In the small village of Tildonk you can travel back 100 years and discover what life was like for Belgians under German occupation.
The First World War Experience Centre is a small, modern and very well presented interactive exhibition. It’s located in the village of Tildonk, about 10 km north-west of Leuven. Its specific objective is to present what life was like for locals during the occupation of Belgium by the German Army in the Great War.
You can read personal diaries, and listen to testimonies and anecdotes from civilians. You learn how people tried to go about their daily business as much as possible, such as coping with food shortages and malnutrition. Photos, maps and artifacts are on display but are not overwhelming.
It also gives a broader picture, explaining the timeline of
the war, what was the aim of the German Army, the troop movements, and the violence
that led to hundreds of innocent citizens being killed.
The information panels in the Experience Centre are only
available in Dutch. However, audio and video clips can be listened to or viewed
in different languages. And you can request an excellent booklet in English, French
or German that explains everything on display.
The Tildonk WW1 center in photos
What did people eat in the First World War?
Much of Belgium’s resources – from potatoes to horses, coal to copper – was sent back to Germany. This led to four years of poverty and famine. So what do you eat if there is hardly anything to eat?
Excellent review, hope to get there at some point.
Wonderful post, Denzil. Partly through you, somewhat from Downton Abbey, it seems like I’m seeing more and more things about WWI, even though the Centennial just passed. Have you noticed that also?
Not really Pat, to be honest. WW1 is always pretty big in Flanders. Do you mean the Downton Abbey movie, which comes out later this year, or the series? It finished a while ago here; which series are you on?
It’s finished here also and has been in continuous repeats for over a year–every Sunday at 7 on one of our PBS channels. WWI was the main theme in Season 2. I can imagine WWI would be a big deal in Flanders. I saw two out of what was supposed to be a series of 5 WWI poems about Tommies who died in various ways when they went “over the top.” Also just read a novel by Rhys Bowen called Victory Garden set during WWI.
Thanks for the recommendation of the Rhys Bowen book Pat. I looked it up on Amazon and it looks an interesting read, I’ll check that out.
Denzil, you do a great job in bringing Belgium to life for someone like me who would, most likely, never get to visit your country. War time heaps all kinds of tribulations on the population, from finding food to living with the occupier. Yet, men continue to make war.
The bit about the Germans confiscating all copper, brass and bronze to make their munitions hit me with the callousness of the occupier. They not only starve you to death, but also kill you with bullets made from your own pots and pans.
That’s an astute comment Rosaliene: “They not only starve you to death, but also kill you with bullets made from your own pots and pans.” That sums up the situation perfectly.
We were so impressed by all the war related museums and sites we visited in Belgium and France. They simply told the stories, without any “them and us” commentary. I’ve just finished reading “The Beekeeper’s Promise” which is set in France during the second world war. The theme of survival is very similar and quite heartbreaking but inspirational at the same time.
I’m getting some good book recommendations (see eQuips’ comment above). Fiona Valpy has long been an author on my must read list; The Beekeeper’s Promise sounds like a good place to start. Thanks Carol.
I really enjoyed it.
If only we pursued peace as ardently as we pursue war.
A very informative article, Denzil, thank you.
You’re right Sharon. Thanks for your comment. It’s grievous how quickly an aggressive stance can be developed and communicated, followed by deployment of ships/personnel, withdrawal of ambassadors, and before you know it, two countries are at war. Horrendous.
Wow this place is for me.
Really going to make a visit to this.