Der Nederlanden: Part 15

Moers and Kaldenkirchen – Day 7 afternoon

My great-grandfather Otto Ferdinand deGruyter was christened in Sankt Josef Kirche, Moers, Germany, on 21 July 1845. Long ago when I started researching him, I found many de Gruyter mentions in the church book, but not his christening. It was only after I had given up and scrolled back in the microfilm far before the birth year – 1852- on his death certificate and gravestone that I found it. He was 40 when he married my great-grandmother, Jane Hill, who was 25, and I can only think that he told her he was much younger. The 1880 census, 5 years before they married, gives his correct age.

Otto’s father Ferdinand’s only surviving brother, Martin, moved to Duisburg by 1833, just east of Moers, and had a coal and shipping company. (His grandson Walter deGruyter founded the scholarly publishing house.) Their mother, Maria van der Hoeven, died when Ferdinand was 9, Martin was 11, and their only sister, Maria Josephina, was 8. Their father, who was a needle maker (as his father and grandfather had been pinmakers), and grain trader died in September 1829. Ferdinand married Louisa Venhorst, in Meerlo, that December and they had three children by 1834. Sometime after the youngest, Josephine, died in March 1835, Ferdinand and Louisa moved to Moers, where their four younger children were born, starting in 1842. I do wonder about the 8-year gap in children. Louisa’s parents, Peter Venhorst and Antonetta Nienhaus, died in 1833 and 1835. Louisa’s brother Otto apparently moved with Ferdinand and Louisa – he would have been just 11 when his parents died; he died in Moers, at the age of 17, in 1841. Her brother Eduard was working as a goldsmith in Kleves when he died at 24, in 1842, but was buried from St. Josef’s in Moers. Of Peter and Antonetta’s 15 children, only four survived to marry.

Ferdinand was a watchmaker, and his son Otto, grandson Olen, and his namesake and great-grandson, my father Ferd, were also. deGruyter-FJ-Sig-1845.jpgHere is Ferdinand’s signature from Otto’s birth certificate.

The church was not open, and it was built after the deGruyters left. The old church, built in 1778-79, now called Marienheim, is across the street and houses the parish kindergarten.

Datei:Moers, Marienheim, 2014-01 CN-02.jpg

Moers was Reformed, and there was no Catholic parish from the Reformation until after the Seven Years War in 1771, when there were enough former French soldiers, artisans, and day laborers who had moved in to warrant it. The city, which had been under Dutch rule until the beginning of the 18th, then Prussian, was under French rule from 1794 to 1815, when it went back to Prussia.

I didn’t know where they had lived, but suspected it was in the commercial area between the old and new markets, near the castle and their church, which is full of houses with shops in the ground floor. Here are some views of the area of the old market, where they likely lived and worked. It probably looked much like this in the mid-19th century.

After we got back, I found that the municipal birth certificate for Otto’s brother Ferdinand had a street address, 90 Steinstrasse.

It is just inside the old wall, and we walked past it at least twice, since it was near our parking in one of the bastions from the old star-shaped fortifications – which we have now seen from Zwolle in the north all the way to Timisoara, in western Romania, where we went last year on the hunt for Robert’s family from there.

We had coffee on the patio at a cafe on the old market square, and headed back towards Venlo.

We missed a turn and ended up wandering on back roads rather more than we had intended, but the countryside was lovely. Instead of endless utility poles, Dutch and German roads are bordered by planted trees, and all but the smallest have parallel bike paths. And there is no junk, abandoned buildings, litter, or indeed anything unlovely. We had intended to go through Krefeld, where the Quaker and Mennonite founders of Germantown, Pennsylvania, came from in the 1680s. A few also came from Kaldenkirchen, but I was interested because Arnold Custer and Gertrude Doors, who immigrated to Germantown a bit later, were from there. One of their sons, Conrad, was an original settler of what is now Rockingham County, Virginia. His granddaughter Susannah married John Runyon, and they were first settlers of Harrison County, and grandparents of Margaret Morrison, who married Mark Hersman and is my great-great-grandmother. So after 200 years a descendant of theirs married a deGruyter from Venlo and Moers. (Arnold Custer and Gertrude Doors were also the ancestors of George Armstrong Custer. So.)

