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


Festive family fun: things to do in the Christmas holidays

Festive family fun: things to do in the Christmas holidays

The school winter holidays are starting and with them a fantastic array of festive fun kicks off up and down the country. Esther O’Toole looks at some of this year’s highlights. Ice Sculpture Festival – Zwolle The world’s best ice sculptors, representing 16 countries, are descending on Zwolle and 500,000 kilos of ice and snow to build a magical playground for visitors. Enjoy the towering masterpieces and light show before retiring to the café for hot chocolate, apple pie and live music. website World’s Biggest Swan Lake – RAI, Amsterdam Tchaikovsky's most famous ballet comes to Amsterdam this year, with a flock of not 16 but 48 dancers in the corps. This enormous production from renowned British director Derek Deane and the National Ballet of Shanghai played to great acclaim earlier in the year before starting out on tour. A guaranteed spectacular! Tickets start at €39. website Mini & Maxi – Rotterdam Something to entertain the littlest to the biggest: Mini & Maxi are a prize winning Dutch clowning duo who combine music, acrobatics and mime in a unique interactive variety show. They’re legends in the Netherlands and are well known for training many of today’s best Dutch variety talents. For the first time in ten years they are going back on tour themselves and the press are unanimous in saying they’ve still got it! Well, worth a look. December 25 - 27, then on tour, website Open Air Street-Theatre Festival – Oud Kampen If you’re looking for something unusual for this time of year, you could head to Oud Kampen for the annual open air theatre festival, Kerst in Oud Kampen. The beautiful old city centre is decorated to perfection and small events enliven the atmosphere from street artists, music, dance, and acrobatics to a traditional funfair. You can even cram in a little last minute Christmas shopping. Events are free and take place between 4pm – 9pm. December 19 and 20, website A Celtic Christmas Concert – Muiderslot, Muiden Something a little different? Magic comes to the Castle at Muiden on the 23rd of December where musical trio Merain will be performing a special programme of traditional Christmas pieces from the British Isles. Settle in at the Knight’s Hall and let the candlelight, bodhrán, celtic harp and song whisk you away to Arthurian Christmasses of olde. Refreshments available in the Taverne. December 23, website Tomte 4+ - Hasselt, Maastricht, Alkmaar, Tilburg, Leeuwarden, Amsterdam & Tiel An unusual musical theatre event from Utrecht’s Het Filial theatre makers and musicians from Insomnia, Tomte sees live music and puppetry teamed up with digital projection. Taking the audience on a wintery walk through a fantastical land the show is inspired by Tomte Tummetot from legendary Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren (best known for Pippi Longstocking). The production aims to provide an engaging and exciting introduction to modern classical music and innovative theatre practice. Additional performances at other locations throughout January, see full agenda for details. website Charles Dickens Festival – Deventer Is there anything as synonymous with Christmas as Scrooge? In Deventer they don’t think so. In the weekend before Christmas a large part of the town is magically transformed into a Dickensian winter wonderland, full of little ragged orphans, top hatted carol singers and famous characters from Dickens’ best loved books. Lots of lovely Victorian things to see, do and eat! December 19 and 20, website Christmas Circuses Christmas circuses are a particular tradition in the Netherlands. If you’re after one that effortlessly combines the best of tradition and the most exciting new ideas, then head to Carre in Amsterdam. This year's 100 performers include the world’s fastest juggler, Korean acrobats and a flying trapeze. If you’re at the other end of the country and don’t want to travel, then you can try one of the other seasonal circuses in Utrecht, Rotterdam (at the Ahoy) and Maastricht. Enschede is also hosting an international circus festival. Amsterdam Utrecht  Rotterdam  Maastricht Enschede Christmas Gala – Arnhem & Apeldoorn The innovative company Introdans this year brings you four shows in one at its annual Christmas Gala. International, diverse and stirring this company is building a strong international reputation for working with both up and coming as well as master choreographers. Pieces this year include the moving and melancholy Kleine Requiem to the music of Góreki and Swingle Sisters from Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman, who is known for his wonderful way of bringing humour to dance. December 26-29, website Tango Train – Amsterdam If you’d like to do some fancy footwork yourself then have a look at Tango Train. After a great launch last year, Tango Train is once again organising Milonga (Argentinian Tango) events at locations throughout Amsterdam in the last week of the year. Dance, take a workshop or see a tango themed movie or exhibition. There are options for young and old, novice and advanced, and at various times of day. Food options also available, check with the specific location. December 25 - January 3, website For more Christmas shows, check out our What's On section.  More >


