On the first of February 2020, one of the Frisian bastards of the Frisia Coast Trail tramped the trail section from the town of Bad Nieuweschans to the village of Termunten. It is a hike of 30 kilometres along the southern shores of the Dollart Bay. The day before, the bastard arrived in the evening at bed & breakfast called De Kannonier ‘gunner’ or ‘bombardier’. The conversation with the owner brought the bastard from Bad Nieuweschans, to Bremerhaven, to region ‘t Bildt in Friesland, to Grand Rapids, and even into Space. Let’s go to the start, province Groningen.
The town of Bad Nieuweschans in province Groningen is the most northeastern town in the Netherlands, and a border town with Germany as well. The suffix -schans ‘sconce’ means its origin is a military one. Nieuweschans, called Nij Schaanze in Low-Saxon speech, is a fortress built in the year 1628 during the independence wars of the Dutch Republic. The part Bad refers to the spa baths, thanks to mineral-rich springwater. So, ‘Bath New Sconce’ is a town that combines business with pleasure. The town has many historic reminders of its military past and worth a look.
It was quite late in the evening when the bastard arrived, because the train had to stop its service at the town of Winschoten. The reason was a car accident further down the railway track. Waiting for the alternate bus in the evening in January, was not too bad, surprisingly. The weather was extremely mild. Almost fifteen degrees Celsius around seven o’clock in the evening. It was January 31, midst of winter. While waiting for the bus, the bastard informed with a text message at the owner of De Kannonier if it was possible to have something to eat this late. “No problem,” he replied. At 21:00 hours the bastard arrived at the bed & breakfast.
The bastard turned out to be the only guest. The interior of the establishment was a crossbred between a pub and restaurant. Behind the taps stood the owner. A tall and big man. Bit bold, with a moustache. He watched sports on the big screen on the wall. In our post Grassland Conversations we explained the basics how to (not-)talk and behave if you want to interact with people of the flat grasslands. Well, Bad Nieuweschans is part of these grasslands. The owner, therefore, hardly noticed the bastard entering his premises. Only giving a glimpse at first. Recognizing the grassland conventions, the bastard immediately slowed down in all his behaviour and talking. He put his backpack on one of the many empty barstools. The owner, with both arms resting on the taps in front of him, kept staring at the loud television screen.
“Here’s your key. I can make some French fries,” the owner opened the conversation after the bastard had put his phone and reading glasses on the counter. “That’ll do,” the bastard replied. “If you have something to go with it, would be appreciated,” the bastard asked with the most casual tone of voice he could produce. “I’ve meatballs ready,” he said, offering no choices. “And a lager, please,” without confirming the meatball. The bastard put off his jacket and grabbed another barstool and sat down. He could have walked to the dining area for more privacy but that, avoiding the interaction, would have been perceived as rude. The owner switched to the news. Lot to do about the impeachment of Donald Trump, and about the Brexit. All far away world politics.
After the owner had served a big plate with French fries, lots of mayonnaise and a meatball with mustard, the conversation continued. Slowly, with many silences, of course. The bastard precisely timed the moment to drop he was originally from the port of Harlingen. Doing this too early in the conversation would have been regarded as being too eager, as trying too hard. The convention is, one must connect in these talks on its own merits, without offering one’s northern credentials right from the start.
After knowing the Frisian bastard originated from a port town at the Wadden Sea, the big man with the moustache told he used to work in the harbours of Bremerhaven in Germany in the ‘70s. “There was a lot work there to be done back then” he explained. The city of Bremerhaven, a port at the mouth of the River Weser at the Wadden Sea as well. At the shipyards he used to work together with a guy from province Friesland. His name was Eppie Louwsma. This friend, as the bastard understood he was, came from region ‘t Bildt in Friesland, which is quite close to the port Harlingen. “Come to think of it,” the owner continued, “his cousin was Jack Lousma, an astronaut. The bastard had never heard of this Jack Lousma before. Whatever this Jack, the bastard loved the whole story because it illustrated how people of the coastal zone between Harlingen in the west and Bremerhaven in the east, used to be connected via the sea. The Wadden Sea. And who knows, they still are (check also our post Yet another wayward archipelago).
After a few more beers, the bastard grabbed his pack and jacket, and went upstairs to his room. A basic but clean room with two beds. Before falling asleep, he googled who this Jack Lousma is and if he really exists. He does. Jack’s father emigrated from Friesland to the United States. Jack himself was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan State, in 1936. For NASA he made two voyages into space, including space walks, and stayed there ca. 1,600 hours in total in the big nothing. His nickname is the ‘Flying Dutchman’. Just like that other famous Flying Dutchman, the Frisian sailor Barend Fokke (check our post History is written by the victors – a history of the credits), it is good to know this modern Flying Dutchman is, in fact, also a Flying Frisian.
Breakfast was served at 08:30 hours the next morning. That was the earliest possible for the owner. He had to get fresh bread at the bakery before. The bakery would not be open yet, as the tall man had explained. “How sweet, he’s really taking care for his guests,” the bastard thought. The hike was in windy and drizzly weather. Leaving Bad Nieuweschans, the trail immediately crosses the German border via a slim, white drawbridge over the canal Wymeerer Sieltief. A sign explains the bridge was used by Jewish refugees during the Second World War. To flee in the remote north to the Netherlands, when this small country was not occupied by the Nazis yet. From the bridge, the hike continues up north along the eastbank of the River Westerwoldse Aa, all the way to the sluices and water pomp station at the hamlet of Nieuwe Statenzijl. There, crossing the border again back into the Netherlands. From Nieuwe Statenzijl, skirting the tidal marshlands, the trail follows the southern shores of the Dollart Bay in western direction to the old wierde of Termunten.
Note 1 – At the hamlet Nieuwe Statenzijl you can go to the hide called the Kiekkaaste which translates in Low-Saxon speech (Grunnings) as ‘looking-out cabinet’. It is placed on the tidal marshland of the Dollart Bay, and managed by the foundation Het Groninger Landschap. It is very scenic.
Note 2 – Besides Jack Lousma, more Americans of Frisian descent travelled through space. They were David Leetsma (Muskegon, 1946) whose ancestors came from the village of Tzummarum in province Friesland, and Shannon Mathilda Wells Lucid (Shanghai, 1943) whose acestors came from the villages of Lioessens and of Ferwerd in province Friesland. Lucid also holds the record for being the most days in space, both men and women. Chew on that guys!
- Haan, de P. & Huisman, K. (ed), Gevierde Friezen in Amerika (2009)