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Malmedy (Municipality, Province of Liège, Belgium)

Last modified: 2008-03-29 by ivan sache
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[Flag of Malmedy]

Municipal flag of Malmedy - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 18 December 2005


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Presentation of Malmedy

The municipality of Malmedy (11,878 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 10,057 ha) is located in the Eastern Cantons of Belgium, a region close to the border with Germany eventually incorporated to Belgium in 1920 only. The municipality of Malmedy is made since 1976 of the former municipalities of Malmedy, Bellevaux-Ligneuville and Bevercé. The town of Malmedy proper, built on the confluency of the rivers Warche and Warchenne, covers one fith of the municipal territory, which includes 38 villages and hamlets.

In the middle of the VIIth century, Remacle, a monk from Aquitaine (southwest of France), founded the abbey of Stavelot-Malmedy with the support of the Frankish kings Sigebert III (634-656) and Childéric II (662-675). The abbey followed the Benedictine rule and was made of two monasteries of equal status (at least in theory): Stavelot, located in the Bishopric of Tongeren (later transferred to Liège), and Malmedy, located in the Bishopric of Cologne. Therefore, the temporal was exerted by the Abbot, whereas the spiritual was exerted by two vestis appointed by the Bishop of Tongeren and the Archbishop of Cologne, respectively.
The monastery of Malmedy is considered by the historians and the hagiographers as slightly older than the monastery of Stavelot. The older charts mention Malmedy earlier than Stavelot; the commission appointed in 670 by Childéric II in order to delimit the abbey territory started from Malmedy (de Monasterjo Malmunderio). Afterwards, the territory of the abbey was increased westwards, so that Stavelot became the geographical center and the capital of the Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy, which existed until the French Revolution.

The site of Malmedy was probably already settled before the foundation of the abbey, even if the etymology of the name of Malmedy seems to indicate a place not suitable for settlement. Mal(u)mund(a)-arium was "a place with winding waters", or, most probably, Malmund-arium, a "bad confluency". Before the strenghtening of the banks of the Warchenne and its partial canalization, Malmedy was indeed very often flooded. The town of Malmedy developed around the monastery. Until the end of the Xth century, the villagers used the St. Laurent chapel, an apsidiole of the abbey church. In 1007, the St. Géréon parish church was consecrated. The main population increase occurred in the XVIth century with the development of tannery; there were only 216 houses (c. 1,000 inhabitants) in 1544 but 633 houses in 1635.
City walls with watch towers and seven gates were finished in 1601, but mostly destroyed by the French troops in 1658. On 4 October 1689, Marquis de Catinat, the chief of the French garrison of Luxembourg, ordered to burn the town. Some 600 out of the 660 houses of the town were destroyed and it took more than one century to completely rebuild Malmedy.

Two political symbols were erected on the Market square (today the Albert Ier square): the perron, symbolizing the rights of the people, and the obelisk, symbolizing the authority of the Prince-Bishop. During the French Revolution, the perron was replaced by a liberty tree but, ironically, the obelisk was not suppressed. The local Société des amis de la liberté et de l'égalité was cautiously conservative and no extremist measure was taken, as it was the case for instance in Stavelot. In spite of the opposition of the local notables, Malmedy was incorporated to the French Republic by the Decree of 9 Vendémiaire of the Year IV (1 October 1795). The abbey church of Malmedy was bought by the manufacturer Henri Steinbach, who ceded it to the municipality in 1817. During the French Empire, leather and paper industry thrived in Malmedy, with increased outlets.
At Christmas 1813, following the defeat of Leipzig, the French administration left the town. Malmedy was occupied by the Swedes and the former Principality was incorporated in 1814 to the Grand Duchy of Lower-Rhine. The next year, the Congress of Vienna separated Stavelot, allocated to the Netherlands, and Malmedy, allocated to Prussia. Malmedy was incorporated to the Regierungsbezirk of Aachen. The creation of a new border and the associated taxes caused the decline of the cloth, leather and paper industries. The local tanneries could not follow the competition with the bigger German factories. Today, the main industry in Malmedy is still paper, with the two factories of Steinbach and Pont-de-Warche and the National Paper Museum.