WOZ, KK, VVE – the language of buying a house in the Netherlands

Mortgage interest rates are at a record low in the Netherlands so it could be the perfect time to buy a home of your own. Here’s a list of 10 key terms which every prospective home owner should understand before they start hunting for their dream dwelling. 1 KK The letters KK in housing adverts stand for kosten koper. This means that all the costs involved in buying a house – of transferring ownership in the land registry, of the drawing up of the contract by a notary and the 2% property transfer tax – are to be paid by the buyer. This adds around 6% to the price of a house, some of which is tax deductible. 2 Overdrachtsbelasting Overdrachtsbelasting or property transfer tax, amounts to 2% of the price of your new home. The cost is included in the KK. 3 Notaris The notaris – notary – is a lawyer specialised in family and private law, who draws up the preliminary sales contract for the property and the mortgage deeds (as well as wills, prenuptial agreements and that sort of thing). The notary’s bill for a property of around €250,000 will be around €1,000. 4 WOZ Every year thousands of home owners submit a formal protest about the official valuation of their property under the Wet Waardering Onroerende Zaken (property valuation law).The WOZ is used to calculate how much local property tax (OZB) has to be paid and is based on the highest price someone would be prepared to offer for the property. 5 Eigenwoningforfait The eigenwoningforfait is an extra tax on home owners and is based on the property’s official local authority valuation (WOZ). In 2015, home owners paid 0.75% of the WOZ value of their homes in extra tax, as long as the property was under €1.050.000. For properties worth over a million, it gets a bit more complicated. The tax was introduced years ago as an income equaliser because home owners were considered to be better off than tenants who pay rent. The actual effect of the eigenwoningforfait is to all but wipe out any benefits from the Netherlands' very generous mortgage tax relief system. 6 NHG The Nationale Hypotheekgarantie or national mortgage guarantee was introduced in 1995 to encourage home ownership and currently covers premises valued up to €245.000. The guarantee means that if people default on a NHG mortgage, a special home ownership fund (WEW) will pay off the debt. Almost 50% of homes bought under the guarantee limit are financed by NHG. The NHG limit will be cut to €225,000 in July 2016. 7 NVM The Nederlandse Vereniging van Makelaars is the biggest Dutch estate agents' association, claiming over 4,000 affiliated brokers. It operates the Funda.nl property search website and provides endless statistics on the state of the property market. Members of the NVM have to have proper qualifications. Every year it throws out members who refused to take compulsory refresher training courses. 8 Verkoopmakelaar and aankoopmakelaar The verkoopmakelaar is the real estate agent representing the people selling the property who will do his or her best to maximise the price. The aankoopmakelaar is the one acting on the buyer’s behalf. Before you start, you need to make an agreement with your estate agent about what they will do for you and how much it will cost. The fee is known as the ‘courtage’. 9 Erfpacht or eigen grond. If you see eigen grond in the advert for your dream home, it means you will actually own the land the property is built on. If not, you will be liable for erfpacht, or ground rent, which you will pay to the owner of the land. In many cases this will be the local council, but it could also be a private person or company. Erfpacht, particularly when a private landowner is involved, can be a complicating factor in getting a mortgage. 10 VVE If you buy a property in an apartment block, under Dutch law you will have to become a member of the VVE or Vereniging van Eigenaren. The VVE (owners’ association) ensures the property is well maintained and insured and deals with communal expenses. You have to pay a monthly fee to the VVE – usually around €50-€100, so make sure your estate agent checks out the organisation’s finances before hand. If the VVE has no cash reserves but the property is in dire need of maintenance, you could find yourself with a hefty additional bill. For more on buying a house in the Netherlands, in a language you can understand, contact Expat Mortgages.  More >