On the way back from Kaldenkirchen, we passed through the area where the van Leeuwens and Schonckens lived in the 18th century.   In 1733, just after their second child was born, Peter Leeuw and his wife Helena Canjels bought 5 and a half morgens of cropland on the Wylderbeek, next to the Weijeclooster (Mariaweide Klooster) land, which is now along the A73, southwest of Venlo. It was between there and the Sinselbergh, which is the slight sandhill, now parkland, between Kaldenkirchen and Venlo. In 1796 their first child, Anna Maria, had died, and her widower Christian Schoncken borrowed money against it. This was probably the area now the train station and railyards. In 1785, Jan Venhorst and his wife, Helena Schoncken (daughter of Maria van Leeuwen and Christian Schonken) rented another piece of land they owned nearby, 4 morgens at the bottom of the Bergh near the Onderste Houtmolen, which still stands, and along the road.

We had dinner at the Eetcafé de Brasserie. I had zuurvlees – “sourflesh” – the Dutch equivalent of sauerbraten, and a Limburg speciality – in both Belgian and Dutch Limburg.

Der Nederlanden: Part 14

Venlo – Day 7

We started with another delicious Dutch breakfast buffet – several slice-it-yourself breads, croissants, butter and jams, sliced meats and cheeses, boiled and scrambled eggs, hot sausages and bacon. The hotels, even the smallest, had the coffee machines we saw last year in Eastern Europe, which grind the beans and allow you a choice of espresso, latte, cappuccino – and, if you must, Americano, at the press of a button.

We had planned to go back to Sint-Martinuskerk, which was posted as open from 9:30 to noon, walk through some streets where ancestors had lived or had property in the 18th century, and then go off to Moers with maybe a stop in Kaldenkirchen, where a completely different set of ancestors on the Hersman side of the family had lived.

The church was not yet open when we got there, and almost as soon as they unlocked and we went in, we were asked to leave as it wasn’t open until 10:30. We were out from discussing what to do in the meantime when a woman who lived nearby introduced herself, and kindly spent the next hour or so with us, looking for the verger, recruiting someone to answer questions, and admiring the church with us.IMG_20190917_104400850.jpg

The earliest church on the site is thought to have been in the 9th century, although there was a church in Venlo dating to 760. Around 1000 it was replaced by a Romanesque church, and the beginnings of the Gothic building was in the 1420s. It was expanded over the centuries, and the tower was replaced after World War II, when the tower and roof were destroyed by bombing.

The copper baptismal font dates from 1619. The sculpture on top represents a baptism in the river Jordan. On the lower left you can see the levers used to raise the lid so the font can be used.

Hundreds of my ancestors’ families would have gathered around this font over the centuries to welcome each new baby.

In the baptistry side chapel, there is this carving of a pelican mother. In medieval times, the pelican was believed to be a particularly good mother, to the point of providing her blood by wounding her breast when no other food was available. The pelican became a symbol of the passion of Jesus, and we saw it in many churches, but I thought it was particularly apt in this chapel.IMG_20190917_104826335-1.jpg

The Baroque pulpit dates from 1701, and my various families in Venlo would have looked at it every Sunday.IMG_20190917_103336719

My ancestors were also buried in the churchyard, and at least one is listed as being buried in the church, but the churchyard is no paved or built over, although a few gravestones have been set into the foundation walls of the church. I was told that no-one was buried in the church except the Bishop of Roermond, Damianus van Hoensbroeck, who died in 1793, and was exhumed and reburied in the church in 2018-19, to make his grave in the floor visible again. There is a documentary teaser here.

IMG_20190917_104714481.jpgIt seems likely to me that, like most churches of the time, the rich were buried in the church, the gravestones forming the floor, and they were all removed or covered, as the Bishop’s was, in the 1830s. Arnold Schoncken’s 1735 death record in the church book says he was buried in the “moederkerk”, when most other death records from the church say “kerkhof”, which is churchyard. I lit a candle for them all.

It was time to walk back to the Markt for lunch. We went along the Lomstraat again, and along Peperstraat, and Steenstraat, which leads into the Oude Markt, and where Jan Venhorst and his wife Helena Schoncken owned property.