Malmedy was formally annexed to Prussia in 1822, which was also the last year of the administration by Mayor Jean-Georges Delvaux, appointed in 1801. Delvaux did not want to place Prussian eagles on the town hall and ordered to put them on the top of the obelisk, claiming that it was the original location of the double-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire. Delvaux found all kinds of reasons to open conflicts with the Prussian administration. There were also in the town a lot of veterans of Napoléon's Grande Armée, who caused a lot of trouble to the Prussian police, to Delvaux' great pleasure.
In 1853, King of Prussia Friedrich-Wilhelm IV visited Malmedy and said he was so happy to have in his kingdom "a small country where people speak French". In 1862, Bismarck was appointed Chancellor. The suppression of the French language in all administrative documents was required in 1863. The Municipal Council, presided by Mayor Gustave Piette, officially protested and quoted a text of the Prussian government from 12 August 1823, which recognized that French had always been the mother language in Malmedy. In March 1866, a "magistral" letter from the Regency ordered the Municipal Council to translate its proceedings in German, which was received with another protestation. In September, the President of the Rheinzprovinz announced that the Minister of the Interior had cancelled the previous Decrees and that the use of French in the administrative documents was allowed again. However, the Regency asked again in August 1867 the German translation of the documents. Mayor Piette resigned and was succeeded in March 1868 by Anton Andres. A German-speaker from Büllingen (Bullange), the new mayor allowed the debates to be made in French and provided German translations to the Regency.
After the victory of 1870, Bismarck increased the pressure on the national and linguistic minorities, launching the Kulturkampf in 1878. The last proceedings of the Muncipal Council of Malmedy written in French are dated 9 March 1879. The teaching of French in school was forbidden. The Club Wallon, still active today, was founded in 1897, constituting a small group of activists bugging the German authorities but without popular support. However, the two local newspapers were still published in French, La Semaine since 1848 and L'Organe de Malmedy since 1880. An attempt to found a German newspaper failed.

The Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919, stated in Article 34 that the territories of Eupen and Malmedy-Sankt Vith would be retroceded to Belgium on 10 January 1920, provided the population would have agreed. On 12 August 1919, the Belgian army replaced in Malmedy the British troops. Priest Nicolas Pietkin, parish priest in Sourbrodt (now in the municipality of Waismes) but born in Malmedy, was decorated as a great defender of the "Romanity" during the Kulturkampf. Lieutenant-General Baron Herman Baltia, the King's High Commissionner, was appointed Governor of the Territories of Eupen and Malmedy on 10 January 1920 by the Prussian Landrat, which left a few days later. On 10 June 1925, the territories were incorporated to the Province of Liège and Baltia left.
The short-lived Bishopric of Eupen-Malmedy existed during that period. It was suppressed in 1925 and incorporated to the Bishopric of Liège. However, the Sts. Pierre, Paul and Quirin abbey church, built in 1775 and transformed into the parish church in 1819, has kept the rank of cathedral.

Malmedy was annexed again to Germany from 1940 to 1944. Priest Joseph Peters organized the passive resistance again the Nazi regime. He exposed the propaganda of the Hitler's Youth and help several young people to hide and desert. Arrested in October 1942, Peters was beheaded in Aachen on 1 July 1943.
The town was severely damaged during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Bombings killed 219 and destroyed most of the historical houses of the downtown. The Baugnez crossroads, southeast of the town of Malmedy, was the place of the event known as the Malmedy massacre. Nearly 80 American prisoners of war were shot by the armoured group of the 1st SS Panzer Division, commanded by Colonel Joachim Peiper. Recovery of the remains to confirm what had happened was made in order to gather and preserve evidence for a possible war crimes investigation. The Malmedy massacre is considered as a milestone in mortuary affairs operations.