Ko’nki-klapy: Dutch words which have been adopted abroad

Ko’nki-klapy: Dutch words which have been adopted abroad

No fewer than 17,560 Dutch words have been incorporated into 138 languages around the globe, according to researchers at the Meertens Institute. The report is the result of an eight-year research project. Russian, for example, has lots of Dutch nautical words, while Japanese goes for scientific terms. Trade and immigration played their part, and so does the Netherlands' colonial past: Indonesian is replete with Dutch words. Here’s one word for every letter in the alphabet. Advokaat(je), the eggy alcoholic calorie bomb beloved of aunties at parties is advocaat in English and adwokat in Polish. Beteuterd means something like crestfallen. Both the Danes and the Norwegians liked it and turned it into betuttet which sounds even more crestfallen than the original. Catechisatie, or religious education. According to the Meertens Institute the Dutch and Flemish weren’t as fervent in their attempts to convert the inhabitants of their colonies to Christianity as the Spanish and the Portuguese but they gave it a good shot. The local languages in Suriname, the Dutch Antilles and Indonesia all have the word, along with a number of other religious terms. In Indonesian it became Katégisasi. The word bijbel, or bible, also made its way into Senegalese (bayibala-ya); the Dutch printed a bible in this language in 1740. Doezelen, or being half awake, became the charming dusi mendusi in Indonesian. Edammer, as the whole world knows, is a Dutch cheese. Among many other variants, it is évtam in Greek, Eidamsky syr in Czech, jubnat Idam in Arabic and in Denmark ejdammerost has also come to mean a round head. Fluks, a sadly underused word meaning 'quickly', made it to Norway unaltered while the Swedes turned it into the catchy hux flux. In Portuguese Creole it became flenx. Gesnap, a Flemish word for idle talk was picked up by Spanish soldiers during the Eighty Years’ war (1568 – 1648) and became gaznápiro meaning silly goose. Handelaar (trader), a Dutch word par excellence, became handelar in Indonesian and handler in American English (as in panhandler). Inpolderen, an eminently exportable Dutch practice meaning to create land from the sea or a lake, became impadurinä in Rumanian. Ja goed means affirmative, ok. In Indonesia this became yahut and took on the additional meaning of fantastic. Klapschaats, a recent Dutch innovation to make speed skates even speedier, has been widely adopted and is klapskate in English, pattino clap in Italian and ko’nki-klapy in Russian. Larie, or nonsense, became the much more interesting larifari in German. French dialect dropped an e but added meaning: lari is noisy revelry and confusion. Mekkie is one of fifty surviving Dutch words introduced to the Indian Munsee-Delaware language, spoken in the North American Delaware region in the 17th century (where it is still spoken today by some older people). Onamatopoeiacally, the Dutch settlers called a sheep a mek or mekkie and that is how it survived in Munsee-Delaware. Netjes, a much used word meaning orderly, became néces in Indonesian where it gained the much jollier meaning of 'dolled up' as in ready for a night on the town. Ontbijtkoek, the sticky ginger cake, unsurprisingly some may say, didn’t do very well language-wise. The Indonesians presumably encountered it during colonial times and it lives on in their language as umbaykuk. Pannenkoek, or pancake, did much better and there are variations of the word in many languages. It is the only Dutch word to appear in the Western-Abnaki language spoken (by a very few) in Canada. It also still survives in other Indian languages as the still very pancakey pan’kuk. Q words, which the Dutch adopted from other languages, were all taken over by the Indonesian languages. Questionair became kwéstionér, for example. Rollator, a walking aid for the elderly developed in the Netherlands, has made the transition to English, French and German without a hitch, except, one imagines, for changes in stress. Schorriemorrie is a derogatory term meaning a 'bunch of ne’er do wells'. In Russian dialect it lives on as surimúry but there it means affairs of the heart and secret arrangements. Trambel, or the bell on a tram became trémbél in Petjoh, a creole language spoken in Indonesia. It means a woman who talks incessantly! Uilenspiegel is a hero of Flemish folklore and lives on in French as espiègle which denotes harmless fun. Vlaams, meaning from Flanders, became Flämsch in German where it took on the meaning of gruff and coarse. In Rumanian it became felendreş, meaning fine cloth which the weavers of Flanders were famous for. Winst means advantage or profit and in Norwegian the meaning of vinst is just that. But it’s an interesting process that turns the word – in Indonesian (Bahasa Prokem) – into wins meaning ‘an attractive teenage girl who consorts with older men for money’, as the Meertens Institute puts it. X see Q Y see Q and X Zopie is an old word meaning alcoholic drink. The Dutch still use it in Koek en Zopie, or the food and drink served when the Netherlands puts its skates on. It also figures in Warau, a language spoken by the Indians of the Orinoco Delta and formerly spoken in Gyuana and Suriname. According to the Meertens Institute zoopje was used by the Dutch to oil the trading wheels.  More >


