Conclusio Thomas Schürmann en

Through Wallonia II

Watch out, Spirou!

Fields like elsewhere - It was on these beautiful fields that the Battle of Waterloo took place, often referred to by the Germans as the Battle of Belle Alliance because of a restaurant. Numerous streets and squares in Germany bore this name. In Wuppertal, for example, a bus stop is still named after it.

Fields like elsewhere

It was on these beautiful fields that the Battle of Waterloo took place, often referred to by the Germans as the Battle of Belle Alliance because of a restaurant. Numerous streets and squares in Germany bore this name. In Wuppertal, for example, a bus stop is still named after it.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

Wallonia is a varied place. A country where the fates of the miners meet directly at the local level with the biggest comic talent factory in Europe. From Brussels we went to the Abbaye d'Aulne on the Sambre.

The invisible battlefield - Nothing seems to remind us of the terrible battle, the landscape is so gentle. The lush greenery belies the fact that more than 47,000 soldiers in three armies died here around 18 June 1815.

The invisible battlefield

Nothing seems to remind us of the terrible battle, the landscape is so gentle. The lush greenery belies the fact that more than 47,000 soldiers in three armies died here around 18 June 1815.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

Farewell to Brussels

To the Dutch Lion in Belgium

In the first part we travelled from Wuppertal to Brussels and spent a nice day in the Belgian capital. Here is the whole, extensively illustrated report. On the second day we went from Brussels to Thuin, more precisely to the Abbaye d'Aulne, a ruin of a former Benedectine and Cistercian monastery situated on the Sambre river. Our route took us across the battlefield of Waterloo, through the industrial city of Charleroi to Thuin, famous for its hanging gardens.

Trigger warning. One part is about the mining disaster that killed 262 miners in Charleroi, most of them Italian.

We slept excellently at the Scott Hotel, which was also due to its rather quiet location in the Saint Gilles neighbourhood. The hotel is just far enough away from the ring around the city centre that you can have your peace and quiet, but still get to the metro quickly on foot. We returned to the Atomium easily and cheaply with a one-way ticket, and from there it was not far to our Park&Ride car park.

For our further journey we had the choice between two important monuments, the Lion's Hill at Waterloo or the ship lift Ronquières - we chose the place that stands for one of the most successful Grand Prix songs (1974) as well as for one of the greatest military defeats (1825): Waterloo.

A foreign object - There it is in the distance, the Lion's Mound. 42 metres high, put together by Liège hat wearers. Weighing almost 300,00 tonnes.

A foreign object

There it is in the distance, the Lion's Mound. 42 metres high, put together by Liège hat wearers. Weighing almost 300,00 tonnes.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

My, my - At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender

The Lion's Hill - Butte du Lion

Waterloo - everyone knows it, but who has been there? The place has become a figure of speech, because everyone can experience their own Waterloo. A particularly painful, great and considerable defeat. On 18 June 1815, in the slaughter - also once called the Battle of Belle Alliance - near the former village of Waterloo, but not only was Napoleon Bonaparte defeated, his reign of 100 days ended, defeat sealed against Wellington's and Blücher's combined forces of over 115,000. It was also the end of the French Empire. Numerous monuments line the path along the battlefield, but one in particular stands out. It is the Lion's Hill, the Butte de Lion, which gently overlooks the gently undulating landscape like a Belger burial mound. Belger, as Gaius Iulius Caesar called the Gallic tribes north of the Sequana and Matrona rivers.

Potato fields and cereals - The horizon seems endless - what might it have been like for the common soldiers? Dying in the dirt.

Potato fields and cereals

The horizon seems endless - what might it have been like for the common soldiers? Dying in the dirt.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

The Lion's Mound, then, artificially raised 40 metres high with a circumference of 520 metres - half a kilometre. Who does the hill remind us of and how did it come about?

For this, a brief look back into history, because the hill does not remind us of Wellington, the Briton, or "Marshal Forward" Blücher, the Prussian - the hill throws us back exactly to the times that made Belgian history so eventful. When the monument was erected, Waterloo was Dutch.

Combed Andean vegetables - The lines of the Andean marshland stretch across the former battlefield as if combed. Wellington already complained that the filling of the Butte de Lion had taken away the sharpness of the battlefield contours.

