For 2.5 cents per bucket, Grosbeek chose his hands blue in the summer

Summer in Grosbeek, it was for children from poor families: with a bucket in the forest to pick berries. Prior to that, schools closed a few weeks ago.

Fleur de Boys

When I was bored during summer vacation, my grandfather always told me that he never vacationed as a boy. He already had a day off from school, but had to pick blueberries with his brothers and sisters. This extra income was badly needed to keep the family of twelve children going. They set out before daylight to find the best picks in the woods and did not return home until late afternoon with buckets full of blueberries and blue hands.

Thanks to my grandfather, I once again learned that being bored is a luxury. And plunged into more carelessness in the summer slowdown.

My mother’s father, Theo Eigchot, was from the village of Groesbeek on the German border near Nijmegen. He grew up in ‘t Vilje – a slum in Groesbeek – near Stekkenberg. His father widowed early and was left with six young children. He married a widow from the village and had six children. This mixed family had to make ends meet.

Love-hate relationship

My grandfather passed away over thirty years ago. But his story about berries has always stayed with me. It reminds me of fairy tales about poor children, which I loved reading as a girl. Hansel and Gretel And the girls with matches. I see my grandfather as a small child sitting in the woods, squatting next to the bush growing on the ground. When we walked with him through the woods, he would always point to them. Like many Groesbekers who were forced to choose as a child, my grandfather had a love-hate relationship with berries. He loved blueberry muffins, but blue-violet berries also reminded him of the extreme poverty of his childhood.

Groesbeek borders Reichswald, a sloping forested area that extends into Kranenburg and Kleve. “We refer affectionately to our father,” says field biologist Henny Brinkoff. He is an active member of the Environmental Management Working Group at Groesbeek. “The forest fed generations of Groesbekers with berries, chestnuts and mushrooms. Houses were warmed with twigs and pinecones.”

I would like to ask my grandfather more about that time, but unfortunately that is no longer possible. Fortunately, there is Jan Midendorp from Heemkundekring Groesbeek. He knows a lot about history and knows almost everyone in the village. “There are only a few people left who can tell what blueberries used to be like.”

Fleur de Boys (1970) journalist. She was, among other things, editor-in-chief of the newspapers The Hague and Harlem, and as a press officer for the PvdA faction in the House of Representatives. She currently works as a Senior Communications Consultant at the Verwey-Jonker Institute in Utrecht.

“Everything is full, except our game”

One of them is 96-year-old Mintje Driessen. My father died of pneumonia in 1932 and my mother was left with six children ranging in age from one to eight. I was the eldest. My mother got 12 guilders and 50 cents a month in aid. And she managed, she was not only frugal, but also creative. We were always well dressed and elegantly dressed. My mother was very good at sewing. They thought that was suspicious and were cut. Since then, she has had to deal with 10 guilders. That’s why we cut our hands blue in the summer. For one bucket, I got 2.5 cents. ”

From Groesbeek Station – there has been a railway since 1865 – trains filled with berries run to Germany. It was made into jam. The berry was also transported to England by boat, and due to its high content of vitamin C, it was an addition to the diet of the miners. Blueberries were also common locally. Bottles of raspberry juice were a constant value in the Dutch pantry. Groesbeek was the blueberry center in the Netherlands until the 1950s.

In the New Apeldoorn Courant It can be read on Saturday, June 19, 1915: “As soon as the berries ripen in Grosbeek, attacks of berry fever begin there. Despite compulsory education, the school empties in the least possible time. Everyone should go to the forest.


Blueberry baskets in the railroad yard, circa 1920.picture

Cor Janssen remembers the song they sang in the afternoon when they came home with buckets full of blueberries. “Everything is full, everything is full, except for our Buukskes.” 91-year-old Groesbeck hums her voice in the big house where she lives with her husband, Geert. She can bring back the hunger and exhaustion they brought home after a long day of picking. “My mother used to make us “Wasper cakes” of crushed blueberries, and good berries were immediately passed on to the buyers. We were distributing very carefully, the berries were stripped of branches and leaves. I promptly paid you in cents. ”

To allow you to choose a “blueberry character”. There were people who filled their buckets without a permit, says Geert Janssen. “If the guard caught you, the punishment was harsh. I once saw the guard emptying the bucket right in front of a friend. Picking up half a day for nothing.”

