Im Osten

No, the title doesn’t “I am Austin”. It says “in the east”. The east of Belgium that is. A delightful  mixture of cultures that always makes me feel at home.

I spent a year in the grand duchy of Luxemburg as a kid. Having had a blast there (imagine your childhood spent between boars, fields and forests) the return to Belgium was inevitably quite horrible. We lived in a dark apartment in the most depressing part of one of Belgium’s most depressing cities. I had to be quiet all the time, and across the street was a nice… mustard factory. Oh joy.

Later in life I took all chances to go to the south and east of Belgium again. In my first two jobs I had plenty of opportunities to discover more, and gladly took those. When driving south, after a certain point the hills began to roll, the rivers began to meander and the rocks started popping out. Home. Strange, how I have always felt more like the flat fields and straight channels of Flanders were an adoptive country.

Anyways. I took the opportunity to break out of the mold for a day and go hiking in that lovely piece of the east. It’s a region that has been tossed around between Germany and Belgium plenty of times. Sometimes causing great grief. But right now, they are probably the last ‘real’ Belgians. They speak German, French and Dutch, their radio station is still called Belgische Rundfunk and they call their region Ost Belgien. No matter how much silly politicians try to convince them they are something else.

First stop is the little village of Ouren. Surrounded on all sides by Germany and Luxemburg, the beautifyl spot has a nice church and church yard. The hike around the village goes on for hours, takes you over the border a few times (all of a sudden there’s an educational sign in Luxemburgish). I’m very very glad that I can still speak German. When asking for a bit of information from a villager, the lady gives me quite a bit of details on what to see and do. Some people after me approach her in French (assuming that everyone speaks French on this planet) and she just mumbles something about how they just should follow me, haha.

It’s one of the first really sunny and warm days of the year, and washing up from a cold river is a joy not to be missed.

Although the hike took longer than I anticipated, it’s still only three pm, and I feel like I need more. After stocking up on energy in Friture* Peters (what a wonderful experience to be served in German in a Flemish looking house in a Walloon looking village) I go for a hike that will take me a bit through the High Fens (Hautes Fagnes, Hoge Venen). Belgium’s highest, coldest, wettest spot.

(* friture = sort of fish and chips without the fish)

Starting point is the town of Longfaye. When I go up to the starting point, there’s a massive group of hikers just returning. A chat with their guide confirms that I might be too ambitious for wanted to do the whole thing in the remaining hours of sunlight. But I like a bit of a thrill so off we go!

By a little stream some kids are playing in the ice cold water, shooting their water guns. They are about 8 years old, at least half an hour’s hike from the nearest house, and there’s not a grown up in sight. I am very happy to see that it is still possible. Knowing that in Flanders, most children are not allowed to even go over to a friend’s in the same steeet on their own, this is quite a relief.

Then again, however wonderful it must be to grow up as a kid here, it must be horribly boring to be a teenager here. There is absolutely nothing to do, nowhere to go , apart from Friture Peters.

The hike takes me through icy patches and the wind gets cold really fast. The trees are all Douglas Fir, imported from Canada because they grow fast. But they don’t do well on the soggy soil, so the whole place is a strange swampy forest, right out of a Russian fairy tale. When the sun starts setting, I do get that nice sort-of-panicky feeling. With the additional adrenalin and the help of two other hikers (who also enjoyed the fact that they had been lost a bit) I make it to a nice little waterfal, and then back to the car.

Driving home, I listen to the German language radio for as long as the signal carries me, and I start another work week with recharged batteries. Recommended.

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