Combed Andean vegetables

The lines of the Andean marshland stretch across the former battlefield as if combed. Wellington already complained that the filling of the Butte de Lion had taken away the sharpness of the battlefield contours.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

While the so-called Batavian Republic ran along almost similar borders to the present-day Netherlands, the Netherlands was reunited after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and by the Congress of Vienna. As early as 1813, the Netherlands proclaimed independence from France and appointed the returned William I, Prince of Orange-Nassau as sovereign prince. (William I is the great-grandson of Johann Wilhelm Friso, Prince of Nassau-Dietz from today's Rhineland-Palatinate. Anyone who has ever been to the Lahn knows Nassau). Large parts of present-day Belgium and Luxembourg fell to the Netherlands. A situation that did not last long, because the religious and cultural tensions between the Catholics in the south and the Protestants in the north were too great. In addition, the northern Dutch or Dutchmen were big in trade, while the south was more advanced industrially. Linguistically, too, it was not possible to come to a common denominator, which Belgium has not managed to do to this day; Wallonia in the south spoke French, the north Flemish. With the Belgian Revolution, Belgium declared itself independent from the North in 1830.

A cone with a circumference of half a kilometre - The boteresses (hat wearers) from Liège collected almost 300,000 m3 of earth by 1826. They piled up a 42-metre high conical hill.

A cone with a circumference of half a kilometre

The boteresses (hat wearers) from Liège collected almost 300,000 m3 of earth by 1826. They piled up a 42-metre high conical hill.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

And it was precisely during this brief period of unity of only 15 years that the Lion's Mound was erected on what was then Dutch farmland. William the First had the earth from the fields of the Waterloo battlefield piled up into a pointed cone to commemorate the injury of his son, the Dutch Prince of Orange, later William II, on the battlefield of Waterloo. The Dutch architect Charles Van der Straeten (1771-1834) was responsible for the project, after the pyramid design of his competitor Jean-Baptiste Vifquain had been rejected.

Now, a pyramid in Belgium, that would have been something too. Even more symbolic.

The Lion's Mound with the Rotunda from 1911 - It was not until 1863 to 1864 that the stairs were built on the hill. The hill was in danger of collapsing several times, but today the embankment is secured by wooden piles.

The Lion's Mound with the Rotunda from 1911

It was not until 1863 to 1864 that the stairs were built on the hill. The hill was in danger of collapsing several times, but today the embankment is secured by wooden piles.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

Nearly 300,000 m3 of earth were collected by the boteresses (hat wearers) from Liège by 1826. The site is supposed to mark the place where the heir to the Dutch throne, as commander of the Dutch army, was wounded at Waterloo in the late afternoon of 18 June 1815.

As a coronation, William I, King of the Netherlands had a lion placed on the cone, its paw resting on a cannonball as a sign of peace. The lion was designed by the Flemish sculptor Jean-Louis Van Geel, a busy sculptor from Brussels. The casting of the lion took place in 4 parts at the Cockerill foundry in Seraing, in the province of Liège, now in Belgium, where the castle and ancestral home of the English-born Cockerills was located. The 4.45 metre high and 4.50 metre wide bronze figure weighs 28 tons and naturally faces perfectly south.  (Quelle: Wikipedia)

One goal - I just like gates. They always lead somewhere.

One goal

I just like gates. They always lead somewhere.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Sigma DP Merrill, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG

It was not until 1863 to 1864 that the staircase was built on the hill. In 1911, the architect Franz Van Ophem designed a rotunda that was built next to the hill. It contains a painted panorama showing various scenes of the battle. More modestly, an official memorial and museum were added in 2015, which was moved completely underground. Since then, access to the Lion's Mound has been subject to a fee.

We approached Lion's Hill from a distance and this approach proved to be promising and worthwhile. The landscape opened up to our eyes in a special way. We did not climb the Lion's Mound itself. What remained was an attentive look at a distance.

Chaussee de Bruxelles, Frasnes-lez-Gosselies - Harsh realities on the main roads - no tree clouds the picture.

Chaussee de Bruxelles, Frasnes-lez-Gosselies

Harsh realities on the main roads - no tree clouds the picture.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

At second glance

To Charleroi

From Lion's Hill, we headed south on the wide N5 - to Charleroi. Belgian country roads are cruel, and I don't mean the road quality, it's the consequences for the places that leave their deep marks in facades and streetscapes.

Chaussee de Bruxelles, Frasnes-lez-Gosselies - I wonder what once stood in the little indentation. A statue of the Virgin Mary perhaps?

Chaussee de Bruxelles, Frasnes-lez-Gosselies

I wonder what once stood in the little indentation. A statue of the Virgin Mary perhaps?
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

Nevertheless, it is worth getting off the national road and seeking proximity to these places and discovering them. And that's how we ended up in Frasnes-lez-Gosselies. I got out to photograph the façade and the street.

