Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Bridge Too Far and other Tales from Holland

Monday, August 17; Nijmegen to Doesburg via Arnham

A Word About Morning on the Lena: After a week on the boat a casual pattern has developed. Guests begin wandering into the lounge around 7:00ish and head for the automatic coffee machine that offers all types of coffee plus chocolate and hot water. Thus charged they read or visit until the 8:00 bell announces breakfast.

Breakfast typically offers some hot item (eggs, bacon, pancakes, etc) along with fruit, meat, cheese and cold cereals. Before leaving the area everyone fills a small plastic box with a lunch of some sort (breads, meats, cheeses, fruit) and then returns to their cabins to pack their panniers and prepare for the day on the bike.

At 9:00 bikes are off loaded and the ride begins.

Monday began with a hazy fog in the air that blocked the sun and made distant scenes appear out of focus. It would continue until Arnhem and, while not warm, offered good biking weather. We climbed a looping road to the main street above the quay where we paused at the Monday market. (Most shops are closed on Sunday and Monday mornings.) Then Lea, Mike and Geoff headed out on the “long” course and the rest of the groups followed Klaas on the “short.”

We passed over the Nijmegen bridge then dropped down to the north dike and headed east along the river. I could almost picture Robert Redford leading his troops in an assault across the river and up this very dike to attack the north side of the bridge in the movie “A Bridge Too Far.”

We passed through flat farmlands and near a series of massive greenhouses, used by the flower industry, before arriving at Arnhem. We crossed the Rhine River on the “new” John Frost bridge, named for the British officer who took and held the bridge for four hard fought days during Market Garden. The bridge and the buildings on the Arnhem side of the bridge are all new since the war; the others were destroyed during the fighting.

After an hour break for lunch and one flat tire we climbed a considerable hill north of town before descending once more to the more comfortable rolling farmland on the way to Doesburg. Along the route we stopped at a beautiful formal garden for coffee, crossed the Ijssel on a foot and bike ferry and paused to go wading at a lake beside the path.

Doesburg is a well preserved, charming town on the banks of the Ijssel. The quay where we found the Lena, appears to have been redeveloped in recent years as six to ten story apartment buildings line the quay looking down on our mooring and the open land across the river.

For the first time we are moored on an active river bank and the current and passing boats keep the Lena in motion much of the time. Half the width of the Waal at Nijmegen, the Ijssel is a busy commercial corridor with bulk carriers moving up and down the river during daylight hours.

Doesburg is known for two things, its mustard and the Elvis Presley bar. We sampled and enjoyed the mustard on board the Lena. We didn’t discover the bar until too late. Klaas said the owner was disappointed to learn there were Americans nearby as he would have greeted them warmly. The bar is loaded with Elvis memorabilia. There are two clocks on the wall; one set to Dutch time and one set to Memphis time. The bar would be worth a visit if passing through the area!

A Word About the Rhine River: Historically, as the Rhine headed to the north sea, it spread out to form a delta. But unlike the Mississippi the land between the fingers of the Rhine have been reclaimed channeling the waters in a manner that created a series of waterways that are rivers in themselves. So as the Rhine approaches the north sea it becomes the Waal, the Ijssel, the little Rhine and many other lesser waterways.

A Word About World War II in Holland
Holland fell to the Germans in May of 1940. It was not liberated until May of 1945. Kloss and Lea have not forgotten the war as it was very much a part of the parents lives and signs of the battles dot the landscape. They remember:
The wanton bombing of Rotterdam at the start of the war (the Dutch were told to surrender or the bombing would move on to other historic cities one by one.)
The conscription of Dutch men to work in German plants.
The elimination of the Jews (Anne Frank)
The hunger and starvation in 1944-45.
The destruction of dikes, dams, farmlands and historic buildings.

Two major battles stand out, the battle for Antwerp and operation Market Garden.

Antwerp was a major port and key to supplying the allied army in Europe. The Canadians took the city but the Germans still controlled Walcheren Island, on the channel to Antwerp. (It would be like controlling Bremerton without controlling Bainbridge Island.) German guns and mines held up allied shipping for months until the Canadians could root out the Germans one dike and flooded field at a time.

Market Garden, in September of 1944, promised a quick end to the war. Rather than slug it out with the Germans along a broad front the plan was to punch a hole in the defense line, seize bridges at Eindhoven, Nijmegen and, finally, the Rhine River at Arnhem. With the Rhine crossed Germany would be open to attack. The attack failed. Eindhoven, Nijmegen and much of South Holland was liberated but Arnham and north Holland suffered many more months of battle before liberation following the German surrender in May of 1945

The Dutch remember.

No comments:

Post a Comment