Longer articles about living in the Netherlands, Dutch society, culture and travel plus third party content from our partners


The bison are back: rewilding the Dutch dunes brings back a mega beast

The bison are back: rewilding the Dutch dunes brings back a mega beast

Hunted to near-extinction by the 1920s, European Bison clung to survival in a handful of zoos. Thanks to continent-wide conservation programmes, Europe’s largest megafauna now roams wild in one of its most densely populated regions: the Randstad. Joshua James Parfitt has been bison spotting. I stand gazing out over the dune slacks, as the sun sets orange behind apartment blocks in the distance. Within earshot, a motorbike noisily chases fame or fun at the Zandvoort race track. Distant cars zoom by in their monotonous growl; it seems that nowhere in the Netherlands is safe from the sights and sounds of civilisation. But, behind me, a blond-haired child steps cautiously between tufts of grass as if stalking something. I turn to the child and open my mouth to ask... 'Shhh!' the retort comes rapidly. He hides behind a clump of marram grass. 'The bison are here!' he proclaims, wide-eyed. The boy had good reason to be afraid. As Europe’s largest land mammal, a full-grown bull can weigh 1,000 kilogrammes, and its shoulders can tower at a height of up to two metres. That’s twice his height — something he probably already figured out while standing in front of the stuffed bull at the Kennemerduinen Visitor’s Centre just outside Haarlem. But that doesn’t answer a different question: what in the world are bison doing here? The fall of the bison The European bison is one of two living species of bison. Many of us may be acquainted with the bisons of North America — which were hunted to near-extinction in the 19th century. That’s America, though, with its grizzly bears, ‘wild west’, and Super Size cups; this is Western Europe. Records indicate that the European bison once roamed this continent, from Russia in the east to France in the west. In fact, it was still present in southern France up until the 15th century. Expanding agriculture, civilisation, and hunting eventually pushed the European bison from much of its former range until it survived in just two forested enclaves: the Białowieża Forest in Poland, and the Caucasus region on the Russian border with Georgia. Retreating German soldiers slaughtered all but nine animals in Poland after WWI — they were locally finished off by 1921 — and the last European bison was hunted down in the Caucasus in 1927. The bison were gone. Rewilding Often the source of criticism from the environmentally-inclined, it was the zoo that saved European bison from extinction. From a starter pack of 12 animals held in captivity, they now number close to 5,000. After their reintroduction into the Białowieża Forest in 1952, Poland has now exported their bison to 14 European countries. One of the smallest countries hosting a bison herd is the Netherlands. Here, the megafauna can be seen in the Hoge Veluwe national park in Gelderland, the Maasthorst nature reserve in Noord-Brabant, and in the Zuid-Kennemerland national park in Haarlam — tucked inside the densely-populated Randstad metropolis. So, how did it happen? Much of the fuss is to do with the word ‘rewilding’. Whereas the environmental movement is clear about what they are against — fossil fuels, plastic pollution, hydroelectric dams etc... — English journalist and advocate George Monbiot says that rewilding is the movement’s chance to declare 'what we are for'. Rewilding means the rehabilitation of nature; not just the gazetting of national parks, but the restoration of ecosystems and the food chains therein. Wolves '[Wolves] always excite me,”' says Yvonne Kemp, an ecologist at ARK — the organisation who ‘own’ the bison herd in the Zuid-Kennemerland national park. 'We’ve had a wolf coming [to the Netherlands] since 2013, and whenever we see that a wolf has been near — especially when there are no sheep kills or angry opinions — then, that’s great!' Before you run for the hills (which you can’t really escape to in the Netherlands anyway) the wolves only briefly cross over from the German border. The presence of bison, however, is not just something to excite ecologists and frighten the rest of us. According to Yvonne, European bison are known as a ‘keystone species’ that engineer greater biodiversity just by, well, being themselves. According to the ‘Revitalising Dunes in Kennemerland’ report by PWN, the water company who own the parkland, by the 1930s dune birds such as the short-eared owl, the golden oriole, and the red-backed shrike were racing towards local extinction. Insects Noting the installment of artificial dune barriers and the encroachment of non-native vegetation, the blame was placed upon the decline of a common food source: specialist insects that need patches of open sand in a shifting dunescape to survive. 'Bison open up the area,' continues Yvonne, 'they wallow a lot, so with this behaviour all year long you can see very much local patches of sand so pioneer vegetation [and insects] have a chance again.' Since they also debark shrubs and trees, and encourage the dispersal of native grasses through their manure, the bison are essentially bringing back the original biodiversity for free. Trail There are currently 22 European bison in the enclosed Kraansvlak section of the Zuid-Kennemerland national park. It lies between Haarlem and Zandvoort, and can easily be reached by car and public transport. For the time-constrained, there is a viewing area overlooking a small lake — Meertje van Burdet — that can be reached in 30 minutes by foot from the Kennemerduinen Visitor’s Centre. It’s not likely you will see the bison from here, but I suppose it was my lucky day! For the intrepid, there is a 1.4 km path known as the ‘bison trail’ that cuts across the Kraansvlak enclosure from Bloemendaal aan Zee, and is simply that: a trail. As may be frowned at by visitors from more protective societies, the Dutch do not always put fences around their canals; neither do they fence off their bison paths. Since the Polish migrants were first released from their long-haul journey in 2007, there has not yet been a bison-human incident, I was assured. However, a shifting rota of volunteers patrol the trail making sure that no one strays from the well-marked trail just in case. There is a catch involved: the trail closes on the March 1 until September 1, on account of the migrant bird-nesting season. So, if you would like to traverse the up-and-down dunes, with your heart rate beating as much from the physical exercise as the excitement of maybe seeing Europe’s largest megafauna round the next hill, get down to Haarlem quick!  More >


From 3D selfies to replica engagement rings, Local Makers can bring your product to life

If you can’t find the product you need, you might like to create it yourself. We visited Local Makers, the product design team who are serving a growing market for self-made solutions. Amsterdam product development company Local Makers have had some odd commissions. These include a home enema kit, a hand-painted 3D-printed model of a clitoris for a science programme, and the VU University Medical Center once got in touch regarding a special holder for an anal probe. All of these items were duly discussed, designed and brought to life. Whatever product people want to create, the answer is almost always ‘yes’. Many of Local Makers’ products are made of plastic or metal, but they also work with apps and other digital products. The team can insert circuit boards and motors or add robotic features. They offer 3D FDM printing, where the plastic is melted in fine layers at between 200 and 300 degrees, and SLA printing where liquids are set by UV light. With all these tools, getting a product to market - however unusual - is quicker and more straightforward than ever before. A team on your side ‘Having an idea is easy, execution is the hardest part of it,’ says company director Mark Austen from the UK, who founded Local Makers in 2014. ‘We make this process simple and we make it an enjoyable experience for the customer.’ The team of talented designers, who make the magic happen, is predominantly female. ‘This is really rare in product development,’ says Austen, who claims that the sector is normally full of ‘geeky guys’. Lead designer Lisa Klaever from Germany recognises the importance of working closely with clients and listening carefully to their vision for their product. The designer’s role is to understand, interpret, and adapt the client’s idea, she explains, while all the time guiding the customer through a process which is ‘really hard’ and ‘a huge thing for them.’ Local Makers is unusual in offering a one-stop-shop solution for people, says Austen. ‘If you, the customer, have an idea for something; you need to find a way to put it on paper; you need someone who can do a technical drawing; then you need a 3D design for manufacturing; then you need a mould engineer; … then you need to do all the logistics for that, and if something goes wrong on that chain, it’s really stressful for the entrepreneur. But now, the entrepreneur can just come to us and if something goes wrong, they shout at us and we know exactly what to do.’ Working in partnership with a huge network of experts, the team can outsource any special requests clients have, such as mass production, metal printing, SLS (selective laser sintering) or injection moulding. They can also advise on website design, patenting and branding. Product design is for everybody The company’s customers come from all walks of life, from a boxer making a jaw trainer, to a man wanting a plastic replica of an expensive engagement ring to see if his girlfriend, who had frequently criticised his cheapness, could make light of this failing before he presented her with the real version. What they have in common is a vision and the desire to create something original. When you shop in a high street store, explains Austen, you come out with an item that has been produced for thousands of buyers. ‘You’re unique, but what you do isn’t unique, what you wear isn’t, what you buy isn’t. All these gifts, they’re just not special. People want to have choice and they want to have them customised for them. 3D printing and small-scale manufacturing is becoming cheaper and allows for that sort of customisation for people.’ One example of this is the 3D-printed selfie, popular with families seeking small models of their children or their baby bump, often as a present for the grandparents. The Delft-style hand-painted houses are also doing well. Originally commissioned as a corporate gift for KLM's most frequent flyers, the trend has widened, with customers outside the company designing printed models of their own homes. Local and global clients Despite big name clients like Adidas, Schiphol Airport and Starbucks, the team pride themselves on their personalised approach, meeting the needs of the newbie entrepreneur who happens to have a great idea, as well as the industry leaders with big budgets, seeking a specific product to streamline their operations or to award as a bespoke corporate gift. ‘What makes us special is that we’re accessible,’ explains Austen. ‘It doesn’t cost you anything to tell us your idea. That’s why we’re on the high street and we’re not in an office in Sloterdijk. Anybody can approach us. You don’t have to be Schiphol airport, you can be John Smith, you can be anybody.’ Following his clients’ success stories brings huge job satisfaction. Austen gives the example of Foam Locus, a device which makes foaming milk less wasteful, which last year scooped the Speciality Coffee Association’s Best New Product award. ‘These are people who’ve had ideas for a long, long time and, until they came to us, they had no idea that it was so simple to make,’ says Austen. ‘These guys, from an idea, they now have a business. And I think that’s really special.’ Got a great idea that you'd like to put into practice? Contact the Local Makers team to find out more.  More >