In 1760, Wolterius De Gruyter and his second wife, Anna Catharina Spee, bought half of a house and yard “op de hoek van de Oude Markt“, a corner of the Old Market Square, and also a share in a saltworks. There is no clue to which corner, and most of what surrounds the old market square is now new, or with new facades. But here is an older building just off the square, on the corner of Heilige Geeststraat (Holy Ghost Street). IMG_20190916_120037810

His son Martin is listed as a zoutzieder – a saltmaker (also a speldenmaker (pinmaker), kruidenier (grocer), and koopman (merchant). The de Gruijters in Den Bosch had been speldenmakers. Martin was also kerkmeester, what the English call church warden, at Sint-Martinuskerk.

Lunch was at the Hungry Hippo, a Middle Eastern place which was one of the few we found with vegan choices.

We walked back to the Wilhelmina to get the car, and set off east again into Germany for the afternoon, to Moers, where my great-grandfather deGruyter’s family moved in the late 1830s, not long before he was born.


Der Nederlanden: Part 13

Meerlo, Maasduinen, Blerick – Day 6 afternoon

Meerlo is a small village about ten miles north of Venlo. This is where Peter Venhorst, son of Jan Venhorst, innkeeper and apparent bon vivant in Venlo, was appointed burgemeester – mayor – of the district, which included Meerlo, Tienray, Blitterswijk, and Swolgen. He continued serving under the Dutch administration after the defeat of Napoleon, until 1831, and died soon after. Louisa Venhorst, Otto de Gruyter’s mother, grew up there, and married Ferdinand Jan de Gruyter there in 1829.

It was still drizzling when we got there, and the church was not open. We walked around it, and through the graveyard, although I didn’t expect to see any family graves, since in most of Europe land is limited and old gravestones are removed and the space reused.


Sint Johannes de Doper, Meerlo

Sint Johannes de Doper is St. John the Baptist. Something I noticed in the graveyard is that the married couples (marked with an infinity sign on the stones) had different names. I hadn’t realized it was still the custom, as it was formerly, making genealogy research much easier, since the christening records give both parents’ full names.


“Carnaval is een bijzonder onderdeel van de volkscultuur in Limburg, en tijdens Carnaval hebben vele dorpen, steden en haar inwoners een alternatieve naam. In het verleden zijn de dorpen in de omgeving van Meerlo sterk met elkaar verbonden geweest waarbij men een scheldwoord gebruikte voor de inwoners uit de andere dorpen. Heden wordt dit echter niet meer zoervaren, maar als een erenaam gevoeld.
De Carnavals-naam voor de mensen in Meerlo is “De Vöskes” (vossen).”

This is the fox in the town car park next to the village hall and across from the church. The sign says “Carnival is a special part of folk culture in Limburg, and during Carnival, many villages, towns and its inhabitants have an alternative name. In the past, the villages in the vicinity of Meerlo have been strongly interconnected using a swear word for the residents of the other villages, but today this is no longer boasting, but felt like an honor. The Carnival name for the people in Meerlo is “De Vöskes” (foxes).”

Since we always like to get into the countryside, we went across the Maas to the Nationaal Park De Maasduinen.    The Maasduinen – the dunes of the Maas  (Meuse) are a long stretch of sand dunes formed by the wind during the last ice age, along the east side of the Maas. The area has heathland, lakes, and forest. We walked along a sluice, across a bridge, along some dunes through the woods, and had hot chocolate in a cafe and visitors center with a lovely water view, built on the dam, and with a sod roof – seen here in the distant from the footbridge.



There were many tree-stump sculptures along the path through the woods, including this dragonfly.


Our last stop of the day was somewhere special, to me, at least. In my research before the trip, I had found these beautiful old maps of Blerick, a farming community across the river from Venlo. In the upper left corner of this one, made about 1650, is a farm labelled Baesdonck.


Baesdonck at Blerick

Jan Venhorst the innkeeper’s wife was Helena Schoncken. Her father Christian’s family, and her mother Maria deLeuuw’s, had been in Venlo since the available records started. But her mother’s mother, Helena Caniels, was the daughter of Ida Verheijen, daughter of Hendrick Verbaesdonck, later known as Verheijen, born 1629, son of Matthias Verbaesdonck, whose grandfather Wilhelmus, born about 1550, is one of the farthest ancestor I can document in any of my lines, and the oldest I can tie to a specific plot of land. Christening and marriage records still exist.

