Belgium - Our Homeland
Smaller than the province of New Brunswick, Belgium looks as if it were squeezed between it's larger neighbors. France to the west and south, the Netherlands to the north and Germany to the east. Only the tiny nation of Luxembourg on the southern border makes it look large. Belgium's size belies its importance to the culture and economy of Western Europe. People travelling across the English Channel often arrived at or left from Belgium. Belgium has some of the finest highways, railroads and ship waterways in the world. The first passenger train in Continental Europe began operating in 1835. Rail lines now cross the country like a grid. Belgium has more railroad tracks per square mile than any other country in Europe. Brussels is home of the headquarters of NATO established in 1949 to defend Western Europe from attack by foreign powers.
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch (or Flemish), French and German. Passing from east to west roughly through the center of Belgium is an invisible line that forms a legal boundary called the "Language Frontier." Most Flemish people live north of this invisible border. That portion of Belgium is called Flanders. To the south live the Walloons, Belgium's citizens who speak French, Southern Belgium is call Wallonia. Although the Flemish outnumber the Walloons by a ration of five to three, a visitor to southern Belgium would never know that the Walloons were the minority. Here, the forested highland abound with French road signs and newspapers. A few German speaking Belgians live in the eastern part of the country, near the western border of Germany. The population of Belgium is about 10 million, with only 1 percent being German.
Brussels, Belgium's capital boasts four Belgian, three French, three German cable television stations. There is even one from tiny Luxembourg.
Belgium became a nation in 1831. Many of the greatest battles in European and world history were fought on Belgian soil. Near the city of Tongeren in the eastern part of the country, the Roman army of Julius Caesar fought thousands of Belgian soldiers during the Roman conquest of Europe once called Gaul. Julius Caesar said that of all the armies he had fought against, the Belgians were the fiercest.
The people of Belgium often found themselves pawns in struggles between larger nations such as France, England, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands and Germany. In 1815, the French armies of the Emperor Napoleon were defeated at Waterloo, a small village just a few miles south of Brussels. The battled ended the efforts of the French to build an empire in Europe. Many of the battles of World War I were fought in trenches dug into Belgian soil. One of the most famous engagements of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge, was fought in southeastern Belgium around Christmas in 1944. It signaled the beginning of the end of the German offensive and World War II. Some of the largest military cemeteries in the world are in Belgium.