Berlin to Amsterdam (via Hanover)

On The Road Travel Essays

back to index

Berlin to Amsterdam (via Hanover)

(COURIER: Little of interest happens on the East German Autobahn, so you might use portions of "Introduction to Germany" you haven't used, talk about your own travel experiences, or let the kids sleep, sing, or play music casettes. You might mention Potsdam if it's at allvisible from the Autobahn — see "Introduction to Berlin.")

Brandenburg (The town of Brandenburg might be visible off the Autobahn to the north.)  This region around Berlin was originally called "Brandenburg," and was a "March." During the time of the Emperor Charlemagne, Europe was divided into several domains, all ruled by the emperor. But a distinction was made between those domains which had long been Christianized and those domains which were on the border of pagan (usually Slavic) lands. These border domains were called "Marches" (from the Frankish markon, border). They were administered by Margraves responsible to the emperor. Brandenburg was one of the Marches, and the Hohenzollern family which ruled it had its headquarters in the castle at the town of Brandenburg. In 1470, the Hohenzollerns moved their headquarters to Berlin, which is why one could date Berlin's rise to a "capital" status from this event. Later, in 1701, Brandenburg was incorporated with other lands to form the new Kingdom of Prussia — the capital was still at Berlin.

In the early days of the March of Brandenburg, this area of Europe was very much the "new frontier" of Western civilization. To the east lived Slavic tribes who worshipped pagan gods (trees, rivers, mountains) and practiced primitive superstitions. The Marches which bordered these pagan lands came to be used as springboards for colonizing (i.e. Christianizing) the Slavic tribes. But more than religion was brought to the Slavs: many German craftsmen moved into Slavic villages, bringing their skills with them. Germanic law (such as it was) replaced tribal superstition. The population of the Slavic lands became mixed, with many Germans moving in to stay. This movement to the east came to take on the aura of a religious crusade. Groups of German knights mounted their horses and made forays into the territories of pagan chiefs. These "Teutonic Knights," many of them from the area of Brandenburg, laid the foundations of militarism in Germany history as well as the age-old German dream to Drang nach Osten (March to the East).

German-Polish Plain  We're traveling on one of the largest plains in the world, the German-Polish Plain. The land is flat — easy for conquering armies to move on. The land is well-watered, thus capable of sustaining an ample population. But the fact of its flatness has meant that throughout history there have been no stable borders — no big rivers like the Rhine or mountains as in Bavaria. Invading armies have easily moved from one region to another, re-arranging borders by treaty or even sale. The result is that Poland and Germany never remained fixed entities throughout history, as did France and England. The local population in this part of Germany has a Slavic element that corresponds to a German element in the population of western Poland. This is one of Europe's historic "melting pots."

Crossing the Elbe  We meet the River Elbe again, having seen it before in Dresden and in the Czech town of Litomerice. The Elbe is one of the major waterways of central Europe, comparable to the Danube. It shaped much of the geography of this part of Europe, since many of the great trading cities were strung out along its banks. The Elbe gave wealth to central Germany and kept it in communication with the rest of Europe.

Magdeburg  Population: 270,000. 78 miles southwest of Berlin. Off the Autobahn to the south is one of East Germany's chief industrial centers, Magdeburg. Heavy industry thrives on ores and other minerals found in the surrounding countryside.

Origins: But Magdeburg is also a very old city, having been founded in 805 by the Emperor Charlemagne himself. At the time, the local population was still half-pagan, half-Christian, and belonged to the tribe of Wends. Charlemagne's later successor Otto I founded a Benedictine monastery here to help with the process of conversion. From this early settlement came the city of Magdeburg. Emperor Otto I is buried in the city's cathedral.

Archbishopric: By the 900's, the Archbishop of Magdeburg had become a powerful figure in this part of Europe, being a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire and thus a political ruler as well as a spiritual leader.

A Hanseatic city: During the Middle Ages, Magdeburg became a wealthy trading center, thanks to the River Elbe and its membership in the Hanseatic League — which we'll be hearing more about as we travel from one Hanseatic city to another. With wealth came enlightened local government. Magdeburg's system of municipal law, known as the Magdeburger Recht, was widely adopted by other cities in Germany.

