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Communicating Demotech: A traveler from the U.S. about Maastricht and Demotech
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A traveler from the U.S. about Maastricht and Demotech

Off to the Amstel station to catch a train made of bi-level Bombardier cars. Rode through places including Eindhoven and Utrecht to get to Maastricht. The train ride was fun. Dutchland looks a lot like southeastern Ontario, but flat as a table. There are also plenty of canals, and yes, windmills. And horses, for some reason. Just before arriving in Maastricht, it suddenly gets more forested and hilly, almost Ardennesy.

Maastricht and I had lunch, Dutch style: bread with condiments made from condensed fruit juices, cheese, biscuits, roasted chestnuts with butter. There were all sorts of chances to see little things done differently, which was fun. Then we went for a walking tour of the city, with my guide accompanying us at some points.

Maastricht, named for its place on the Maas river, is in a piece of the Netherlands that sticks down between Germany and Belgium, right near where Flanders meets Wallonia - it's a a linguistic and cultural four-corners. This is some of the historically most contested real estate in Europe. As a result, Maastricht was, by the mid-nineteenth century when technological advancements made city walls irrelevant, the most heavily fortified city on the continent. There were three rings of city walls, built successively as the city expanded. Much of this remains, partly because the inner walls had been incorporated into the structures of houses and other buildings. I passed parts of these walls - with houses built onto them and automobiles parked beside them - that were nearly a thousand years old.
Even the shores of the river were fortified; otherwise, an enemy could simply sail up the river and attack the city from its banks. Gates existed here to allow boats in to the inner port, which still exists and is used by boats.

The outer system of walls, perhaps the most impressive, are underlain by several levels of storage, firing positions, and monitoring tunnels. A 'dry moat' exists in the higher parts of land where water was scarce, which is a large trench dug beyond the walls. An attacker would approach through the forest and be surprised by it; if he fell in, he would find guns and muskets firing at him trough holes in the walls on both sides. The gate to the city lies behind a drawbridge over an even deeper pit. The system of tunnels underneath the walls extend into the city, and connect to the basements of many houses - some people use them for storage.

The inner city, crowded by its constraint within the walls, grew into a tight grid of buildings tall and narrow - in one alley, I came within a few millimeters of being able to touch both sides. A city besieged every several years needed gardens to grow food, and big attics on top of the houses to store it. Space was limited; the old city hall is thus eight stories tall, and even branches of the river were over-decked and built upon. This city is full of centuries-old buildings still occupied as ordinary houses. It has a complete church from ~1100 CE and another with portions of its structure dating from about the year 300. Many other churches, though, have become disused - the Church lost influence here in the mid-twentieth century after a long period of power, and attendance at religious services fell sharply - we passed one church that's now used for bicycle parking.

What parkland remains in the city often follows the rivers and the old walls; some parts are stunningly pretty. There seem to be innumerable beautiful little spots with a character of their own. The Maas itself still flows under the bridge that made Maastricht so important, though the old Roman bridge is long gone. A brand-new pedestrian bridge, impressive in its own right, crosses in a single span from the new "1992 Square". This last is a reclamation of an old industrial site, and is so named because Maastricht was the site of the signing of the Treaty on European Union, which established the EU as we know it today. The city that Europe fought over was the perfect place, it seems, to secure a future in Europe's common interest. It's no surprise that Maastricht displays more European flags than I saw in Amsterdam (though still fewer than in most Belgian cities).

We also visited Reinder van Tijen, who squats with artists and inventors in an old grain warehouse by the river. He's working on various projects to improve the life of people in extremely poor parts of the world, in ways that anyone can understand how to implement and repair. He's built a water pump out of tires and things to rival industrial designs, and is working on some kind of oil-drum and algae waste reclamation system. The whole operation is online, Very cool. Plus, he lives in a factory. The municipal government owns the place, but lets them live there, because outside of a North American fear-of-litigation atmosphere, they can - and they feel that having a place where artists can go to work, and where this group of inventors can tinker, which costs the city next to nothing, improves the life in their city.

In fact, there's an expression about that lifestyle, and how people voluntarily avoid spurious litigation that could help push the system into a lawyer-and-insurance fiefdom like the US: "American Conditions". "You don't want American conditions here, do you?

Communicating Demotech: A traveler from the U.S. about Maastricht and Demotech
< Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 |