Claire The Green Geekette
Member for 2 years 8 months
Yogi and slow tourism devotee
DIVING INTO THE HISTORY OF RURAL LIFE IN LUXEMBURG
4 minutes ANd A handful of potatoes
I love living in the moment, and tend to let my mind wander…so much so that I sometimes forget that – to know where you are heading – you first need to remember know where you came from. As a wee girl, I used to love listening to my mother telling me stories my about her childhood. For hours on end, she would regale me with her childhood memories of life in the countryside. Even though I did not have the good fortune to know my grandparents, I think I must have created in my mind’s eye an image of what rural life was like in days of yore. This is why my visit to the Binsfeld Museum left such a deep, lingering impression , for the first time ever, I came face to face with the reality of how I had imagined life in bygone days.
Remembering that we all share the same roots
Rural life has changed a lot over the past 150 years, and even if I lived in the countryside, I realise that modern-day agriculture has little in common with the husbandry and hard toil of days gone by. After visiting the Binsfeld Museum for a couple of hours, I was touched to see the stories my mother had told me about my grandparents come to life before my very eyes.
I discovered how rich their – now almost forgotten – everyday life was and am delighted to see it preserved for posterity thanks to this place of memory.
« He who does not know where he comes from, knows not where he is going » Otto von Bismarck
Even though the museum focuses on telling the tale of the area around the village of Binsfeld, the extraordinary heritage it houses recounts the history of so much more than the traditions and customs of a small Ardennes village of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. It is also so much more just comprehensive collection of objects linked to the everyday life of our ancestors, it really manages to the tell the story of rural life in the past centuries.
Look and learn from the past
As my visit continues, I am tickled and charmed by the many new facts I learn. I had always thought that young girls had always worn white for their wedding day, and am surprised to learn I’m mistaken: as a matter of fact, the brides would don a black dress, as was the custom. True fact: black wedding dresses were the norm until the 1920’s !
And the surprises just keep on coming! Suddenly I realized I really did not know what everyday life was like at the time. The arrival of progress and new technologies had a deep impact on everyday life. Just try and picture this: before the 1950’s doing the laundry would take a whole day (which is why it was then referred to as “laundry day”or "wash day")! They had to boil the washing, stir it, rub the dirty clothes against a washboard (or beat them on rocks), then rinse the washing, and spread it out to dry… It was hard graft and it fell to the women who only had rudimentary tools that were not even remotely as efficient as our modern day washing machines or tumble dryers…
From school to church, from everyday chores (cooking, personal hygiene...) to agricultural labour…the museum provides a wide array of information on each subject and manages to paint the portrait of an era that deserves to be remembered and that is kept alive in the Binsfeld Museum. It also helps you realise the harsh realities of our ancestors’ every life and gives you some perspective on the easy life we enjoy nowadays…
Just thinking about the kind of medical care people had access to at the time, I realised how lucky I am to live in the world of today. But when I came eye to eye with a creepy collection of old dentist instruments…I broke out in a cold sweat!
Binsfeld, a village that remembers its roots
Nowadays, we tend to prefer our potatoes cut into chips, but we must not forget that - not such a long time ago - the potatoe was a staple food for the poor! Not only was it a cornerstone of their diet, it was also used to feed the cattle and as the main ingredient for distilling eau de vie. The potato is so popular that year each the village holds a Potato Festival to celebrate the versatile spud.
One thing is for sure, the people from the Luxemburg Ardennes really know their stuff when it comes keeping their traditions alive: each year, in September a traditional Potato Festival is held in Binsfeld, and the event draws several thousands of visitors who come to celebrate one of our all-time favourite food staples: the potato! The festival is quite an experience, and our museum guide strongly recommends we take part.
As we were in the area, it would have been a shame to miss the “Gromperefest” (which is what they call potato festival in that neck of the woods)! The festival really is great fun: you get to take part in the potato harvest, sample a wide array of traditional potato-based dishes and simply enjoy a variety of free activities celebrating this delightful and longstanding local tradition. Make sure you arrive on an empty stomach so you can sample as many dishes as possible, and make room in the boot of your car so you can take back home a couple of sacks of potatoes!
Our top tip: a visit to Clervaux
One of the great bonuses of taking your time when travelling is to travel at your own pace and stop along the way whenever fancy takes you…This really is the perfect way to really get to know an area.
Luxemburg boasts many interesting spots, but we recommend you take a relaxing break in Clervaux, only a few kilometres away from Binsfeld, where you will find a restaurant, a souvenir shop, but also a delightful feudal castle as well as the Saint-Maurice-and-Saint-Maur abbey, an architectural jewel with a crenellated tower perched high up above the town.