The Hollandic Waterline (Hollandse Waterlinie) is a series of water based defences the purpose of which was to keep Holland’s enemies away from the major cities and assets. Later, Utrecht was added and the defence line became the New Dutch Water line. It extends from Amsterdam to the big rivers in the south. “Holland”, for your information, is not the same as the Netherlands. The provinces of South and North Holland are two of 11 provinces. This means the water line was like a last defence after the rest of the country had already been conquered.
Funny how these defences only point east, like that’s where our enemies always come from. East is where the Germans live. The enemies don’t seem to come across the sea, where the English live. My guess is that the Germans are too close for comfort for the Dutch? Like this friendly neighbour that always borrows your electric drill but always forgets to return it. He lives too close to fight over it, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. So you build your garden fence a little bit higher.
The water line was meant to keep the enemy out by flooding the land with an ingenious system of locks that connected the different waterways and that were able to inundate the surrounding land. A total of 50 fortresses was built in places where inundation was not possible in areas of higher ground. An amazing effort but which quickly became outdates with the advent of modern methods of warfare. First there was the fragmentation bomb to which the fortresses were vulnerable and later there were airplanes.
The long distance foot path ‘New Dutch Water line’ leads me through this maze of locks and fortresses. There are always lakes and rivers nearby, of course. When I walk in wintertime, there is wind and rain as well over the low lying countryside. The path is 150 kilometres long and because of its course through the centre of the Netherlands is never far away from civilization.
Many of the old fortresses stand forlorn in the countryside, abandoned, their usefulness long over and now even their structure decaying. Some of them have been turned into restaurants, recreational sites. Some of them have gates, their current private owners not keen on visitors. Some fortresses stand out in the landscape, drawing attention to themselves: ‘here, here, I am here”. Others are hidden from sight between trees and shrubs.
All these fortresses had a goal once, a focus. They were built to withstand, to hold back, to defend, to keep safe. Now they have that no longer yet still they stand there, like silent memories, guardians of the past. When walking along this footpath, the mind starts looking for ways to take in this information and to connect and associate it with other thoughts and ideas. The way I see it, these fortresses also represent defences that we have in our mind. We have all learned to defend ourselves, to adapt, to survive. We built fortresses for ourselves. We built fortresses looking east, looking west, where ever we felt that the enemy could hurt us. There are lakes of silent tears surrounding these fortresses.
One of my biggest fortresses is my independence. I don’t like to depend on other people, like to plan my own way, be the boss of my own agenda. Calling for help is something that I am learning only slowly. My independence is a fortress that is likely to have been built when I felt I couldn’t trust the people around me to be there for me.
Not showing emotion is another big fortress, also built when I was still very young. It is one of those fortresses that is only half visible. Part of it is known to me, the other half is still being uncovered as time goes by. My tears over that are still inundating part of the water defences.
The recreational fortresses are represented by the ability to laugh at serious stuff. As one of my aunts would say: there is nothing we can do about it, so best laugh about it. We laugh when we should cry, we laugh because that’s how we deal with pain.
At some points there are structures dotting the landscape that no longer bear any abvious signs that they were once part of the Waterline. They stand there as an anomaly of a military industrial age that has long since passed and lost all meaning; like some of our defensive behaviour that we can’t even begin to understand or explain. They are like masks that hide who we really are.
There are fortresses that are fenced off. Authorities, like the Ministry of Defence or local counties have put up large wire fences and shields saying that they will persecute you if you do enter. My awareness of guilt is stowed away in those fortresses. Some authority that I no longer believe in or respect still holds some unknown power over me.
As to the fortresses that are hidden in the landscape, they will become clear to me when I find them.