Young Writers, Old Works: Anke Verschueren on the Treaty of Münster

In the exhibition 80 Years’ War, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam looks back at the Revolt that led to the division of the Netherlands. At the request of deBuren, eighteen young Flemish and Dutch authors each bring an artefact from the exhibition back to life. Over the next few weeks you can read several of their stories in translation for the first time. Today ANKE VERSCHUEREN reflects on the Peace Treaty of Münster that marked the end of the 80 Years’ War.

Box for the Peace Treaty of Münster, 1648, with the peace treaty itself. Ratification of the Peace Treaty between the Netherlands and Spain, Nationaal Archief/Staten Generaal, public domain.

WHEN WEAPONS BECAME WORDS
It happened at Alter Steinweg 6 in Münster. There were ten of them and for the first time they stood round a table instead of face to face on a battlefield. Tired, starving and with the memory of many cobbled roads still burning in their bones, they had arrived in coaches. They talked to each other, ate steaming nettle soup and wrote me. Together. A treaty that tolerates only peace. With a newly-sharpened quill and fresh ink, which was only too keen to stick to the paper. Wanted to form my letters into words and sentences. With blank spaces in between for them finally to catch their breath. And at the very end: a full stop. A dark hole to hide and keep eighty years of misery in.
 
Still, I could be scrapped just like that. Torn up. Burnt. I had to be retained and since you can’t un-hear something, I had to be spoken. To as many ears as possible. Everyone gathered in the town hall. I was opened. A solemn oath was sworn and I was read aloud. Then I existed. Candlewax was melted and I was sealed. I was signed. As a home I was given a box made of tortoise leather.
 
I remained. I was sometimes reproached for that later. It was said that besides the land, I also tore the language in two. But mostly I gave it a lot.

For I am proud that we have two different words for ‘beautiful’ and two words for ‘nice’. That there are two words for ‘cup’ and for ‘sofa’. That on spring days there are two words for ‘dresses’, one of which can also be used to cover the floor. That there are two words for ‘oranges’ and ‘onions’. And ‘grapefruit’ may be ‘pompelmoes’. That you can use a PIN with your banker’s card and purchase things contactless with your PIN card. That all of you run (or should it be go?) around, with cell phones, smartphones and mobiles clamped to your ears. And with cases on wheels or are they ‘valiezen’. That ‘wisdom teeth’ can be translated in two different ways. That there are two different ways of saying ‘erase’. Two ways of saying ‘damn’. That between ‘in the morning’, ‘in the afternoon’ and ‘in the evening’ there are words for ‘before and after midday’. That junket and flat cheese and pudding and ‘vla’ don’t go in the microwave. Or in the ‘magnetron’, please, s.v.p. That there is more than one term for still and fizzy water. That there are two different ways of saying ‘I love you’. That ‘spijkerbroeken’ look like jeans but ‘duimspijkers’ like drawing pins. That there are umpteen ways of ordering a beer. Which only tastes right with chips and stew and curry sausages and hotdogs. That this is followed by the ‘washing up’, with dishcloths or tea towels. Everything must be cleaned/tidied. Scrubbed. With abrasives. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Sound and safe and safe and sound, that is general knowledge.
 
After eighty years’ suffering and struggle, I brought order, borders and peace. Weapons disappeared. Words appeared.
 

Anke Verschueren © Marianne Hommersom

Anke Verschueren (1994) takes her great love, language, with her everywhere. From paper to platform to podcast. She has a Master’s degree in Dutch and is now studying Creative Writing at the Royal Conservatory in Antwerp. She came third in the txt-on-stage competition Naft voor Woord 2017. In her spare time she adapts Medieval Dutch literature as audio stories, does voiceovers for commercials and sings.

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