Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Netherlands - Limburg

When I was learning about Mongolia, I learned about Mongolia's most
western province, Bayan-Olgii - geographically remote from the rest of
the country and also culturally different because of its majority
Kazakh population.

Coming from Donegal, which is Ireland's remotest county, overlooked by most tourists, but with a stunningly beautiful landscape and a culture
that is not really southern or northern but just - unique - it's occured to me that every country must have its Bayan-Olgii, ie. a province or region that is slightly different than the rest of thecountry.

These borderlands or remote areas can often be the last refuge of criminal gangs and those who are opposed to the centralised power. I'm thinking of places like Battambang in Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge are still hanging out in the forests on the Thai border, far away from the authority of Phnom Penh.

I guess the Bayan-Olgii of the Netherlands would be Limburg. Only nominally Dutch, Limburg has a distinct culture, its own language -Limburgish - a different landscape with hills being the norm, a predominantly Catholic population and close ties to the 'other' Limburg, which lies to the west, in Belgium.

It almost seems like an accident of history that a Dutch Limburg exists. All of the Netherlands became a United Kingdom in the early 19th century (including the modern-day Netherlands, Belgium and
Luxembourg). When the Catholic south decided to break away from this United Kingdom, the eastern part of Limburg, centred around Maastricht, decided to remain part of the Netherlands. This was formalised in the Treaty of London (1839).

Modern-day Limburg is a bit of a mystery to me. On one hand there is the jewel in the Dutch crown, Maastricht - a city I've always associated with the treaty that gave birth to the Euro - by all accounts one of the most amazing places to visit in the Netherlands.

On the other hand there is Roermond, near the German border, with its bad reputation for drugs and crime. It surely must be the unluckiest place in the Netherlands - the history of Roermond includes such tragic events as the Netherlands greatest witch trial in 1613 with 64 presumed witches being burnt to death. It's kind of unfathomable from a modern-day perspective and the superstitious part of me can't help wondering what sort of bad feeling or 'karma' an event like that would leave behind.

Limburg suffered quite a bit during the Second World War, being caught between the Allied Belgium and Nazi-controlled Netherlands. The province has several war cemeteries, especially related to the disastrous Arnhem campaign of 1944, in which an estimated 17,000 British troops were killed.

Roermond was also the scene of a fatal IRA shooting in 1990. Being so close to the British army bases in neighbouring Germany, this part of the Netherlands was a place that off-duty soldiers would come to relax. In this case, the 'off-duty soldiers' turned out to be Australian tourists who happened to be driving a UK-registered vehicle. Tragically two of them died as a result of their injuries.

On the 13 April 1992, the biggest earthquake since the 18th century recorded in Central Europe, at 5.8 on the Richter scale, hit Roermond, not to mention the frequent flooding from the Meuse and Roer rivers!

Traditionally quite a poor region, Limburg's erstwhile poverty is reflected in the local cuisine, with every part of the animal being used and ingredients such as blood sausage being very popular. I found a great website with traditional Limburger dishes at

http://www.worldcook.net/Cooking/WorldRecipes/Limburg-recipes.htm

Finally, I don't know if it works in Limburg's favour or not, but you might remember the country classic 'Mississippi' from the '70's  It's by a band called 'Pussycat', made up of three former Maastricht telephonist sisters and various young, mustachioed men!  They were phenomenally successful at the time, sold millions of copies and toured the world in the late 70's. Enjoy!!



Image credits

The Limburgish flag is from Wikipedia and is copyright free.

The lovely image of Maastrict is from Flickruser  M J M an image scientist, dreamer and father from Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Thanks M J Mfor sharing this image with us using the Creative Commons License.
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