Warfare: Unfortunately for the city, however, it was located midway between Catholic Europe in the south and Protestant Europe to the north during the period of religious wars (17th century). Magdeburg was savagely defeated by Catholic forces under Duke Maurice of Saxony, and later plundered by the army of General Tilly. The city had to be rebuilt.

Modern industry: Magdeburg was a "boom town" in the 19th century, with industrial works and an active railroad switching yard (one of Germany's largest). That brought aerial destruction during World War II, but the city has since come back to life as East Germany's "Pittsburgh." Paper manufacturing is a big specialty, along with sewing machines, armaments, and beet-sugar processing. (Surrounding the city are beet fields, and beet sugar has been an industry here for centuries.)

Culture: Gothic cathedral building and local crafts have been the main artistic activities in the city. The composer Georg Philipp Teleman (contemporary of J. S. Bach) was born in Magdeburg; and it was also the birthplace of the Baron von Steuben, the Prussian officer who reorganized the American Continental army during the bleak winter at Valley Forge. Without this assistance, Washington's army might well have collapsed from the cold, hunger, and lack of discipline.

Hemstedt  This is one of the Allied border checkpoints used for access to East Germany. It's heavily guarded, as are all of them, because there are no natural boundaries to mark off East from West Germany — the zones were fixed on maps just before the end of World War II. There are always many formalities at the border, and you'd do well to follow them all strictly, since the East German border police are not known for their sense of humor.

Wolfsburg  About 9 miles to our north, and situated a scant 5 miles from the East German border is the industrial town of Wolfsburg, site of the Volkswagen plant. It is a new city, built expressly for the auto industry — no Gothic cathedral, no medieval square, no guildhouses or palaces, just miles of auto factories, parking lots, and fairly comfortable homes and apartments for Volkswagen workers. The whole town was planned by modern civil engineers, put together street by street on drawing boards in the 1930's. The original Volkswagens, developed during the Nazi regime, were manufactured here. During the war, the town and its auto plants were heavily bombed. But that was a blessing in disguise, as modern equipment was used in the rebuilding. It remains Europe's most complete "one-industry" town, being devoted not only to a single type of industry, but to one company.

Brunswick  Called Braunschweig in German, and lies off the autobahn to the south. Its most famous personality in history is Duke Henry the Lion, a nobleman who had everything going for him, but who reached too far and destroyed himself. Henry ruled the state of Bavaria as well as Saxony, and he chose Brunswick as his permanent residence. He built a castle and a huge lion monument to himself (which still stands). But he had reached too far. The German Emperor Frederick II mistrusted him, and when Henry the Lion failed to assist the emperor in his invasion of Italy, the emperor deprived Henry of all his lands except those surrounding Brunswick. Over the centuries, Brunswick, which was an independent country, developed ties with England, a connection going back to Henry the Lion's wife Matilda, with the English against France. The great playwright Lessing was born and buried here.

Til Eulenspiegel: Brunswick has many famous citizens in German history, but none so colorful at Til Eulenspiegel, a half-historic, half-mythical prankster who was supposed to have been born about 1300 in a town nearby, Schoppenstedt (14 miles southeast). During the 16th century, many tales began to circulate about the tricks and jokes Til played on townspeople, and Richard Strauss immortalized him in the symphonic poem, Til Eulenspiegel. Legend has it that Til was finally hanged for his pranks, but that even with a noose around his neck, he never stopped joking or lost the impish glint in his eye. Brunswick honors him with a statue, showing him sitting nonchalantly on a wall, chatting with monkeys and owls (monkey = prankishness, owl - wisdom; Til was regarded as a sage as well as a prankster). His feet are dangling, and one of his slippers has fallen off.

Mittelland Canal (COURIER: Watch for it shortly after crossing Highway 4.)  The canal we're crossing is part of a network of inland canals that were dug out over a period of centuries, starting about 1650. They were modernized in the 19th century and became a convenient means of moving heavy goods from river to river in the days when roads were still poor. (The Germans invented the autobahn in the 1930's, but good provincial roads were a French monopoly long before that.) Today, this canal is the most important in central Germany: it links the River Elbe to the Rhone — a distance of about 225 miles. Heavy goods brought from West Germany to West Berlin move along this canal through East Germany: thus the canal is one of the lifelines of the beleaguered city.

