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Visiting the Spanische Ley and Wembscher Bruch, Weeze-Wemb, Germany: water, wind, refracted historical sovereignties

Updated on May 28, 2013
Flag of Germany
Flag of Germany | Source
Weeze-Wemb | Source
Silver medal, Emperor Charles V, 1537
Silver medal, Emperor Charles V, 1537 | Source
Map of Kreis Kleve, a District of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany
Map of Kreis Kleve, a District of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany | Source

Hiking and birdwatching in a border area made complex by Holy Roman Emperors

When one studies the history of Germany, one soon gets to understand that Germany as a concept is very much a question of definition. For example, Aachen was Emperor Charlemagne's ancient capital, and the area over which he reigned was far larger than the modern borders of Germany. In Charlemagne's time, what are now the western areas of Germany become blurred with the territories of western Europe and their history.

Another, very powerful Holy Roman Emperor was Charles V (1500-1558), among other rôles, included being the Spanish king. During his reign he acquired the Duchy of Guelders (German: Geldern), named for the town of Geldern, near what is now Weeze-Wemb. It had already been hard to define the transitional area between the Rhine and the Maas, but Charles V added Guelders to the Netherlands. However, after the Dutch Revolt, the northern part of Guelders, historically not geographically contiguous with the southern part, allied with the United Provinces of the Netherlands, while the southern part of Guelders remained under Spanish rule, being still considered part of the Spanish Netherlands.

This is by way of a little background to a geographical feature at the locality known as Wembscher Bruch, in Weeze-Wemb; the feature even today is known in German as die Spanische Ley. It refers to a small watercourse, traditionally held to have been dug under Spanish rule, and which in the vicinity marks the border today between Germany and The Netherlands.

The very name given to this feature offers a case in linguistic ambiguity, On the German side of the border, the term die Spanische Ley, is fairly straightforward: a feminine, definite article for a feminine noun for 'ditch' or 'watercourse', and the correctly spelt adjective for 'Spanish'.

In Dutch, the word Ley is being treated as a common noun (masculine and feminine nouns have largely been merged into the common gender) and the common definite article de is used. But it is the spelling of the adjective which is a little unusual. Normally, the adjective for 'Spanish' in Dutch is Spaans and so here one would expect the phrase to read: de Spaanse Ley. However, what has come about is that the Dutch common definite article has been adopted but the German adjectival spelling has been retained, thus: de Spanische Ley. The watercourse, which separates Wembscher Bruch, Germany, from de Wellsche Hut, The Netherlands, is itself sometimes referred to in two parts: the old and the new. Thus also, the Dutch adjectival forms oud and nieuw have been correctly adopted in the the phrases: de Oude Spanische Ley and de Nieuwe Spanische Ley; however, the German adjectival spelling has, again, been retained.

Like much of the Lower Rhine (German: Niederrhein) region, Wembscher Bruch is a fertile locality, rich in flora and fauna, though it is sometimes susceptible to flooding. In the locality, various species of birds are regularly spotted, including both songbirds and birds of prey. And doubtless species of bird such as the crane, the woodpecker and the falcon which are noted in the neighbouring Maasduinen National Park — situated just over the Spanischer Ley in The Netherlands, from Wembscher Bruch — know no national boundaries.

As well as for birdwatchers, the locality is also popular with hikers; and footpaths adjoining the Spanische Ley are regularly frequented, with the notion of the border often only dimly perceived amidst tranquil perambulations. In the wider area, both on the German and Dutch sides of the border, there have been demarcated circular cycle routes which, themselves, pay scant attention to jurisdictional niceties. The pursuit of fauna and exercise has maybe replaced the machinations of Holy Roman Emperors when it comes to border issues in this area.

Recently, Wembscher Bruch has been the subject of feasibility studies for a wind farm, in addition to other sites in the area. One of the disadvantages of locating a wind farm at Wembscher Bruch is the proximity of Airport Weeze. But certainly the thinly populated nature of the locality in this flat borderland is held by some engineers to have wind farm potential.

May 28, 2013


(1) Everywhere which has a land border can conceivably have historical or toponymic anomalies. For example, Buffalo, New York, is close to the border with Ontario, Canada; have you ever been to the locality named Buffalo Heights? it is actually in Fort Erie, Canada, a short distance beyond the Peace Bridge from Buffalo, NY.

Also worth seeing

In Weeze-Wemb village itself, there is a chuch building with a conspicuous spire and a windmill.

Weeze (distance: approx. 11 kilometres) has the castles of Kalbeck, Wissen and Hertefeld.

How to get there: Lufthansa flies from New York Newark to Duesseldorf, where car rental is available. For North American travellers making London, England, their base, Ryanair flies directly to Airport-Weeze, close to Wembscher Bruch, Weeze-Wemb; car rental is also available at the 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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