Aristocratic enclosures - Another gate.  It was opposite the Château de Dobbeleer. No cattle on the pasture. I always find that a pity.

Aristocratic enclosures

Another gate. It was opposite the Château de Dobbeleer. No cattle on the pasture. I always find that a pity.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

In the process, the tempting smell of a bakery hit my nose and eventually we ended up in a well-stocked branch of the southern Belgian boulangerie and pâtisserie chain Schamp and bought a delicious cheese quiche and a tasty loaf of bread. Turning around, I saw an interesting building wink up through a stretch of road and so we had our picnic in front of the Château de Dobbeleer. The small and modest-looking château is now a multi-generational house with 23 residential units and a beautiful biodynamic garden.

From the château, you can walk along the old castle walls to the small chapel of Notre-Dame du Roux of Frasnes-lez-Gosselies, which was once part of a Benedictine priory that has now disappeared. The preserved chamber of aldermen near the castle is also worth seeing.

The Board of Aldermen - Next to the castle is the old chamber of aldermen of Frasnes-lez-Gosselies. A beautiful walk.

The Board of Aldermen

Next to the castle is the old chamber of aldermen of Frasnes-lez-Gosselies. A beautiful walk.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

We continued south on the N5 and at the Gosseles exit we crossed under the E42, passed the small Charlerois airport and entered the beautiful industrial estates that seem to so miraculously frame every place in Europe today.

It started to rain. It was still going to rain heavily. Change of plan for bad weather. One should always have a plan for bad weather. A plan doesn't raise any silly discussions, no one is in a bad mood, our plan was quite simple. When it rains, we visit the mining museum Le Bois du Cazier in the Marcinelle district. Through a thunderstorm with almost zero visibility, we set off via the confusing city motorway. An adventure for my son, who was at the wheel and had never experienced anything like it.

Cliché and tragedy

Spirou! Spirou! The Marcinelle district

Unexpectedly, we have now landed in a Belgian cliché after all. For Marcinelle is not primarily famous for the Le Bois du Cazier mine, but for the École Marcinelle and the many comic artists who came out of it, such as Jijé, André Franquin, Morris, Willy Maltaite, Peyo, Eddy Paape, Maurice Tillieux, Jean Roba, Derib, Victor Hubinon and many more. It is only by listing the characters drawn by these artists that the importance of these artists and the publishing house becomes clear, for they are no less than Spirou and Fantasio, Gaston, Lucky Luke, Harry and Platte, the Smurfs, Uncle Paul, Felix and Jeff Jordan, Boule & Bill aka Schnieff and Schnuff in Germany, Yakari and Buddy Longway in the same order.

Jean Dupuis founded his publishing house Dupuis in 1922 which, in addition to the well-known cartoonists, has also published a magazine since 1938 whose character is still known and famous today: Spirou. Thus Marcinelle can be regarded as one of the largest comic book producers in Europe, and in the course of time Spirou developed into one of the leading comic magazines in Europe alongside Tintin. Jean Dupuis died on 11 October 1952 in Marcinelle, Belgium.

Comics are funny. The mining museum was not. That's not to say the visit wasn't worthwhile, on the contrary. But the stories told and pictures, events and videos reproduced took us away. Read for yourself:

Hoist frame of the northern shaft - Le Bois du Cazier, where 262 miners died in 1956 in the worst mining accident in Belgium.

Hoist frame of the northern shaft

Le Bois du Cazier, where 262 miners died in 1956 in the worst mining accident in Belgium.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Sigma DP Merrill, Samsung Galaxy S7

Tutti Cadaveri

Le Bois du Cazier

The full name of the disused mine was Société anonyme des Charbonnages du Bois du Cazier in Marcinelle and it goes back to two names, that of a small forest (Bois means wood in French) and Baron Jean-Baptiste de Cazier, from whom one Eulalie Desmanet de Biesme acquired the forest and the rights to the coal there.

A total of three shafts were dug for coal mining, and it was in one of these shafts that Belgium's worst mining accident occurred on 8 August 1956, in which 262 miners, mostly Italians, died.

The mine has two active shafts at this time, reaching a depth of almost 1200 metres. One of the shafts is used for air intake, the other for exhaust air. 274 men are taken down both shafts in the baskets, which each hold 8 cabs with 5 men. Due to lack of space, the men cannot stand in the baskets, but only squat. A frightening picture is shown in the exhibition.

