22 Sep Getting My Feet Wet
Getting My Feet Wet: The North Sea
The best way to start a research trip is to jump right on in and get your feet wet. So I do that. Literally. My sister-in-law, Andrea, and I go to the seaside in Zeeland, and there I am! Feet in the water of the Scheldt River Estuary as it broadens out into the North Sea. We are in the southern most, coastal section of the Netherlands. Looking across the water, I can see Belgium.
We start the day, with a long walk down the top of the dune.
It’s several miles on a sandy path with a view of the sea. It’s summer season and the beach is colorful with tourists and small rental cabins. We walk all the way to the tip of the dune, go down the to sand, and walk back in the water.
Being in a seaside village means eating local.
And that means, trying something new. My first experience with mussels. I ordered a local fish, and we all shared the pot of mussels. Yum. Bright orange flesh, sweet and rich. After lunch we walk the backside of the dune and I am amazed at what I see.
There nestled in the dune, is the Bunkermuseum Zoutelande. A sign points the way: → WWII Bunkers
There are two bunkers. They are not open, but we can peer inside and walk around and climb to the top. Originally built between 1942 and 1945 as a part of the Atlantic Wall, these bunker fortifications numbered in the thousands and ran along the coast of western Europe from Norway to Spain. Hitler built them to prevent an allied invasion of the coastline.
These two bunkers, remnants from 70 years ago, were once heavily fortified; They strategically guarded this channel, the entrance to the harbor at Antwerp.
I expected to see bunkers in the Netherlands. I wanted to see them. But somehow they still took me by surprise.
That they are here, on the coast of this bustling tourist site. That they are hidden behind the dune, and you can spend the whole day here and not see them. That they are so large. How did the German soldiers dig all the sand away to build them? How did they transport thousands of pounds of cement, materials, supplies, and equipment up these dunes?
I take pictures of the rusty wires, the rusty posts, the dune from on top. I take pictures and try to imagine what it could have been like to have lived in this land, at that time. All around me is lovely, blue skied and sunny. All around me, people are on vacation, and children are building sand castles on the shore while they run and giggle and laugh.
I cannot put these images together. Same place. Different decade. A lifetime apart.
By late afternoon we head into Middelburg, capital city of the province of Zeeland.
We bike along a canal, past houses that defy gravity, past houses built in 1560! And I am struck by what a LONG and RICH history this country possesses.
This house was built over 500 years ago. It’s remarkable for it’s age, but also for the fact that this part of the city even exits today. Much of Middelburg was bombed during WWII. Much of the heart of the city no longer even exists.
Middelburg May 1940
More Than Wet Feet
I cannot quite put together the images I see today with those I have seen of WWII. I feel like I’m looking at two entirely different worlds, and yet, they are the same country. I have gotten more than my feet wet today. I have jumped right in and gotten splashed in the face as my present day experiences collided with the war that I came to learn more about.
I’ve only been here three days. And already, I have notebooks to fill.
Good night, Zeeland. Thanks for all that you’ve taught me. Oh and hey, if anybody is looking for a job washing windows … well … just saying … Middelburg might be the place for you.