It’s Valentine’s Day. Here’s 11 reasons why you need a Dutch boyfriend

It’s Valentine’s Day. Here’s 11 reasons why you need a Dutch boyfriend

It's Valentine's Day, something a few years ago no self-respecting Dutch man or woman would think worthy of mention. Alas, this Anglo-American celebration of Cupid has become latest foreign fad to get the commercially-minded Dutch going. Not everyone has fallen for the marketing hype, however. A survey by ING economists in 2016 found just one in five Dutch people planned to give their loved one a Valentine's Day gift and the average amount they spend is €16. We admire their thriftiness. Here's 11 more reasons why Dutch partners need to be celebrated. 1. A Dutch boyfriend will give you flowers - even if you don't live in the same country. One member of the DutchNews.nl crew was the envy of all her flatmates in London while in a long-distance relationship with a Dutchman. Every week, a beautiful bouquet of flowers would be delivered to her door. 2. A Dutch boyfriend will treat you as an equal and won't patronise you by paying for everything. So don't forget your purse when you go on a date. 3. Dutch men are not afraid to wear pink. The Ajax football club pink kit from the 2013-14 season is still a much sought-after item. 4. A Dutch boyfriend will not tell you that you look fine in that too-tight dress worn with those shoes. He will tell you that you should put something else on. 5. Dutch men are tall - mostly - and often handsome. 6. A Dutch boyfriend knows how to fix your bike, fix your coffee machine and fix your dinner (stamppot). 7. A Dutch boyfriend knows how to do all those Dutch things that you don't learn about in inburgering classes: read the water meter, tip the newspaper delivery people and get adequate insurance. 8. Dutch boyfriends are down-to-earth about bedroom issues and they are not afraid of contraception. Little wonder then that the Netherlands has the lowest rate of teenage motherhood in the entire EU and one of the lowest abortion rates in the world. 9. When they are ready to embrace fatherhood, usually in their early 30s, Dutch boyfriends make great fathers. Go to any park in the Netherlands on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and you are sure to find a good sprinkling of dads and their offspring, enjoying what has become known as a papadag. 10. Dutch boyfriends are family-orientated. They will expect to celebrate your birthday and they will expect you to celebrate their mother's. 11. Your Dutch boyfriend will put you on the back of a bike and whizz you through town. Dutchmen not romantic? Nonsense. Before anyone gets indignant about our focus on Dutch men, the DutchNews.nl male team members tell us almost all of the above could be applied to Dutch women... although pink is usually confined to little girls. *Riding it Dutch Style features Rutger Hauer and Monique van der Ven from the classic Dutch film Turks Fruit.  More >


Dutch News Podcast – The F**k the King Edition – Week 6

Dutch News Podcast – The F**k the King Edition – Week 6

This week's podcast brings you the latest on the Brexit court case in Amsterdam, the race row engulfing the Forum voor Democratie and the party leader whose career capsized in the Maldives. The Dutch government replaces the leaders of its smallest Caribbean territory and Ronald Koeman replaces Dick Advocaat as manager of the national football team. Plus we look ahead to the Winter Olympics and ask if Dutch skaters will dominate the ice rink again in Pyeongchang. Top story British expats win case to have EU citizenship status decided in Luxembourg British applications for Dutch nationality surge following Brexit vote News Baudet challenged over race remarks and party democracy   Dutch government imposes direct rule on 'corrupt, lawless' Sint Eustatius Jobs section withdrawn from Dutch integration test Compulsory microchips could be introduced for cats Sport Ronald Koeman signs on as manager of Oranje Discussion: Winter Olympics Dutch take own bitterballen chef to Pyeongchang Johann Olav Koss condemns IOC and WADA for doping 'farce' NOS schedule detailing when all Dutch athletes are competing Google map showing different countries' favourite Winter Olympics sports    More >


DutchNews.nl destinations: getting windblown in winter on Texel

DutchNews.nl destinations: getting windblown in winter on Texel

In the winter, a wander along a blustery Texel beach is a popular way to blow the cobwebs away - lekker uitwaaien, as the Dutch would say. Robin Pascoe visited the biggest of the Wadden Sea islands. Just a few minutes by ferry from the navy town of Den Helder, Texel's regular population of over 13,000 is constantly inflated by a steady stream of holidaymakers all year round, mainly from the Netherlands and Germany. Texel is a something for everyone kind of place. The dune landscape is a haven for bird life and around one third of the island is a designated nature reserve. In the summer, tourists flock to its enormous sandy beaches, and the popular west coast villages of De Koog and De Cocksdorp, where most of the holiday villages and hotels are located. Despite Texel's popularity, it is easy to escape the crowds - but you will need to book the more popular restaurants in the evening. The local tourist office, which is extremely helpful, has a very comprehensive website in English. Things to do Museum Kaap Skil Oudeschild, the little fishing port on the south east coast, is home to the Museum Kaap Skil. The story of the Texel adventurers is told in vivid detail in the basement, while upstairs is case upon case of 'treasure' reclaimed from the surrounding seas. Outside, you can visit a working mill, several traditional fishermen's cottages and a warehouse containing part of a massive collection of finds made by beachcombers which is truely bizarre. Lots to entertain children as well. The Slufter The Slufter is a nature reserve on the west of the island, covering a large area of dune, marsh and sandbanks and populated by a huge variety of bird life. In total, the Slufter covers about 700 hectares, but that includes a huge stretch of tidal flats. There are several guided walks of different lengths and a wheelchair ramp down to the walkway for the less able bodied. Lighthouse The red lighthouse nestling in the dunes at the northern end of the island is open to the public, if you can climb the 118 steps to the gallery. The view, even on a rainy day, is stunning. There are two nice restaurants nearby where you can escape the wind and have a big bowl of pea soup instead. Wezenspyk A dairy farm with a cheese shop, plus a short guided walk across the polder to a traditional and restored Texel barn - you will see these distinctive barns all over the south of the island - so its interesting to get a peek inside. Wezenspyk has won prizes for its Texel sheep and goats cheese and we did, of course, buy them on the premises to bring home. Ecomare This combination of a sea life rescue centre and natural history museum is situated on the western side of the island and is a permanent home to two porpoise and some 15 seals which can no longer be released into the wild. The aquariums have a wide variety of native sea life - see how many flat fish you can spot - while the museum section includes the skeletons of several whales and other strange creatures which have washed up on the shore. Great for kids. Where to eat Texel has its fair share of snack bar/pancake/burger and chips joints, as any holiday destination, but it also has some highly rated eateries as well. Top of the bill is fish restaurant T' Pakhuus on the harbour front in Oudeschild which is described by Lekker magazine as a 'culinary pearl' but was fully booked when we were on the island. We had a perfectly respectable, if somewhat noisy, steak and chips dinner De Kastagneboom in Den Burg, the main town, and a very good four-course meal with local fish and lamb - and  their own liqueurs - in Topido, De Cocksdorp. We can also recommend lunch at beach bar Paal 17, even in winter. Where to stay There are hotels galore and the Texel tourist office has a wide range of privately-owned holiday houses and an easy to use website in English. We stayed at Vijverhof on the edge of a forest, which has a large, secluded garden, solar panels and sleeps up to 12. If you are renting a holiday house, check whether the price includes final cleaning, sheets and towels and energy costs. These are often added on as extras.  How to get there Drive, take the train or a bus to the ferry terminal in Den Helder, then take the ferry. It's an hourly service - every 30 minutes in peak periods - and you can't book. A return ticket costs €2.50 per person and €18.20 for a car of less than 2.5 metres. If you do take a car buy a parking ticket online for your whole stay - it saves a lot of money! If you are fit and love cycling, you don't need to take a car at all - there are lots of places to hire bikes - but it can get heavy going cycling into the wind so don't under estimate the long trip back after a day out. Anything else? Combine a visit to Texel with a boat trip over to neighbouring Vlieland from De Cocksdorp or island hop up the entire Wadden chain.  More >