10 Dutch songs everyone should be able to sing along to

10 Dutch songs everyone should be able to sing along to

Blood, sweat and tears, 15 million people, flowery curtains and nights like you only see in films... the Dutch have a huge catalogue of singalong songs. Here's a selection of classics to help you breeze through your inburgeringsexam and earn the awed respect of your Dutch friends. 1 Lang zal ze leven No birthday party is complete without this song and it is one that you must try to master, especially if you have children. It’s very simple. Lang zal ze leven, lang zal ze leven Lang zal ze leven in de gloria, in de gloria, in de gloria Hieperdepiep hoera! (x3) (Translation, Long may he/she live, in glory) That’s it! Tiresome additions such as Zij leve hoog/Honderd jaren leven are not compulsory and can be ignored. 2 Wilhelmus This is the Dutch national anthem and if you are going to sing along, do what the national football team and everybody else does and only sing the first two lines: Wilhelmus van Nassaue Ben ik van Duitsen bloed Mumble, mumble, la la la etc. Duitsen meant Dutch, not German, in the 16th and 17th century in case you’re wondering. 3 Bloed, zweet en tranen One of the last songs (2002) recorded by the late, great André Hazes. It is also one of his best. Like most of his songs it has the odd grammatical wobble but who cares. Here’s the chorus. Lighters at the ready! Met bloed zweet en tranen Zei ik rot hier nu maar op Met bloed zweet en tranen Zei ik vrienden dag vrienden De koek is op. (With blood, sweat and tears, I said sod off out of here. With blood, sweat and tears, I said well friends, it’s goodbye friends, there’s no more pickings left for you). 4 Dinge-dong The list wouldn’t be complete without a Eurovision song and this one actually won for the Netherlands in 1975... in English. But the band, Teach In, also recorded it in Dutch. Here’s a snippet featuring long-term memory loss and daft dinge-dongs and bim-bam-boms. Is ‘t lang geleden? Is ‘t lang geleden? Dat mijn hart je riep met z’n ding-dinge-dong? Is ‘t lang geleden? Is ‘t lang geleden? In de zomer zon ging het bim-bam-bom The lyrics are no better in Dutch than they were in English: Is it long ago? Is it long ago? That my heart called you with its dinge-dinge-dong. Is it long ago? Is it long ago? In the summer sun it went bim-bam-bom. 5 Bloemetjesgordijn More daftness, of the Carnaval kind. Every year a carnavalskraker hits the charts. This one is a classic from 1972. Weet je wat ik wel zou willen zijn? Een bloemetjesgordijn, een bloemetjesgordijn. Van het plafond tot op het raamkozijn: Een bloemetjesgordijn, een bloemetjesgordijn En alle dagen hangen lekker in het zonnelicht Met bloemen op m'n hele lijf en ook op m'n gezicht. (Do you know what I would like to be? A flowery curtain, a flowery curtain. From the ceiling to the window sill. A flowery curtain, a flowery curtain. Hanging in the sunshine all day long. With flowers all over my body and my face.) What can we say? 6 Zing, vecht, huil, bid, lach, werk en bewonder Sing, fight, cry, pray, laugh, work and admire. This a good one for practising your verbs. The song, from 1971, is sung by Ramses Shaffy who had many wonderful hits in Dutch. The refrain is the title so all you have to do is get the verbs in the right order and you’re away. 7 Het is een nacht The chorus of this one is usually sung completely by the audience, giving singer Guus Meeuwis a well-deserved break. It was his first single and became a big hit in 1995 (and drove lots of people crazy). Here’s the chorus so you can join in: Het is een nacht Die je normaal alleen in films ziet Het is een nacht die wordt bezongen in het mooiste lied Het is een nacht waarvan ik dacht dat ik hem nooit beleven zou Maar vannacht beleef ik hem met jou (oh) Translation: It’s a night you only see in films. A night that people sing about. It’s a night I didn’t think I’d ever have. But tonight it’s you and me (oh). Note that films in the third line is pronounced fillems. 8 Een muis in een molen in oud Amsterdam Chances are you know this one in English. This is the original version sung by entertainer Rudi Carrell in 1965. Ik zag een muis. Waar? Daar op de trap. Waar op de trap? Nou daar! Een kleine muis op klompjes Nee, ‘t is geen grap, ‘t ging van klipklappiedieklap op de trap Oh ja. 9 15 miljoen mensen A song originally made to persuade all those wonderfully anarchic Dutch people to use the Postbank (which has since merged with ING bank), it became so popular it went to number 1 in 1996. There are, of course, now nearly 17 million people in the Netherlands, but the sentiment (and it is full of sentiment) holds true. Note: the new ING adverts have dropped the anarchy and replaced it with full-blooded orange nationalism. 15 miljoen mensen Op dat hele kleine stukje aarde Die schrijf je niet de wetten voor Die laat je in hun waarde 15 miljoen mensen Op een hele kleine stukje aarde Die moeten niet 't keurslijf in Die laat je in hun waarde So arms in the air and start singing: 15 million people, on a tiny patch of land. You don’t tell them what to do. You respect them for what they are. 15 million people, on a tiny patch of land. You don’t try to put them in a straitjacket. You respect them for what they are. 10 Aan de Amsterdamse grachten This 1949 declaration of love to the murky but undoubtedly very beautiful canals of Amsterdam sung by comedian Wim Zonneveld is another Dutch favourite, and singing it while standing on a bridge (in the capital of course, not just any old bridge) will gain you the admiration of many. Aan de Amsterdamse Grachten heb ik heel m'n hart voor altijd verpand Amsterdam vult mijn gedachten als de mooiste stad in ons land Al die Amsterdamse mensen al die lichtjes 's avonds laat op 't plein niemand kan zich beter wensen dan een Amsterdammer te zijn To the canals of Amsterdam I have pledged my heart forever Amsterdam fills my thoughts As the most beautiful city in our country All those Amsterdam people All those lights late at night on the square No one could wish for more Than to be an Amsterdammer  More >