Introduction to Hanover  Hanover is one of West Germany's leading industrial and commercial cities, with a long history of trade and civic pride. Its International Fair, said to be Europe's largest, brings businessmen from all over the world. (The parking lot used for the fair can handle 40,000 cars — and is often full.) Yet in the midst of this activity, the city boasts some of the finest gardens of Europe, built by the Dukes of Hanover when the city was the capital of an independent state. (Population today: 650,000.)

Hanseatic League: Hanover was a member of this medieval "Common Market" — an association of German trading cities which came to dominate all trade with Russia and Scandinavia. Timber and furs from the north were exchanged for wine and spices from the south, and this trade brought the Hanseatic cities into contact with all of Europe. The well-to-do burghers from Hanover, Hamburg, and Lubeck (the major Hanseatic cities) were impressed by the type of Gothic architecture flourishing in Holland, and they built their private palaces in this style. That is why the medieval quarters of the Hanseatic towns (those that escaped obliteration during World War II) often look like Old Amsterdam or Old Brussels.

Ties with Britain: In 1701, George, Duke of Hanover, became King of England and Ireland as well as Hanover, due to the fact that England's Queen Anne died without an heir and George of Hanover was the great-grandson of England's King James I. So for a period of 136 years, the same kings ruled England and Hanover, although there were no further administrative ties between them. George I, II, III and William IV came and went, until in 1837 Queen victoria ascended the throne of England. Hanover for centuries was bound by the "Salic Law" — common especially in Germanic countries — which forbade a woman to inherit the throne. So when Victoria became Queen, Hanover gave its throne to her uncle, Ernst-Augustus, and the two countries parted ways. Later, in 1866, the Hanoverian kings were themselves displaced when the country was absorbed into Prussia.

World War II and aftermath: Being an industrial city, Hanover was heavily bombed (about 100 air raids). The central part of the city was simply rubbed out, which is why the downtown section looks so modern today. As the Cold War intensified, Hanover absorbed some 100,000 refugees from the Soviet Zone, and they brought their skills with them. Today, Hanover is one of West Germany's most prosperous cities, important for its rubber works, auto manufacturing, and making of phonograph records.

Features: Near the entrance of the railroad station is a statue of King Ernst Augustus, shown mounted on his horse. When two Hanoverians make an appointment to meet, they are likely to say, "Let's meet under the tail" — the tail of Ernst Augustus' horse. The phrase is equivalent to the New Yorker's saying "Let's meet under the clock at the Biltmore" (Hotel, next to Grand Central Station).

But the city's most attractive feature is its 18th-century gardens, and there are several of them. The biggest is the Eilenriede, but probably the prettiest is the Herrenhauser, on which Princess Sophia spent practically her life. Sculptured fountains, pools, and neatly-trimmed hedges form a classical whole. A statue of Princess Sophia stands on the spot where the garden's patroness fell due to a stroke in 1710. Today the garden complex is the city's pride, requiring the services of 180 full-time gardeners, with 15 miles of hedges. The biggest of the gardens, Eilenriede, is twice the size of New York's Central Park (1642 acres).

Weser Mountains  Notice that the flat lands have slowly given way to hills. We have reached the southern edge of the great German-Polish Plain and are moving into the Weser Mountain Range, which takes up the central part of Germany. The mountains are named for the Weser River, which we'll cross shortly.

Crossing the Weser  The River Weser is a major waterway of Germany, though it's not as important as the Elbe for commerce. Since its course is relatively smooth, the Weser is popular for water sports, and old-fashioned paddle boats are used to take visitors up the river.