Blogwatching: 9 ramen restaurants in Amsterdam – rated

Blogwatching: 9 ramen restaurants in Amsterdam – rated

Vicky Hampton is British by birth and Dutch by choice, a writer, cook and avid foodie who has lived and worked in Amsterdam since 2006. Vicky launched her blog Amsterdam Foodie in 2007 and it is now an indispensible guide to the city's eateries and beyond. Before we get into all the noodly details, let me start with a caveat: I’ve never been to Japan. I’ve never even eaten ramen outside of Amsterdam. I’m comparing these places on a level playing field – but I’ve never played on another field, as it were. So I’m no expert – I’m simply speaking as I find, according to my own subjective tastes. With that in mind, and without further ado, I bring you my Ramen Amsterdam Roundup: what you should eat at nine ramen restaurants, and how I rate them against each other. Tokyo Ramen Takeichi A relative newcomer on the Vijzelstraat, Takeichi gets packed with locals and tourists every lunchtime. The occasion I visited, I got the Nouko spicy chicken ramen with egg. The flavour of the broth was good (savoury and spicy), but a bit too thick for my taste and overly salty by the bottom of the bowl. The toppings in general were a highlight: I liked the little chicken meatball, thick slices of chicken, and spring onions. I wasn’t so keen on the raw yellow onions and slimy brown things that said they were bamboo shoots but had a texture very like mushrooms. The egg (which cost extra) was perfectly cooked, although seemed to have been chucked into the soup from cold. Unfortunately, the seaweed was also an optional extra so I didn’t get to taste that. In fact, a general point I’d make is that several of the newer ramen places seem to offer many of the toppings as optional extras – so what starts out as a €14 bowl of soup quickly tots up to €20 if you add in all the elements you’d actually want. What to order at Tokyo Ramen Takeichi: Nouko spicy chicken ramen Ramen rating: 3.5/5 Cost: €14 plus extras Website: takeichi-ramen.com Vatten Ramen In the same vein as Takeichi and also a newcomer, Vatten Ramen serves mostly chicken-based noodle soups – so once again I went for the spicy variety. The broth was slightly thinner than that at Takeichi but tasted good – I think I preferred it, but then again I dislike any soup that feels gelatinously thick. The toppings, however, were less impressive: the chicken char siu was just simple white chicken with little flavour. The egg came whole and was hard-boiled – which meant it was missing the gorgeously orange, rich, oozy egg yolk you’d expect. Also in the bowl were wilted greens (but more like spinach than seaweed), raw and fried onions – they tasted good, but again I missed the sea-fresh umami hit you get from seaweed (it was, once again, an extra). What to order at Vatten Ramen: Spicy chicken ramen Ramen rating: 3/5 Cost: €14 plus extras Website: vattenramen.com Umaimon Amsterdam I liked Umaimon so much the first time that I went back again four days later; the first time was a press event – the second I was a regular paying customer. Umaimon Amsterdam is 'powered by' Takumi Düsseldorf – where Japanese chef Saeki has been peddling noodles for over a decade. And with good reason: they keep their ramen noodles in a special temperature-controlled cupboard, only getting them out when they’re just about to be cooked. At the press event, I tried seven different types of ramen soup in one sitting – yes, that’s some serious ramen dedication for you. As fabulous as they all were, I liked three better than the rest; so when I went back a few days later with the Honey Badger, we attempted to order two of them. Clearly something got lost in translation as I ended up with a thin chicken bouillon rather than the creamy, almost medicinal soup I’d been craving. But the issue finally got resolved and I now know what I want to order next time: the Noukou Tori Soba – a house special that’s as rich as it is fresh, with generous slices of roasted chicken, tiny but tasty chicken meatballs, deep-fried chunks of chicken (imagine a version of KFC that’s Japanese and awesome), sweet bamboo, bok choi and excellently marinated and barely boiled egg. For something less rich, try the Teriyaki Wantan Ramen, which has a much lighter broth but is still generously stuffed with wantan parcels and all the other trimmings. The Butatama Miso Ramen is also a hit – a sweeter, miso-based broth plays host to thin slices of pork and what I assume are lightly caramelised sliced onion. Whatever you order, it’s pure comfort in a bowl. What to order at Umaimon: Noujou Tori Soba Ramen rating: 5/5 Cost: €15.50 (but includes everything) Website: facebook.com/UMAIMONamsterdam Sapporo Ramen Sora Tucked away behind the tiniest shopfront on the Ceintuurbaan is Sapporo Ramen Sora – judged by many to serve some of the best ramen in town. I have to say I disagreed: the pork bone broth that made up my Tonkotsu Shoyu ramen was thin and strange in texture – it looked like it had split. Meanwhile, the Charshu Shoyu’s broth was just a bit salty and uninteresting. Although I did appreciate the seaweed in both. The usual boiled eggs were off the menu due to the Dutch egg scandal the time I visited, which was a shame – and we weren’t offered anything else to make up for it. The venue itself is pretty basic and lacking in gezelligheid, which would be no problem if the ramen was better – but I remained unconvinced. What to order at Sapporo Ramen Sora: ISHII’s Tonkotsu Shoyu ramen Ramen rating: 2/5 (Editor’s note: I’ve had significant push-back from the many people who agree that Soro serves the best ramen in Amsterdam. I’m prepared to accept that they may have been having a particularly bad day in the kitchen, and will go back and try again. In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if everyone could refrain from further death threats!) Cost: €14 Website: ramensora.nl Fou Fow I first reviewed Fou Fow back in January 2015, although I’ve been back several times since. It was arguably the first place to be serving proper ramen in Amsterdam, and as such holds a bit of a special place in my heart. Fou Fow offer their noodle soup in three sizes, with various different bases to their broths. Pig addict that I am, I usually go for the pork broth which is served with more pork, various types of seaweed, and half a boiled egg (which is both warm AND oozing with yellow yolk). The first time I went, I was warned that the pork broth had 'a stronger flavour' than the regular chicken, vegetable or miso broths. Bring. It. On. I loved every spoonful. Having now tried other ramen places in Amsterdam, I realise that Fou Fow’s broth is not as thick as some of the other contenders – which I actually like as I find some ramen too rich and cloying. So if you want to try the pork broth without slipping into a food coma afterwards, this is the place to do it. Plus, they now have two locations: Elandsgracht and Van Woustraat. What to order at Fou Fow: Tonkotsu pork ramen Ramen rating: 4/5 Cost: €10-15 depending on size Website: foufow.nl Taka Japanese Kitchen Serving lunch Wednesday through Sunday in the cooking studio on the second floor of Toko Dun Yong, Taka Japanese Kitchen keeps its menu extremely simple: Tonkotsu or vegetarian ramen for €10 a bowl. With Jasmine tea at €1 a cup, this is probably also the cheapest ramen experience you’re likely to have too. The tonkotsu is made with a combination of pork and chicken bones, while the vegetarian has a miso-based broth. So what of the tonkotsu? Both the noodles and the broth were fine – not mind-blowing but perfectly good – and not excessively thick or fatty. Things I loved: surprise additions of kimchi, pickled ginger, and black truffle. Things that slightly let the side down: the egg was hard-boiled, and the pork was a little dry. However, for €10 a pop, you can’t do better for a ramen fix in Amsterdam – and I think all the customers with their ADE hangovers who were at Taka when I was there would agree. What to order at Taka Japanese Kitchen: Tonkotsu ramen Ramen rating: 5/5 Cost: €10 Website: facebook.com/ayanokouji.sasuke Ramen-Ya Ramen-Ya is in the Red Light District, which can be handy when you have visitors to show around. I’ve tried various versions of their wide selection of ramen since I first reviewed Ramen-Ya in December 2016: namely the 'Kimchi Ramen', the 'Hakata Deluxe' and the 'Veggie'. The former comprised chicken broth with kimchi (obviously), pork char siu (essentially BBQ-ed pork belly), black wood-ear mushrooms, half a boiled egg and, of course, the noodles. The ramen themselves had great bite and flavour to them; the char siu was melt-in-the-mouth; the egg was perfectly cooked with a rich orange yolk; the mushrooms tasted like seaweed (luckily for me); and the kimchi added a welcome sour kick. In short, I loved it. The vegetarian ramen was slightly disappointing compared to its meaty counterparts, but then that’s hardly surprising. It’s difficult to recreate the rich creaminess you get from bones in a broth made from vegetable stock. The Hakata Deluxe was a pork broth (far creamier and stronger in flavour than the chicken broth of the Kimchi Ramen) with soy sauce and a fattier variety of pork char siu. The Honey Badger loved it the first time, but I found the richness of it all a bit overpowering. With that being said, the last time we went to Ramen-Ya, either a different chef or a different recipe was being used and the pork broth was so thick and fatty that even the Honey Badger couldn’t finish it and ended up feeling pretty ill afterwards. Another foodie friend gave me a similar report just the other day. It’s a shame, but if you avoid the Hakata and stick with the Kimchi you should still be ok. What to order at Ramen-Ya: Kimchi Ramen Ramen rating: 4/5 Cost: €14.50 Website: ramen-ya.nl Men Impossible Given that I get a ramen craving at least once a fortnight, I clearly needed to find an alternative to my tonkotsu addiction during Vegetarian January. Enter Men Impossible: a communal-dining experience in the Jordaan, at which for €25 you can eat your fill of vegan ramen plus a veggie starter, drink and tea. I tried their yuzu beer, which had barely a hint of yuzu but was just a really nice Japanese beer. Light and fruity and not too bitter. At the same time, I tucked into my starter of aubergine topped with a sweet miso dressing. The flavour was good, but the aubergine was a tad undercooked, and the whole thing was, well, tiny. But cracking on with the main event: the Red Dragon Ramen. These are tsukemen – dipping ramen – the noodles hand-rolled, and the broth a thick, umami-rich, spicy, miso- and tomato-based soup. I must admit the noodles had an extremely satisfying bite and the soup was very generous in flavour, despite the lack of animal products. It also came with some shredded vegetables (raw carrot and red cabbage), cooked courgette, crispy fried onions, and a mushroom that I steered well clear of. Better still was the accompanying spoonful of black garlic oil that added an extra depth and savoury note to the whole dish. We skipped the tea on offer. but with or without it, €25 seems like rather a lot for a bowl of soup, a slice of aubergine and a beer – albeit they were pretty well done. I doubt Men Impossible will be replacing my ramen fix once Vegetarian January is over, but for now I’m happy to have found out that vegan ramen is – after all – possible. What to order at Men Impossible: Red Dragon tsukemen Ramen rating: 3.5/5 Cost: €25 (includes starter, one drink and tea) Website: facebook.com/MenImpossible TonTon Club The TonTon Club in Westerpark isn’t a ramen restaurant per se, but they do serve a dish called Tsukemen – or 'dipping ramen'. Cold noodles, pak choi, enoki mushrooms, a soft-boiled egg, and either pork belly or chicken katsu (breaded, fried strips of chicken). The soup was warm, but not warm enough to really heat up the rest of the ramen ingredients that were designed to be dipped into it – all of which were served fridge-cold. Plus, the broth tasted artificially thick, cloying, and overly sweet and salty. There are many other good reasons to go to the TonTon Club (the ramen burger is fun, as are the arcade games), but the dipping ramen isn’t one of them. What to order at TonTon Club: anything but the Tsukemen! Ramen rating: 1/5 Cost: €13.50 Website: tontonclub.nl/west This post was first published on Amsterdam Foodie. Every month we feature a blog post from one of our favourite bloggers. Interested? See if your blog meets the criteria to be included on the site.  More >


DutchNews Podcast – The Sacred Cows Edition – Week 5

DutchNews Podcast – The Sacred Cows Edition – Week 5

In this week's podcast we ask who was responsible for the cyber attacks that mysteriously hit Dutch banks a week after details emerged of the security services' role in a counterespionage operation against Russia. Plans to cut gas production in Groningen and compensate earthquake-hit householders got back on track, the senate debated changes to the law on organ donation and there was a happy ending for Hermien the fugitive cow. In our discussion we look at why the debate about the Dutch colonial legacy has flared up again. Top story Cyber attacks cause misery for Dutch banking system to a halt News Watchdog advises drastic cuts in Groningen gas production Archaeologists discover remains of 6000-year-old baby Senators ask for more time to debate organ donation bill Escaped cow given permanent reprieve in Friesland Sport Transfer window closes with no major purchases Assen challenges Zandvoort for Dutch Grand Prix Discussion: colonialism, slavery and statues How the Mauritshuis row put the spotlight on the Dutch colonial past    More >


Eight things you need to know about Dutch at the Winter Olympics

Eight things you need to know about Dutch at the Winter Olympics

At the last winter Olympics, the Dutch squad won 23 of the 36 long track speed skating medals, leading to a lot of muttering about the Oranje dominance. No-one expects the medal haul to be as impressive at this year's event but here are 10 facts you need to know about the Dutch at this year's Winter Olympics. When are the Winter Olympics? The 23rd Winter Olympics will be held from 9 to 25 February 2018 in PyeongChang (which we will all learn to pronounce and spell correctly as the days pass), Gangwon Province, in the Republic of Korea. To show that sports does indeed unite people, the athletes from the two Koreas will be marching under a single ‘unification flag’. Where can we watch? There is a time difference of eight hours with PyeongChang, so any morning event there will have diehard sports fans here watching in their pajamas or fully dressed because they have not bothered to go to bed.  Here is the full programme. NOS will be broadcasting live for 10 hours a day, on radio, tv and online. Financial rewards Winning Olympic athletes are given a medal bonus by sports body NOC*NSF. Olympic athletes depend on sponsor deals and monthly stipends so every little bit helps. A gold medal is worth €25,500, a silver medal €19,125 and a bronze one €12,750. How many medals will the Netherlands win? Did we mention the Dutch won 23 medals out of 36 in the long track skating category (and 1 in the short track event)? Well, this year the Netherlands will not do as well, according to sport data bureau Gracenote. Based on the statistics and the present performance level of the skaters, the Dutch will go home with six gold medals, eight silver medals and four bronze ones, six down from 2014. Long track and short track refer to the length of the track, btw, which are 400m and 111.11m respectively. Who are the ones to watch? According to Gracenote, Sven Kramer, Kjeld Nuis and Jan Smeekens will bring home the gold. Kramer will win 3 gold medals in the 5,000m, 10,000m and the team pursuit events while Nuis will pick up the 1,000m and the 1,500m and Smeekens the 500m - in other words, a clean sweep for the men. Ireen Wüst is tipped for silver in the 3,000m, the 1,500 meter event and the women's team pursuit. Short-tracker Sjinkie Knegt, current European champion over 500, 1,000 and 1,500m and the Netherlands first short-track medal winner, is also tipped to pick up a couple more. And who can keep Kramer, Nuis and Wüst from the top? Anything can happen and the competition on some distances is stiff - often from the Dutch themselves.  Sven Kramer seems untouchable in the 5,000m and the 10,000m but will have to keep an eye on fellow Dutchmen Jorrit Bergsma. In the 1,000m for men Kjeld Nuis must keep ahead of team mate Kai Verbij to win the gold. Ireen Wüst, however, will have arch rival Martina Sablikova from Czechoslovakia to see off in the 3,000m. And the rest of the Olympics? But enough about ice. Let's talk about snow and how PyeongChang is unlikely to have much of it during the games. This is where former Dutch freestyle skier and Olympic contender Michiel Maas comes in. He makes the stuff via his company Polar Europa and, according to broadcaster NOS, will provide 25,000 cubic metres of the artificial snow to cover the jumps and ramps to ensure everything runs smoothly. The Dutch devotion to speed skating leaves little time for anything else, but snowboarder Nicolien Sauerbreij, who competed in four winter Olympics, won the gold in Vancouver in 2010 - Oranje's only non-skating winter Olympic medal. This year Kimberly Bos is taking part in the skeleton event (where you hurl yourself onto a bobsled and whizz down an icy corridor at frightening speeds) thanks to another banned Russian athlete. Snowboarders Cheryl Maas, Michelle Dekker and Niek van der Velden will also compete. Where to party? No Olympic games would be complete without the Holland Heineken House and PyeongChang is no exception. This sponsored meeting place for sports people, sponsors, fans and bigwigs has been going strong since the Barcelona games in 1992 and is where the medal winners go after their victories to celebrate in true Dutch style.   More >


The 30% ruling: what is it, who can claim it and how does it work?

