Ladies and gentlemen,

Hopefully you will read and look at this site with
pleasure! At least I compiled it with pleasure!
There are 3 chapters. See the tabs above.
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site, by scrolling down.
The tip you can put on the saucer!

At high school we made an important discovery. If you're skipping
school with only a few guys, it is ‘playing truant’. If you do that
with the whole class, it is a ‘misunderstanding’. Occasionally we
treated ourselves to such a pleasant misunderstanding and once we
made a trip to the old Fort St. Pieter (1701) and to the caves deep
below it. To get in, we climbed with 32 studious schoolboys, the wall
of the fort. We did this at a very weather-beaten part on the southwest
wall. (Today restored. This story goes back to 1950). Because many
bricks were missing, the holes in the wall could be used as stairs.
That took a lot of courage, because the fort was high, but we would
rather drop dead than being a coward. (We stupid idiots! What put
that idea in our heads?)

Against the fort was a restaurant built. (Meanwhile pulled down).
If one of the waitresses saw us, a full alarm would be given, which
would mean the end of a nice tour. But the fort was pentagonal and
the wall we climbed was not visible from the restaurant. From the
top of the fort, a stone staircase brought us inside. It was as if
we entered a house through the attic, after having climbed the facade.
But the thick oak entrance-door was in the restaurant and there
certainly nobody would give us the key. The corridors we walked
through were mysteriously illuminated by around 150 shoot-holes in
the three meters thick walls. In the middle of the fort was a well,
forty meters deep to the water surface. In fact, it was an empty
factory chimney with a spiral staircase around it, without handrails
and with 100 clumsy steps. Just above the water, the stairs branched
off and brought us in the basement of the fort. This consisted of
several limestone tunnels, which gave access to the caves. By these
caves, reinforcements or ammunition could be brought to the fort,
in case of emergency, but by the same way, also an enemy might come
in. Therefore, a brick tube was made between the basement of the
fort and the caves. In times of war, probably a soldier was lying
there with a musket, like the tail shooter of an old bomber. Having
forgotten your password was there life-threatening.
It took a while before the 32 boys had crawled through that tube.
The tube ended in the caves, but at one and a half meter above the
floor. So you had to drop down with your arms stretched. (The life
of a schoolboy is not easy). Finally, we arrived in the caves,
better said in the ‘collapse area’.

French revolutionaries, who wanted to liberate Europe from
kings and nobles, arrived in Maastricht in 1793. But the
indignant nobility repelled them with the canons of the
fort. But a year later the French came back, with an army,
2½ times larger than the year before. (32,000 men). They had a
strategic plan and wanted to blow up the fort from the caves
underneath it. But their super explosion was not super enough.
However, the French left a lot of rubbish behind, which we had
to crawl over and under. To get lost in a cave with 145 miles of
tunnels, is life-threatening. But two boys claimed that they
knew the way and we were confident. After half an hour, our
two ‘guides’ had a nice surprise for us. They said that they
were lost unfortunately. (“Sorry, sorry!!”) Lost with a whole
class of truants!! Of course, nobody knew that we were in the
caves. How long would it take before someone would hit upon the
idea to look for us here? Perhaps we would have to sit in the
dark for a couple of days and nights, green from hunger and
shivering with cold. This would also have a bad impact on
our final term report. Our teachers were always very annoying.
They called us the ‘first war wave’ and looked upon our class
as a natural disaster. They had expected us to be a kind of
altar boys, but we had developed a strong survival instinct.
As sixteen-years-olds, we did not believe in lesson programs
at the level of crosswords, like logarithmic tables, remarkable
products and the abbreviations of 100 elements. The majority
of these facts we never would need in our lives, we knew.
About important things of life we heard no word. That we
had to figure out by ourselves and that was what we were
doing now.

