National Geographic : 1970 Jul
Luxembourg, the Quiet Fortress When I got there, a visiting group of Swiss engineering students were just leaving, and they were laughing loudly. I asked Mr. Kinsch, "What's the joke?" "I will show you," he said. "You see, the computer is foolproof. It does not make mis takes, but sometimes the operators do, and ask it senseless questions. When that hap pened, we had programmed it to reply...." He showed me a piece of paper the computer had typed. It said: PAY ATTENTION YOUNG MAN. YOU ARE WASTING THE COMPANY'S PAPER. WE WILL REMEMBER THIS IN THE NEXT ADJUSTMENT OF YOUR SALARY. Mr. Kinsch added: "That is, it used to say that. But some of the operators didn't think it was very funny, so we reprogrammed it. Now it just types 'IDIOT.' They like that better. It's more friendly." Fewer Country Cousins Stay on the Farm I got into a conversation with Mr. Kinsch, the steel man, about farming, the country's main occupation before steel came in. "Would you like to visit a farm?" he asked. "I have a cousin who is married to a farmer." He added, "Everybody in Luxembourg has a cousin on a farm. We are still countrypeople." I accepted Mr. Kinsch's invitation, and be fore I went did some research. Luxembourg's agriculture is in a state of flux. It is the coun try's number 6 industry, after manufacturing, commerce, government services, transport, and construction. It produces 6 percent of the gross national product, employing 12 percent of the labor. Farms cover 335,000 acres, on which live 61,000 milk cows, 130,000 beef cattle, and 103,000 pigs. Ten years ago the average farm was 35 acres. Now it is 50 acres. Ten years from now it may be 75 acres. So the farms are expanding. It takes capital, produced by a combination of personal thrift and government help. Joseph Kinsch's cous in's husband is a modern farmer-not only ex panding but converting. His name is Emile Houtmann, and he lives near the village of Buschdorf With him and his wife I wandered over their 105 acres on a chilly fall afternoon. I picked my way through the mud and manure of the barnyard, inspected their three tractors, and admired their 100 head of cattle, most of them white charollais, raised for beef. "The farm was my grandfather's, then my father's," Mr. Houtmann told me. "It was a small operation, producing vegetables and milk-what I call poly-farming. We began the change-over to beef in 1962, but it has been a slow process. It takes time to build a herd. As it grows, I will need more land, but it is available." As Mr. Houtmann expands, some of his neighbors on smaller farms will discover (or their sons will discover) that they can make more money with less work by taking a job in industry. They will then want to sell or lease. Mr. Houtmann already leases 17 acres. Mrs. Houtmann showed me through their 91/2 -room house-joined to the barn, so that the white T-shaped building formed an im posing mansion. ("But we would not build it that way today," she said.) The house was, like all the Luxembourg houses I saw, spot less, comfortable, and modern on the inside, with a big freezer and an automatic dish washer in the kitchen. "Moonshining" Legal in Luxembourg Such conveniences cost money; yet the farm, in its transitional period, could not be very profitable. In any case Mr. Kinsch had tipped me in advance that Mr. Houtmann had another source of income to tide him over. It would be called, in the rural hills of the United States, "moonshining." I asked him about it. "Ah, my still," he said. "It is small, and old, but you may see it." He led me to a separate room in a corner of the barn. The still was bathtub-size, with a copper coil. In it Mr. Houtmann makes 4,000 liters (about 4,200 quarts) of liquor a year from assorted fruits and grain. There is even a "revenooer." Though Mr. Houtmann's moonshining is legal (there are Landlocked Gibraltar: Battlements atop the Bock, a 150-foot natural stone wall, offer a pan oramic view of Luxembourg City and the Alzette Valley. In the Middle Ages the fortifications protected the House of Luxembourg, a dynasty that gave Europe four Holy Roman Emperors. The castle grew into a vast network of walls and tunnels, creating one of Europe's great for tresses at a strategic crossroads of the continent. Then for 400 years warring powers, who other wise might have left the tiny duchy at peace, battled for control of the bastion. Finally in 1867 a conference of major powers guaranteed the nation's sovereignty and ordered the fort demolished. EKTACHROMEBY MARCELSCHROEDER© N.G.S.