Dutch healthcare: is it worth switching to a new health insurer?

Dutch healthcare: is it worth switching to a new health insurer?

The six-week window for changing health insurers is now open. The average rise in premiums for a full year is around €50 but the difference between the most expensive and the cheapest health insurance policies is more than €300. So is it worthwhile checking your current policy? Health insurance companies have all now revealed their new policies and premiums for 2016. In September, the government said it expected the cost of a basic health insurance package to increase by more than €7 a month. Yet, according to research by ZorgWijzer.nl and the national health authority, the actual increase is closer to €4. That might not seem a lot when you consider the hassle of changing, but you could save hundreds of euros by making a switch. You can check whether your current policy offers best value for money and still suits your needs using the English comparison tool developed by ZorgWijzer.nl. In the Netherlands, people are free to choose the health insurance policy that best suits them, although the government is still in charge of determining basic standards. Each year around one million people take advantage of the change-over window in November and December and move to a new insurer. Changes to health insurance in 2016 A number of things will change regarding the basic health insurance policy in 2016. For starters, the yearly statutory excess (own-risk payment) will increase from €375 to €385. In addition, some treatment by specialist sports injury doctors will be included in the basic health package and parents will no longer have to contribute towards hearing aids for their children. Other changes involve slightly higher patient contributions for hair prostheses, orthopedic shoes, medical transportation and maternity care. Besides the basic health insurance, consumers may choose one or more supplementary packages. These cover expenses that are not included in the basic healthcare package, such as dental care, physiotherapy and alternative therapies. Premiums vary significantly, depending on the chosen cover, and it is crucial to make sure you really know what you are getting for your money. Finding a suitable health insurance policy can be a time-consuming process. ZorgWijzer.nl offers several guides and a useful English tool to help you find a suitable and affordable health insurance policy for 2016.  More >


