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De Haan (Municipality, Province of West Flanders, Belgium)

Le Coq

Last modified: 2008-06-21 by ivan sache
Keywords: de haan | cross (red) | le coq | cross: templar |
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[Flag of De Haan]

Municipal flag of De Haan - Image by Filip van Laenen, 4 November 2001

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Presentation of De Haan and its villages

The municipality of De Haan (lit., "The Rooster"; in French, Le Coq; 12,177 inhabitants on 1 January 2007; 4,217 ha) is located on the North Sea between Bredene and Blankenberge. The municipality of De Haan was formed in 1976 by the merging of the former municipalities of Klemskerke (2,066 ha), Vlissegem (1,666 ha) and Wenduine (485 ha).

De Haan was not a municipality before the 1976 reform but a hamlet, later a popular sea resort, split between the parishes (later municipalities) of Vlissegem and Kemskerke, mentioned for the first time in 988 and 1003, respectively, and therefore considered as the oldest polder villages in Flanders. The area was never flooded because it was protected from the sea by a bar of dunes.
De Haan was once a poor hamlet made of a few huts; its inhabitants were workers, shrimp fishers selling their products from village to village with the help of a donkey, a cobbler, a weaver and a fiddler. The hamlet had a very bad reputation: the villagers of Vlissegem and Klemskerke considered De Haan as a centre of bad-tempered thieves and poachers, whereas the authorities considered that the huts had been built illegally. They were indeed riots in De Haan when flotsam and jetsam landed on the coast, but the inhabitants paid kind of taxes on cattle grazing and were commissioned to plant beachgrass (Ammophila arenaria (L.) Link) to stabilize the dunes eroded by wind. More respectable inhabitants of De Haan were customers, whose post was set up around 1814 and moved around 1830; they lived in posts called komiezenkotten, the last of them having been suppressed in 1961-1962.
Beachgrass hardly limited the erosion of the dunes, therefore pines were planted, to no avail. In 1838, Theodoor Van de Walle, President of the Flanders Agriculture Council, was allowed to manage the planting of trees in the dunes; one of his workers was Pieter Jan Gezelle, father of the famous Flemish poet Guido Gezelle. Van de Walle was successful but the management of the plantations failed after his death in 1848, so that in 1854 the Mayor of Vlissegem complained about this to Van de Walle's widow. Another threat for the dunes was the huge population of rabbits; in 1874, the villagers asked for an eradication program.
In 1886, the landscape architect L. Van der Swaelmen was officially commissioned to set up a big park to attract tourists from Blankenberge and Ostend. It was decided to fertilize the soil, to select the most relevant trees, to protect the dunes from the rabbits and to limit cattle grazing. The main result of the program was a 157-ha wood located between Wenduine and Bredene.

A tramway line inaugurated on 8 August 1886 brought several tourists to De Haan, including the architect Édouard Colinet, who proposed to create a sea resort. On 22 July 1888, Imschoot, President of the Ostend Trading, Maritime and Industrial Union, inaugurated the sea resort and the first hotel. A Royal Decree signed on 29 July 1889 granted to Colinet and Passenbronder a concession on 50 ha of dunes in Vlissegem and Klemskerke. After Colinet's death in 1890, his widow was transferred all his rights and sold them in 1895 to Leon Herreboudt, from Brussels. He immediatly sold them to Delphin Depuyt, notary and mayor of Gistel, who founded the first Société Anonyme du Coq sur Mer, which was increased in 1904 and 1912.
The successive owners of the concession kept very strict rules of urbanism and made of De Haan a green area: everyone building a vacation house had to plant trees and to set up flowers and lawns; the built area should not exceed one-sixth of the plot area. The most famous architect was J. Stübben, who worked in Berlin, Aix-la-Chapelle, Cologne, Basle and Bilbao and was King Léopold II's personal advizer. He prohibited high buildings in De Haan (and there are still very few of them compared with other Belgian sea resorts) and promoted the planting of woods to protect the resort from wind; he designed tortuous streets to restrict the speed of the cars and several cottages in Anglo-Norman style. Léopold II funded the building of the Royal Road and the set up of the first golf course in Belgium. At the end of the XIXth century, the former thieves' hamlet had became a sea resort popular among the French and British tourists. A casino was built in 1899 (but suppressed in 1929). In 1899, Simson started the building of the Grand Hôtel du Coq, one of the most famous of the time, renamed in 1949 L'Espérance and today the town hall of De Haan. The combination of the sea, the beach and the woods was recommended and several social and children vacation centers were opened, including Dr. Alexander's zeepreventorium, founded in 1924.

The boom of the resort caused local problems, the inhabitants of De Haan asking for the set up of a municipality independent from Vlissegem and Klemskerke. This was popularized by the newspapers in the 1930s as "the quarrels of the Rooster with its village", but the things calmed down after the Second World War and everybody agreed to preserve the quality of the sea resort.

