Smugglers

Chicken wire barrier in front of the houses on Nieuwstraat around 1916, to prevent smuggling (Kerkrade Municipal Archives)

Het gat in het Westen! (The Hole in the West!) De zondige grens! (The sinful border!) Koffiefront! (Coffee frontier!)

These were the titles of films, newspaper articles and reports about smuggling in the area around Aachen.
Smuggling has always been driven by big differences in prices of sought-after items.
The unusual decision after the Congress of Vienna to draw a border line straight through villages and towns offered perfect opportunities for smugglers.
Sellers could literally hand goods over to the buyer in another country across the border, without leaving their own country.
At times when the border wasn’t hermetically sealed due to the political situation, smugglers reigned on Nieuwstraat, and the few customs officers on duty were simply unable to cope with them.
Financial benefits provoked mass trips on foot across the border, and children played truant because they crossed the border several times a day on smuggling assignments. Those smuggling on a large scale found their own methods and ways to circumvent or evade customs.

Peter Dinninghoff

To prevent smuggling, windows and doors on Nieuwstraat (NL) were even nailed shut with rabbit wire during the First World War, and both the Germans and the Dutch each erected a fence on Neustraße.
During the Second World War and the period that followed, there was only one fence on Neustraße for security. This meant that smuggled goods could be thrown directly from the windows over the fence onto the German side, or the smuggled goods were passed directly through the fence.
Children in particular liked to be used for smuggling at the border, as they could play with each other more inconspicuously directly at the fence. Balls, for example, in which coffee beans were hidden, flew from one side to the other.

Neustraße ca. 1916 (Gemeentearchief Kerkrade)

Europe's busiest smuggling route:

The reputation of the Neustraße as a major smuggling route also caused the Dutch customs authorities to vehemently oppose the dismantling of the border fortifications.

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Eyewitness report

Contemporary Witnesses – Willi Beetz

As a small child, Willi Beetz lived in the middle between Josefstraße and Voccartstraße. An elderly neighbour often sent him to fetch parcels from a meadow. These parcels had previously been thrown over the fence by a woman on the Dutch side. It was more inconspicuous for children to run across the meadows and fields than for an adult to do so. The customs officers did not pay as much attention to the children, who were therefore readily used for smuggling. So he regularly brought coffee/butter to the neighbour.

The customs officers’ official residences were also located directly on Neustraße, house number 95/97. It was not appreciated if the customs officers’ children played with them. Willi Beetz nevertheless played with a boy whose father was a customs officer, because there were not so many children living in his immediate neighbourhood on the German side. Behind the customs flats in the garden were also the kennels of the service dogs and in the gardens the boys often played with each other. Willi was also often taken along by the officers on the service bicycle.