Ten things you need to know to celebrate Sinterklaas

Ten things you need to know to celebrate Sinterklaas

On December 5, the shops will shut early and some 60% of Dutch households will settle down to celebrate Sinterklaas. Here's a list of all you need to know to get it right. 1 Who is Sinterklaas? The man in the mitre is impersonating Saint Nicholas, a 4th century bishop who lived in Myra, in what is now Turkey. From the 11th century onwards, news of his miracles spread around Western Europe and he became the patron saint of practically every section of society, including children. This goes back to the saint’s facility in piecing back together three young people chopped up by an innkeeper and put in a vat of brine. The story of how Saint Nicholas comes at night to deliver presents is based on his generosity to three prostitutes who were tossed sacks of gold for a dowry through the window under cover of night. Of course he immediately became patron saint of prostitutes too. 2 When did the Dutch start celebrating? The feast of St Nicholas has been celebrated for at least 700 years in the Netherlands and, as a Catholic celebration, went underground when it was banned during the Reformation. Many of today's traditions - such as Zwarte Piet and the steam boat, came from a book written by teacher Jan Schenkman in 1850 and the real commercialisation of Sinterklaas began in the 1930s. Up until the 1940s, children would find a present in their shoe on December 6, which is officially St Nicholas' saints day in the Catholic church calendar. However, the partying has gradually shifted to the night before, or December 5, which is also known as pakjesavond or parcels evening. 3 The arrival of Sinterklaas The Meertens Institute says the first intocht van Sinterklaas, or the arrival of Sinterklaas, took place in Zwolle in 1873 when ‘a couple of well-to do farmers had a local prankster dress up as Sinterklaas distributing sweets to poor children'. Since 1952 the arrival of Sinterklaas has been a televised event which sees the Sint and his Zwarte Pieten land in style from their steam boat from Spain (although Sinterklaas has been known to arrive by train, plane and even a hot air balloon). A different place to set foot on dry land is judiciously chosen every year. Sinterklaas always arrives on a Saturday at least three weeks before December 5 so you have lots of time to spend money on presents. 4 Drawing lots Once Sinterklaas is actually in the country, the fun can begin. Sinterklaasavond, the night of December 5th, is usually celebrated with family and/or friends. Lots bearing the names of the participants are drawn some time beforehand and – another very Dutch tradition – an agreement is made about how much will be spent on the presents. According to a recent consumer poll the Dutch spend between €10 and €50 euros on a present while expenses for the whole evening don’t exceed an average of €100. 5 Shoes In the days leading up to the 5th of December, children put their shoes in front of the fire (or the radiator) in the hope that Sinterklaas will fill it with a small present or a chocolate goody. Some children think they can get around the Sint by leaving a carrot for the bishop's horse, accompanied by a wish list. In the olden days a disobedient child would find a potato in his/her shoe but these days this is deemed too traumatic. 6 Songs Sinterklaasliedjes, or Sinterklaas songs, are sung when the children put their shoe in front of the fireplace and at the beginning of the 5th of December festivities. Most of the songs date from the 19th and early 20th century and, like the character of Zwarte Piet, some have been adapted to the changing times: in the traditional welcoming song ‘Sinterklaasje, kom maar binnen met je knecht’ (Sinterklaas please come in with your servant) the word ‘servant’ has been replaced by ‘Piet’. Here are some examples of popular Sinterklaas songs recorded in the late 1960s. 7 The visit At some point, every Dutch child comes face-to-face with Sinterklaas, whether it be at school or their hockey club or even a home visit. Yes, there are lots of specialist agencies around who will supply you with a Sint and Piet, or even a video message from the great man. Sinterklaas carries with him ‘het grote boek’: a big book with the name of every man, woman and child in it which tells him if they are deserving of a present or not. If Sint visits your home, he will read out all about you from the book (slipped to him in advance by mum or dad) and hand over your gifts. Sinterklaas used to be much more moralistic than he is now, and stories of him threatening to put naughty children in a sack and take them to Spain are very much grandparents' era. 8 Poems Sinterklaas is a feast primarily for children but make no mistake: it’s also an annual grudge fest for grown-ups. People all over the Netherlands are rolling up their sleeves and licking their pencils to have a go at their siblings and friends via another great Sinterklaas tradition: the poem. The poem, which should rhyme and is read out loud by the recipient, is often used as way to score points and take public revenge on your fellow party-goers. As a parent, it is a great way to remind your offspring of the importance of cleaning their teeth or being nice to their siblings. However, be aware that you may get a poem pointing out that your Dutch accent is crap or you drink too much. 9 Surprises Another Sinterklaas tradition is the so-called surprise - or extremely elaborately wrapped up and disguised present. This will plunge households into a frenzy of creativity and closed doors. Some people become extremely competitive and will go to tiresome lengths: for instance by putting your car keys in a block of ice which then has to be defrosted using a hairdryer after which a clue to the present has to be looked for in the car. Others, particularly small boys, like to bury their gift in as much gunk as possible. But most people make nice surprises, such as a cardboard computer for a gamer (but not, alas, with a computer inside, see number 4). 10 Food Food is an important part of Sinterklaas and the giving of speculaas (spiced biscuits, often in the form of the saint) dates back centuries. The sale of Sinterklaas goodies seems to start earlier every year, and if you have not got your chocolate letters in yet, you will find you are left with a choice of S or P (for Sint and Piet). Pepernoten (mini ginger biscuits), taai taai (chewy aniseed biscuits) and schuimpjes, comprised of sugar and artificial colourings, will keep children jittery for weeks. Together, pepernoten and schuimpjes form ‘strooigoed’ or stuff that is thrown into the room by Sint or Piet (usually by an invisible hand belonging to an obliging neighbour), a tradition that again harks back to the saint throwing his money at prostitutes (in his capacity as patron saint of course). The tipple for a Sinterklaas feast is bisschopswijn, or mulled wine. Bonus point:  Sinterklaas versus Christmas Although there’s a shift towards present-giving at Christmas, some 60% of Dutch households still celebrate Sinterklaas, especially ones with small children. International families may well end up celebrating both, urged on by children who are quick to see the advantages of getting two lots of presents within the space of one month.  More >


