Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fort Eben-Emael & Fort Breendonk, Belgium

If you travel to Belgium there are two interenting stops that you can make. Belgium is a small country and the distance between one place and another allows to make round trips in the same day.

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Location here. It is located 115 km away from Brussels.  
Official website:
For individual visitors only open one weekend a month . Dates vary each year. You can click here to see what they are.
Open to visitor groups all year except holidays listed on the web . If you go in a group will have to book by filling this form at least 15 days before your arrival. You can choose the language of the visit between English, French, German and Dutch. The duration of the visit is from 1 hour (5 euros per person, minimum 60 euros per group) to 6 hours (12 euros per person, minimum 180 euros per group).  

How get to fort Eben-Emael from Brussels? You can rent a car in Brussels and take the E10 (see full itinerary ). To arrive by public transport the best option is to take a train from Brussels Central Station to  Tongeren (for times ). The journey takes 1hr 50min. Once in Tongeren you have to take in front of the station the bus 39 that will leave you at the fort in 30 min.

Eben-Emael was a fortress built as a defense against a possible German invasion. It was completed in 1935 and its structure of steel and concrete made ​​the Allies think that it was impenetrable. They thought they would be able to stop the German invasion long time. The German army carefully studied its structure and they even built a replica for assault practices. Finally, in 1940, 85 Fallschirmjäger landed on the roof of the fort by gliders. After a strong assault managed to retain the Belgians until the arrival of a German infantry division, they had to surrender. Today, the fort is still military property although the Association of Fort Eben-Emael allows the tours.
The main weapons were distributed between turrets and casemates. It is divided into: Blocks I, II, III, IV and V, Dome 120, North and South Domes, Visé I and II, Maastricht I and II, North and South Canal, Mi-North and South Block O1.

Entry . Foto:

Maastricht II . Foto: Scargill
Interior hallway.

Dome 120.


Location here . It is 25 km away from Brussels.
Open every day except January 1, 24 and 25 December and the annual pilgrimage.
Official website:  
Opening hours: 9:30 to 17:30 (last admission 16:30)  
Admission: 7 euros
The duration of the visit is estimated a minimum of 2 hours. There are audio guides in English, Dutch, French and German.

How to get from Brussels to Breendonk? The easiest way is by public transport taking the 460 bus (Brussel-Boom) that departs every hour from the North Station of Brussels. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the fort. It leaves you two blocks away from the entrance. Another option is to take bus 461 (Brussel-Boom) in the same station. It departs every hour. The trip also takes 45 minutes but it leaves you a little further from the entrance, about 10 minutes walk. Transport website: . The train is not recommended to get the fort because you would have to change at Mechelen and then catch another train that takes you to Willebroek . From Willebroek station there is 15 minutes walk to the fort (it's marked by signs).

Fort Breendork is located in the road between Brussels and Antwerp. Built in 1906 as part of a ring of defense against a possible attack of the German Empire. With the invasion of the German army in 1940, being in disuse, it was taken and converted into a concentration camp under the command of SS. 

Prisoners waiting to be registered.

Its prisoners were common criminals, political prisoners, resistance fighters and Jews who were to be sent to Auschwitz. 185 people were executed and many of them moved to other camps. Despite not being a place of extermination, there were very few survivors because of the terrible conditions in which they were. It is considered one of the toughest camps of WWII and one of  the best preserved due to its structure. Available rooms dedicated solely to torture prisoners. Moreover, the work to be performed by prisoners was devastating as they had to empty and move the sand that covered the fort in few time. One of the most controversial issue in this camp was the behavior of some "Kapos" flamingos who offered his full support to the Nazi cause. Some of them were even moved to other camps to act as guards. Today remains open to visitors.
 Photo: M. Prada

On the official website you can find a map of the fort with a virtual tour that allows you to locate the rooms:

For a complete photo gallery of the fort you can click here .

Thanks to Miguel Prada for providing his post.

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