Wenduine was until 1180 a parish depending on Uitkerke. It was a big fishers' village: in 1378, the Wenduine fleet was made of 43 boats manned by 178 fishers split into the Old Fishers' League (121) and the Young Fishers' League (37). At the same time, the village had 24 pubs. The Wenduine fishers were famous overseas and are mentioned in English archives for the problems they had with pirates and war vessels, and mostly with porpoises. They required from the authorities of Bruges the authorisation of hunting purpoises, which was granted all the year round met't harpoen, zonder pardoen (with a harpoon, without mercy); they thanked the Provost of Bruges with ... a porpoise. The motto was inscribed on the fishers' guild banner in 1424. Fishery declined in the XVIth industry. In the XVIII-XIXth centuries, Wenduine was a small, poor village and several of its inhabitants had to work in the neighbouring towns or in France.
Wenduine woke up at the end of the XIXth century when tourists from Blankenberge used to visit the village on donkeys. The clever inhabitants of Wenduine opened booths named Café des Etrangers, Bienvenue aux Etrangers, Pavillon des Dunes or Café de la Gare, where they served sandwiches and coffee to the happy visitors. In 1876, however, the municipal council refused to create a sea resort, claiming that the roads were not good. A few years later, the new municipal council spared 57,000 francs (of the time!) to fund the road to Blankenberge (1884) and the correspondence with the Ostende-Blankenberge tramway (1888). The Born Institute, built in 1878-1880, was the first childrens' rehabilitation center in Belgium. In 1888, the first plots were sold to private owners; the next year, the municipality purchased bathing charts used to bring the "swimmers" into the sea. Without the help of external funding, Wenduine became known as "the Princess of the Sea Resorts" even before the First World War.

Like all famous sea resorts, De Haan has attracted several famous visitors.
King Léopold II, who had commissioned the architect William Kidner to draft the new sea resort, often stayed at De Haan (1890, 1901 and 1903) but the Royal cottage designed by Albert Mitchell was never built. Queen Elizabeth visited the zeepreventorium in 1940, when it housed several injured soldiers.
Zita, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary from 1916 and 1918, lived from 1929 to the Second World War in Steenokkerseel and spent her summer vacations in Wenduine, with a monk who read the mass for her in her cottage. Zita and her family signed the first pages of the Wenduine visitor's book after the ceremony of blessing of the sea.
The famous painter James Ensor, who lived in Ostend, often visited De Haan. On 2 August 1933, he had dinner at the Cœur Volant inn with the French ministers Anatole Monzie, who came especially to Belgium to award the Légion d'Honneur to the "Prince of the Painters". Another famous painter, Alphonse Blomme, lived in Klemskerke from 1929 to 1970, where he became a close friend of his neighbour, Albert Einstein, and made his portrait. Henri Cassiers, a poster designer, made the first advertizing poster for De Haan in 1897, still very famous, and designed the menu for the inauguration of the Grand Hôtel du Coq. Among the customers of the Grand Hôtel was the writer and later Nobel Prize awardee Maurice Maeterlinck, who stayed there in 1889. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, who visited his friend Emile Verhaeren every year, has described his peaceful stay in Le Coq in the summer 1914 in his book Die Welt von Gestern, with the prophetic sentence "All the nationalities lived peacefully beside each other".
However, the most famous guest of De Haan was Albert Einstein. Back from the USA with his wife Elza Koch on the ship Belgenland (Red Star Line), Einstein learned that Hitler had taken the power on 13 March 1933 and had confiscated all his goods. On 28 March 1933, he landed in Antwerp and said he would not come back to Germany. Einstein stayed for a few days at the Cantecroy castle, invited by Pr. Arthur de Groodt, whose wife advized to hire two cottages in De Haan, the Villa Savoyarde for the Einstein and the Maisonnette for the de Groodt. Einstein left De Haan for London (via Ostend) on 10 September.

Source: Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 12 June 2007

Municipal flag of De Haan

The municipal flag of De Haan is horizontally divided red-white-green with a red cross voided and pommety (with eight knobs) in the middle of the white stripe.
According to Gemeentewapens in België - Vlaanderen en Brussel, the flag was adopted by the Municipal Council on 15 September 1986, confirmed by the Executive of Flanders on 10 December 1986 and published in the Belgian official gazette on 3 December 1987.
The three stripes represent the three former municipalities merged to form De Haan, which all have the Templars' cross in their arms.

The Templar's cross is used on the arms of villages that belonged to the domain of Vinckx, part of the Vrije van Brugge (lit. the Free [domain] of Bruges), a large territory surrounding Bruges but not belonging to the town, and owned by the Knight Templars.
The arms of Bredene were granted by Royal Decree on 19 April 1847; as shown by Servais, they are white with a red cross and two finches, a red one in the upper left corner and a black one in the lower right corner. The finches (in Dutch, vink) are canting.
The villages that belonged to Vincx all used similar arms, differing by the finches; they were already shown on the map of the Vrije van Brugge made by Pieter Pourbus in 1562.
The arms of Nieuwmunster (incorporated to the municipality of Zuienkerke in 1976) were granted by Royal Decree on 18 April 1847. They show two black finches placed like on the arms of Bredene.
The arms of Klemskerke were granted by Royal Decree on 18 April 1847. They show the red cross but no finch at all.
The arms of Vlissegem were granted by Royal Decree on 27 June 1846. They show a black finch in each corner of the shield. The old arms of Vlissegem are shown in the point of the current coat of arms of the municipality of De Haan.

Pascal Vagnat & Ivan Sache, 12 June 2007