You may have heard a lot about the 30% ruling, or you may even be claiming it already. Here's a definitive guide to this very Dutch expat benefit, by Tax Consultants International. The Netherlands has a beneficial regime for employees who are recruited or hired from abroad. The extraterritorial expenses you, as expat, can incur because you live outside of your home country, may under circumstances be reimbursed free of tax. Key for tax-free reimbursement is that your employer is able to substantiate these expenses. Examples of extraterritorial expenses are housing allowance, cost of living allowance, personal income tax return assistance, house hunting/acquaintance trips. This is not a limited list! 30%-ruling An alternative for tax beneficial reimbursement of costs, is to apply for the 30%-ruling. In a nutshell, this ruling means that instead of reimbursing the actual extraterritorial expenses, 30% of the gross taxable salary can be reimbursed free of tax. If the 30%-ruling applies, generally no tax free reimbursements of separate extraterritorial expenses can occur. Such expenses reimbursed in addition to the 30%-ruling, are subject to wage tax. The only exception is the reimbursement for international school fees for your children. Those expenses can be reimbursed tax free, even if you have the 30%-ruling. Requirements The requirements for the 30%-ruling need to be met continuously, otherwise the ruling ends. The conditions for obtaining a 30%-ruling are as follows: You (the employee) have to be assigned to the Netherlands or recruited from abroad to work in the Netherlands; You must have lived more than 150 kilometers from the Dutch border during at least 2/3 (16 months) of the 24 months period prior to the start of the employment in the Netherlands; and You need to have specific skills that are scarcely available on the Dutch labor market. Specific skills are deemed to be available if you have an annual taxable salary of at least € 37,296 (2018) excl. the 30% allowance (€ 53,280 incl. the 30% allowance). The salary criterion can be lower (i.e. € 28,350 excl. the 30% allowance) if you have a Master’s degree (MSc) and are not yet 30 years. For scientists and researchers of educational and subsidized research organizations no minimum salary threshold applies. Key is that you reside outside the Netherlands when getting the job. If you move to the Netherlands, register here and only then start looking for a job, you are not considered to be recruited/hired from abroad. The 150 kilometer requirement effectively means that if you currently live in Belgium, Luxembourg and (small) parts of Germany, France and the UK, you do not qualify for the 30%-ruling. However, the actual extraterritorial expenses incurred can still be reimbursed free of tax to you. The salary threshold is considered a minimum salary. If your taxable salary exceeds € 53,280, in effect 30% of the full taxable salary is free of tax. If you earn between the minimum threshold of € 37,296 and € 53,280, the tax free amount is the difference between your salary and the minimum threshold. Effectively, you have a partial 30%-ruling. Please note that each case should be reviewed on its own merits and in case of doubt, expert advice should be sought. 30%-ruling and Dutch personal income tax return An additional benefit if you have the 30%-ruling is to opt to be treated as a “partial non-resident taxpayer” in your Dutch income tax return. This means that you will be treated as a resident taxpayer for Box 1 (income from work and main residence). For Box 2 (income from substantial shareholding) and Box 3 (income from savings and investments), you will be considered a non-resident taxpayer. In such case, the value of your bank accounts do not have to be included in the Dutch income tax return. No income tax is due on your assets. Depending on the tax treatment of ‘wealth’ in your home country, this may be (more) beneficial. Other matters In principle, the 30%-ruling is granted for a maximum period of 96 months (8 years). Periods of previous stay or employment in the Netherlands ending within/during the last 25 years before the start of your employment are deducted from this period. The new government announced in its coalition agreement in October 2017 to reduce the period of 8 years to 5 years as per 2019. No new legislation has been drafted yet. Whether a transition rule for existing 30%-rulings will be introduced is currently unknown. For more information or assistance with the 30%-ruling, or the personal income tax return, please visit our website or call our tax expert Joukje de Jong-Mensink at 0031 20 570 9447.  More >


Credit cards not yet popular among the Dutch, despite the advantages

Credit cards not yet popular among the Dutch, despite the advantages

The popularity of credit cards in the Netherlands has always lagged behind when compared to many other Western countries. But new figures out last week show that there has been a bit of a catch-up - thanks to paid-for online entertainment such as Spotify. Last year the Dutch bought goods or services 160 million times with a credit card - that's a rise of over 10% on 2016. Nevertheless, credit card use still has some way to go to catch up with the rest of the world and the humble pin card - used 3.8 billion times to make a purchase in the Netherlands last year. There are lots of different cards available Netherlands so why are the Dutch so reluctant to use them? It may have something to do with the financial attitude of the Dutch people themselves: they are extremely debt adverse. It is not surprising that the word guilt and debt are the same word in Dutch - schuld. Bar bills For tourists and new arrivals to the Netherlands, the lack of acceptance of credit cards may cause problems, particularly when they don't (yet) have a Dutch bank account or Maestro debit card. Paying with a Visa Card in a bar or even at a supermarket might be quite normal back home, but is often impossible in the Netherlands, even in the big cities. Nevertheless, around 55% of the Dutch population has at least one credit card, which they mainly use during holidays abroad or when shopping online. Creditcard.nl has an English comparison page you can use to easily find a  Dutch credit card to meet your needs. They work with several banks and independent credit providers, such as ICS, ABN Amro, Knab and American Express. Advantages After all, the main advantage of having a credit card is that they are widely accepted around the world. And a credit card is a convenient way of managing hotel bookings and car rentals as well as topping up your Spotify account online. Furthermore, all (online) purchases made with a credit card are insured for theft, loss and damage for at least 180 days. Don't forget either that a credit card is handy for emergencies, such as when you need to pay for something but have no cash and no remaining balance on your account.   What you need to know The typical APR (annual percentage rate) for Dutch credit cards is around 12% to 14%. Yet, only between a fifth and quarter of the Dutch use delayed payments to clear their credit card debt. Most people pay their credit card bills on time using direct debit (automatische incasso). In addition, prepaid credit cards are also increasing in popularity. This type of card works in more or less the same way as a prepaid phone - you first need to deposit money onto the card account before you can use it. New EU directive Recently, a new EU banking directive (PSD2) has made the credit card transaction costs a thing of the past. This means, for example, that (online) shopping within the EU has become cheaper for consumers. The new directive also allows users to share their bank or credit card account with authorized third-parties. This opens a whole new range of possibilities for vendors and fintech companies, for example, paying for shopping without having to queue up at the till. This, and the gradual phasing out of cash - there are several retail groups in the Netherlands which only accept card payments - will also boost the use of credit cards in the Netherlands even more.  More >