The story of Dutch spy Mata Hari becomes a ballet

The story of Dutch spy Mata Hari becomes a ballet

She has been the subject of countless books, stage productions and films, but now the life of the Dutch spy and dancer Mata Hari is to be told in the most appropriate way of all – as a ballet. The Dutch National Ballet is producing a large-scale ballet about her, with choreography by artistic director Ted Brandsen, a libretto by Janine Brogt and music by Tarik O’Regan, one of today’s leading British composers. Mata Hari was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle to a well-to-do Frisian family in 1876. Following an unhappy marriage, she went to seek adventure in Paris where, as the exotic and mysterious Mata Hari, she became one of the most famous dancers of her day. She travelled throughout Europe and had highly-placed lovers everywhere, which made her an ideal spy during World War I. Indeed, she was suspected of being a double agent. She was arrested by the French in February 1917, tried as a spy for the Germans, and executed by firing squad that October at the age of 41. An eyewitness account by British reporter Henry Wales says she was not bound and refused a blindfold. After the volley of shots rang out, Wales reported, she slowly fell to her knees, her head up and gazing directly at those who had taken her life. She then fell backwards with her legs doubled up beneath her. According to Wales, an officer walked up to her body, pulled out his revolver and shot her in the head to make sure she was dead. Metamorphoses Ted Brandsen says he wants to focus mainly on Mata Hari’s ability to keep reinventing herself. ‘She underwent many metamorphoses, like a Lady Gaga or Madonna of a hundred years ago,’ he says. ‘I am also moved by her survival instinct and her will to make something of her life no matter what.’ For Janine Brogt, Mata Hari was larger than life. ‘Everything she did was theatrical and of an intensified reality, ‘she says. ‘She was as changeable as the weather and had dozens of different faces.’ Inspiration Over the decades, the Dutch spy has been an endless source of inspiration for the arts. Films, of course, with actresses ranging from Greta Garbo, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Marlene Dietrich to Jeanne Moreau and Sylvia Kristel playing her. But also stage versions, a television series and a Broadway musical in the 1960s. She has also been immortalised by painters such as Isaac Israels (1916) and John Singer Sargent (1906). Earlier this year it was announced that Broadway choreographer and director Jeff Calhoun has joined forces with a team of musical talent to take on Mata Hari’s story in a new original musical which will have its world premiere in Korea. The National Ballet production has its world premiere in Amsterdam on February 6 2016 with further performances until February 26.  More >


