Today is a super packed day with five different destinations. We start with Bastogne, the battleground of the famous Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Liège, a major city in Belgian Wallonia, Drielandenpunt, the triple point between Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium, Aachen, for its rich history in connection with the Holy Roman Empire, and finally Bonn, the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven.
The Battle of the Bulge (known in German as the Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein – Operation Watch on the Rhine) was the last major German offensive in the western front during World War II. The Germans attempted to use this offensive to break the Allied offensive on that front and force the western allies to negotiate a peace treaty. The territory taken by the Germans during the offensive resembled a “bulge” on the map, hence its name.
During the battle, Bastogne was surrounded by German forces, and when the Germans asked the Americans in Bastogne to surrender, Brigadier General McAuliffe famously answered “nuts!” to the German request.
We stayed overnight in the same farmhouse which served as the former field headquarters of the legendary American 101st Airborne Division during the battle. The staff there mentioned that the same family still owns the farmhouse to this day and that some of them had perished in concentration camps during the course of the war.
They even decorated in the interior with old helmets and ammo boxes.
I wouldn’t consider the place in the middle of nowhere, but maybe trying to find it at night isn’t the best idea.
Just look for the tank turret out front I guess!
We tried going to the Bastogne Museum, but little did we know that the Bastogne War Museum was closed between 20. January 2020 to 19. February 2020. I knew it was low season, but I didn’t think it was so not busy that the entire museum would be closed for a whole month! The only exhibit we got to see was the East Germany open air exhibit outside showing off art painted on the tank, slabs of the Berlin Wall on old Trabants.
Nearby the museum was the Mardasson Memorial, a monument dedicated to the American soldiers who fought the Battle of the Bulge. Inside the memorial, carved panels tell the story of the battle.
The weather really cooperated with us today! We had clear blue skies all day, and got to see the the thin layers of morning frost over the vast farm fields.
The weather didn’t cooperate for long though because it became like this on our way to Liège…
The thing that surprised me about Liège was how seedy it was. We were hanging out around Place St Lambert, and it felt like people were subtlely eyeing us from the side of the street. In once instance, the moment we turned corner, a man glanced at us and immediately started walking in our direction. I glanced at him some more and eventually he went away. Yeah, we didn’t stay long in Liège.
I think one way to explain why it was so seedy was that Wallonia was no longer Belgium’s center of industry like it was in the late 19th and early 20th century. As the industry went to neighbouring Flanders, the local economy suffered.
Next up, Drielandenpunt, the triple point between Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium. It’s also simultaneously the highest point in the entire Netherlands, a miniscule 322.5m above sea level.
Not far away from the Drielandenpunt, was the westernmost city in Germany, Aachen. This is where 31 Holy Roman Emperors were crowned. Charlemagne (his bust pictured below) himself had his imperial medieval residence here.
The Aachen Cathedral shown below was the burial location of Charlemagne. The chapel shown in the middle is the location of the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperors. Despite the name, the Holy Romans Empire was neither holy nor Roman, nor an empire.
As a “holy” empire they weren’t exactly unified by religion. It wasn’t solely catholic and had a significant population of Protestants.
It wasn’t really Roman since for most of its history it didn’t rule over what the Roman Empire ruled over (although it did for a time) and its centre of power was ultimately in Germany. Arguably, the Byzantines or the Eastern Roman Empire was the true successor to the Roman Empire. They were a part of the Roman Empire when it fell and it continued the empire in the east until it fell in the 15th century to the Ottoman Turks.
Technically, it was an empire (at least officially) for a time, until their defeat in the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), which resulted in the kingdoms within the empire effectively receiving independence from the empire.
For lunch, I finally got the chance to eat Eisbein (bottom dish), a pork knuckle! It’s simmered for several hours in broth and served with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes! If you like meat, this is the dish for you. The above dish is a schnitzel – thin slice of meat (thinned via pounding) that’s breaded and fried.
From Aachen, we drove to Bonn to meet up with a friend, who moved to Bonn from Taiwan to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering. We were so full from lunch, we only had a small snack for dinner at a local pub.
Since it was a Bavarian pub, it sold Bavarian specialities like weisswurst (shown on bottom – literally white sausage). It’s a sausage made from veal! The bread in the basket is a very delicious German pretzel. It’s got a nice cripsy outside flavoured with salt with a soft inside.
After dinner, we explored the city a little bit and visited the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven. The house is one of the few remaining middle-class homes of the era.
Bonn is also the world headquarters of an amazing brand of gummy bears – Haribo! It was founded by Hans Riegel in Bonn, hence the name Haribo. People who hear about Haribo for the first time usually think it comes from Japan, and are almost always surprised to find out it’s German! The outlet store not far from Bonn city centre has a MASSIVE selection of all sorts of Haribo variants! It’s got gummy bears, sour worms, licorice, and more! I definitely recommend the gummy bears (of course), the frogs, coca colas, and the Phantasia pack!
That concludes our 7th day. The next day we’d travel to more German cities – Cologne and Düsseldorf.