The Weser, like the Elbe, flows northward, a fact Americans find it difficult to get used to, since U.S. rivers flow south from Canada to the Caribbean. Something else which puzzles Americans is how the words "Upper" and "Lower" are used in the names of provinces. Americans associate "Upper" with the North, "Lower" with the South. But in Europe, it often happens the other way around. Lower Austria is north of Upper Austria; Lower Saxony (which we've been crossing) is north of Saxony, etc. The explanation for this is that "Upper" and "Lower" are used in reference to the rivers: "Upper" is upstream, "Lower" is downstream. Thus: Lower Austria is down the Danube from Upper Austria, Lower Saxony is down the Weser from Saxony, etc. Since rivers flow downhill from mountains to the sea, the regions which are "Lower" in the sense of downstream are also "Lower" in altitude, and tend to be less hilly.

Weserbergland  We are near the northern fringes of the Weser Hill Country. The river is lined with sleepy hills, wooded and full of picturesque old towns. One of them is Hamelin, known throughout the world for the Pied Piper of Hamelin. According to the story, a man dressed in colorful clothes offered to clear the town of rats for a fee. He played his flute and piped the rats to the Weser River, where they drowned. When the man asked for his fee, the town fathers refused. So the man played his flute again, and this time the children followed him out of town, never to be seen again. Historians conjecture that the story is based on an actual event, namely an attempt to deal with over-population by sending a group of children to help colonize the east; the children never returned, and those who did survive probably became the ancestors of many Polish families.

Legends: The Weserbergland is the birthplace of many famous legends besides the Pied Piper. The legend of the Sleeping Beauty comes from the castle of Sababurg. A few stories are based on fact, but exaggerated in the telling: the story of Doctor Andreas Eisenbart (Ironbeard). Dr. Ironbeard was in fact the best-known surgeon in Central Europe during the 17th century. But he was rough on his patients, especially the children, to whom he would shout commands. Over the centuries (and even today), German parents would threaten unruly children by saying: "If you don't behave, we'll take you to Dr. Ironbeard." Yet another personality of the Weserbergland is the Baron Hieronymous Munch-hausen, who used to live in a town about 10 miles from Hamelin. He was one of the master storytellers of his time, and especially popular with children. Among the exploits which he described with spellbinding suspense were his ride through the air on a cannon ball, how he harnessed a flock of ducks in order to "fly," his accuracy with a gun (so that he once shot a rope from a long distance), and his ability to file the nails of grizzly bears and live to tell of it.

Teutoburg Forest  We're traveling through a forest area which became famous in ancient history — the Teutoburger Wald. It is part of the Weser Mountain Range that we've been in since leaving Hanover. Back in ancient Rome, most citizens knew very little about "Germania" except that its people were fierce and warlike. But one spot they did know about was the Teutoburg Forest, where, in 9 A.D., three Roman legions were annihilated in a German ambush. Worst of all, the three "eagles" which belonged to these legions were captured by the Germans and put inside one of their pagan temples. The Romans regarded this dishonor to be as great a catastrophe as the defeat itself. It wasn't until about 40 years later that the Romans recovered their eagles. For their part, the Germans idolized their leader Arminius (Latin for "Hermann"), who had triumphed over Rome. (Later, however, Arminius was killed in inter-tribal rivalry.) During the 19th century, Arminius came to be looked on as the "Founding Father" of German nationalism, and a 56-foot copper statue of him now stands at the spot (some 10 miles to our left) where the Teutoburg battle took place. (COURIER: It's just outside of Detmold — not visible.) The ambush and the horror it evoked in Rome are described in the popular novel, I Claudius, by Robert Graves.

Bielefeld, off the Autobahn to the west, is an old crafts center for making linen. Today its industrial products are bicycles, cash registers, and pocket calendars (famous all over Germany). Like other industrial cities, it has preserved many green spaces downtown, which is why Germans call it the "Industriestadt im Grunen" (Garden City of Industry).

(COURIER: There's probably no point to giving commentary on each Ruhr city as you pass it on the Autobahn — unless you have some personal anecdotes about the cities.)

The Ruhr Basin  We're entering the Ruhr Basin, the densest concentration of population and industry in the whole of Europe. The name "Ruhr" is appropriate. The Ruhr is the name of a river running through the area. "Ruhr" in German means "commotion." There are many popular nicknames for the area, such as Ruhrgiant (Ruhr giant), but the most common is Kohlenpott: coal scuttle. Over 5 million people live and work in this 1800-square mile area (about 2% of the surface area of West Germany) — 10% of the population. The Autobahns are as dense as the population, sometimes two Autobahns running parallel only a few miles apart. Railroads are just as dense, and there are many miles of canals that handle coal barges. The two largest inland ports in Germany (Duisburg and Gelsenkirchen) are situated on the River Ruhr.

