Rest and Recreation in Times of War

Located right behind the war front, the BIE-region functioned as an important area for the German soldiers' rest and recreation. Many soldiers were quartered in Ingelmunster, Izegem and Lichtervelde for the duration of a few weeks.

During their stay, soldiers were expected to perform simple tasks: they had to attend to the maintenance of their clothes and weapons and were obliged to participate in military exercises. Apart from that, their time away from the front lines was spent on a wide range of relaxing activities. 

Music was a very popular pastime among the soldiers. At the Aimé Dupont-Bourgeois broom factory in Izegem, a music club was founded for German military drivers, mockingly given the nickname “Blekmuziek” by the local population. In Moorslede, the home of brewer René Denecker was converted into a rehearsal space, the “Musikhaus”.

Alternatively, soldiers had the opportunity to go to the pictures. Izegem’s movie theatre went by the name of “Flandria”, while the cinema in Lichtervelde was called “De Zwaan”. Every evening, “De Zwaan" featured a movie for a mixed audience of German soldiers and civilians, who all paid the same entrance fee. Likewise, community centre “Den Tap” in Ingelmunster opened its concert room to movie nights, attended by locals and soldiers alike. 

In the centre of Ingelmunster, festivals, parades and military tattoos were held. Such events were put on for the entertainment of the German officers in particular, while soldiers went on the razzle in the area around the railway station. Many inhabitants played into this trend, and it was not long before bars and hotels were opened in numerous houses along the station square. The Lepelstraat became infamous as the town’s red light district. To stop things getting out of hand, preventive measures had to be taken: on some nights a 7 pm closing time for pubs and bars was imposed. Occasionally, the Germans had to transport their "lewdly women" to Bruges. In March 1917, Germans soldiers in Ingelmunster and neighbouring towns were eventually forced to accommodate their “indecent girls” elsewhere, and many were put up in the local convent, among other places in the area. The house Vanooteghem in Ingelmunster, Café de la Station in Lichtervelde and Hof ter Driewegen in Hooglede were three local bars in which the most remarkable events of the day were discussed every evening. The goings-on in the German casinos, for instance, made a very popular topic for debate and gossip. 

Furthermore, Germans spent their time away from the front practicing sports like football and tug of war. Books could be bought in improvised bookshops, such as the one in guesthouse De Blauwvoet, Moorslede. Soldiers quartered in Izegem had a library with a reading room at their disposal in the Heilig-Hart Kerk.

Religious aspects of life were not put on hold during the war: soldiers had the opportunity to attend occasional services and masses. Christmas being an important holiday in German culture, festivities were organised by the military and opened to civilians. In the rooms of the Holy St. Germana, Roeselare, Christmas celebrations were held to which the local children were invited. Similarly, a large-scale Christmas festival with liquor, music, song and dance was put on in the town hall of Oekene. The Germans' elaborate celebration of Christmas during World War I marked the adoption of a German custom into Flemish culture: the Christmas tree. 

Towards the end of 1914, relations between the population of the BIE-region and the German soldiers slowly started to improve. Some civilians developed a bond with the soldiers quartered in their homes. In some cases, romance flourished between soldiers and civilians, sometimes resulting in marriage and children. Overall, the local population adapted quickly to life under German occupation. Many of them gained economic profit from the situation by opening shops with souvenirs, tobacco and food.