religious teaching orders to be driven from the country, its effects were arguably already being felt across the border of neighbouring Luxembourg — where the secularist Left have been traditionally susceptible to much influence from France — even before the 18 year old Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde ascended the Grand Ducal throne in 1912.

In the scheme of things, could it be that the hidden resonance of this secularist wave from beyond the Grand Duchy's southern border may actually have been more influential in the underlying causes of the pious Marie-Adélaïde's eventual departure than that of the unwanted passengers who alighted near its northern border at Troisvierges's railroad station in 1914?

I leave this question open.

Note

(1) Modern maps do not do justice to showing just how near to Germany Troisvierges railroad station used to be, prior to 1918. While today the borders of Luxembourg, Germany and Belgium meet near Lieler, in Luxembourg, yet in 1914 they met at Huldange-Forge, nearer to Troisvierges. This border change came about after Belgium annexed a border area with Germany in the wake of World War One. Some Belgian leaders also wanted to annex the Grand Duchy, as did some French leaders, putting all the more pressure on Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde .

Acknowledgment

General acknowledgment is made to Professor Gilbert Trausch's course in Luxembourg history at Liège University, which I greatly appreciated over 25 years ago. But any inaccuracies in this short article remain entirely my own.

Also worth visiting

Troisvierges parish church of St. André (from Troisvierges railroad station, distance: 1.2 kilometres) has an interesting domed spire, and an ornate interior; the main body of the building dates from the 17th century, while the tower was built in 1924. Interestingly, while in French, the town is called Troisvieges, in the national language Letzebuergesch it is called Elwen , and in German Ulflingen .

Cinqfontaines Jewish deportation memorial (distance: 3.2 kilometers); this sombre monument was erected in 1969, to commemorate hundreds of Jews who were deported by rail during World War Two from near this location.

Clervaux , Luxembourg (distance: 11 kilometres) has a fine castle, distinguished ecclesiastical architecture and memories from the Battle of the Bulge.

Luxembourg City (distance: 72 kilometres); the Gelle Fra monument (see above) is at the Place de la Constitution ; in sight of the Gelle Fra monument is the Pont Adolphe (Adolf Bridge) across the Pétrusse Valley. Close to the Gelle Fra monument are Luxembourg's Cathedral and the adjacent National Library , a former Jesuit college which dates from 1603; in the Cathedral's crypt lie the remains of Jean the Blind of Luxembourg, killed at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. The Grand Ducal Palace , which dates from the 16th century, is in Flemish Renaissance style: the monarch's residence and office since 1890.

Bastogne , Belgium (distance: 27 kilometres), is visited by many Americans on account of its Battle of the Bulge associations.

...

How to get there: The nearest large international airport is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. For North American travellers who make the London, England area their touring base, airlines flying to Luxembourg include Luxair (from London Heathrow Airport and London City Airport) and CityJet (from London City Airport). The Luxembourg railroad company CFL maintains a regular service to Troisvierges from Luxembourg City. 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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