Rationing the light was the first we had to do and three of the
four flashlights were switched off. In a hurry we pushed our way
in the direction of what would hopefully be the right one. Finally,
our ‘guides’ found accidentally the tube in the wall. We crawled
through it and with the last ray of light, we climbed the stairs.
Heavily gasping we came up. (40 meter is the equivalent of a building
with 12 floors). At that moment, we heard the sound of barking dogs.
Probably one of the waitresses had seen us at the beginning and had
told her boss that there were boys again in the fort. He had waited
quietly until we were up and then sent the dogs on us.
Like parachutists we jumped out through four big shoot-holes. While
I jumped, I realized how high it was there, but that saved us, because
the dogs, with their big mouths, did not dare to jump down so deep.
Hobbling with pain, we disappeared quickly.


Two weeks later the summer report came and we heard that 16 out of
32 boys had failed. When my father saw my report, with 12 seriously
insufficient marks, underlined in red, he decided to send me to a
boarding school, despite the fact that I had a very good mark for
drawing. The boarding school turned out to be very strict.

At the boarding school I became friends with Tom, who was very
interested in the fort. Because I knew the way there (not difficult)
I promised to take him on a tour during the next coming holydays:
the Christmas holydays. There were more boys interested, and so
the five of us went to the fort.

This time we did not go in via the weather-beaten, high wall,
but through one of the big shooting-holes for canons. That was
safer, because they were lower in the wall, but on the other
hand closer to the restaurant. We hoped that none of the
waitresses would see us enter. Because the interior of the fort
was weakly lit up by the narrow shooting-holes for muskets, I had
only brought a small flashlight with me. We did not intent to go
into the caves via the spiral staircase in the fortress. We were
just in when the thick oak entrance-door of the fort was opened
from the restaurant, with a lot of noise. Apparently, somebody had
seen us climb in. We heard male voices, probably the owner and a
waiter. They certainly would not welcome us with a bunch of flowers
and so we hasted away. With the help of the flashlight I pushed Tom
towards the interior of the fort, to the well and the spiral staircase
around it. Quickly we ran down, wondering where the three others
were. Fortunately, one of them knew the way in the fort. After we
had gone down some twenty steps, we stopped and I switched off the
light. The well was an empty, 40m deep, brick chimney and the water
was only deep below us. Weathering had created holes in the tube.
Looking down from the wellhead, you might see light through these
holes, when somebody walked with a lamp on the spiral staircase.
So we stood still in the dark. Undoubtedly the two men were bending
now over the edge of the well, watching and listening. Fortunately,
I did not have to explain anything to Tom, an experienced boarding
school boy. We were standing near such a hole and we heard the men
talk and curse. To our horror, we suddenly heard the sound of their
footsteps. They came down the stairs and we became very scared.
Shortly after the war, it was quite normal in our neat Roman Catholic
High School for Boys that the still adrenaline-filled teachers boxed
the students’ ears in front of the class, if they were not interested
in the useless school subjects. What could we expect from these two
figures in this remote place? Their frustrations, caused by many
unsuccessful pursuits in the fort, would be paid back to us with
interest. Going further down the worn- out staircase without railing,
in complete darkness, would involve risk of life and if we used t
he flashlight they would see us through the holes. We could do little
more than fiercely hope that the men would turn around in time,
assuming that nobody was here. But, they were approaching more
and more. With our heart racing, we pressed ourselves against the
stone tube. A beam of light came around the corner... it nearly
brushed our backs... and then the men stood still...
"There is no one here," one of them mumbled and they went up again.
For safety’s sake they shouted into the well that they would send
the dogs after us. Then it went silent.

