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Sunday Cycling: Groningen - Westerbork plus a long walk

Today's cycling brought Sidsel and me to Westerbork, in just about the only corner of my battered old map of the province of Groningen that we hadn't explored yet. A 35-kilometer trip to the southwest of the province of Drente, made longer by our unfamiliarity with the terrain. We spend a lot of time and added quite a bit of mileage hovering around and winding our way through Assen, Drente's provincial capital.

We didn't go all the way to Westerbork proper, by the way. Our destination was the Camp Westerbork Memorial Center. It was picked because it was simply a place to go, but having been there one can't help coming away without a strong impression of the horror of what went on there.

The website explains those horrors better than I can do here; suffice to say that Westerbork, while only a minor hellhole in its own right, was the gateway to Auschwitz, Sobibor and Bergen-Belsen for over 100,000 people. The camp itself is no longer extant, but its layout has been preserved in the landscape architecture, with plateaus marking the location of the barracks and other buildings, and a depression marking that of the railway running through the camp. Where the assembly hall used to be, there's a monument consisting of a brick mosaic showing a map of the Netherlands, with raised vertical bricks laid out in rectangles inside the map, a Star of David on top of each, one for each victim.

Incongruously, right next to the camp - indeed on what used to be the grounds, is a row of radio telescopes. Huge metal dishes listening to the heavens. They were built before the camp was demolished in 1971 (the camp was built as a refugee camp before World War II, and was never intended as anything but a temporary structure. It was only kept so long because other uses were found for it after the war) and kept after the monument was opened. The contrast between the somber atmosphere of the monument with its tiny markers of wasted human life and the serenity invoked by these big, beautiful machines is bizarre.

The camp monument and the radio telescopes are both located at the midpoint of a 5-kilometer walking route through the forest. Along the route, there are educational displays about the ecology of the forest, and about the research done by the radio telescopes. These were aimed at kids (lots of generic stuff about the planets) but we looked at them anyway. We don't just exercise our muscles on those trips; our brains get a workout too.

Our trip back was more straightforward, going northeast over a more familiar route. Took us only 2 1/2 hours including a snack break.

Comments (2)

sidsel:

actually we chose this route, because we then would have to cycle with our noses against the wind on our way to our destination, and we could sit back and relax on our way home. That was a good idea! I'm not half as dead as usual when i get back home from these trips.

Yeah, starting out upwind was good. But that had more to do with the choice of destination than the route.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 3, 2004 9:20 PM.

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