Visiting the Town Hall at Waimes, Belgium: stone solidity masking somewhat fluid history and linguistic identities
Where exactly is it?
As town halls go, the Town Hall (French: Maison communale; German: Rathaus) in Waimes (German: Weismes) may not be the most impressive, but it is a solid-looking stone building, with a conspicuous roof turret. Unlike in many parts of Belgium where red brick was taken up and used very widely, in the Ardennes country of southern and eastern Belgium stone buildings are a distinct, local characteristic.
Features of this solid, stone building include a large, arched doorway; it is located at place Baudouin, 1, named for the late King of the Belgians who reigned from 1951 to 1992. Waimes is situated in the Walloon region (French: Région wallonne; German: Wallonische Region).
Observant readers will already have noticed that I supplied the German as well as the French for 'town hall' (1) and for place-names. Yes, you've guessed it; there is a significant number of German-speakers in the Waimes municipality, who are recognized as a protected minority.
Those who have read other of my hubpages about Belgium may also ask, 'So does Waimes belong to eastern Belgium's German-speaking Community (German: Deutschsprachige Gemeinschaft; French: Communauté germanophone)'? Well, actually, no; the borders of Belgium's German-speaking Community were specifically drawn so that only territory containing a majority of German-speakers would be governed by its own Prime Minister and government.
But, located in Belgium's Liège (German: Lüttich) province, Waimes does indeed adjoin the territory of the German-speaking Community. In fact, prior to 1815, in general terms, what is now Belgium belonged to Austria; and, more specifically, what is now the territory of the German-speaking Community nearby belonged to Prussia, then to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War, until 1918. So within the past two hundred years, in addition to the local, partial bilingualism in French and German, there have been considerable state border changes in the local area of Waimes.
Including in World War Two. I stayed in a local former farmhouse on the outskirts of Waimes, and the proprietor, like his father before him, was an aviator; interestingly, he himself had served in the Belgian air force (2); while, because of border changes in World War Two, his father had been drafted into the Luftwaffe! An intriguing example of territorial, airspace, linguistic and filial complexity at which Belgium seems to excell...
November 22, 2013
(1) In fact, even the French term used here is interesting; while many town halls are called either Hôtel de ville or Mairie, here the preferred term is Maison communale, that is, 'municipal house'; this is probably because many rural Belgian municipalities are large, containing several, merged collectivities which were formerly independent.
(2) What used to be called the Belgian Air Force (French: Force aérienne belge; German: Belgische Luftmacht) we are now supposed to call the Air Component (French: Composante air; German: Luftkomponente). With Canadians familiar with the organization of the Canadian Forces / Forces canadiennes, this will doubtless strike a chord. The unique Belgian dimension, however, was that, at about the same period that Belgian politicians were trying to centralize the country's formerly separate air force, army and navy under one command, they were also trying to decentralize governance of the regions. Belgians themselves would probably admit that final judgment on these various reorganizations is still awaited. (At least, if the apparently ceaseless calls for yet more administrative reorganization is anything to go by.)
Also worth seeing
In the municipality of Waimes itself, the Medieval castle of Reinhardstein formerly belonged to the prominent Austrian Metternich family.
Buetgenbach (distance: 12 kilometres) has a large, towered church building; the town also served as temporary headquarters to General Dwight D. Eisenhower at the end of World War Two.
Pruem, Germany (distance: 63 kilometres) has some fine ecclesiastical architecture.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport, where car hire is available (distance from Brussels Airport to Waimes: 154 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. 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.