Origins: The Ruhr's industrial importance is relatively recent. Up until the 19th century, there were only farms and villages, the people having no inkling of the treasures lying under the soil: coal and iron. Archaeologists know that this is one of the oldest areas of Europe to be inhabited. The discovery of the remains of a Neanderthal man near Dusseldorf proves that the Ruhr was settled during the Stone Age. In Roman times, the region was occupied by a Germanic tribe called the Sigambrer, known to Roman historians for its pride and fiercely-defended independence. Ironically for an area associated with modern industry, many of the Ruhr's mushrooming cities go very far back in history: many of them were villages as long ago as the 9th century, during Europe's Dark Ages. Most of them grew up around monasteries, and were ruled by prince-abbots. They all had Latin names: Trutmania (Dortmund), Dispargium (Duisburg), etc.

Development: 1811 is the crucial date for the Ruhr. In this year, an enterprising man named Friedrich Krupp came to the Ruhr and established a coal mining firm. Coal mining had been carried on for centuries in this area (even during the Middle Ages), but it was only a local enterprise, the coal being used as a household fuel. There was no way to exploit its potential, mainly because of inadequate transportation. Only with the coming of railroads and canals could the marriage of coal with iron take place, and the Ruhr industrial giant come into being. With this industrial development, the former villages became towns, the towns became cities. Some of the inhabitants became rich men, others, not wanting to give up their traditional crafts, moved elsewhere. Many farmers, however, refused to leave, being attached to the soil, and continued to farm their plots of land even when they found themselves surrounded by a forest of smokestacks. For this reason, there are many areas of green in the Ruhr: meadows, farms, gardens, forests, tucked in among the industrial works.

Krupp Corporation: Friedrich Krupp's coal mine became a steel-making firm in the 19th century, as Krupp's son Alfred and grandson Friedrich Alfred expanded the business. Steel making was supplemented by armaments manufacturing as Germany prepared for World War I. The tanks, heavy guns, railroad cars, and other armaments of World War II were manufactured at the Krupp plants in the city of Essen. The firm exists today, although no longer run by the Krupp family and devoted now to peacetime goods. About 25,000 workers are employed by the Krupp firm. It was largely the Krupp works that made Essen the giant of the Ruhr (21 mines right in the city); at its present rate of growth, Essen will soon be the third largest city in West Germany, with a population of more than one million. And this in spite of the fact that 50% of the city was destroyed in World War II.

Germany's "energy bank": With imported oil becoming more and more expensive, and coal re-emerging as a (relatively) cheap energy source, the Ruhr is coming to be looked on as a vast energy bank. Coal in the Ruhr is easy to mine: seams are thick, and they run straight, with few faults or interruptions. New coal deposits are discovered each year, and as the means of measuring "proven reserves" becomes ever more accurate, the amount of coal left in the ground is continually revised upward. With about 70 billion tons of coal left, the Ruhr will handle the energy needs of Germany for generations into the future.

World War II: The Ruhr was the Allies' choice target during the war, and it was bombed repeatedly. That's why the cities all look new, with historical monuments few and far between. The Allies simply wanted to annihilate the Ruhr, to destroy Germany's war-making potential once and for all. There were even plans to turn the whole area into pastureland - as it had in fact been up through the 18th century. But before anything so radical could be done, the Ruhr had sprung back to life, the cities had been rebuilt, and the area had become the power plant of the West German economy.