The good news was that the three other boys had had enough time to
flee through a big shoot-hole. The bad news was that we did not
dare to go upstairs. We had to continue downwards into the depths
where a lot of troubles would be waiting. The first problem was my
flashlight. Would the small battery survive such a long journey?
We would need a lot of time to pass through the collapsed area in
order to reach the undamaged tunnels and from there we would have
to walk to another exit. This exit was always closed by a gate, but
the lock could be opened without a key from the inside. Fortunately,
a couple of boys had shown me the way in that part of the caves, in
the summer vacation, before I went to the boarding-school. Out of
necessity and with regret, we went down the stairs, crawled through
the brick tube, arrived in the collapsed area, where we climbed over
the stone blocks. I decided not to save the battery of the flashlight
in that area, because there the possibility to get lost would be the
biggest. (The picture below is of a later date. We had other things to
do than making photos!) Fortunately, the three other boys could tell
everybody where they should search for us, if we would not come home
that night. With faces streaming with sweat we climbed and crawled
over and under the stone blocks. Then we reached a place where a huge
block had


fallen down and got stuck between the two walls of the tunnel.
It had the size of a bicycle-shed. I was kind of happy when I saw
that block, because it proved that we were on the right way. But I
was not completely happy.
The passage between the block and the floor was so low, that if you
crawled under it, you heard the rubbing noise of your clothes.
Especially in the middle of the block it took a lot of self-control
not to panic. You felt as if you were on a guillotine. For Tom this
was his first time, but he behaved damn well and followed in silence.
After a while, when we could walk upright in the undamaged tunnels,
we discovered that we had asked too much of the flashlight. It was
still burning, but very weakly. We decided to save up the last bit of
light as a reserve.
Fortunately, Tom had a lighter, which we could use for light. After a
while the lighter's flame was getting smaller and finally it went out.
This was a very difficult moment!! But as we tried to activate the
lighter we discovered that the spark of the flint produced a short
bright white light. Because I knew the way there, I decided to try
to continue by the light of sparks. What else I could do?
At every spark, the environment was illuminated for a split-second.
Then I stopped and thought for a moment of what I saw... The corridor
made a turn to the right....
So, we might be there?? Or there…?? A check with another spark.
Yes! I was right! Next, I clasped Tom by the arm and we took five
steps in the deep black darkness.


Then the next spark. To our surprise it worked! We walked on sparks!
Only at crossings I shortly used the flashlight. Our speed was very,
very slow, but finally arrived at the exit gate and came out. There we
had to take a long walk to return to the civilization, once more in the
dark, because the winter-sun had already gone home. The three other
boys were waiting for us in the bedroom of one of them. They were
relieved when we appeared hours later. As the two men were shouting
into the well, they seized the opportunity to jump out of a loophole.
In the meantime, they had been in doubt whether they should ask for
help, but did not know when and where. It had been a very pleasant
afternoon, humoristic and yet funny, but for the time being, I was
fully cured of the fortress and the cave. Only fifty years later I
would return here.

