These days, work and other obligations are keeping me closer to home. So for a while, I will have to exchange exploring 'the foreign' for exploring 'the local goodies'. In the meanwhile, new plans for explorations across borders are in the making. I will have to keep you in suspense for a bit, but in the meanwhile I will take you along on my recent trips in own country, like to the town of Breda, also called the ‘Pearl of the South’ by its inhabitants. And not without reason.
Birds & Birth
While roaming Breda’s historical city center, I came across a typical Dutch phenomenon: announcing a new life by planting a wooden stork in the front garden of the house where a baby has been born. Typically, the stork - a bird that is part of the traditional Dutch landscape - delivers the baby in a diaper it carries in its beak. The exact origin of this tradition is not known, but the habit of linking this bird to birth is long-standing. Some argue that the old Germanic word for stork, ‘eidebar’, means ‘bringer of life’. Others see a connection with the habit of lighting a fire to literally give the newborn a warm welcome. The heat of the fireplace would then attract storks to the roof of the house.
A long-standing characteristic of Breda is its military importance. During the Eighty Years’ War, the Spanish at first took hold of the city. In 1590 however, Dutch soldiers were smuggled into the citadel hidden aboard a peat barge and drove the Spanish forces out. The victory at Breda proved a boost for the Dutch morale. Today, the ‘Spanjaardsgat’, or ‘Spanish gate’, still serves as a memorial to this Dutch version of the Trojan Horse. Just behind the gate is the century old Breda castle. In the nineteenth century, king William I (a distant relative of the conqueror of Breda) reinforced the military presence in Breda by putting the castle at the disposal of the Royal Military Academy, which is still there today.
Perhaps the most curious piece of military presence in Breda however, is found just outside of the center. In the Wilhelminapark, I stumbled across an original German tank of the Second World War, apparently the only remaining complete D-type Panther in the world. It was given to Breda by its liberators, the soldiers of the Polish First Armored Division.
A more peaceful place in the heart of Breda is the beguinage, which dates back to the thirteenth century. Until well into the twentieth century, it was occupied by lay women who shaped their ideal of a religious life together. Although the last of the ‘begijntjes’ living in Breda died in 1990, the beguinage is still a place of tranquil reflection in the midst of a lively city.