In addition to the men, the baskets are of course used to transport the coal carts upwards. Numerous supply lines run down the shafts, not only those for water but also compressed air hoses and hydraulic lines in which the hydraulic oil is under the pressure of 6 kg/cm2. Next to them is a 6kv power line and a bell wire used to transmit transport signals. Underground, the mine covers 875 ha and it takes up to 40 minutes for the men to reach their extraction point.

Then, on the morning of 8 August 1956, communication breakdowns, technical defects, safety problems and a chain of circumstances lead to one of the coal cars not being loaded properly into the lift and surviving on the outside. Fatally, the lift starts moving, the coal hopper drags in the shaft and tears open the pipes mounted on the walls of the air intake shaft. Ruptured oil pressure and air pressure lines ignite on the ruptured high-voltage cable - a flame front races through the pit. Initially unnoticed at the surface - because the intake shaft sucks the air into the shaft, miners continue to descend into the shaft - a journey into hell of no return.

Equipped with Dräger rescue equipment, the first rescuers try desperately to reach those trapped by the flames - also through the new, third shaft. A difficult, futile undertaking. Thick clouds of smoke now come out of the second shaft, the black smoke alarms the relatives who are living in horrible concrete tubes in Marcinelle or on the site itself. Soon the miners' wives and children crowd the gate, relatives raise their voices and demand to be heard.

Only 13 men and a 16-year-old boy could be rescued. The recovery of the bodies was to take three weeks, almost all the miners died of suffocation. I will never forget the Italian words uttered by one of the first Italians to come back up from the pit:

„Tutti cadaveri" - All corpses.

Of the 262 dead, 136 are Italians, 95 Belgians and the others are from other nations. The Italian villages of Manoppello and Lettomanoppelloj in Abruzzo had to mourn the passing of twenty-nine of their own. The influx of Italian immigrants into the Belgian mining industry basically came to a complete halt as a result of the accident.

More than 200 women were widowed by the accident and their children were left half-orphans.

The legal and civil society process of coming to terms with the accident proved to be very difficult. A commission was set up to investigate the accident and a trial was held in the first instance in which all the accused were acquitted. On appeal, a suspended sentence was handed down, after which the supporting parties lodged an appeal in cassation, a last-ditch legal remedy. Six years after the accident, the court pronounced its verdict and overturned the decision of the court of appeal. While the victims turn away from the trial, the owners manage to reach an out-of-court settlement with the families, each victim receives 3000 France in compensation. There were no further legal consequences. The mine was finally closed in 1967, partly as a result of the new requirements imposed on all mines in Wallonia throughout Europe by the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC).

After the exhibition, we had to get some fresh air and take a deep breath. The exhibition is very well done, but impresses sensitive natures like me a lot.

As the cafeteria of the museum was besieged by a school class, we set off for the centre of Charlerois in the face of the emerging sun. Nothing that was supposed to lead to happiness.

The flower shop  - At least this flower shop brought some light into the dreariness of the day.

The flower shop

At least this flower shop brought some light into the dreariness of the day.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

On the Sambre

Charleroi

Charleroi, pronounced Tchålerwè in Walloon, is a Belgian city in the province of de Hainaut (Hainaut) on the river Sambre. The city, with over 200,000 inhabitants, lies directly in a coal basin and was one of the most industrialised cities in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Due to the coal deposits, Charleroi became a centre of the Walloon coal and steel industry and an early centre of the labour movement.

Shopping arcade - If they don't bring misery directly, then perhaps later. Shopping malls are largely responsible for the desolation of many cities.

Shopping arcade

If they don't bring misery directly, then perhaps later. Shopping malls are largely responsible for the desolation of many cities.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

The structural change that the Ruhr region has undergone in parts will accompany Charleroi for some time to come. The first plant closures in the 2010s led to high unemployment and a shrinking population. This trend was at least partially halted by the establishment of a technology park and facilities of the Université libre de Bruxelles.

The good start-up period - entrepreneurship is possible - It's not that beautiful gems like this beautiful façade can't be found, but the extinct-looking shops give Charleroi a very off-putting impression.

The good start-up period - entrepreneurship is possible

It's not that beautiful gems like this beautiful façade can't be found, but the extinct-looking shops give Charleroi a very off-putting impression.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

When we arrive in the city centre, we don't find much life, although Charleroi is above average in terms of theatres and libraries compared to other Belgian cities.  The city centre seems deserted on a Friday afternoon. None of the 200,000 inhabitants seems to stray into the city for shopping. Have we perhaps landed in the wrong shopping zone? Somewhat disturbed, we walk around, but find no access to the centre of Charleroi. Whether still depressed by the events in the mine or disillusioned by the seemingly deserted city centre of Charleroi, we leave the Walloon metropolis heading west on the N90. 