After my retirement, I had not enough money to pay alimony. I forced
myself to sit every day one hour at the table with a writing bloc in
front of me. How to get hold of enough money? Every idea, no matter
how ridiculous, was noted and looked at later. After a few weeks I
knew it: become guide in the caves! Of course this was also a
ridiculous idea, but that suited me! After an interview with the
director of the Tourist Office, I was introduced to Eduard, the head
of the guides. He was to teach me the way under the ground. Before
Eduard was starting, he tested me. At least, I felt like that. He
told me the most horrible stories e.g. about making up the cash-desk,
problems with the alarm-system how to correct errors on the computer,
how to calculate a group discount. He pointed out which doors the
tourists should use to go to the toilet and which doors were not
allowed to use. Then he showed how to fill and pump a gasoline lamp,
how to replace mantles and where the fire extinguisher was hanging.
He showed me leaflets in different languages, including Japanese.
He also talked about pink, yellow and white vouchers, about a counter
to register the number of visitors and about lists that should be
filled in every day. After that, he looked at me to see how my
reaction was to this horrific summary. But even an ice-cream man has
to fill in papers until deep into the night, I thought. If I was too
lazy for that, I should go to an old people’s home. When Eduard
noticed that I was not broken, he seemed reassured and lit a gasoline
lamp. (Nowadays we use electric lamps).
On my way to the cave-entrance, some hundred meters walking, I enjoyed
the view of the city, seen from the ‘Saint Pietersberg’. This I would
see for free at any tour. Eduard told me that Maastricht had about one
hundred guides. Fifty for city tours. The others work underground in
the caves, the fort or the casemates. Arrived in the caves, we made a
small tour of the tunnels. How was it possible that I ever knew the way
here? At least, in a small part of the caves. For fifty years I had not
been there and I was worried that I had forgotten a lot. To my surprise,
I discovered my own name, neatly written on a wall, and with the year:
1952. Exactly 50 years ago.
When we had returned to the starting point, we made another tour, but
this time I had to show the way. Of course I was lost within a minute.
Eduard showed me different identifying marks: a hole, a deep scratch, a
number, a curve and of course the shape of the tunnels. There are no
more identifying marks available. The next day I came back and again we
walked underground for two hours. That's how it went for days. Finally I
was allowed to walk ahead with the lamp. At every crossing I stopped for
a few seconds until Eduard stood next to me. That was important, because
the points of his shoes, at which I looked secretly, were usually in the
right direction. To my surprise, I did not get lost this time, though it
was clear that I had to know the way also without Eduard's shoes.
Finally I was able to do that and I was very happy. This happiness
collapsed, when Eduard gave me the next assignment: "Now make the same
round, but in the opposite direction." After a hundred meters I lost my
way. I was amazed. Everything looked completely different now. The light
was different, the shadows were different ... I had to learn this version
of the same way as well. Then Eduard taught me a route for wheelchair users.
Slowly I started to get dizzy from all information, but Eduard was satisfied.
I knew the way well enough to walk alone in the caves, he said and he gave
me the advice to do this more often from now on. But before doing that, I
had to tell one of the guides that I was going in, to prevent that I would
have to stay in the caves, lonely and lost during a whole night, without
anyone knowing it. (At home only the hungry cat Pim would be waiting for me).
When walking there alone, impressed by the silence, the darkness and the
loneliness, I saw in the side-corridors at every turn, monks ducking away
in black habits and black hoods. These were only shadows of walls and
pillars. Suddenly, I heard a soft chirping. Eduard told me what it was:
mating bats. Those are coming in the winter when there are no mosquitos
left outside. They hang in places from the ceiling, preferably in high
corridors and in areas where no people come. Shortly after that, I saw white
ghosts. What were we in for now? I stopped and the ghosts moved slowly in
my direction. They turned out to be seven women from India, in long white
robes, and with white headscarves. I had not seen the guide in his dark
jacket. Then came the biggest fright of that day: the discovery that I was
lost. For a short moment I was seized by panic. What now? Eduard had not
taught me this! I thought deeply, put the lamp on the ground and thought
again. Then I walked into a tunnel with only my flashlight. There was nothing
I recognized. I walked back to the gasoline lamp and took another tunnel.
In the third tunnel I recognized a drawing on the wall and I knew the way
again. Eduard should never know that I had been lost. He might want to
extend the training with some weeks and all that time I would not get any
salary, while I needed every penny. A week later, I received a thick file
filled with documents showing all the events that had happened in the caves
over the centuries. In this way, new guides can put together a bouquet of
stories to their own taste.


Finally, I was ready for the exam, which was held by Eduard and
the director of the Tourist Office. To my alarm, the tourists I
had to guide, during an hour, were Americans. I had to do my exam
in English! But I passed! Later I also became a guide in the caves
of Zonneberg (a bit further in St. Pieterberg) and in the Fort.
Since 2002, I've been making about 4000 people laugh every year and
that has never bored me! Of course, there are also dramatic stories
to tell, but these reinforce each other. My colleagues are special
but reliable types with a great sense of togetherness, so I feel at
home in this world. Especially because my girlfriend Christina, whom
I had met meanwhile, also became a cave-guide. In this ‘work’ you
have to walk and talk a lot and therefore I feel younger every year.
The alimony made me rich!

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