How the Mauritshuis row put the spotlight on the Dutch colonial past

How the Mauritshuis row put the spotlight on the Dutch colonial past

Prime minister Mark Rutte this week had to backtrack on his criticism of the Mauritshuis museum for removing a bust of its founder, Johan Maurits, from its foyer. But as Gordon Darroch explains, the ensuing debate has exposed deep divisions about how the Netherlands should view its colonial past. The Mauritshuis museum in The Hague stirred up a hornet's nest this week with its decision to remove a plaster bust of its founder, Johan Maurits, from its foyer. Prime minister Mark Rutte called the move 'crazy' and warned against 'imposing the preconceptions of today's society on events in the distant past'. Rutte had to temper his criticism at the weekend when the museum's director, Emilie Gordenker, explained that the bust had been removed because it was no longer needed. Instead the museum has set up a gallery to explain Maurits's personal history, including an original statue and several portraits. 'Once we'd done that there was really no need to have a plaster replica in between the toilets and the cash desk,' Gordenker said. 'This is about improving the way we tell the story so that we can share all the aspects, positive and negative, in a balanced and nuanced way with our visitors.' Mijn argument was en is de verder weg liggende geschiedenis niet te beoordelen met de bril van nu, maar begrijp in Buitenhof van mijn buurvrouw dat mijn voorbeeld van het Mauritshuis niet goed gekozen was. Ik kom graag snel weer langs. — Mark Rutte (@MinPres) January 21, 2018 Rutte, a qualified historian, had argued that the museum should change its name if it wanted to disassociate itself from the man who built the Mauritshuis in the 1630s. Maurits paid for the lavish residence behind the parliament complex out of the fortune he made as governor-general in Brazil from the Dutch colony's sugar cane plantations. Gordenker retorted that the prime minister should have checked the facts first and there was 'no question' of changing the name. 'Territorial behaviour' Imara Limon and Tom van der Molen, curators of the Amsterdam Museum, said Rutte's intervention was part of a 'necessary and useful' debate, but warned against interpreting the past too narrowly. 'As museum staff we are very aware that history is only relevant to people if you relate it to the experiences of people and society today,' they said in an emailed response to DutchNews.nl. 'This debate is being reduced to the question of whether somebody is a hero or a villain. The somewhat territorial behaviour of claiming public space for your own hero and ignoring what that person might symbolise for others detracts from the debate and gathering of knowledge about how we want to engage with our history, which in the end has shaped the society we live in now.' The bust of Maurits is not the only artefact to stir up controversy recently about the Netherlands' relationship with its colonial past. The Golden Age brought wealth and social advancement – as well as independence from Spain – to the young Dutch Republic, but much of it was underwritten by colonial regimes in which hundreds of thousands were enslaved and uprisings were brutally punished. Last week the JP Coen Elementary School in Amsterdam's Indische Buurt announced it was changing its name because it no longer wanted to be associated with Jan Pieterszoon Coen. The former governor-general of the Dutch East Indies was known as the 'butcher of Banda' for his violent conquest of the Banda Islands. Only 1,000 of the islands' 15,000-strong population survived the massacre. Coen's bloodthirstiness earned him a rebuke from the Heeren Zeventien, the committee that ran the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Head teacher Sylvie van den Akker said Coen's name was incompatible with the school's values: 'We are the only multicultural school in a special neighbourhood. Coen's name doesn't fit with our vision and the image of tolerance and diversity that we want this school to express.' Coentunnel The move was criticised by Christian Democrat (CDA) party leader Sybrand Buma: 'As if you can just wipe away history, forgetting that our identity is grounded in our history.' Buma also attacked a campaign to rename the Coentunnel, which takes the A10 motorway under the North Sea Canal. 'The debate about the Coentunnel has started. But JP Coen is part of our history. If you relativise everything, you're left with nothing.' Coen has also been the focus of debate in his home town of Hoorn, where the local council set a new plaque beneath his statue five years ago explaining his misdeeds as well as his achievements. The demand to rename the tunnel came from new political party Denk, which draws much of its support from the Netherlands' Muslim youth. Denk says bridges, tunnels and streets should be renamed where necessary to end the glorification of 'cruel colonisers' and promote awareness of 'our inhumane history of slavery'. Witte de With In Rotterdam, the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art sparked a similar row last year when it said it no longer wanted to bear the name of De With, a vice-admiral in the Dutch navy who played a pivotal role in several major sea battles, but also laid waste to the city of Jakarta in 1618 and destroyed clove tree plantations in the East Indies in order to drive up commodity prices. The plan prompted a backlash from the populist party Leefbaar Rotterdam, which threatened to stop its funding of €400,000 a year if the name change went ahead. 'It's unacceptable that tons of taxpayers' money from Rotterdam's citizens is ending up in the pockets of cultural mavens who are bent on wiping away our national history,' said Leefbaar Rotterdam councillor Tanya Hoogwerf. The question of which voices should be heard is crucial to the current debate, say Limon and Van der Molen. 'When talking about history and iconic figures that are seen as part of a national history there is a tendency for newcomers and people from minority groups to be excluded from the debate. That carries the danger of social division and hyper-polarisation of the debate.' General Lee Unlike in the United States, where a campaign against monuments to Confederate-era figures such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson has led to statues being taken down several states, few Dutch historians argue that figures from the Golden Age should be removed from public view. 'Statues don't need to be taken away,' Dienke Hondius, historian at the VU university in Amsterdam, told RTL Nieuws. 'It's better to leave them standing and put them in context.' However, often that context is difficult to compress into a plaque. As Emilie Gordenker pointed out, Johan Maurits enriched the former Portuguese colony in Brazil through education, art and literature. 'He did fantastic things, which is why he's regarded as a hero over there.' But Maurits also acquired labour for the sugar cane plantations by invading a Portuguese slave colony on the west African coast and shipping thousands of slaves across the Atlantic in inhuman conditions, to work (if they survived the journey) in bonded servitude. Eighty Years' War Rotterdam's city council agreed last October to revise the plaque on the statue of Piet Hein, a naval officer who led the plunder of the Spanish silver fleet in 1628. The proceeds from that raid boosted the Dutch economy to the tune of €500 million in today's money and underwrote the last phase of the Eighty Years' War with Spain. The council still has to decide how to portray Hein, who also played a key role in establishing the Brazilian colonies. Leefbaar Rotterdam alderman Joost Eerdmans has insisted it would be wrong to make Hein shoulder the blame for the slave trade. 'The point is absolutely not to refer to the dark side of our colonial past,' he said. 'Of course we have different values nowadays, but we're not going to judge the maritime heroes of that time by today's standards.' Yet as Limon and Van der Lolen point out, all eras interpret history in the light of their own values. 'A lot of the statues were erected out of of a 19th-century need for national heroes. So that generation judged history on the basis of its own needs just the same.' The debate about how to place historical figures in context shows no sign of abating. 'It would be good if people don't try to draw immediate conclusions,' say the curators. 'It's not about whether we preserve these statues or not, it's about having a discussion about who should be involved in the decision making, why we really need these heroes and what history we want to share in public spaces such as town squares and museums.' Further reading: Rutte softens Mauritshuis criticism as 'statues to slavery' row rumbles on Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum to hold an exhibition on slavery in 2020 Orange and black: the forgotten history of black servants at the court of Willem V  More >


Be a good sport at the 2018 Feel at Home in The Hague fair

Be a good sport at the 2018 Feel at Home in The Hague fair

If you've always fancied finding out more about the traditional Dutch sport of korfball, had a secret wish to take up belly dancing or sail across the seas in the Volvo Ocean Race, this year's Feel at Home in The Hague fair is the place to be. This year, the central theme of the annual Feel at Home in The Hague fair is sport, leisure and wellness, and some 70 sports and cultural organisations and community groups will be on hand to help you find out more. The Feel at Home Fair will bring The Hague’s city hall to life with an exciting programme of activities, demonstrations, try-outs and challenges. 'Sport is a great way of getting people together because language and cultural barriers are more easily overcome by a shared interest,' says fair organiser Billy Allwood. 'Being active also contributes to our sense of health and well-being, while belonging to a club or participating in events gives us an important sense of belonging somewhere.' Family focus Unlike fairs where the focus is purely on expat services, the Feel at Home in The Hague fair is a fun day out for the whole family. A complete range of sports clubs are taking part, from hockey, tennis, cricket and cycling to more unusual team games like lacrosse, floorball and korfball - the traditional Dutch game played in mixed teams. The Hague has recently been named 2022 European Capital of Sport and the city will be showcasing the wide range of sports and leisure facilities available in the region - to watch as well as play. You'll be able to take part in hockey, tennis and fitness challenges to test your skills or raise funds for local charities such as The Krajicek Foundation, the fair’s sponsored charity, which develops playgrounds to less privileged parts of Dutch cities. You could even win tickets to the ABN Amro tennis tournament in Rotterdam this February while practising your serving technique. Advice and information Among the diverse list of around 150 exhibitors, visitors looking for advice and information will find experts on financial and tax matters, careers and health, childcare and education options. 'These are the essential services which help you make the most of life in The Hague,' says Billy. You'll also be able to attend free interactive workshops on subjects ranging from mindfulness to career transitions; learn how to write or speak effectively; how to cope with stress, headaches and back pain, or to face the challenges of learning a new language and culture. And not to mention, enjoy the comedy, theatre, music and international cuisine which make the Feel at Home Fair such a special meeting place for the entire international community. More than this, the entire day is free to visitors who sign up in advance for tickets on the website. So be a good sport and join in!  More >