Due to its relative geographical isolation and complicated history, Malmedy has preserved a very specific culture and Walloon dialect. The main festivals are the carnival (Cwarmê), St. Géréon's Day (Tribolèdje), St. Martin's Day, the Epiphany (Heye dès Rwès) and the Potato Harvest. The traditional, yearly meeting of a school class is called in local Walloon Jahrgang, a German word relic of the German period. Every public or private celebration includes a speech or a poem in Walloon (rimè è walon) and everything is bilingual French/Walloon in the town, including of course the street names but also the parkingmeter user's instructions. During the May Night (Lu Nut du May), every lover is expected to sing under her lover's windows the famous song Nuit de Mai composed by Florent and Olivier Lebierre, from Malmedy.
Malmedy has also a specific gastronomy, whose main specialities are the Malmedy kiss (baiser de Malmedy) and the Russian salad (salade russe); this (very) mixed salad is made only during the carnival and recommended to get rid of hangover.
Alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and sled can be practiced in winter on the plateau of Hautes-Fagnes, in the resorts of Malmedy, Chodes, Mont, Arimont and Xhoffert.

Sources:

  • Aperçu historique de Malmedy par Robert Christophe - Malmedy Art & Histoire 87-97. The association Malmedy Art et Histoire, founded in 1987, is housed in the former monastery of the Malmedy abbey, which was purchased by the municipality in 1985. Its main goals are the management of the Center of Historical Studies (research, workshops, exhibitions, publications) and the revamping of the treasure of the cathedral.
  • Brève histoire de la ville de Malmedy et de la Wallonie Malmédienne, by Léon Halleux-Petit, Vice-President of the Société Royale d'Histoire Malmedy-Folklore
  • Municipal website
  • Mortuary Affairs Operations At Malmedy - Lessons Learned From A Historic Tragedy, by Major Scott T. Glass. Quartermaster Professional Bulletin, Autumn 1997

Ivan Sache, 18 December 2005


Municipal flag of Malmedy

The municipal flag of Malmedy is horizontally divided black-yellow-green.
According to Armoiries communales en Belgique. Communes wallonnes, bruxelloises et germanophones, this is a traditional flag using the colours of the municipal coat of arms of the town.

The municipal arms of Malmedy, as shown on the municipal website, are "Or a dragon sable on a terrasse vert".
The greater arms of Malmedy are surmonted by a miter and a crozier and sword crossed in saltire behind the shield, which are evident references to the episcopal Principality of Stavelot-Malmedy.

[Erroneous flag of Malmedy]

Erroneous flag of Malmedy - Image by Arnaud Leroy, 18 December 2005

However, the geometrical arrangement of the stripes on the flag of Malmedy is still a matter of controversy. Raymond Jacob, President of the aforementioned Société Royale d'Histoire Malmedy-Folklore communicated to Pascal Vagnat in July 2005 an article he had published in the aforementioned local newspaper La Semaine.
The first description of a flag for Malmedy dates back to 1881 and was published by the local historian Arsène de Noüe in La Semaine. However, Noüe himself subsequently published different versions of this flag. Accordingly, different flags with the three colours of the arms were used, arranged either horizontally or vertically and with random arrangement of the colours.
On 26 June 1969, the Municipal Council followed a suggestion made by Mr. Lang, President of Malmedy-Folklore, and fixed the municipal flag: the three colours shall be placed perpendicularly to the staff (that is horizontally), from top to bottom, black, yellow and green.
The flag is hoisted over the obelisk standing on the Albert Ier square; Raymond Jacob reports in his article that the flag hoisted there in the late spring 2005 was erroneous, having vertical instead of horizontal stripes. However, images recently seen in the RTBF TV program Télétourisme show the correct flag hoisted over the obelisk.
Note that the municipal website is a potential source of confusion, since it uses as the URL icon and marginal decoration a vertically divided "flag"!

Arnaud Leroy, Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 18 December 2005