Visiting Withuis, The Netherlands: where the border was all-pervasive, but has almost vanished
Historical secrets of a Limburg hamlet
Withuis means 'white house' in Dutch, and at Withuis, in Limburg province, The Netherlands, there is indeed a white house; in fact, a whole series of white houses, some of which originate from the end of the 18th century.
No. 10 at Rijksweg, is probably the most gracious and largest of the various white houses at Withuis, situated in Eijsden-Margraten municipality. Built of Namur stone, features of this old farmhouse include mansarded windows and a cobbled path by its white frontage.
Typically Dutch, one might suggest? Well, yes, in a sense, but only just. The reason for this is because The Netherlands ends only metres away.
A customs post was formerly a hub of activity at Withuis. This, however, closed in 1992, given that internal borders became less significant with the Single European Market.
However, it may be said also that a very significant former feature of this hamlet was its border location. The Roer River forms a natural feature locally, flowing into The Netherlands from neighbouring Belgium. In fact, the border post at the unassuming locality of Withuis witnessed a major incident of history in 1918.
Enter Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany
On 10 November, German Kaiser Wilhelm II arrived at Withuis. The border post is adjacent to Belgium, and we may remember that in 1914, the Kaiser's armies had invaded Belgium, occupied it and some of its area was devastated by the hugely costly conflict. The Netherlands remained neutral throughout World War One, however. One can only guess the thoughts of Dutch border officials at Withuis in November 1918 when the head of state who gave the order to invade Belgium and whose aggression the Dutch government had sought to avoid, suddenly appears before them.
What next? Will German troops invade and devastate The Netherlands, too, starting at Withuis? or else, why would the head of the mighty armed forces of Germany appear in person at the Dutch border?
In fact, there had just been a revolution in Germany, when the unwinnable nature of the conflict for Germany was an increasing conviction. Kaiser Wilhelm was thus blamed for the fact that Germany was mired in a costly war. A result of this was that Wilhelm decided that discretion would be the better part of valour and he fled the country. First he entered Belgium, and then approached the Dutch border.
So, what would the Dutch authorities do? As neutral parties to the conflict, would refusing to grant Wilhelm sanctuary contribute to prolonging a conflict which had already lasted too long? The Dutch government's response was firm and decisive, and it did not deviate from it. Recognizing that irrevocable changes had occurred in Germany, Wilhelm was granted sanctuary at Hoorn, The Netherlands, where after a while the rest of Europe relatively forgot about him. There an isolated, former head of state lived out the remainder of his days, with his memories. Having crossed the Dutch border at Withuis, Wilhelm was not going to be compelled to cross the border again.
Even after the Nazi German invasion of The Netherlands in 1940, Wilhelm's situation did not change very much. There was, in fact, little mutual sympathy between Wilhelm and his Imperial German supporters on the one hand, and the Nazis on the other, whose macabre brand of populist nationalism was poles apart from what Wilhelm represented. Agreeing on nothing else, Wilhelm and the Nazis 'agreed' that he should remain in exile at Hoorn, The Netherlands.
Former Kaiser Wilhelm II died in exile in 1941. The quiet, border hamlet of Withuis thus played a cameo role in his path to exile, at a crucial stage in European history. Thereafter — for several decades, at least — its border officials reverted to busying themselves about merchandise limits and visas.
Also worth seeing
At Mesch (distance: 1.3 kilometres) the fact that this village was the first in The Netherlands to be liberated by Americans in 1944 is commemorated.
Vaals (distance: 34 kilometres) has the Vaalserberg , where three countries' borders meet.
How to get there: Airlines flying to Amsterdam Airport from New York include Delta Airlines and KLM. For North American travellers making the London, England area their base, the nearest sizable airport in The Netherlands to Withuis is Eindhoven Airport, to which Ryanair flies from London Stansted Airport, VLM from London City Airport, and Aer Lingus from London Gatwick Airport. The Dutch railroad company NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen) maintains rail services from Amsterdam and Eindhoven to Maastricht, near Withuis . Car rental availability includes options from Amsterdam and Eindhoven airports. 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.
Other of my hubpages may also be of interest
- Visiting Mesch: first place in The Netherlands liberated by Americans in World War 2
- Visiting Eijsden, The Netherlands and its remarkable, moated castle: a treasure of Limburg
- Visiting Gronsveld, The Netherlands: choose which castle you prefer
- Visiting Holset, The Netherlands: the undulations of history in South Limburg
- Visiting Mamelis, The Netherlands: untypical hill country, and border complexities, too