A memorial in Friesland tells the human story of a WWII bomber crew

A memorial in Friesland tells the human story of a WWII bomber crew

Two graves in Bergen op Zoom, a memorial at Soarremoarre and a handful of photographs are among the reminders of the pilots who risked their lives and dropped food parcels over the Netherlands during the Second World War. By Gordon Darroch As a boy Vic Jay wanted to know all about the Lancaster bombers his father flew during the Second World War, but like many veterans, Bob Jay was reluctant to talk about it. 'He was a quite scientific sort of person, and he would tell me about what flak was and how an aeroplane could fly, how something as big as that could actually get off the ground and what he had to do during the flight,' Vic recalls. 'But he didn't talk a lot about the actual bombing. He had very mixed feelings about bombing after the war.' Vic's curiosity waned as he got older, and when Bob Jay died of stomach cancer in 1974, at the age of 55, he left behind a slate of unanswered questions. Vic knew his father had been a flight engineer in a New Zealand squadron and flew bombing missions over the Netherlands during the last two months of the war. Bob Jay was more forthcoming about one of his last sorties, one of the so-called 'manna drops' when the planes dropped food parcels onto the starving Dutch population. 'They flew so low they could see people on the ground and I can remember he told us, “We thought it was amazing because people were waving flags and sheets”.' Birthday present It took almost another 40 years for Vic to turn his interest in his father's service into something more substantial. It began when he stepped into the cockpit of a Lancaster bomber on an airfield near his home in Lincolnshire. 'My daughter's husband's step-dad had been given a taxi run in a bomber as a birthday present. My wife said, “Why don't you go with him? You've always wanted to be in a Lancaster.” 'When the time came I wasn't really prepared for how emotional it would be. There were maybe a dozen people on the aircraft, and they started up the engines and it started to roll across the tarmac onto the runway. I was standing next to a chap whose dad had just died six weeks earlier and he was crying. And as I was talking to him it struck me that I really hadn't found out very much about my dad, other than what I had asked him when I was five years old.' That taxi run in April 2012 was the start of a five-year quest by the retired schoolteacher to unearth as much information as he could about his father's former colleagues. Log book Armed with little more than his father's log book and the name of his squadron, Vic started a blog, Bob Jay's War, to try to trace them or their surviving relatives. 'My dad was only operational for two months of the war, so I thought any research would be over fairly quickly, but I was amazed by the stories that came out of it,' says Vic. 'It took over my life.' As Vic's research took him deeper into his father's story he collected poems, drawings, letters and photographs. One particularly poignant artefact was a photo of the bomber on its final mission, with Bob's head just visible in the cockpit. He found the transcript of an interview the pilot, Bill Mallon, had given in 2004. Mallon and three of the other crew members were New Zealanders who had travelled halfway round the world to fight in Europe, but Vic managed to track their families down and obtain vital pieces of what was becoming a large and intricate jigsaw puzzle. He visited and interviewed the last surviving member of the team, Charles Green. 'He was pretty much the same age as my dad would have been been if he had survived,' says Vic. 'Although he was 95, his memory was brilliant. He remembered in great detail kneeling down for eight hours in the aircraft, holding a machine-gun and looking out of a turret at the bottom of the Lancaster. It was a very emotional experience.' The Mallon Crew What had begun as a blog had become a major historical project that was eventually condensed into a book, The Mallon Crew, published in 2016. Unlike many war histories, it focuses less on heroism, strategy and the mechanics of flying and more on the stories of the crew members, both during the war and afterwards. 'It's about the impact of the war on families,' says Vic. 'I don't dwell on the technicalities and the armaments, although there is enough in there to make it interesting for enthusiasts. But it's the human stories that really grab me.' One of the New Zealanders Vic's project brought him into contact with is Lorraine Gray, whose father, Trevor, is commemorated in a war memorial at Soarremoarre, near Akkrum in Friesland. Lorraine never knew her father, who set sail for Canada then Europe two days before she was born in May 1941 – she believes the distress of separating brought on her mother's contractions – and was shot down less than six months later on his way back from a bombing raid over Berlin. Photograph As the Wellington bomber fell to earth, Sergeant Trevor Gray and the rest of the crew are believed to have steered it away from the village and into a peat bog, sparing hundreds of lives. It was so firmly embedded in the ground that the bodies of the airmen were not dug out for another six years. When they were, Sgt Gray was found to have gone down carrying a photograph of his infant daughter. Like Vic, Lorraine only discovered the full story of her father's wartime service decades later, when the Dutch Missing Airmen Memorial Foundation, based in Leeuwarden, invited her to unveil the memorial in 2010. When she was growing up in the coastal town of New Plymouth, Taranaki, the war was a constant presence but rarely mentioned directly. 'My father was missing, later identified as killed, on a bombing raid but that was all I knew. The fact was simply absorbed into the general sense of the war which pervaded our home,' she wrote in an email to DutchNews. She has a clear memory of her grandmother running out of the house waving a tea towel and shouting 'it's over, it's over' when news of the ceasefire came through. 'My father's trunk came home and they unpacked it in the front bedroom,' she says. 'I remember seeing his alarm clock and a big tartan tea cosy. I could not make out why he was not here with his trunk. I remember going into the sitting room and just sitting and looking at his photo on the mantelpiece for a long time.' Years of silence Lorraine was sent away to a Quaker boarding school, where the Quaker code of pacifism precluded any discussion of the war. 'Nobody ever spoke of my father to me,' she said. 'All I knew was that he had been killed in the war, by flying a bomber plane.' Years of silence followed. A veterans' business association called Heritage sent her a book for her birthday each year and a gold watch for her 21st, but she was only vaguely aware why. Her mother remarried, coincidentally to a Dutch migrant. Years later, her half-brother, Pieter, discovered a box in the attic containing her father's papers: his log book, a photo album and a diary he had kept in his last two months. 'I did not see these papers until I was 69 years old,'she says. 'It was an epiphany for me. By then my stepfather had passed away and my mother’s memory had gone because she had Alzheimer's.' The letters Trevor wrote to his family were preserved and collected by her uncle Max, who left them to Lorraine when he died at the age of 93, but these, too, only reached her when she was in her sixties. Memorial The memorial in Akkrum was unveiled in 2010, shortly after Pieter discovered the box of papers in the attic and two months after Lorraine's mother died. For her the unveiling was another step in the process of putting the pieces of the past back together. On her way to Friesland she stopped to visit her father's grave at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Bergen op Zoom, where the airmen's bodies were laid to rest after being recovered from the plane. 'I took his very own bible so I could read the 21st psalm, and a bag of sand from Moturoa Beach in New Plymouth, his boyhood beach where he used to swim, and scattered it on his grave. We planted a pink chrysanthemum. I absolutely sobbed. I'd never expected to. I was 69 years old and standing beside the earthly remains of my father for the first time.' She was struck by the number of people that turned out for the ceremony, including RAF and Dutch air force personnel, airmen's families and the New Zealand ambassador, as well as dozens of primary schoolchildren. The idea of a permanent memorial had first been proposed four years earlier by children at two local schools in Akkrum and Aldeboarn. 'The thing that moved me most is over the week I was in the Netherlands, culminating with the unveiling ceremony, is that the war is still so very, very real to these people,' says Lorraine. 'Many came up to me and said “Thank you for your father.”No one in my life before had ever said that to me.' Bergen op Zoom is also the last resting place of Tom Mallon, one of two brothers of Bill Mallon who died during the war. Vic Jay visited both graves in 2016, on a trip that also took in the First World War battlefield at Ypres. 'I sat in front of a computer for five years looking at the statistics and the number of people who were killed, and the tragedy touches you, but not to the extent that it does when you see the lines of gravestones,' says Vic. 'Bill Mallon's niece sent me an email six months ago which really brought tears to my eyes, because for the first time I felt what the families must feel. 'She described how she'd attended a dawn service in New Zealand on Anzac Day when she was a girl, and she said she couldn't understand why her mum and her nanna cried so hard. Those little touches bring it home and make you feel how devastating it must have been for the families. We remember the dead, but we tend to forget about the bereaved.' Traumatic It was only in researching his father's story that Vic realised why his parents' generation were so reticent about their wartime experiences: the horror of what they lived through was so traumatising that they were unable to articulate it. It was left to the postwar generation to give a voice to their parents' experiences. The two graves in Bergen op Zoom are among millions around Europe that testify to the bravery of those who gave their lives in military service, but the suffering of those who survived has been largely overlooked. In researching their fathers' stories, both Vic and Lorraine discovered how deep the scars ran. 'War is a generational thing,' says Lorraine. 'It does not stop with the immediate damage done or the death of a parent. It is destructive.' After publishing The Mallon Crew Vic was put in touch with the one member of the crew whom he had been unable to trace during his research, mid-upper gunner Don Cook. 'I spoke to his widow and she didn't even know he'd dropped bombs,' says Vic. 'All he'd told her was that he dropped food supplies over Europe. So some airmen didn't want to talk about that side of the operations.' Vic says his book has struck a chord with many people whose families were affected by what nowadays is recognised as post-traumatic stress. 'A number of people have said to me that we should remember those that came back as well as the ones that didn't come back,' he says. 'I know that, just from a crew like my dad's who only flew eight operations, at least one of them suffered mental problems later in life. So it's important that we do remember.' You can buy The Mallon Crew directly from Vic Jay by emailing TheMallonCrew@gmail.com or via the American Book Centre  More >


Death in the Netherlands – how to deal with inheritance issues

The death of a relative is never an easy thing to deal with, but can be even more complicated and distressing when you live in a foreign country. What does Dutch law say about succession and inheritance? Say you are French, have an American partner and have lived in the Netherlands for the past three years. If one of you dies, what does that mean for the other’s inheritance? A relatively new European regulation has clarified the issue of succession when it comes to internationals. The EU regulation states that the law on inheritance in the country where the deceased had his or her last ‘habitual residence’ should govern that person’s estate, regardless of where the estate is located. This means that if the deceased person usually live in the Netherlands, their estate will be subject to Dutch law, even if they are, for example, American or French. However, the EU regulation also allows people to decide that the law of their own country should apply – a decision which needs to be included in their will. You will need to think carefully about which option to go for – and a lot will depend on the laws in your country of origin. Whichever option you choose, the law will apply to your entire estate in the EU, with the exception of  Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, as they have separate rules.  A foreign inheritance If you are living in the Netherlands and are receiving an inheritance from abroad, you will often have to deal with foreign legal systems. If the person you are inheriting from had another EU country as their habitual residence, it is relatively simple to determine the which laws apply to the estate. If they live outside Europe the situation will largely depend on other factors, such as the location of the assets and the location where the deceased lived. For example, if you are living in the Netherlands and inherit a house in the Netherlands from a relative outside Europe, you may still have to deal with Dutch law. Be aware that determining which national law applies to the estate you are receiving should always be one of the important first things to find out.  Accepting or rejecting an inheritance has to be done in accordance with the appropriate law and if you make mistakes, the impact could be far-reaching. No will If someone dies in the Netherlands without leaving a will – and the Netherlands is their habitual place of residence – Dutch law will apply. The Dutch law on succession states that the children and spouse (or registered partner) are first in line to inherit (equal shares of) the estate. Brothers, sisters and parents are next, grandparents follow and great-grandparents are last. This means that if the person who dies has no children or partner, their brothers, sisters and parents will inherit the estate. If there are none of them, the estate will go to the grandparents and so on. It is worth noting that a partner who is not married to the deceased or has not undergone a registered partnership is not an heir and is barely protected by law. Children Dutch law also dictates that if the spouse or registered partner is the lawful heir, they are entitled to all the property (assets and debts) of the deceased. Children, however, only have a financial claim on the partner of the deceased, presumably their parent, though not always. This claim can be collected only if the partner dies or goes bankrupt. If the partner remarries, the children would be able to request material parts of the estate, but the partner will still retain the rights to use those items. Making a will If you have a will drafted in the Netherlands, it has to comply with Dutch law, so a notary will have to make up a deed in order for the document to be valid. Making a will allows you to make ‘bespoke’ arrangements regarding succession and the division of your estate. For example, you can name an executor to represent the heirs and lead the process of dividing up and settling your estate. You can also leave items or sums of money to charities or friends and include almost anyone you like as an heir. Disinheritance Sometimes, people want to disinherit relatives who are their legal heirs. While you can stop your mother or your brother inheriting from you, children and legal partners will always have certain rights and in these cases the law overrules the will. For example, children are always entitled to their statutory share in the estate. This amount is half of the value of what they would have been entitled to if they were not disinherited. A disinherited spouse will also have the right to the continued use of the marital home. As you can see, wills and inheritances can bring about many legal and financial difficulties. At the Legal Expat Desk, our experts can help you prepare yourself and your loved ones and save everyone more difficulty during a trying time. If you have questions about iinheritance law or any other legal issues, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  More >


English is no longer a foreign language in NL, but it has a unique character here

Are the Dutch now native speakers of English, and is Dutch-English a distinctive thing? Deborah Nicholls-Lee meets linguistics expert Alison Edwards to find some answers. English is no longer a foreign language in the Netherlands, asserts Leiden University’s Alison Edwards, who has published widely on the subject. ‘If you can assume that you can walk down the street and that the hairdresser will be able to speak to you in English, and the bus driver, and the taxi driver, then functionally it’s a second language not a foreign language.’ This view is perhaps unsurprising. The Dutch speak, it is claimed, the best English in the world. They often prefer speaking English when foreigners try to practise their Dutch, and the higher education sector here is rapidly being anglicised, with more than half of all university courses now taught in English. Distinctive Despite all the accolades, Dutch-English is distinct - in grammar, idiom, and accent - from the language used by native speakers, and this has divided opinion. On one side, liberal academics have spent a long time validating new forms of English and rejecting an imperialistic view of linguistics. After all, there are now more non-native speakers of English than native, and even mother tongue speakers use a huge variety of forms. But even the Dutch themselves aren’t persuaded. ‘It’s a well-meaning idea, this idea of democratising English in different places,’ says Edwards, ‘but people don’t seem to want it. If you ask Dutch people, do you prefer to aim for British English or Dutch English? They will always say British English and they are really critical of anything that sounds Dutch-English or has a strong Dutch accent.’ Popular culture has made a folk devil of football manager Louis van Gaal and his bewildering Dutch-English, and even Mark Rutte has come under fire. ‘This is a guy who runs a country and speaks with other world leaders in English every day and gets stuff done,’ says Edwards, in his defence. ‘His English is perfectly functional, perfectly communicative.’ For the Dutch, though, it’s all about trying to speak English like Frans Timmermans (deputy president of the European commission), explains Edwards, who polled hundreds of native Dutch speakers as part of her 2014 thesis English in the Netherlands. Functions, forms and attitudes. Over 60% of her respondents agreed with the statement ‘When I speak English to outsiders, they should not be able to recognise where I’m from’ . Does Dunglish exist? Yet, in most cases, Dutch-English has a perceptible quality that identifies the speaker as non-native. Does this make it a language though? Edwards spent some time compiling a corpus of Dutch English to gauge how much English in the Netherlands deviates from standardised forms. Idiosyncrasies included front-loaded sentences: Especially for our external clients, this could be an interesting offer; redundant prepositions: to discuss about; and the use of an adjective instead of an adverb: The aim is to organise the services as efficient as possible. False friends also play an important part, such as public for audience and eventual for possible.  However, Edwards became disillusioned with such approaches. ‘It was a very liberal project, but it became really conservative because you were trying to put people into this box. So, it kind of backfired.’ She also found that Dutch people don’t think they speak Dutch-English. ‘For them, it’s not a variety, so it doesn’t really make sense in persisting to call it a variety.’ It’s social, not linguistic In fact, focusing on Dutch-English as a set of grammatical rules, says Edwards, misses the point. ‘What counts as a language or a dialect is a political and social question. It’s not a linguistic question.’ The Scandinavian languages, for example, are mutually intelligible but they have different names, due to what Edwards describes as ‘nation state building and a national mythology’. Conversely, languages that come under the umbrella of ‘Chinese’ are as diverse as German and French but, she says, it’s in the government’s interest to promote uniformity. The same can be said of Dutch-English. ‘When a Dutch person uses English with another Dutch person, it’s got nothing to do with communication,’ she argues. ‘That’s a part of the purpose of the language, but the other purpose is social: in order to share a culture, share your values, position yourself socially.’ Non-native English is not necessarily worse Far from being inferior, Dutch-English is becoming the English of choice in some spheres. Research has shown, says Edwards, that incoming international students choose the Netherlands, not just because it is cheaper, but because they deem the English to be ‘easier’. ‘The Netherlands has become an English-speaking education destination,’ she says, much like Singapore in Asia. There has been talk recently of native speakers actually causing confusion in international, English-speaking environments. In the European parliament, for example, where simple, imperfect language is the default, the complex, idiomatic English of the native speaker can, some claim, lead to a breakdown in communication. Apparently, once the native speaker has left the room, business often runs more smoothly. With a nation of enthusiastic speakers and an expanding global market, Dutch- English could one day be our second language too. Could we soon be front loading our sentences and shunting the verb to the end? It’s eventual. And, if so, scholars like Edwards will have plenty to discuss about. You can comment on this story in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.  More >