Verbaesdonck is a farm name, and Matthias later moved to a farm called Ter Heyden (Verheijen) and became known by that name. The farm is one of the few farms still in the area, and is at the intersection of two elevated expressways. The medieval house is still there, but with a modern exterior.

We walked down the lane, now a dead end. It was dusk, and not much to see but the pasture, vegetable fields, and modern greenhouses. But it was good to stand on land I knew my ancestors worked 500 and more years ago.

We went back to dinner in Venlo at a restaurant, Grand Café Bonaparte, whose logo

had captivated Judy that morning. Robert and I had been wanting Indonesian, and had satay, with Venloosch Alt, billed as the Netherlands first Altbier (although altbier originated in Dusseldorf, which is less than 30 miles away).

Something I learned when we visited the Netherlands briefly in our long Europe trip with our children is that saying “deGruyter” the American way is incomprehensible to the Dutch. Here is the Dutch pronunciation:

I still didn’t get it right, I think. I had a conversation with the waitress about why we were in Venlo, and we eventually were writing the name on a napkin – she thought I was saying de Ruijter, a completely different name.

The Wilhelmina in the sunset, and the sunset itself, were lovely.

IMG_20190916_200329145  IMG_20190916_200913879.jpg



Der Nederlanden: Part 12

Venlo – Day 6 continued

[Our new grandson, Aidan Jacob McKissick, arrived just as I was finishing this post, so I have been occupied with other things for a while.]

Here is a good summary of the de Gruijter family of Venlo, from the Limburg GenWiki. I suspect the information on Otto’s family, and his brother Martin’s, came from either Julius, Martin’s grandson in Charleston, or my aunt Elizabeth deGruyter Turner, or perhaps from me in correspondence years ago.

Venlo has been a trading center since probably Roman times, a major port, and a member of the Hanseatic League. I wanted to explore the area between the Markt and the river, where the Schonckens had property in 1609 on Peperstraat, which leads down to the wharf. The wharf area is now a park, with views up and down the river, and sculpture.



I also found my first interesting manhole cover. There were lots in eastern Europe last year, not so many in the Netherlands. This has the city arms and motto – Make haste slowly, with a sound mind.

Geemente Venlo Festina lente cauta fac omina mente

Geemente Venlo – Festina lente cauta fac omina mente

We had a bit of lunch in the Grote Markt – Robert and I split more bitterballen – and headed back to get the car and visit Meerlo, the Maasduinen national park, and Blerick.


Der Nederlanden: Part 11

Venlo – Arrival and Day 6

We arrived in Venlo after a wandering drive from Dingden, near sunset, to the Hotel Wilhelmina, across from the station.  It had served as the US headquarters after the Liberation. Arend had arrived, and had eaten in Utrecht, where he changed trains. We had had a big lunch, so we had a beer on the patio, and went to bed.

In the morning, it was cool and a bit drizzly. We set out for Sint Martinuskerk, where dozens of my ancestors and hundreds of their families were christened back to at least 1660 (before that, the names are almost all patronymics and it is hard to identify them in the records) — Bihet, Bocks, Cramers, Damen, De Wilde, Faessen, Frere, van der Hoeven, Horsteins, Janssen, van Leeuwen, Martels, Michelse, Schelbergh, Schoncken, Somers, Venhorst, Verheijen, and, of course, de Gruijter. (Here’s the tree again; search the tree for Venlo in Birth Place.)

We got disoriented in the curving streets, but Arend set us straight — but the church, like many museums and restaurants, was closed on Monday. I had a list of other places to look for, though. This building, marked 1588, in Grotekerkstraat, was not one of them, but my ancestors would have gone by it frequently.

