Posts Tagged ‘Battle of the Ardennes’

My travels – Luxembourg again

May 22, 2019

I’ve nicely got back from my annual walking holiday in Luxembourg, and while I was there tried to understand why I’m so fascinated with the place and why I like it so much. It’s small – about the size of Yorkshire, where I live, more or less. It’s full of hills, small mountains, rivers, brooks and forests, all of which combine to make beautiful walking terrain, and the country is networked with hundreds, if not thousands of generally well-waymarked and maintained trails, usually circular walks; parking is easy and free. Next year all public transport in the country will be free for everyone: there is an excellent network, and many of these walks are easily accessible by bus and train. Overall I have the impression of a nation that thinks its worthwhile spending money on public amenities, unlike somewhere else I know… Near Echternach I saw a newly-planted orchard which has been specifically established to preserve all the old, local varieties of apples and pears. There’s a bee sanctuary attached…

Not that many people live there, so it’s not crowded. About 40% of the population are of foreign origin, largely Portuguese and Italian. The standard of living is high, roads and public buildings are well-maintained, and they spend serious money on public amenities – there are wonderful children’s playgrounds wherever you go, seats and picnic tables abound along the walking trails, as do litter-bins, which are regularly emptied, and there are display boards with posters depicting the flora and fauna to inform the passing walker. It feels like a conservative (with a small ‘c’) country; it’s national motto translates as “We want to stay the way we are”. Yes, I know it’s a tax haven that makes a good deal of its wealth that way, and whilst I don’t approve of that, nor do I approve of countries like ours that make enormous amounts of money from flogging weapons of death to all and sundry around the world. I found myself feeling alternately angry and sad, that other countries can do all of these useful and sensible things I’ve mentioned, and ours can not.

Luxembourg has its own language – Letzburgetsch – a curious hybrid of elements of French, German and Dutch, and the natives are also fluent in either French or German (or both) according to whether they live in the east or west of the country. They are proud of their history, and wherever you go, there are museums and memorials to the suffering the country endured under the Nazi occupation, when it was formally annexed to the Reich, meaning that young men were conscripted into the Wehrmacht, and you see graves which commemorate locals who perished on the Eastern Front. Resistance and civil disobedience was ruthlessly crushed: a strike in the town of Wiltz saw several teachers from the local secondary school shot, among others. And then large parts of the country were flattened during the Battle of the Ardennes in late 1944 and early 1945, when the worst of the civilian suffering also happened.

On a personal note, I realised that I have many happy memories of holidays taken there when our children were young, and the walking and exploring we did then. I hope to be able to take my annual holiday there for many years to come: certainly there are plenty more walks awaiting…

On a certain lack of understanding

May 4, 2017

I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed by war, but I do find myself thinking about it a lot, and I suppose given my family’s history, it’s not that surprising: my father was born and spent his early years in a village pretty much on the Eastern front line in the Great War, and ended up in England as a result of the Second World War, during which my mother was a child. I’ve recently been on my annual walking holiday in the Ardennes, and each time I’ve learned a little more about the Battle of the Ardennes in winter 1944-45, the enormous casualties and the horrors civilians endured during this last gasp of the Nazi war machine.

The European project emerged from the ashes. It was idealistic: the twice-repeated horrors of the first half of the twentieth century should never happen again. Initially it was mainly an economic project, binding countries together with links and ties that eventually began to grow into a more political union. Britain was outside for a long time, a nation that had become great, building an empire on conquest and commerce and trade, and gradually losing it again. Britain had stood alone for two years, unconquered; some people felt we had ‘won’ the war. But we wanted the trade advantages of the ‘Common Market’ and strove to gain admittance; we wanted the chance to trade with a huge and growing market and make more money. I don’t think that, as a nation, we ever really understood the real thinking behind the project. We hadn’t been conquered and devastated twice in thirty years.

1973: we joined. The EEC became the European Community and then the European Union. We seem to have done well commercially and financially, but we never really wanted the rest of the project, which we seemed to see as interference in our affairs, faceless bureaucrats in Brussels wasting ‘our’ money; we never really understood what was behind it, and preferred to hang on to the US coat-tails instead. We could have been in there in partnership with the French and the Germans developing and shaping a great project. Who knows, if we had played our part, we might now have a better and more democratic Europe, more to our liking.

2016: we decided to leave. We will leave, and lose many, if not most of those trade advantages that attracted us in the first place. Talk about cutting off the nose to spite the face…

I am deeply saddened by the turn of events, and have come to feel that as a nation we don’t understand Europe, we probably don’t belong in Europe, and that it may well be better for Europe that we are outside again. I don’t believe our politicians have a clue about what they are doing. I wish more of my fellow-citizens did understand, and shared the wish to build something worthwhile. I don’t have any illusions about the EU being perfect – far from it – but that doesn’t make it any less a noble idea.

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