Blog Watching: The word ‘expat’ has become muddled in its meaning

Blog Watching: The word ‘expat’ has become muddled in its meaning

Molly Quell is an American journalist living in the Netherlands. She blogs at Neamhspleachas about anything that strikes her fancy and you can also follow her on Twitter at @mollyquell. Note: Molly is DutchNews.nl's social media editor. 'How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc ?' It’s one of the questions on the Dutch News’ 10 Questions interview. It’s also a question I occasionally get asked. Expat, short for expatriate, has a long and sometimes problematic history. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (out of) and patria (native country) according to Wikipedia. So literally someone out of their native country. But English has a lot of other words that cover that concept as well. Immigrant. Migrant. Exile. Resident. Emigrant. People have been moving abroad since before national borders were a thing. In more recent history, people have been forced to leave their homeland due to war, famine, persecution or natural disaster. Or they have chosen to go, as missionaries, diplomats and merchants. In recent parlance, expat is commonly used to refer to people who are sent abroad on short-term work assignments. It connotes rich white people. Poor people are immigrants while rich people are expats. But that’s not universal. I was listening to a podcast about Manischewitzof all things and the podcast host referred to her Haitian mother as an expat. She’s described as working in domestic service, so likely not a rich person sent abroad by their employer. As the world has gotten smaller, as the internet has created more global work opportunities, as international air travel has made it possible to jet set, as the economy has become more interconnected, there’s been a muddling of the traditional definition of expat. If you study abroad and then land a job in that country, does that make you an expat? What if you’re a global nomad? Or if you retire in another country to enjoy a lower cost of living and sunnier weather? Both immigrant and emigrant imply a permanency that doesn’t cover my situation. I live in the Netherlands and probably will for the foreseeable future, but I’m not sure I’ll stay here forever. And I didn’t move here deliberately to stay. I’m not an exile (no matter how badly Trump’s Twitter feed gets.) I’m not an expat because I’m not here for work and it’s no longer temporary. I am a resident of the Netherlands, but that seems to only cover half the problem for me. There are many plays on the word expat, love-pat or a person who moves abroad for love. I am staying abroad for love and I did move here originally for love (or with my love) but I stayed on in between. I’m certainly not a re-pat (someone who returns to their home country after living abroad) or a flex-pat (someone who works short-term assignments abroad.) The English language has not caught up with what I am exactly, it seems. This blog was first published on Neamhspleachas. Every month we feature a blog post from one of our favourite bloggers. Interested? See if your blog meets the criteria to be included on the site.  More >


Forget big art – here are some of the Netherlands’ stranger museums

Forget big art – here are some of the Netherlands’ stranger museums

Have you already checked out the latest exhibit at the Kunsthal in Rotterdam and explored every corner of the Rijksmuseum? If so, then you might want to visit one of the Netherlands’ smaller and much more unusual museums. Here’s Brandon Hartley’s look at some of the oddest ones scattered across the country. Pianola Museum - Amsterdam Over a century ago when phonographs were still in their infancy, pianolas were all the rage...among those that could afford them. These player pianos were quite the status symbol and some of them cost as much as the average school teacher’s annual salary. Nowadays, it’s hard to even give them away and many have wound up in dumping grounds. Fortunately, the proprietors of this museum, which can be found in a house along the Westerstraat, have spent the past several decades trying to rescue and restore as many of them as possible. Visitors can watch several pianolas pound out the greatest hits of the early 20th century and view thousands of preserved rolls that can play everything from classic symphonies to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. Glasses museum - Burgh-Haamstede The Netherlands is home to many offbeat museums and this one is devoted entirely to eyeglasses. Curator Henk Bergmans began collecting them as a hobby over 40 years ago. When his stockpile of spectacles outgrew both a bedroom and the garage at his house, his friends convinced him to open a museum. It recently relocated to the small town of Burgh-Haamstede from Amsterdam and contains tons of interesting and unique eyewear in addition to paintings and unusual clothing. Chess museum - Amsterdam You may be familiar with the large chessboard that is often used by players on the Max Euweplein but you might not know that the square also has a museum dedicated to the Dutch chess grandmaster. Euwe worked as a mathematician, educator and author during his lifetime but his real passion was chess. In the eponymous museum, you can view exhibits about his life and career along with others devoted to the culture surrounding the timeless board game. Museum de Heksenwaag - Oudewater Many Dutch communities are still home to historic weigh houses where goods were once placed on scales before being transported to nearby markets. This one in Oudewater is home to a strange set that dates back to 1482. They were used to test whether or not someone was a witch and still are to this day. The scales were authorized by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, which supposedly ensured that those on trial would be evaluated fairly, so they attracted alleged sorceresses from all over Europe who were determined to prove their innocence. Over five hundred years later, they have yet to yield a guilty verdict (former Dutch queen Juliana herself was declared ‘not a witch’ during a visit in 1952). If you’ve been thinking about sending an application to Hogwarts, you might want to hold off until you visit the museum and step on the scales yourself. But if you’re already skilled in the dark arts and would rather keep it a secret, you can instead enjoy the displays about the history of witch hunting in Europe. The Cube Houses - Rotterdam They’re among the most iconic and unusual architectural wonders that you’ll find in a city that’s full of them. Rotterdam’s Cube Houses were designed and built by Dutch architect Piet Blom in the 1970s. They still serve as homes but this one has been set aside as a museum so the residents can avoid being constantly pestered by curious visitors. You can explore nearly every corner of this ‘show cube’ and get a look at what it’s like to live in one of the planet’s strangest households. The Dutch Pinball Museum - Rotterdam Most museums won’t let you touch the exhibits but you can at Rotterdam’s Dutch Pinball Museum (provided you don’t tilt them). Located in a former warehouse across the Rijnhaven from the Hotel New York, it’s home to 70 different machines that span several decades. While some of the older ones are for display purposes only, visitors can play well-known classics like The Addams Family as well as more obscure titles inspired by everyone from the Harlem Globetrotters to Dolly Parton. Museum Bommelzolder - Zoeterwoude Zoeterwoude resident Pim Oosterheert is such a fan of cartoonist Marten Toonder that he turned his attic and eventually the ground floor of his own home into a museum dedicated to the late cartoonist. Best known for Tom Poes, a daily comic strip about the titular cat and Oliver B. Bumble, a wealthy bear, Toonder was once one of the most successful cartoonists in the country. Diehard fans of the strip typically refer to it as Bommelsaga (thus the museum’s name, which translates into English as ‘Bommel Attic’). Visitors to the museum can view over four decades of Toonder’s strips along with toys, puzzles, stamps, and other products that his work inspired. Entry to the museum is free but an appointment must be arranged in advance. Escher Museum - The Hague Its inclusion on this list may be a little too on the nose, but the Escher Museum and its namesake are undeniably weird. Housed within the gorgeous Lange Voorhout Palace since 2002, it’s home to many of the famous Dutch artist’s woodcuts, lithographs, and prints that still adorn countless dormitory walls all around the world. The third floor has several interactive exhibits that include the ‘Escher Room’, which makes tall visitors appear shorter than their more pint-sized cohorts. Also keep an eye out for the strange chandeliers designed by Rotterdam artist Hans van Bentem that feature everything from glass spiders to stars endlessly reflected in a series of adjacent mirrors. Atlantic wall museum - Scheveningen Museums are typically focused on what hangs on their walls rather than the walls themselves but this one is an exception. It’s devoted to the Atlantic Wall, a colossal project orchestrated by the Nazis to construct a 5,000 kilometre series of fortifications to prevent the Allies from invading the European continent during World War 2. Located in a former German bunker, the museum offers exhibits about the bizarre undertaking and the poor souls forced to help build it in addition to former living quarters furnished with historical furniture and other objects. Rietveld Schröder House - Utrecht Truus Schröder-Schräder, a widowed Dutch socialite and trained pharmacist who participated in the De Stijl art movement, came up with an odd idea while commissioning a new house for her and her three children: she wanted one without interior walls. It was a tall order, especially in the early 1920s, but architect Gerrit Rietveld was game. What the two created wasn’t quite what she originally envisioned but it was considered revolutionary upon its completion in 1924. The house is now one of the best known examples of De Stijl architecture and a World Heritage site. Oh, and a museum too where visitors can view unusual features like its ‘invisible corner’. The Waterlinie Museum - Bunnik Water has served as both a friend and a foe to the Netherlands for centuries. This museum located outside of Utrecht covers some of the times when it helped defend the country’s borders, instead of merely causing major headaches for its engineers. Housed in Fort bij Vechten, which is part of the historic New Dutch Waterline, the museum contains large models and exhibits that offer a glimpse at infamous moments when the Netherlands was able to use h2o as a weapon.  More >