Blueberries have long been chosen by the Groesbekers for their own use. Every family stocked up in the summer. The healing powers are attributed to the small dark blue berries. “Your mother gave you berries instead of aspirin,” Cor Janssen remembers well. It was canned so we could eat it all year round. Sugarless. They were so exhausted that you immediately forgot you were sick.”

Hooray, it’s raining!

Since the schools emptied when the berries ripened, a special blueberry holiday was held in Grosbeek. “We were free two weeks earlier than our counterparts in Nijmegen. If it rained for one day, we were glad because at that time we didn’t have to choose,” says Gert. And when the berry bushes were picked at the end of July, the potatoes had to be dug up. Children were also used for this. “You’ve been working really hard all summer,” Kaur says. “It’s hard to explain this to today’s youth.”

During World War II, exports were largely halted. The Groesbekers had other things on their mind than picking blueberries. On Sunday 17 September 1944, thousands of Allied paratroopers landed at Grosbeek for Operation Market Garden. Had it been successful, World War II would have ended before Christmas 1944. But the attack failed and Grosbeek was on the front line until early February. The village was badly damaged.

The best anti-aging medicine

The war in Ukraine brings back memories of those tough times for Kaur and Geert Janssen. “Everything would pop up again. I was afraid when the sirens went off and I had to hide in the basement. Sometimes we don’t sleep well.” Near where their apartment is now, planes took off to bomb German targets. “This used to happen mostly at night. And then we would give these English and Canadian pilots a handful of blueberries before takeoff. Because we think that helped fight night blindness.” French researchers have provided scientific evidence that berries improve night vision.

In the mid-1950s, the blueberry holiday was lifted. Blueberries are no longer profitable, and exports have collapsed. Because of social arrangements, harvesting was no longer necessary for poor families. School offices remained full. But it remained occupied in the forests of Groesbeek for many years in the summer. Especially with fun collectors.

Cor Janssen still has a box with last year’s harvest in the freezer. She and her husband no longer choose themselves. “But there are always neighborhoods that bring something.”

Her husband still walks for an hour every day in the woods, which begins largely in his backyard. “The best anti-aging medicine.”

Bald spots in the woods

Field biologist Henny Brinkoff actually wandered into Wald as a child and later made it his profession. A worried frown appears on his face as he talks about how hard it has been to berries grapes in recent decades. “I almost disappeared from Grosbeek.”

This is due to a combination of circumstances. The Vaccinium myrtillus – The Latin name for blueberries – it is native to North America and does well in poor soils. When the mulberry bush was planted near Grosbeek around 1850, there were many bare spots in the woods due to felling of trees. For this purpose, spruce trees were replaced for work, and thus the ideal bio-environment for blueberries was created. Spruce lets in a lot of light, so the berries can ripen well. But in recent decades, these Staatsb have planted more deciduous trees as they block out the light in summer. Intensive farming and livestock farming in Gelderse Vallei also cause an increase in nitrogen deposited in nature. All in all very disastrous for blueberries.

Miss Blueberry is now the Queen of Wine

Brinkhof now works in a picking forest in Groesbeek where, among other things, the blueberries will be restored to their full glory. But for now, it did not include Staatsbifestheer and Groesbeek City Council. “They don’t feel like it. They think the forest is a place of recreation, you can buy berries from the supermarket.” There are also cranberries on sale, which we all put in yogurt porridge, smoothies or oatmeal. This big brother is grown blueberries and isn’t half as tasty.

Global warming also has benefits. In Groesbeek you see vineyards on more and more slopes. In the summer, the beautiful Groesbeekse is no longer declared Miss Blueberry, but a new Wine Queen is crowned each year.

My grandfather left Groesbeek and ‘t Vilje after World War II, went to work at the Philips light bulb factory in Nijmegen, married my grandmother and raised a family. But with his jet-black hair and dark complexion, he was always going to be “that black Groesbeek”.

In Cor and Geert Janssen’s living room, that description strikes like a flash of lightning. “So your grandfather must have been my neighbor’s boy,” Gert said. “I have visited often. Warm family. With twelve mouths to feed, they were not wealthy, but they were generous nonetheless. There was always a mark added to me.”

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