1588 building in Grotekerkstraat

1588 in Grotekerkstraat

This rooster in the market square outside the Stadhuis is the symbol of Jocus, the society for Venlo’s pre-Lenten carnival. It was organized in 1842, and one of the organizers was a de Gruyter. I’ve not been able to find out who, but Otto’s parents had moved to Moers by then. It was probably Frans, son of Martin’s much younger half-brother Cornelis, who was in banking and real estate, and an alderman. It is a nice sculpture, anyway. Martin deGruyter, Otto’s grandfather, was mayor of Venlo in 1794, and would have had an office in this Stadthuis (but the exterior has been remodeled since then.)

We were in search of this. There has been an inn here since the late Middle Ages, and from the 1700s until the 20th century it was called Het Swinjhoofd (The Pig’s Head).

Het Swijnhoofd 11-13 Houtsraat, Venlo

Het Swijnhoofd 11-13 Houtsraat, Venlo

Jan Venhorst, Otto deGruyter’s great-grandfather, who had come from Dingden in the 1760s, was the innkeeper. He was apparently quite the high-liver and a popular caterer. The daybook of the priest at the time, J. C. van Postel, has many mentions of him.

On October 13, 1788, Jan Venhorst was summoned from “Het Zwijnshoofd” to the town hall and there he was convicted by five witnesses of having smashed the magistrate at Hoeckse, calling him a rascal and deceiver. He was retired and sentenced to sit in the fool’s cupboard for eight days on water and bread. He went like a lamb with the police commissioner to No. 2 on that record. He has got a bed and his son brings him food. Jan was released on the 20th.


March 8, 1789 The birthday of the Prince was a great meal in the summer refectory with the Crosiers. The council and magistrate paid the expenses. We had a great drink there. At 5 o’clock the company was done. They started shooting cannons from the garden in such a way that about 80 glasses were broken in the windows. Toasting glasses and bottles were in abundance without words falling. At Venhorst in “het Zwijnshoofd” was a supper for citizens. All officers were at Timmermans (in the Golden Lion). While there was trouble among them, there was someone from the garrison with the Crosiers as the commander and the place major.

And they seem to have taken up the new art of ballooning.

Reported from Postel on August 3, 1797, the balloon master continued on Kaldenkirchen. Jan Venhorst and Sieur Huberts put to him that Venhorst must have 36 French Crowns and Huberts, for ribbon and paper supplied, 172 Guilders. The creditors thought that the balloon would go up on the 6th itself, but a counter-order from the magistrate. The beater called on the 6th at half past two that anyone who wants to buy the balloon will come out this afternoon. At “St. Anna ” (Inn at soc. Prins van Oranje) it will be sold. In the evening at 7 o’clock the carpenter Berculaer released the balloon to admire the crowd of spectators. Has fallen to Tegelen on the the “Glazenap” estate


Der Nederlanden: Part 10

Dingden and the drive to Venlo – Day 5 afternoon

The name Dingden came from Ding or Thing – the name for the governing council in old Germanic societies, and probably it was the old regional meeting place for the Thing.

The Netherlands, like most of what was the Holy Roman Empire, was divided into many small principalities, which changed hands often for a thousand years and more. Bocholt, Rhede, and Dingden were in the Principality of the Bishopric of Munster, which was created by Charlemagne in 795, and part of the Holy Roman Empire. It bordered on the Duchy of Cleve. It was dissolved in 1802, and the area of Bocholt, Rhede, and Dingden became the Principality of Salm, which was taken over by the French Empire shortly thereafter, until 1815, when it went to Prussia. Venlo, to the southwest, also bordered Cleve, and from 1096 was in the quarter of the Duchy of Guelders that remained in the Hapsburg Spanish Netherlands. In 1713, Venlo and the area around it became part of the Dutch Republic. The areas of Upper Guelders to the east became Prussian, and the German border dates from then. From 1795 to 1815 both the Dutch and German areas were held by the French. The whole area spoke closely related dialects of East Dutch: South Guelderish, East Bergish, and Klevelander. Since then, standard German has taken over in the German area.

Sankt Pankratius in Dingden was bombed in 1945 by Americans and Poles. Only the tower survived, and after much discussion, the church was replaced by a simple stucco – inside and out – design. As the church site says (translated by Google)

A simple solution should be: “A hall church without pillars, which could obstruct the view, with small worship chapels should arise”, as it is called in a Festschrift to 60 years of reconstruction. The Dingden vernacular puts it mundane: “Like a barn.” Fits the village character of Dingden and its peasants. In the Festschrift it is well-put: “Sober and cool presents the interior and inevitably directs the view of the brightly lit chancel.”

