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Visiting the former Post Office building at Maastrichterlaan, Vaals, The Netherlands: complex border psychologies

Updated on May 15, 2013
Flag of The Netherlands
Flag of The Netherlands | Source
Maastrichterlaan 29, Vaals, Limburg, The Netherlands
Maastrichterlaan 29, Vaals, Limburg, The Netherlands | Source
Map location of Vaals, The Netherlands
Map location of Vaals, The Netherlands | Source

On Dutch territory joined to a German, urban area

This pleasing, former post office building in Vaals, The Netherlands, is interesting not only for some of its architectural features — its upper frontage in some English-speaking countries might be descibed as mock Tudor, and its arched doorway is also striking — but also because of its unique location.

Maastrichterlaan is a street in Vaals, which leads to the border with German at Aachen, North Rhine-Wesphalia, beyond which border Vaalserstrasse is the continuation on German territory. The Downtown area of Vaals, in the Dutch province of Limburg, is actually physically adjacent to the City of Aachen's suburb of Vaalserquartier. Thus, armed with appropriate documentation, the visitor may approach the Maastrichterlaan from the German border crossing and within a few metres of this location, be faced with a number of properties with pleasing frontages. One of these is the former post office at No. 29 Maastrichterlaan. When I visited this building, I had arrived in Vaals from Germany and was thus probably in a different frame of mind than I might have been if I had arrived from the nearest, large, Dutch city, Maastricht, at a distance of 29 kilometres. Interestingly also, while visitors to the property might instinctively relate to the German border as being close to the front of the building, yet it is also the case that some few hundred metres to the rear of the property is Germany also: the border curves drastically not far from the Maastrichterlaan border crossing, so that in fact this building is actually situated on Dutch territory which lies south, as well as west, of Germany. The Dutch identity of this territory where postage stamps formerly issued in Dutch guiders were thus available at the post office, is somewhat striking psychologically, while this building remains within brisk walking distance of Aachen's historic city centre, with its noted, City Hall and ancient Cathedral associated with Charlemagne.

The acute, past political differences and conflicts between The Netherlands and Germany during World War Two should not be minimized. But while Protestantism has played a important, historic rôle in Dutch history, the people of Vaals and southern Limburg province are identified mainly with Roman Catholicism and, from a religious perspective, Aachen, too, is mainly Roman Catholic in identity. The local dialect — Limburgs — is linguistically quite close to German; indeed, a Medieval Limburg writer, Hendrik van Veldeke, is not only regarded as a leading figure in the development of the Dutch language but also of the German language, in which medium he is referred to as Heinrich von Veldecke.

Stepping a few metres along this continuous, urban area at the German border and Vaals's Maastricherlaan , is thus almost like being aware of two, related parallel cultural constants with differing conventions.

Make no mistake: this is still an international border, with all the historical baggage that this implies.

But the situation of Vaals's former post office still retains a redolence of contented domesticity, as if someone from upstairs might just calmly emerge from the building and walk a few doors along to purchase a bottle of milk from the German end of the street.

The year of the construction of the building was 1906. The building is registered as a national monument in The Netherlands.

Also worth seeing

In Vaals itself, the wooden Vaalserberg contains the Drielandenpunt, where the borders of three countries meet.

Mesch (distance: 30 kilometres); this picturesque village on the Dutch side of the Dutch-Belgian border was the first place in The Netherlands to be liberated by American forces in World War Two.

...

How to get there: The nearest large city to Vaals is Aachen, Germany. Lufthansa flies from New York Newark to Duesseldorf, where car rental is available. A46/A61/A44 lead to Aachen. The German railroad company Deutsche Bahn (DB) links Duesseldorf to Aachen (distance: 93 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. You are advised to 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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