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Visiting the Reibach, Lieler, Luxembourg: spellings and cross-border issues

Updated on October 5, 2012
Flag of Luxembourg
Flag of Luxembourg | Source
The Reibach, on the Belgian-Luxembourg border, 100 metres from its confluence with the Our.
The Reibach, on the Belgian-Luxembourg border, 100 metres from its confluence with the Our. | Source
Grand Duchy of Luxembourg passport
Grand Duchy of Luxembourg passport | Source
Map of the tripoint Belgium-Germany-Luxembourg
Map of the tripoint Belgium-Germany-Luxembourg | Source
Map location of the enlarged Clervaux municipality
Map location of the enlarged Clervaux municipality | Source

What's in a name? It depends...

Some watercourses vary in importance, not because of their size necessarily, but because of their location.

The Reibach rises in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and before it finally empties into the Our River, it forms the border between Luxembourg and Belgium, between those countries' respective localities of Lieler (Létzebuergesch: Léiler )(1) and Ouren. If one notes that for many kilometres, including near Ouren and Lieler, the Our River forms the border between Belgium and German, one will soon realize the role that the Reibach plays: where it flows into the Our, therefore, the borders of Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany meet. In the main photo, above, showing the Reibach close to its confluence with the Our River, the Luxembourg bank is to the right, while Belgium is to the left (2).

Interestingly, this stream's name has a number of spellings. As well as Reibach , an acute accent is sometimes added to the 'e', and the letter 'a' is doubled, thus: Réibaach . This spelling would be regarded as the 'authentic' spelling in Létzebuergesch, designated as the national language of Luxembourg. (One sometimes also sees the accented, i.e., Létzebuergesch, version with one 'a' only, thus: Réibach .) There is also another variant spelling: Ribbach , the map of the locality which I have which supplied even gives this spelling.

But the spelling Reibach is the standard German one, reflecting Hochdeutsch usage.

Regarding the 'authentic', Létzebuergesch spelling, since the stream is for a number of kilometres wholly in Luxembourg and then for a shorter distance forms the Luxembourg side of the border on one of its banks, it is not surprising that there would be a distinct Létzebuergesch one. But it should also be borne in mind that near its confluence with the Our River this Létzebuergesch spelling applies only to is southern bank!

The linguistic situation along the Belgian-Luxembourg border is very interesting and diverse. There is actually a Létzebuergesch-speaking area of Belgium, in that country's province of Lexembourg (yes, confusingly, one of Belgium's provinces is also called 'Luxembourg'!), although even along Belgian Luxembourg's border with the Grand Duchy the Belgian side is not linguistically homogeneous. But here, opposite Lieler, at the Belgian village of Ouren, the province in question is Liège, the eastern part of which is known as the Ostkantone, which is officially German-speaking. It is generally acknowledged without too much controversy that what is spoken in villages along some of the Belgian Luxembourg border is Létzebuergesch, yet here opposite Lieler the official Belgian position is different: this part of Liège (German: Lüttich ) province was annexed to Belgium after World War One. Even though between Lieler and Ouren villages the local Germanic speech is not far removed, yet in the Ostkantone, the form of the language is acknowledged to be standard German only, while in Luxembourg both standard German and Létzebuegesch (and French!) are recognized (3).

So: Reibach , Réibaach , Ribbach ; what’s in a name?

Even with the name of a stream such as this one, a lot may depend on where one is.

October 5, 2012


(1) Lieler has recently been incorporated into the Municipality of Clervaux (Létzebuergesch: KlierfCliärref is also current —; German: Clerf ).

(2) Those with good eyesight may just be able to make out a barbed wire denoting this peaceful, international border. I am not qualified to argue for the appropriateness or otherwise of the barbed wire, but maybe metaphorically at least it can symbolize the slightly tricky linguistic issues which which the border areas of Luxembourg are confronted.

(3) Some years ago Luxembourg's Minister of Culture inadvertently made a statement which appeared to support a secessionist political party within Belgian Luxembourg, whereas all the minister had intended to convey was cultural support for Létzebuergesch language and literature in an area of Belgium (unlike the Ostkantone to which Ouren belongs) generally acknowledged to be Létzebuergesch-speaking.

Also worth seeing

In Lieler , Luxembourg, itself, the village church has some Medieval features.

Ouren , Belgium: close to the Reibach is a European monument and park, of which a stone is the centerpiece. The Peterskirche (St. Peter's church) dates from 1741.

Sevenig , Germany: close to the confluence of the Reibach and the Our River, this village is linked with Ouren by the Georges Wagner Bridge.


How to get there: The nearest large international airport to Lieler is Luxembourg (Aéroport de Luxembourg ), at Findel, from where car rental is available. For North American travellers making 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). 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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