And the light is stunning.

Sankt Pankratius, Dingden

Sankt Pankratius, Dingden


Font, Sankt Pankratius, early 17th c.

The font apparently survived the bombing, and dates from the early 1600s. The church records only go back to the late 1600s, so all of my known Dingden ancestors – Nienhaus, ten Busch, Klueck, Syverding, Hoffmans, were christened in this font. The Germans have not been nearly as good as the Dutch in putting old records on-line, so I haven’t learned much more about them than can be gleaned for the church records.

Peter Arnold Venhorst, son of Jan, who had moved to Venlo in the 1760s, was appointed mayor of Meerlo, north of Venlo, in 1800, under the new government after France occupied Limburg. He was only 26. The next year he married Agnes Douveren, who must have died, perhaps in first childbirth, because in 1803 he married Antonetta Nienhaus, and they were the parents of Louisa Venhorst, Otto deGruyter’s mother. Antonetta’s parents, Joan Henrich Nienhaus and Marianna ten Busch, never left Dingden, and in fact had their last child there the year after Antonetta married, in Meerlo. I wonder, but have not found a clue, how Antonetta ended up in Meerlo.

Antonetta was descended from several cousin marriages. Her father’s father was Arnold Neinhaus b. 1716, her mother’s grandfather was his brother Henrich Nienhaus b. 1709, and his wife was Maria Anna Elisabeth Nienhaus b. 1719, daughter of Henrich b. 1674, son of Jacob, who was probably an uncle of Arnold and Henrich’s father Joannes.

Robert spotted this plaque on our way from the church to the car.

Today’s nursing home St. Josef in Dingden goes back to a former inn. This house is mentioned for the first time in 1657 in a document and called “white horse”. At that time it was a tavern.
For a long time the house was owned by the respected and wealthy Nienhaus family. Here also the sessions of the poor board took place. In the year 1729 Heinrich Nienhaus is called as supervisor of the poor.
In 1829 the house was demolished. The following year, the reconstruction took place. Several times the owner changed.

Source – KuLaDig

Nearby is the Jacobshaus, now the Humbergerhaus Museum, which commemorates the Jewish family Humberg. In the late 1600s it was the home of Jacob Neinhaus.



Here is a family tree of Otto deGruyter’s ancestors, again.

And here is a musical interlude, by Dutch folk band Rowwen Hèze (Wiki in English), while we drive to Venlo.

“Een kwestie van geduld” means “A matter of patience” and is about how North Limburgerish, one of the remaining East Dutch dialects will eventually take over.

“Vanoavend vur altied” lyrics but it is Limburgerish and Google Translate doesn’t deal. But it includes “Consumption is mandatory. The bank gentleman in the room makes himself happy”

Der Nederlanden: Part 9

Bucholt and Rhede – Day 5

Most of my great-grandfather Otto deGruyter’s father’s family was in Venlo or Blerick, just across the river Maas, as far back as the records go – the 1620s, except for Walter deGruyter, who moved there from Den Bosch in the 1740s. But his mother’s family, the Venhorsts and Nienhauses, were from east across the Rhine in Germany, in Rhede and Dingden and came in the 1760s.

Here is a family tree of Otto’s ancestors tree

It took me so long to get to this post because I was reviewing who was from where and trying to figure out how to display them so they made sense. In the process, I started looking at church records again, found many I had not before (confirming another generation in a few lines), and discovering that some information I picked up from OPR (the notorious Other People’s Research) was wrong, and, no, I didn’t have anyone from Bucholt – only a fifth great-grandfather who married his second wife there – and I am descended from his first. But it was a lovely town, anyway.

Here is the beautiful Dutch Renaissance Rathaus, which now has a cafe with elaborate ice cream. We had coffee on the plaza.

Rathaus, Bocholt, Germany

Rathaus, Bocholt, Germany

We also visited St. George Church, immediately behind the Rathaus, which was bombed and burned in World War II, thinking at the time I had ancestors who attended.