Steelworks - Not much remains of the heyday of the steel industry in this former stronghold of coal and steel in the south of Belgium.

Steelworks

Not much remains of the heyday of the steel industry in this former stronghold of coal and steel in the south of Belgium.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

In the process, we pass through the remaining mighty steelworks on the Sambre and miraculously come into metaphorical contact again with the lion of the Butte De Lion, for in 1966 the steelworks of the Forges de La Providence went to the Cockerill-Ougrée steel group, based on the same Cockerill who had bought the castle of Seraing from the Dutch King William I in 1817 and was responsible for the casting of the lion on the Lion's Hill.

Wallonia is green - Views over the tributary valleys of the Sambre

Wallonia is green

Views over the tributary valleys of the Sambre
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

Through the hills

To the Abbaye d'Aulne

From the N90, after the last big roundabout, turn off onto the Chemin de Hameau, the path of the hamlet. The road takes us past the limestone quarry and winds its way over the amazingly raised hills past small farmsteads back down to the Sambre at Landelles. The double-track line from Charleroi via Maubeuge to Saint-Quentin in France winds along the Sambre and impressively dominates the constricted narrow river valley on its embankment.

A farm - When you leave the river valleys in Wallonia, it's quite hilly.

A farm

When you leave the river valleys in Wallonia, it's quite hilly.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

A little later we reach the ruins of the Abbaye d'Aulne and our accommodation, the L'Auberge de L'Abbaye, a small hotel with only 6 rooms that I can strongly recommend. Our key opens the entrance door and the keys for our room are on the counter. A narrow staircase leads up to the first floor of the former gatehouse to our impressive room, where we can see the abbey from the bed in the middle of the room. The room has 2 windows facing each other and impressive natural stone walls.

Abbaye d'Aulne - It is said that the foundation of the monastery dates back to the year 656. Initially founded as a Benedictine monastery, it is rededicated as a Cistercian abbey in 1148. In 1794, the monastery was dissolved and burnt down during the secularisation of the French Revolution. The unique library with 40,000 books and 5000 manuscripts went up in flames.

Abbaye d'Aulne

It is said that the foundation of the monastery dates back to the year 656. Initially founded as a Benedictine monastery, it is rededicated as a Cistercian abbey in 1148. In 1794, the monastery was dissolved and burnt down during the secularisation of the French Revolution. The unique library with 40,000 books and 5000 manuscripts went up in flames.
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Nikon D800E, Sigma Art 28mm - 35mm/1:2 DG, 20.05.2022

Then we made a mistake. We went to Thuin for lunch. We wanted to see the hanging gardens on the south side of the town and have something to eat there. Unfortunately, in the actually beautiful town centre, which is divided into an upper part with the Belfry and the part on the Sambre, you can neither buy food nor go out for something to eat. The only restaurant is a steakhouse / snack bar with black furniture in a former supermarket that seems 30 metres deep. And all the supermarket floor tiles are still there. Creepy.

At the Sambre - Our picnic spot

At the Sambre

Our picnic spot
Photo: Thomas Schürmann, Samsung Galaxy S7, 20.05.2022

If that was the supermarket, then it's no wonder that Thuin at 5pm in the afternoon doesn't come across as thriving either. The hanging gardens are beautiful and a real highlight, but if you rip out the supermarket in the centre of a town and move it up the hill to a new LIDL, you basically take all the other shops with you. It's a pity, because all the nice shops around the Beffroi de Thuin have closed, perhaps also due to Corona.

Here's a tip we'll take to heart next time. You can eat well in the immediate vicinity of the monastery ruins, for which we should not have gone to Thuin. For example, in the Brasserie - Taverne de l'Abbaye d'Aulne or in Au Brief de Moulin, in the Caves de l'Abbaye d'Aulne, in the Brasserie L'Ecluse, located directly at the lock on a small island in the Sambre or in the chic-looking La Guingette - and all that only 1 minute's walk from our hotel room. Sigh.

So what did we do instead? We stocked up at the hilltop LIDL in Thuin and had a picnic by the lock canal. That's how my birthday ended. I think it was proper and there was nothing to regret. I spend 95% of my life indoors, I like to eat in the fresh air with a nice view. There was also wine. What more could I want.

The next part of the tour takes us over many small roads to Reims.

Conclusion

Our journey from Brussels to the Abbaye d'Aulne took us past the Lion's Hill at Waterloo, the Bois du Cazier mining museum, the Marcinelle district and the town of Charleroi in the Sambre valley.

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