The Mayor's House

The Mayor of Kerkrade’s house, 1914 (Kerkrade Municipal Archives)

The First World War began in early August 1914. On 3 August, the German Empire declared war on France, and violated Belgian neutrality by attacking France via Belgium.Within 14 days, approximately 150,000 soldiers marched from Herzogenrath Station through Neustrasse towards Aachen.
The soldiers were singing and cheering loudly, and the unique spectacle attracted residents from all over the area to Neustrasse to watch.
A year later, the situation for the soldiers at the front had changed radically. Day-to-day life was dominated by the screams of the wounded, corpses, squalor, rats, and general terror.
Lots of soldiers wanted to escape the misery and suffering, so they deserted and fled to the neutral Netherlands. Many Belgians, whose country had been occupied, followed the same route via the Netherlands, to join the units still fighting the Germans from the rear.
This, coupled with smuggling and espionage, unnerved the German army leadership, and they took a special war measure. Construction began on a guarded, high-voltage lethal fence across Belgium from Vaalserquartier to the Channel coast, to prevent unauthorized crossing of the border into the Netherlands.
In other areas, a high barbed-wire fence was placed, and in open areas soldiers were stationed in trenches with orders to shoot.
The barbed-wire fence also ran along Neustrasse. For the first time, residents on both sides of the street were really separated from each other.
The situation which arose in front of the house of the mayor of Kerkrade, who lived on the Dutch side of Nieuwstraat, was particularly bizarre, with a German guard at his door.

Peter Dinninghoff

Neustraße was mostly German territory at that time. Only a narrow strip was Dutch. Along the road, on German land, stood “guard houses” for customs officers on observation posts. In front of the house of the mayor of Kerkrad, M. Hendricks, which was on the Dutch side of Neustraße (approx. house no. 111), stood such a German sentry post for 11 months.
The placement of the guardhouse exactly in front of the Kerkrad mayor’s house was curious. Mr. M. Hendricks was mayor of Kerkrad from 1910 to 1915.
Thus, a Dutch mayor whose residence was on Dutch territory was “guarded” by a German customs officer on German property.
There are no sources as to whether this spot had been chosen specifically because of the mayor’s residence or whether it was a coincidence.
On 30 December 1914, a barbed wire fence about 2 metres high was erected along Neustraße by the Germans. The guard houses became superfluous and were no longer needed. For the first time, the border between Herzogenrath and Kerkrade became physically visible.
A year later, at the end of 1915, a second fence is drawn from the Dutch side to better control the flourishing smuggling trade.

German Landsturm during the First World War – in the background the mayor’s house. (Gemeentearchief Kerkrade)

Neustraßer 1960s, the mayor’s house can be seen in the background in front of the miners’ colony houses, on the right a German “Wachhäuschen”. (Herzogenrath Municipal Archives)

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