DutchNews podcast – The Arkmageddon Alpacalypse Edition – Week 1

DutchNews podcast – The Arkmageddon Alpacalypse Edition – Week 1

The DutchNews podcast returns after an extended Christmas break with a feast of news from the old year and the new. We catch up on the Dutch winter storm that was too fierce for Noah’s Ark, the former minister who crashed his bus while texting behind the wheel and the whirlwind of fake news that engulfed the new US ambassador. Plus what happened when Rotterdam police unveiled plans to undress suspects in the street and an alpaca went walkabout in Haarlem. Top story First storm of the year causes €10 million of damage Noah's Ark breaks free and goes on rampage in Bible Belt fishing village News Regional bus and train drivers go on strike in dispute over pay and toilet breaks Rotterdam police under fire for plan to confiscate designer clothes on the spot National archive releases wartime documents on 'enemy' German nationals Mystery alpaca found wandering streets of Haarlem Sport Netherlands to send 'compact team' of mainly speed skaters to Winter Olympics Discussion: best of the news from the end of 2017 King calls for 'greater we' instead of 'big I' in Christmas TV address New Year celebrations caused €12 million of damage D66 leader Pechtold insists gift of Scheveningen apartment is 'private matter' Henk Krol angers Iran by throwing Christmas nuts in the bin (Telegraaf, Dutch) Wilders sacks local election candidate in Rotterdam for being too racist Thierry Baudet voted politician of the year Rutte taken for a ride for former minister turned bus driver Teeven (RTL, Dutch) Where your extra pennies will go: a round-up of new laws and price rises for 2018 US ambassador embroiled in multiple fake news row  More >


Key changes to Dutch taxes you need to know about in 2018

The new Dutch government is planning to make quite a few changes to the current tax system. While most of them won’t come into effect until 2019, it is time to start planning for their impact now. The centre-right Dutch coalition government sees giving people more cash to spend as key to ensuring future economic growth. Part of the strategy involves simplifying the income tax system and raising taxes from other sources. 1. Income tax The biggest shake-up in the tax proposals is cutting the number of tax bands to two in 2019 but there will be a slight change in the tax rates in 2018. At the moment, there are officially four income tax bands but the second and third band are the same. Currently taxpayers are charged 36.55% on earnings up to €20,000, 40.8% on earnings up to €67,000 and 52% above that. This year the mid tax band will go up marginally to 40.85% while the top band, for income over €68,500 will be 51.95%. The new system in 2019 will involve an income tax rate of 36% on earnings up to €68,000 and 49.5% for all income above that. What will this mean to you? In 2018 the tax cuts will have a minimal effect. In 2019, however, people on middle or high incomes will pay less income tax. People with a low income will pay slightly more. What can you do to prepare for the change? There is not much you can do. Your employer will withhold the payroll tax from your salary. Your net income will probably be a little higher. If you are self employed, consult a tax advisor. 2. Mortgage tax relief (hypotheekrenteaftrek) The interest you pay on your mortgage is deductible from your taxable income. This mortgage tax relief will be a little lower in 2018. The maximum percentage of interest that can be deducted will be 49.5% in 2018 (in 2017 it is 50%). The government is planning on reducing mortgage tax relief more rapidly from 2020. What will this mean to you? You will be able to deduct less of the interest you pay on your mortgage from tax so the cost of owning a house will be a little higher. 3. Home owners tax (eigenwoningforfait) Home owners pay an extra tax based on the fact that they own a property - which is considered an asset that financially benefits them. This tax is based on the official property valuation (WOZ) which local authorities use to calculate local taxes. Average WOZ values will be up 5% to 7% next year, which means the amount you pay in home owners' tax will rise too. At the moment people who have paid off their mortgages don't have to pay the home owners tax but the government is to start phasing this in from 2019. What will this mean to you? The value of your house will probably increase. As a result, you will have to pay more home owners tax. 4. Asset tax You have to pay tax on the income you are assumed to get from your savings and investments (the box 3 income). There is a tax-free capital threshold. This amount is increasing from € 25,000 in 2017 to € 30,000 in 2018. What does this mean to you? If you have savings and other box 3 assets valued at less than €30,000, you won't have to pay any asset tax. If you have more, the rates of tax are changing: € 30,000 – € 70,800 = 0.6% asset tax € 70,800 – € 978,000 = 1.3% asset tax Above € 978,000 = 1.61% asset tax 5. 30% ruling The 30% ruling applies to you if you were recruited outside of the Netherlands or seconded from a country other than the Netherlands to work here. The following conditions apply as of 1 January 2012: You are recruited outside a 150-km zone of the Dutch border. You have a taxable income of minimal € 37,296 before applying the 30% benefit. The maximum validity of the 30% ruling is currently eight years. There will be no changes in regards to the 30% ruling in 2018 but the new cabinet is planning to reduce it to five years in the future. 6. Other changes Other changes are on the way which may well eat up many of the benefits the income tax cut will bring. The lower rate of value-added tax (btw) is going up from 6% to 9% and this will impact on grocery bills and tickets for the theatre or cinema. In addition, energy bill taxes are also going up. According to calculations by home owners lobby group Vereniging Eigen Huis, the increase could be as much as €200 per household from 2019, when most of the changes come into effect. In 2018, the government says, the average rise will be €45. All the more reason, then, to make sure that you make the most of all the tax breaks open to you. If you’d like to speak to an expert, contact a tax advisor at Blue Umbrella, who will be more than happy to help you with all your Dutch tax matters.  More >


Five techie tools for getting to grips with Dutch

Five techie tools for getting to grips with Dutch

If learning Dutch was one of your New Year resolutions but you don't fancy going back to the classroom, help is at hand. Deborah Nicholls-Lee reports on the latest technological tools designed to help you get to grips with a new language. The handheld device 'No person should be misunderstood’ is the mantra of Travis the Translator, the portable interpreter who fits in the palm of your hand. This brand new product, founded in 2016 in Rotterdam, has crowdfunded over $1.4m via Indiegogo, and has just begun the shipping phase. Ideal for face-to-face conversations - and functioning online and offline – Travis’s Quad Core processor means that there’s just a two-second delay before it translates each utterance it hears. The device is a combination of software and purpose-built hardware, and makes use of artificial intelligence to improve the more you use it. The built-in speakers and noise-cancelling microphone mean that Travis can be placed on a table or chair between users, allowing them to maintain eye contact and carry out a more natural conversation. Batteries last 12 hours. Travis has partnered with refugee organisation Movement on the Ground to support conversations between aid workers and migrants. The Travis team see the product as part of a global mission ‘to bridge language barriers, spark connection and contribute to positive social change.’ Prices start at around €200. The social media network Social media is a tool for learning language with HelloTalk. The clever app functions as a vast, virtual meeting space, linking you up with native speakers worldwide eager to help you learn their language. With over 8 million users, there are plenty of friendly profiles to choose from and it is easy to search for like-minded learners in your neighbourhood or overseas. More social than scholastic, the app focuses on making connections with others, sharing pictures, doodles, status updates and voice messages, while all the time improving your level in the language. HelloTalk is full of handy functions. If you don’t understand what someone says to you, for example, you can make use of the voice-to-text option, which creates text from speech. It also works the other way round: you can choose to hear texts you receive to learn the pronunciation of the words. You can also tap unfamiliar vocabulary to get an instant translation. You can also play teacher, making corrections to each other’s messages or, like a model student, create your own database of notes, such as grammar corrections, vocabulary or audio files. Even if you leave the Netherlands, you can keep up your Dutch with your new-found contacts. Available on android and iOS. Free basic package. Subscriptions available for advanced features. The magic headphones Pixel Buds are Google’s first Bluetooth headphones and, used in combination with the Google Translate app, offer a modern way to navigate Dutch language issues. Working in tandem with the Google Translate app, the buds allow you to talk in one language and project another from your phone and vice-versa. It’s a handy way to decipher simple sentences in Dutch and works particularly well if a conversation is set up between users who are both wearing the buds. However, customers believing that inserting the little buds into their ears will work like Douglas Adams’ famous babel fish, should know that reality hasn’t yet caught up with science fiction, and the technology is - if we are to believe the lukewarm reviews - not quite there yet. For many users, the microphone is not always responsive enough to hear conversation partners who are more than a breath’s distance from the phone, the buds could do with a button to make them easier to operate, and background noise and longer utterances quickly cause confusion.   While the Google Translate app is free of charge, the Pixel Buds will set you back around €135 – and you’ll need a Pixel 2 smartphone to operate them. You decide. The Google Translate app is available on android and iOS. The language exchange app Due for release in early 2018, the Ananas app lets users find affordable help with Dutch while earning some extra cash themselves. Founder Gezi Fu, a perennial expat who has lived in five different continents and a former student of the University of Amsterdam, saw the need for a tool to help foreign students improve their Dutch and make new friends at the same time. Social isolation is a serious problem on campus, Fu told DutchNews.nl. ‘I am trying to create more diversity.’ The app, its founder claims, is more efficient than a real-life language exchange as you can pre-select who you talk to by screening profiles according to the languages they speak, their hobbies, age and sex. The GPS function also identifies language partners who are closest to you and most likely to be up for quickly proofreading your essay during a lunch break, for example, or doing some friendly conversation practice over coffee. ‘We want them to learn languages in the most organic way,’ explains Fu. With the app, learning Dutch fits in with what you already like doing and have time for, and vocabulary is built in meaningful contexts. If you sign up as a PRO user, you also have the option of charging for your time and offering lessons. Learners can search for teachers according to what they can afford. A professional teacher might cost €40 an hour, while a fellow student on campus might charge just €10 for some informal speaking practice. ‘It’s the cheapest private lesson you can look for,’ says Fu. Ananas will be available on android and iOS. Users offering lessons pay a monthly subscription of €3.99. Learners join for free. The brain hack Opera singer Gabriel Wyner needed to learn multiple languages quickly to perform the most celebrated pieces in his profession. His search for a home-based system of immersive learning - and his discovery of some interesting neurological research on memory - led him to develop Fluent Forever, an app with an original approach to language learning. Based on the premise that it is almost impossible to remember sounds you cannot clearly identify and reproduce, the app focuses first on pronunciation, forming neurological connections between words based on sounds and semantics. Using a system of testing followed by immediate feedback, the learner trains their ears, while also learning to read and write by matching the sounds to spelling patterns. This helps you to think in Dutch, meshing concepts, sounds and spellings together in your mind, rather than trying to memorise abstract translations with no trigger points. ‘The ideal learning situation,’ Wyner told DutchNews.nl, ‘is where users are learning their target language while customising their study tools, so that they had a personal hand in creating everything they see repeated on future days.’ The resources created by each learner become available to other users as part of the Fluent Forever’s ‘universal language support’ system. This is ‘game changing’ for minority languages, says Wyner. ‘We’re not just making a neat tool; we’re creating something that’s tremendously important and powerful.’ The Dutch version of Fluent Forever is expected to launch late 2018. Willing beta testers can get early access by signing up via the Indiegogo page.   More >