The Traders’ Trail
The Handelsweg – the “traders’ trail” – leads you across a distance of 230 km from Osnabrück (in Germany) to Deventer (in the Netherlands) through northern Westphalia and the two Dutch provinces of Twente and Salland. It is essentially a combination of two older trails, the German Töddenweg and the Dutch Marskramerpad – Tödden and Marskramer being the words used on either side of the frontier for the ambulant tradesmen who travelled from country.
Until the dawn of the industrial age, this border trade was pretty much one-way traffic: German tradesmen were carrying inexpensive textiles and household goods to the rich market towns and wealthy burghers of Holland. It was only during the 19th century that the economic tables between the two countries were slowly beginning to turn.
The “unique selling point” of the Handelsweg is, of course, that it invites you to cross a national frontier. It is always interesting to visit towns and landscapes on either side of such frontiers, observing the subtle differences between neighbouring countries …
… and when you cross the border on your own two feet, you can watch how these differences slowly shade into one another. It is a commonly held belief that the Dutch and the Germans, despite their geographical proximity, are two very different tribes, and this walk gives you the opportunity of forming your own opinion as to whether this is grounded in fact or, perhaps, in Dutch wishful thinking.
If you have never been to the area, the stage from Bentheim (in Germany) to Oldenzaal (in the Netherlands) may be your best bet. Bentheim is a charming border town with a castle and a Dutch-style windmill, and after about 6 km on the trail, you will cross the frontier just before the bridge across the small river Dinkel – the only clear outward sign that you are now in a different country is the change of the trail marker from the T (for Töddenweg) to the red-and-white square (the internationally common sign for major hiking trails).
Another 6 km or so after that, perhaps a little more, you will arrive in Oldenzaal, one of the prettier Dutch towns in the area. Oldenzaal has a history of more than 1000 years and was once a mighty fortress with walls, moats and towers. Nowadays, however, the town church is practically the only reminder of Oldenzaal’s medieval glory.
The place is small but charming and features some typically Dutch townscapes …
… some handsome 16th century buildings …
… and two lively weekend markets, one of which only offers local products including biological honey, vegetables and bread. They also sell either very small wooden shoes or very large cheeses.
Another good thing about Oldenzaal is that it is connected to the German rail network through the hourly Grenslandexpress train to Bentheim, which is why it is easy to reach and why we had picked Oldenzaal as the starting point for our exploration of the Marskramerpad to Hengelo.