Grote Markt visitors admire the statue of Mariken, a girl of legend wooed by mysterious Moenen, unaware that he was the devil. After years following him, she begged to return home and Moenen threw her to Earth in the marketplace. She survived, and requested forgiveness for her sins. She was bound with iron rings as penance, but eventually freed—a reminder to watch out who you consort with.
The costly battle to free Nijmegen
By Martin Kratkoczky, Operations Manager, Grand Circle Cruise Line
Visitors to Nijmegen, which lays claim to be the Netherlands’ oldest city, may not be able to recognize the horrors of war that the city once endured—and from which it has since recovered— at first glance. But if one looks closely at the center brickwork on the tower of 800-year-old St. Stephen’s Church, it will be clear that the structure is younger
than its historic age. Though lovingly restored, this detail of St. Stephen’s tells the tale of World War II and its aftermath.
When the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, riverside Nijmegen was the first city to fall. The Germans fortified the region with anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, and 300 troops armed with artillery. But the people of the city found themselves under siege not only from the occupiers on the ground, but by their intended defenders from the air, when Allied planes—thinking they were above a German city—errantly bombed Nijmegen in 1944. The city was devastated, with 750 civilians lost, and countless buildings like St. Stephen’s destroyed.
Later that same year, the Allies launched Operation Market Garden, an attempt to protect the series of bridges over the Maas, Waal, and Rhine rivers, which would allow British troops access to forces already in the Netherlands and close the noose around the Nazis. Realizing this, the Germans tried to blow up these bridges, but that plan was thwarted by the Dutch resistance—namely, Dutch hero Jan van Hoof, who is said to have snipped the wires to the explosives.
The efforts of van Hoof and other brave Allies helped turn the tide of the war. And in 1944, the successful liberation of Nijmegen by British and American forces allowed the Allies a foothold for further progress across the Rhine.
Nijmegen, like many European cities, threw itself into rebuilding, often using original plans and traditional materials to restore the flavor of centuries past, while erasing most evidence of its recent suffering. Today, it is better known as the site of the International Four Day March, a tradition started in 1909, in which 47,000 participants (now representing more than 60 nations) walk 30-50 kilometers a day for four days in a row and are rewarded at the end with gladiolas from spectators and a royal medal. It is perhaps fitting that the city’s greatest tradition celebrates one of its proven virtues: endurance.