My hellish hometown

Moenen and Mariken. Woodcut from 1518.

Moenen and Mariken.
Woodcut from 1518.

I’m not very superstitious, I’m even less religious and I’m not in the least Norwegian. Even so, if given the choice, I’d rather not live on Devil Street, Beelzebub Crescent or Satan Square. But surely such names don’t exist, you may say – and what has Norway to do with it anyway?

You’re right: as far as I’m aware (I haven’t googled for fear of spoiling my story) there are no such overtly diabolically named streets. But this morning, while delivering some books to buyers here in Amersfoort, I came across Moenenstraat (MOO-nen-straht, Moenen Street). Moenen is a character from the late medieval play Mariken van Nieumeghen. Calling him the bad guy in the story would be understating it: he’s no less than the devil himself, the prince of darkness, the monarch of hell, evil incarnate. Moenenstraat – some street to live on!

Could the committee that decided on the name have had a different, altogether more good-natured Moenen in mind, one that I’ve never heard of? No such escape, I’m afraid, seeing that the neighbourhood is full of street names inspired by medieval literature. There is an Everyman Lane, a Ballade Avenue and more of the same ilk.

Incidentally, Amersfoort is good at bad street names. A few miles north of Moenenstraat, there is a Laan van Duurzaamheid or ‘Sustainability Avenue’: a straight, wide road without pedestrian crossings between houses without solar panels. Damn you, committee. Better call it Hypocrisy Heights.

And why should it matter that I’m not from Norway? It’s because the devil seems to be more present in swear words there than anywhere else in Europe. While speakers of most languages let off steam by invoking a divine being or the human body (its parts and excretions, its functions and malfunctions), Norwegians have a particular fondness for words like faen, satan, djævelsk and helvete (‘devil, ‘satan’, ‘devilish’ and ‘hell’). Which leads me to think that in the land of trolls and utepils, Moenen Street would not have found favour with any committee.

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