August 21, 1930, Wieringermeer. The reclamation was completed. Of land that used to be called the Creil Woods, in province Noord Holland of the Netherlands. Land that had been lost to the sea eight centuries ago during the most destructive All Saints' Flood in AD 1170. The reclaimed land -or polder- now being named Wieringermeer instead of Creil Woods. The first villages being built were Sluis I (meaning 'sluice 1'), Middenmeer (meaning 'middle lake') and Wieringerwerf (meaning 'artifical mound Wieringen'). Village Sluis 1 was later rebranded as Slootdorp meaning 'ditch village'. Settlers came from all over the Netherlands. But, it was not for long that these pioneers would keep their feet dry.
Wieringerwerf means ‘werf of Wieringen’ and ‘werf’ means 'terp’ (artificial settlement mound) as is used mostly in northern Germany. A terp for just-in-case had been created too within the new polder. Therefore, the village next to it was named accordingly. It’s a fancy four hectares big, square-shaped terp including a top-notch sweet water well. This terp was the latest addition to the terp-building tradition that started in this wider region around 600 BC. And the constructors of the just-in-case terp 2.0 had foresight indeed.
construction of the terp, 1927
On April 17, 1945 at 12:00 o’clock sharp a desperate and frustrated Nazi army out of anger blew up the dyke protecting the young Wieringermeer Polder. Most of the 7,000 inhabitants of Wieringermeer Polder fled with their bikes, horses, carriages, carts, cattle etc away from Wieringermeer Polder whilst the water was rising steadily to a level between 0,5 and 5 meters above the new land. When inhabitants of the polder reached the surrounding higher grounds and dykes, part of them were awaited by German soldiers. Some were taken prisoner and one leader of the resistance was shot on the spot.
But not all fled. Three families from the village Wieringerwerf, in total twenty-three people, went to the terp that day, including some children from the city of Amsterdam who had fled the Dutch capital a few months before during the so-called Hunger Winter, also called the Famine of 1944-1945. Walking up the terp and hoping the water wouldn't rise above the level of the terp. And it didn't. The engineers had done a proper job fiteen years back. On top of the terp everyone was protected from the rising water, and from the Nazi army and the chaotic final chords of the war.
terp dwellers (April 17- May 7, 1945)
Not only people, also animals reached the terp for safety. There were six cows, a few pigs, a goat, a sheep and some rabbits. But also a cat and a dog. The owners of the sheep and the goat were unknown. And several clever or lucky hares stayed at the terp as well, though without permission. The cows provided the people with milk. Some people lived in a tent. Others on boats docked at the terp's slope. No mole rats have been sighted so these might have had a hard time surviving the inundation.
some of the animals at the terp (April 17-May 7, 1945)
Only three days after they had occupied the terp the first of three storms hit the area. In a way these were welcome since it provided the young terp dwellers with wood to build a shelter. Who knows, wood washed ashore that was collected by terp dwellers, is as it was two-thousands years back when wood was scarce too at the salt marshes of the terp region. After two more storms it was enough and the people left this safe haven on May 7, 1945 towards the dry ground of a country that had been liberated in the meantime. On December 11, 1945 the Wieringermeer Polder was made dry again and life could resume its pace. Today the polder has around 13,000 inhabitants.
For the folks living on the Halligs (or Halligen in German language) of region Nordfriesland (North Frisia) in Germany the unique sight of people living on a terp surrounded by water (Landunter) is still the normal. For the Dutch it wasn’t anymore. But it proved, once again, that after 2,600 years of terp history, terps are still a current and very solid solution in water management.
Where the dyke of the Wieringermeer Polder was blown up by the Nazi's, on the east side of the Polder, is a scar. A beautiful one, though. At this spot the dyke makes a bend towards the sea and turns back. Behind it are two so-called wielen 'wheels'. These are little lakes created by the incoming, swirling water when the dyke broke in 1945. The area around is forested in contrast to much of the rest of the Polder, and within this small forest you have nature-camping Het Bos Roept. So, worth making a detour and stay the night there while hiking stage 3 of the Frisia Coast Trail.
Note 1: If you became just as excited about terps as we are and can't wait to construct your own settlement mound, find here the first and only manual How to make a terp in 12 steps. Take care!
Note 2: During stage 3 of the Frisia Coast Trail you will pass the young terp of Wieringerwerf. The well has been replaced by a swimming pool, though.
Note 3: If you understand Dutch language, there is also a very informative documentary of the Wieringermeer catastrophe of 1945, click here.
Regionaal Archief Alkmaar (website)
Rooijendijk, C., Waterwolven. Een geschiedenis van stormvloeden, dijkenbouwers en droogmakers (2009)
Zijper Museum (website)