People of the Ruhr: In some ways, the Ruhr is a melting pot of peoples. For more than a century, there have been between 100,000 and 200,000 Polish workers in the Ruhr; there are also Dutch, Belgian, and Italian workers, many of them descendants of families who came to the Ruhr in the 19th century looking for work. And work was available, as the area boomed. A characteristic of all the people who live in the Ruhr is a love of nature — a characteristic perhaps inherited from those tenacious farmers who refused to leave. The "Kumpels" (miners) of the Ruhr love nothing so much as their little plot of land. They'll plant flower gardens in the tiniest yard, and tend them lovingly as though they were in an Oxford quad. They are attached to their corner of the world and are reluctant to leave. Fond of their place of livelihood, the Ruhr workers are known for their diligence and reliability. The Ruhr workers are relatively well paid, with generous sickness and retirement payments, so there are virtually no strikes. The Ruhr people are open-hearted and friendly; there is little resentment or friction between workers and managers, and in any case, the disgruntled are as likely to head for the local bar as to go out marching with placards. People of the Ruhr are known for their love of sports. Sporting "clubs" can be found in the tiniest town, and there's a sports stadium in every city. Often, an impromptu "stadium" will be created in a dirt yard behind rows of houses, whole families joining the games.

Eating and drinking: Ruhr cuisine isn't Paris haute, but it's suitable to people engaged in physical work. Most dishes are heavy but hearty: lots of meat, and few potatoes or vegetables. Some of the brands of beer of the Ruhr are famous: Dortmund, named for the city where it's made, is equal to most Munich brands, and every city has its own local brewery.

The Ruhr isn't known for its spectacular scenery, but it gives the visitor another kind of experience: a view of Germany at work. Some say that the Ruhr is what plunged Germany into the abyss of war, but it's just as true that it has been the mainspring of her miraculous recovery.

(COURIER: Use the time between the Ruhr and the Dutch border to give your introduction to Holland, drawing on "Holland vs. the Sea," "Historical Sketches," "People and Manners.")

Arnhem (Off the highway to the West.)  Arnhem, one of Holland's larger cities (population: 120,000), is the capital of the Dutch province of Gelderland. This province stretches from the Rhine (just south of Arnhem) all the way north to the artificial Lake Ijssel (Zuider Zee). Much of the province is woodlands, but the Rhine and its tributaries in the south give it a strategic importance that was not lost on the Romans. Throughout the Middle Ages, the history of Gelderland was one of savage fighting between rival nobles. The province joined the Protestant cause against Spain in the Union of Utrecht (1579). But the strategic importance of the rivers guaranteed trouble during World War II, when the area around Arnhem was bitterly fought over.

Origins: Arnhem started out as a Roman town of Arenacum, but didn't amount to much until early modern times, when it benefitted from trade on the Rhine River, with which the town is connected by the Lower Rhine River, a branch of the Rhine that eventually becomes the River Ijssel as it flows north.

Paratroop tragedy: On September 17, 1944, a sizable airborne force consisting of British, Free Dutch, and Polish troops, were parachuted into the hills west of Arnhem. The idea was to seize the Rhine crossing, enabling the Allies to drive into the heart of Germany (the German border is only a couple of miles away), and to cut off the German forces in the rest of Holland. but unfortunately, the main force landing near Arnhem could not link up with another force 12 miles south, near Nijmegen, because the latter was bottled up by the Germans soon after landing. Since the two forces remained separate, the Germans easily chopped up each one. The Allied paratroops held out for four days against superior forces, the commander, General Urquhart, and his "Red Devils" gaining a reputation for gallantry in the face of overwhelming odds. Only 3,000 Allies escaped and made it back to Allied lines. Much of the fighting took place in and around Arnhem, which cost the city many of its historic buildings. In "mopping up" the splintered Allied force in Arnhem, the Germans went from house to house with flame throwers, causing damage and forcing many townspeople to flee for their lives. Only after seven months (April 1945) was Arnhem liberated by the Allies. In grateful recognition of this Allied sacrifice, the people of Arnhem buried the fallen paratroopers in a special cemetery in the suburb of Oosterbeek, and to this day the graves are regularly decorated with flowers by the townspeople.

Wageninen, off the highway to the south, is the town where the surrender of the German army was signed on May 5, 1945 between General Foulkes and General Blaskovics in "De Wereld" Hotel. (This was just the surrender of the German army, not the "unconditional surrender" of Germany as a nation, which took place in the famous schoolroom at Reims, France, May 7, 1945, with General Eisenhower and (German) General Jodl present.)