Next was Rhede, where I did have many ancestors, back to the oldest records, unfortunately only to the late 1600s — the Venhorst, Wülfing, Schwers, and Hoveke great-grandparents of Jan Venhorst, who moved to Venlo in the 1760s, grandfather of Louisa Venhorst, Otto deGruyter’s mother. Her mother’s grandmother, Margaretha Ten Esse, whose parents moved from Ramsberg a few miles away, was also christened here.

This is the 12th century font of the church in Rhede, Sankt Gudula. The old church was replaced in 1898, and the font was used elsewhere until it was returned to Sankt Gudula in 1996.  While the church is new, and the records are gone, many generations of my ancestors were christened at this font.

12th c. Font, Sankt Gudula, Rhede

12th c. Font, Sankt Gudula, Rhede

Leaving the church, the first thing I saw was this store window; I took a picture for our daughter, Hilde, whose full name is Anna Mathilde.

"Mathilde", shop window, Rhede

Shop window, Rhede

It was past lunch-time, so we ate in the church plaza at Zum Griechen (To the Greeks) which was nevertheless quite German.  I had Jägerschnitzel.


And so off to Dingden, which is just only 10 miles away.

Der Nederlanden: Part 8

The Hunebedden, Day 4 afternoon

Robert and I like the small towns and countryside as much as (or more than) cities, and are interested in history, prehistory, geology, and nature wherever we go. I had noticed De Weerribben-Wieden National Park, a large fen – formed by centuries of peat- and reed-cutting – north of Meppel. When Judy told us about the Hunebedden, we were ready to go. Saturday afternoon, after picking up the picnic  ingredients, we drove west, along the south side of the fens, and then north  past the lakes. We missed a turn, didn’t find a convenient place to walk in the fens, and went on to find the hunebedden, specifically D53 and D54, which are a pair, and two of three that are apart from the long line of them along the eastern border of Drenthe. A wonderful site and map here, no English version.

So, what are hunnebedden? In the UK, they are called barrows – burial mounds, in this case stone tunnels covered by earth, but now only the stones remain. These are from around 4500 BCE, and built by Beaker people, who belonged to a culture which spread from Spain all over Europe, without a migration, and then Beaker people from, probably, the area of the Netherlands migrated to Great Britain, replacing the farmers who had moved in from the steppes, who had replaced the hunter-gatherers who had built Stonehenge.

While we try not to do a lot of research or have expectations when we travel, at the same time, seeing through a lens of reconstructing/imagining what was rather than just what is. And afterwards, researching what we didn’t understand or what we want to know. Here is a site on the geography and geology of the Netherlands. Almost all of the Netherlands is the flat delta of the Rhine, and the major divisions of the soil types are sea clay and river clay, sea sand and river sand. The few hills and stones are sand dunes and boulders pushed ahead of the glaciers in the ice ages, including the boulders used for the hunebedden, and the low ridge near the two we visited.


Deltawerken.Com / Delta Works .Org

We looked at the first hunebed and took a walk through the woods on the dune above it, which was full of bomb craters from World War II, now filled with water and home to salamanders. The Germans built an airfield here during the occupation, dismantling D53, which the Dutch reconstructed from photographs and field notes after the war.


Woods on the Havelterberg


“Een bulldozer van ijs”


Huunebedden in the distance

We walked back up to the parking, where there were picnic tables, had our picnic supper, and drove back through the country to Meppel.

Der Nederlanden: Part 7


On our plane to Amsterdam were a group of  US World War II veterans going to the Netherlands, where they had been part of the liberation from the Germans 75 years ago.

In Meppel, this plaque was on the wall of the Grote de Mariakerk

Geknecht, verdrukt, doch nooit gebukt, noch ooit de strijd gemeden Met bronzen klank aan God bedank en aan wat helden deden

Liberation plaque Meppel

Geknecht…Verdrukt…Doch nooit gebukt
Noch ooit de strijd gemeden
Met bronzen klank aan God de dank
en aan wat helden deden

(Enslaved, oppressed, but never stooped, nor ever the battle avoided
With brazen sound to God the thanks and to what heroes did)

The Netherlands was occupied by Germany for five years during World War II, and nearly a quarter-million Dutch died, including an estimated ten to twenty thousand by starvation in the last year of the war.

