Around 10:00 am the tourists start to arrive ,it may be a busload of School children , or visitors from Nearby Germany ...it was at this point we decided to travel the
20 Kms or so to Papenburg ...This city is home to a massive shipbuilding industry ,turning out everything from giant cruise ships to luxury yachts...the Centrum has a decidely Dutch feel to it with a canal bisecting the main shopping street , and classic sailing boats moored . Theres a windmill in town as well ....Papenburg is mostly modern looking , but the centrum was a pleasent stroll and I was able to find a good German Currywurst for lunch at one of the many cafes lining the canal ...If you'd like to get a look at a Deutscher city without tourists this would be a good choice...
If you're looking for a little tranquility after the hectic pace of the Randstad ,Bourtange will do nicely.For a history buff , or those who enjoy movies set in this period ,I haven't been anywhere better ... they keep paths mowed atop the walls ,and one can walk circuits of the moats , cross over and walk larger laps ,with plenty of photo-ops for those so inclined...they seem to be expanding the walls ,and we came across some old pottery shards where there was some disturbed earth ...the moats extend outward in star shaped rings ,and it may be a good idea to carry the provided map of where the bridges are or it can be a long walk around ...there are plenty of water birds and colorful flowers to make this enjoyable ...Canoes can be rented to paddle around in the moats , we didn't do this but it looked like fun...
After this few hours of walking through a magnificent example of late-medieval and renaissance defensive systems, one has a great experience of what things must have been like in these times. There might have risen many more questions. Feel free to ask me (by mail) about Bourtange or visit the splendid and complete website of Bourtange itself, which I attached at all the present tips in this presentation.
Also within the fortress a windmill stands tall in the wind. The original one was sold in 1832, when the whole fortress was publically sold to the highest bidder andeventually became the windmill in the small village "Ter Haar". When restoring the fortress as it used to be in the 20st century, a new windmill was one of the first wishes of the people that worked out this splendid job. On top of the "Molenbastion" (Mill's bastion / defense ramp) a exact copy of the original was rebuilt in 1980. It's type is (together with the original that still can be seen in "Ter Haar") belongs to the only "standard-windmills" in the Northern parts of the Netherlands and is fully operational. In many weekends demonstrations canb be witnessed.
Between the windmill and the "Turf schuur" (peat barn) stands the "Rosmolen" (Tred mill, or literally "horse mill"). this completely restored building is fully operational. The millers stone can be set in motion by horse power. The system puts a 15 times overdrive from the pulling whell onto the millers stone. In average the stone will turn around about 90 times per minute and was used to grind granes, but also oily seeds to provide lamp oil to the fortress. On regular basis (weekend within the season) the mills are open for public and demonstrations are given.
Fuel for heating was - in the average Dutch winter of those times - very necessary. To prevent that the enemy would hold a longer siege in winter time, the fortress Bourtange had to have a fuel storage. In those days the main fuel was "turf" (peat) which was found in the close vicinity (Drenthe peat fields). The "Turf schuur" (peat barn) was a long building that was also guarded well, because of fire hazard. The relatively large windowpanes were in those times open, this to ensure a constant ventilation that ensured that the peat kept dry.
The military was a strict and disciplinous place. This often was created by a reward and punishment system. If one did a heroic action in wartime or learned well at military school, the rewards came often by getting a higher rank (promotion). The other way around when one made mistakes. However, there were offenses that called out for even more drastic measures. Punishments also came in a physical manor and on the market square one reconstructed the "horse". This punishment tool, looking far more as a child's toy, was used as follows: the convicted soldier was placed on the horse and got (heavy) weights attached to his legs. In those days soldiers were all male and my fellow mates can agree that such a position is very uncomfortable (unless you want to learn how to sing the sorprano).
Back on the Markt (central square) we again can enjoy the shade of the sixteen old trees that surround it (350 years old !). We stand next to the Commander's House and where once commands were called, now candy is sold. Another interesting shop and workplace is within the former Mayor's house. Here a clockmaker has found his premisses, repairing and restoring antique and modern clockworks and also creates special clocks in order. Two years quarantee one gets here, as the man is certified in his work.
In times that freedom of religion was the main drive of the independance struggle of the Lowlands (and the Seven Provinces in the first place), churches were of great importance. Also in Bourtange fortress a church was built in 1607, being also the first Protestant church in the Northern province Groningen. From the materials of the original church in 1869 a newer church was constructed on the place of it's predescessor. Though the independance war was all about freedom of religion, during and after these 80 years, Catholics were discriminated a lot, as being collaboraters of the Spanish forces, against whome the battle was initiated.
In the direction that is still undiscovered terrain are a little restaurant and a small supermarket "t Lutje Winkel" and further away again more barracks appear. Here is also the hostel, but more interesting the "barracks museum". In this museum one gets an impression how it used to be to be dispatched in Bourtange in the 17th and 18th century. A part of the interior is made as it was in 1742. Also interesting is the exposition of archeoligal findings from Bourtange and direct vicinity. Old tools, weapons, jewelery etc. sheds a light about long forgotten times.
When we return in "Bourtange Vesting" itself, the large building on your right hand side (number 32 on the map) is very much worth a visit. Inside a large maquette of the fortress is present and this will give you a clear image of what a inpenitrable fortress Bourtange became through the centuries. Also here a slideshow tells you about the history and the "paspartout" tickets are available in this information house.
Walking further away from the Munster Gate one has again the bridges that are drawn up to secure the entrances on either side. As the worst danger was expected to come from the East, from neighboring Prusian kingdoms, this side was appointed to be the most heavily protected. The inundation fields made it possible to flood a piece of land of about two kilometres wide right in front of the fortress, creating a safety zone between Bourtange and an invasion army. The fields are now-a-days ackres, but still show a quite open caracter with wet undergrounds (according to the many ditches and kane.
Outside the fortress core Bourtange, on islands within the outer defense works, are some buildings. One used to be a barrack for the guards and a seperated building for the commander of the guard. This platoon of the detachment of soldiers that were stationed in Bourtange, were a roulating group. One week for each group, that had the duty to scout the countryside around the fortress and secure the gates on the outer side. They were responsible to signal possible intruders in as soon as possible, so the right descisions could be made if an attack was imminent. Therefore it was logic that their position was just outside the village itself.
Enjoying the views when walking over the ramps (defensive earth walls) towards the other gate. This is the Munsterse Poort (Munster Gate) that was connecting to the road towards Munster (Westfalen), in those days a very important town in North-Western Europe (and also the birth cradle of the Netherlands, when the peace treaty was signed here in 1648 in which the new Republic was recognised by all European states). The gate has on the outer site a stone commemorating the cooperation between the "Staten Generaal" (the supreme governement of the Republic of the Seven provinces) and the provincial states of Friesland and "Stad en Lande" (literally translated "Town and countryside" in which "Groningen" was ment). Over the bridge surprisingly enough are still some buildings, that are outside the fortified village.
Here too again are some canons present to make the scenery complete. Bourtange Vesting organises weekly shooting practices from April until October each year. It could be interesting to combine your visit with such event. More information on the website.
Canons and their shooting range have long time fixed the surroundings of many town and fortress. Even though towns grew in numbers of inhabitants, for long times the administration didn't allow people to built houses outside the walls. The terrain surrounding the fortress or in most cases the town, should be wide open and cleared of all hiding places to prevent the enemy from sneaking up. In Bourtange still the immediate vicinity of the East, South and North-Eastern sides of the fortress are cleared of houses, though trees have gotten the chance to grow and block the view in some places. Here the inundation (flooding) tactics also made it unwished to built in the outer terrain.