Ede, off the highway to the north, doesn't look like a large city in population (70,000), but in land area, it is technically one of the biggest communities in Holland. The reason: incorporated into the city limits are miles of open woods nearby. Today, the town is a center for manufacturing artificial silk. Its open-air theater, De Eder Kuil, is well known throughout Holland, drawing spectators from towns many miles away.

Veenendaal, just off the highway to the south, is an agricultural center known especially for one product: honey bees! Every July a great bee-keepers' market is held, the largest in Europe. Bee-lovers come from all over, risking stings to view and handle their favorite species. The town is also known for the manufacture of top-grade cigars.

Doorn (which may not be visible, off to the south)  This town became somewhat famous in 1918, when the German Kaiser Wilhelm II fled his country and settled here. He spent the rest of his life in Doorn, writing his memoirs and chopping wood. He died in 1941, when Holland was in German (Nazi) hands. He is buried in a mausoleum in the town park. (Prior to World War II, the Dutch felt close to the Germans, having been neutral during World War I; hence, the Dutch welcomed the Kaiser to spend his exile here.)

Zeist (off the highway to the north)  The little city of Zeist, off the highway, is typical of many towns in this area which have become popular as resorts, mainly because of their lovely setting in forest and parks, offering pleasant walks. Citizens of Utrecht can leave their offices, drive on the highway, and be here in a short time.

Utrecht (this city lies off the highway to our left)  It is the fourth largest city in Holland (population 300,000 including suburbs), and is located right in the middle of the country. Thus it forms a natural "pivot" for transportation, with highways branching out in all directions.

Origins: The name comes from the Latin Ultrajectum ad Rhenum (Crossing of the Rhine), which is what the Roman legionnaires called it. After the fall of Rome, the town became a frontier of the Frankish tribes who were struggling against the more warlike Frisians to the north. It was in Utrecht that St. Willibrord established his bishopric, and from here that Christianity spread to the rest of Holland. When the Rhine River began to be used for transport, Utrecht flourished as a commercial center. But in the 16th century, Utrecht was overshadowed by the Counts of Holland, based in Amsterdam. During the period of Spanish rule in Holland, Utrecht became a center of resistance. The Union of Utrecht was an agreement of the Dutch to unify the Northern Provinces, which is what Holland was then called. The Union, concluded in 1579, was a wholesale rebellion against Spain.

Utrecht today: The commercial activity continues, with annual trade fairs. The University of Utrecht is a major center of learning. The Catholic Archbishop of the Netherlands is based in Utrecht, making it the center of Dutch Catholic life. Utrecht stands at the center of the Dutch canal system. When the Germans advanced on Holland in 1940, the Dutch opened up the floodgates from Utrecht, which controls the inland waterways. Tourists come to Utrecht in large numbers, largely for its historic buildings, canals, and friendly people.

Gooiland  This is the name of the area stretching southeast of Amsterdam, down to Utrecht. It is relatively high in elevation for Holland (180 feet). It was therefore settled first far back in prehistory, when the inhabitants used the higher land for protection from the waters. The sandy soil and hilly terrain indicate that glaciers first formed this region: the Gooiland was their farthest advance south.

Artists and holiday makers: The picturesque scenery of the area has attracted artists. Many of them have settled in the town of Laren. Mostly, though, it's vacationers who come to the Gooiland. Wealthy businessmen from Amsterdam build vacation houses, and this is transforming the area into a posh suburb of the capital, since it's easily accessible from the highway.

(COURIER: Now start your introduction to Amsterdam.)


passports educational travel logo

passports Educational Group Travel partners with teachers across the United States to provide high-quality educational travel experiences to their students. Educational tours visit destinations around the world - primarily France, Italy, England, Spain and Costa Rica - at low, guaranteed prices.

Passports, Inc., ToursOperators & Promoters, Spencer, MA


Facebook icon   Twitter icon   Pinterest icon   Blog icon

For updates on educational travel tips, ideas and news, subscribe to our newsletter:


51 Union Street Suite 106
Worcester, MA 01608

Email Us

© Copyright 1992-2022 Passports Educational Travel | All Rights Reserved | Privacy Policy