May 4 is a Memorial Day for all victims of war, and May 5 is Liberation Day, celebrating freedom. The Allied troops who liberated the Netherlands were mostly Canadian, but the Dutch remember and are grateful to all the Allies, including the US. All of the Dutch we talked to mentioned the liberation and our role, and Hannie Huigsloot, who we met later in Venlo, told us how her mother went every year to her home town for the Liberation Day celebration.

This is a film on the occupation and resistance from the Verzetsmuseum (Resistance Museum) in Amsterdam.

Der Nederlanden: Part 6

Meppel, Day 4

We discovered that Saturday was Open Monumentendag (Open Monument, or Heritage Day), when thousands of historical buildings and museums are open and free. It’s part of a Europe-wide program. We started out with a map of the sites in Meppel, but soon got lost. We saw the modern Stadhuis (Town Hall), which is more beautiful than the photographs. We got to the Grote de Mariakerk, where Judy’s ancestors would have attended, just as they were opening for the day, and an art exhibit. We talked to artist Thea Gerritsen, who told us about her portrait of Queen Beatrix, after a photograph Thea’s brother had taken, and she was excited that her son, King Wilhelm-Alexander, would be visiting the church and see it.

Grote de Mariakerk Altar Cloth

Grote de Mariakerk Altar Cloth

After lots of talk, and coffee and cookies, we went out to find the windmills, and Stichting Oud Meppel (Old Meppel Foundation), which turned out to overlap. It is in the building at the base of this windmill.


We had a good visit with the folks at the history center (where there was more coffee, and poppyseed cake, which we declined, since we had just done coffee and cookies.) It is all-volunteer, and they have over 90, and maintain a library and an incredible and well-indexed photograph collection. Judy had a long talk about her van Alstyne ancestors from Meppel, and when they learned my name was deGruyter, reminisced about the deGruyter grocery store in town, which their mothers had all used, and that children got 10 cents worth of candy when they went with their mothers. They searched out pictures of the old store, which is now offered to print pictures of the old store, which is now an electronics shop, next to a Subway (they are everywhere0, and kindly emailed them to me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Piet de Gruyter, who founded the grocery chain in 1818, was from Den Bosch, and probably a sixth or seventh cousin or so of my great-grandfather, Otto deGruyter, who was descended from Walter de Gruijter who moved from den Bosch to Venlo about 1740. A distant relation, but the chain grew to over 500 stores, and it is fun to see the family name. When my Aunt Elizabeth visited the Netherlands in the early 60s, she brought back chocolates and matchboxes with the de Gruyter brand.

After the history center, we climbed up into the windmill, which is being restored and has shops in the lower levels, and a wood-worker’s shop at the top. They are awaiting the arrival of a millstone, and plan to grind mustard seed and produce mustard. They had mustard from elsewhere, and when Judy said she had never had Dutch mustard, gave us each two samples. Fortunately, the jars were small enough to pass TSA guidelines.

This is the other windmill, which is not working, but which is also a historic site, with a museum.


We had planned to visit the fens and hunebedden north of Meppel in the afternoon, with a picnic supper, so we stopped at De Brasserie again for a bit of lunch. This time I wanted to try bitterballen, even though I had no idea what they were, and Robert and I split an order of eight, which was too much, even though we persuaded Judy to take one. They are deep-fried balls of meat and gravy, what we would call bar food. (Do look at the recipe link.)

We stopped in the Jumbo supermarket near our hotel, and got a brown baguette, sliced (.99 euros, a bit more than half the price at our Kroger’s and better bread), some “red berries” I had also seen in the outdoor green market by the church, a convenient small package of a variety of cheeses, half a dozen small pies with a nut filling, and a paring knife, since we hadn’t checked luggage and Robert didn’t have the pocket knife we usually use for these occasions. The red berries were labeled “rood bessen”, which just translates “red berries” and was obvious, in any case. I thought they were currants, which you never see fresh in the US, and when I tried translating “currants” into Dutch, sure enough, it told me “red berries.”

For more about our Meppel visit, see Judy’s blog.