Permanently artificial: recalling a crucial period of Belgian history
The reservoir area called — in German, the local, official language — the Wesertalsperre is situated near the eastern Belgian town of Eupen, in province of Liège (German: Lüttich; Dutch: Luik). It is an area full of outdoor activity opportunities: hiking; cycling; exploring forest trails. The site of the Wesertalsperre marks the confluence of the Weser (French: Vesdre; Dutch: Vesder) and the Getzbach.
The reservoir was begun in 1938 but not officially inaugurated until 1950. Belgium is a monarchy, and the monarch in both those years was King Leopold III.
However, on a de facto basis at least (if not quite de jure), the area around the Wesertalsperre (an area known in German as the Ostkantone) became part of Germany from between 1940 and 1945 (2), reverting to a semblance of normality and reality after World War Two, when Belgium re-annexed it...
...Except that things were not quite what they seemed, since prior to 1918 the area was part of Germany in the first place.
By 1950, though, Belgian sovereignty, and the theoretical sway of the Belgian monarch, had been definitively reestablished, and the reservoir was thus officially and royally inaugurated...
...But not by the monarch. Leopold III of Belgium (1902-1983) was officially out of favour, in exile, and his brother, Regent Charles of Belgium (1903-1983), thus performed this honour at the Wesertalsperre. (3)
If one looks at the history of the reservoir and the institutional background of its times, a reverberating paradigm of tension between reality and artificiality thus informs it.
Thinking about the Wesertalsperre, I wonder if it is a suitably engaging leitmotif — permanently artificial — for Belgium itself: an intriguing and in many ways elusive country in the heart of Western Europe.
It perhaps reflects the landscape's kaleidoscopic relationship with the country's institutional background: an ever indefinite complementarity of referents, maybe even a semi-geopolitical version of the term 'intertextuality', coined by the literary critic Julia Kristeva.
January 29, 2021
(1) Details of the facilities at the Wesertalsperre may be accessed at: https://www.ostbelgien.eu/en/fiche/leisurecenters/wesertalsperre
(2) An interesting episode during this period occurred in 1944, when a German lawyer, Dr. Franz Oppenhoff (1902-1945) went into hiding (or, into exile, from a Belgian perspective if the WW2 annexation of the Ostkantone is not to be regarded as de jure) at Eupen, near the reservoir. In late 1944, as the final months of World War Two in Europe raged, the American occupying forces sought counsel from the Bishop of Aachen about a suitable, civilian appointee as Mayor of Aachen. The resultant appointment of Dr. Oppenhoff was judged from various perspectives as a resounding success, but was also marred by infighting within the Washington, DC, bureaucracy, resulting in the leaking Dr. Oppenhoff's identity, which led to Dr. Oppenhoff's assassination in March 1945 on the orders of Heinrich Himmler. It took the input of Robert Murphy, General Eisenhower's advisor from the State Department, to assist in thrashing out attempts to broker an administrative modus vivendi for the local authorities of portions of Germany liberated by the Western Allies, before such a coherent policy emerged. Dr. Oppenhoff's widow died in as recently as 2001. See also: https://web.archive.org/web/20080406022138/http://www.histinst.rwth-aachen.de/default.asp?documentId=89
(3) Indeed, when Leopold III did return to Belgium later in 1950 under the initiative of Prime Minister Jean Duvieusart (1900-1977), the sanguinary upheavals associated with a referendum on his future were such that he abdicated in favour of his son Prince Baudouin; Prime Minister Duvieusart later became a Walloon Regionalist, having also served as President of the European Parliament.
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
Eupen itself is the capital of Belgium's German-speaking Ostkantone. It has several historic buildings, including spired churches.
Aachen , Germany, (distance: 22 kilometres); Charlemagne 's historic capital, with many architectural treasures. Its Vaalserquartier suburb borders the Dutch town of Vaals and the Dreilaendereck , where the borders of three countries meet: Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands.
How to get there: Brussels Airlines flies from New York (JFK) to Brussels Airport, where car hire is available (distance from Brussels Airport to Eupen: 126 kilometres). The Belgian railroad company SNCB maintains a service from Brussels to Eupen. 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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Liz Westwood from UK on January 29, 2021:
It is interesting to see how borders between European countries have moved to and fro over the years. Another area that springs to mind is the Alsace area of France.