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U.S. Soldier Stands Guard in a Luxembourg City

<i> Reiber is a free-lance writer living in Lawrence, Kan. </i>

In the 1970s one of the cheapest ways to fly from the United States to continental Europe was on Icelandic (now called Icelandair), which landed in the tiny country of Luxembourg.

For many of the backpacking, college-age American passengers (I was among them on my way to study at a German university), Luxembourg was nothing more than a place to transfer from plane to train en route to more alluring cities such as Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin.

Today, many Americans are again landing in Luxembourg, via Icelandair. Once more, I was one of them--but this time I sought one of the nation’s secluded villages.

I wanted to relax, hike through woods and settle slowly into European life. Clervaux, which is in the hills of the Ardennes and easily reached within an hour by train from the city of Luxembourg, sounded like just the place.

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Along with Vianden, another castle town, Clervaux is one of the most picturesque villages in the country.

As my train rumbled north from Luxembourg, known as “the City,” the rolling farmland and pastures of the south soon gave way to the hilly, forested Ardennes.

Luxembourg, with only 999 square miles, is roughly two-thirds the size of Rhode Island. A third is blanketed with forests in a mountain region shared with France, Belgium and West Germany.

There are no majestic peaks. The Ardennes is an area of hills pinched close together, covered with spruce and pine and laced through with narrow meadows and mountain streams.

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Glens slide in and out of view, hinting at private and secret places. Villages of stone come and go.

The countryside is similar to the country itself--miniature, hemmed in and singularly inviting.

Luxembourg has more hiking trails than it does roads. And with 50 miles of marked pathways surrounding it, Clervaux proved perfect for exploring on foot.

A village of 1,000, Clervaux is in a deep and narrow valley beside the River Clerve in the midst of the Ardennes, only nine miles from the Belgian border.

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It is dominated by an imposing 12th-Century stone castle and a red-roofed abbey. But an American flag flies in the town square and a statue of an American soldier stands guard.

A plaque reads: “To Our Liberators, 1944-1945.” This is, after all, “Battle of the Bulge” country. The people of Luxembourg have not forgotten.

“We used to get a lot of American visitors, many of them soldiers coming back with their families,” a Clervaux resident said. “They returned to see how the place had changed, or maybe they were looking for a meaning in the hardships they went through as young men during the war. Maybe they came back in tribute to their buddies who didn’t make it.

“Now, most of our tourists are Dutch.”

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I entered the grounds of Clervaux Castle, which was almost destroyed by the Germans in December, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge. Restored, the castle houses several exhibits.

An American tank, a favorite of Luxembourg school children, sits in the courtyard.

The museum, dedicated to the battle, contains Allied and German memorabilia, including submachine guns, uniforms, mess kits, photographs and newspaper clippings.

Luxembourg has two other Battle of the Bulge museums, in Wiltz and Diekirch. Of the three, Diekirch’s is the newest and most extensive.

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In a small room on the castle top floor is where doudebilder (obituary photographs) are displayed of Luxembourg men and women who died in the war.

Traditionally handed out at funerals or printed in newspapers, these photographs are also of civilians who were killed during air raids or attacks.

Less somber are the museum’s two other exhibits.

One displays 22 models of Luxembourg castles and details their history, with photographs and floor plans, showing whether they are in ruins or restored and whther they are privately or state-owned.

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The other exhibit is Edward Steichen’s “Family of Man,” with photographs from around the world of people working, playing, mourning, laughing and crying.

Photographers represented in this display include Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Margaret Bourke-White and Dorothea Lange.

Also in the castle courtyard is the Clervaux Tourist office, which has information on the town and an inexpensive map of the many walking paths radiating from Clervaux.

One path is a 6.8-mile circular trail that starts and ends in Clervaux. Soon I found myself in the hills, in valleys and walking beside streams, wheat fields and wild flowers. The path encircles Clervaux, offering changing vistas of the village of stone.

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Highlight of this hiking tour is the Benedictine Abbey of St. Maurice and St. Maur, a striking, red-roofed structure in the midst of green woods on the crest of a hill overlooking Clervaux.

Built in 1910 in Romanesque style, it was founded by a group of Benedictine monks who were forced to leave their native France because of religious antagonism.

In the basement of the abbey is a small museum showing the life of the monks. And in a small gift shop are religious recordings and artifacts as well as post cards that feature photographs taken by the monks.

Coffee, roasted in Belgium and packaged by the monks, is sold at the front door.

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Clervaux, a quiet town, is engulfed by wooded hills. Life in the village centers on a pedestrian lane that hugs the base of the castle and an adjoining square lined with sidewalk cafes.

Shops sell woolens, cotton undershirts, walking canes and gaudy souvenirs.

Men sporting berets or tweed caps, gray-haired women with canes, dogs on leashes, children in strollers and an occasional monk in a black flowing robe are part of the parade on Clervaux’s main lane.

By 10 p.m., however, streets are empty, except for the soldier that stands facing the tank in the castle courtyard.

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The statue erected in 1983 was sculpted by a Luxembourg artist and paid for from the admission fees of Clervaux’s Battle of the Bulge museum and from local contributions.

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Icelandair is the only airline that flies from North America to Luxembourg, with gateways in New York City and Orlando, Fla.

In the city of Luxembourg, Luxair buses run from the airport to the train station. The ride to Clervaux is less than an hour.

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Luxembourg tourist offices, at the airport and next to the train station, can make hotel reservations, but most hotels in Clervaux are closed in January and February.

Hotel du Parc, on the rim of Clervaux on a wooded slope, is 120 years old. Its outdoor veranda, a good place for lunch, affords a great view of the castle and offers a menu of river trout with almonds, Burgundy snails, quails in grape sauce, veal, steak and lamb. Rooms start at $35 U.S. for two, including breakfast.

Hotel du Commerce is a family-owned hotel in the middle of town. Doubles are about $40, including breakfast.

For more information on travel to Luxembourg, contact the Luxembourg Tourist Office, 801 2nd Ave., New York 10017, (212) 370-9850.

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