Dutch motor on in driverless car trials

Dutch motor on in driverless car trials

The Netherlands is flat and has a lot of straight, overcrowded roads, so it is perhaps hardly surprising that the government has made experimenting with driverless vehicles a central part of its infrastructure policy. Google may plan to eliminate the need for drivers within five years and Tesla has a three year deadline but the Dutch want to play a leading role as well. By Esther O'Toole Two years ago, Amsterdam’s A10 ring road was the setting for a test of self-driving cars, developed by the TNO research institute and scientists from Delft University. The aim of the Dutch Automated Vehicle Initiative (Davi), which also involves the transport ministry, is to develop a user-friendly system which can be built into new and existing cars. Last year, the TNO research institute started working with DAF, Rotterdam’s port authority and the transport industry lobby group TLN to develop self-driving lorries. Then this January, ministers approved the large-scale testing of self-driving cars and trucks on public roads in the Netherlands, arguing the technology could cut jams, improve road safety and reduce pollution. The cabinet wants the Netherlands to take a ‘leading role’ in the development of self-driving cars and systems to allow vehicles to communicate with each other. Moving fast Since then the transport ministry has been busy looking at the ethical ramifications of automation, registration, liability questions relating to insurance and revisions to the 1968 Treaty of Vienna which governs EU traffic laws. There is a sense that everything is moving very fast and ‘more tests are planned, though there are no concrete dates yet’, transport ministry spokeswoman Marianne Wuite told DutchNews.nl. Delft University professor Riender Happee, who is closely involved with the Davi project, said funding so far is going towards tests on the quality of radar and cameras, human-machine interaction on the road, and work on online platforms for the detection of damage to sensors and bad weather. 'Very rapid steps are being made towards safe integration, at low speeds, with all kinds of traffic,' he told DutchNews.nl. 'In the future, every self-driving car will itself know exactly which roads it is allowed to drive on and at what speed.' Eyes on the road Despite the government's enthusiasm, public scepticism and anxiety around automated vehicles does remains high. When Tesla was given the green light to roll out its autopilot software in the US this October, road safety experts in the Netherlands were quick to test it out for themselves. The Dutch vehicle licensing authority (RDW) concluded the upgrade - more improved ‘driver assistance’ capability than ‘autopilot’ - should be allowed on roads here, meaning the 2,000 Dutch Tesla S owners will be able to use it immediately. ‘We have different rules here than in the US and over 60 different safety points that vehicles have to meet,' said spokesman Hans van Geen Huizen.  'Many of these cruise control and automated parking functionalities are already in other brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz as well as the earlier version of the Tesla. 'What is new is that the Tesla can now indicate when you should change lanes or overtake and no other car has that functionality. It is a steering support system not an ‘autopilot’ and you definitely still need to keep your hands on the wheel.’ The Driver Experience Over at Dutch motoring organisation ANWB, they’re watching developments with a keen eye. ‘We are satisfied with the ambitions and the role the Dutch government and Dutch companies are playing within this field. When compared to other European countries, and especially considering our relative size, we’re punching above our weight,’ said spokesman Markus van Tol. In Gelderland, trials using a French autonomous vehicle known as the EZ10 to run passenger services on public roads are poised to begin in January. The Wepods project is a joint venture between the province, Delft University, the TNO research institute and others. Unlike previous tests in Finland, Switzerland and France or similar driverless buses like the Rotterdam Rivium Shuttlebus, the vehicles will be operating on public roads for the very first time, carrying up to six people between Ede and Wageningen. Top speed The Wepods have no steering wheel or brake pedal, a top speed of 25km and can be hailed with a mobile app. Though there will always be someone in charge of the emergency stop mechanism, the idea is to explore the possibilities for passenger vehicles with no driver at all. ‘The Wepods are a whole new ball game for us,' said RDW spokesman Arjen van Vliet. 'We need to take interaction with other road users into account. We’re consulting with a traffic psychologist on that. There’s a very rigorous exemption process for such projects. It’s an interesting time.’ Delft University's Happee says the Davi programme is linking together many national and international partners. 'There are many differing opinions as to when fully autonomous vehicles will become commercially available, but the technology is close,' he said.  More >


10 of the tallest things in the Netherlands

10 of the tallest things in the Netherlands

Coming to the Netherlands can make the average person feel vertically challenged. Yet, the Netherlands is not a country of soaring skyscrapers and mountain peaks.  Our list shows the good old Dutch trait of moderation is also apparent in architecture and nature. Tallest structure This award goes to Gerbrandy Tower in IJsselstein, thanks to the aerial mast mounted on its tower.  Built in 1961 and originally measured at 382.5 metres, the Gerbrandy Tower knocked the Eiffel Tower from top spot on the list of Europe’s tallest structures, holding the title for 12 years. Even with two height reductions in 1987 and 2007, it remains the tallest Dutch structure (366.8 metres) and continues to be used for transmission of television and radio services. Covered with lights in December, it also becomes the tallest Dutch Christmas tree. Tallest tree A Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) in the grounds of the royal family’s Het Loo Palace in Apeldoorn. In 2010, Leo Goudzwaard and Jeroen Philippona measured the tree at 49.75 metres, but this seems somewhat insignificant when compared to its American cousin located in Washington State and measuring 99.76 metres. Highest bridge Designed by Ben van Berkel, the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam with its 139-metre high asymmetrical pylon is the highest bridge in the Netherlands. Highest mountain (well, hill) The award goes to Vaalserberg (322.7 metres) in Limburg. Vaalserberg is also the meeting point between the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Highest sand dune The dunes around Schoorl in Noord Holland are the highest along the Dutch coast, with the tallest coming in at about 54 metres – give or take a few grains. This makes the village one of the safest places to live if you are worried about rising sea levels. Highest building Built in 2010, the Maastoren in Rotterdam is the country’s highest building at 165 metres.  Taking the stairs to the top or 45th floor is a guaranteed workout. The top five tallest buildings in the country are all in Rotterdam. Highest church tower In a country full of churches, this award goes to the Dom tower (112.3m) in Utrecht.  Built between 1321 and 1382, the church tower has amazing views and fourteen ringing bells. The rest of the church collapsed in the 17th century. Tallest windmill The appropriately named Ambtenaar (civil servant) turbine in Wieringermeer, Noord-Holland, stands 135 metres tall, or 198 metres when the blades are taken into account. It even has its own webcam. Tallest chimney Located in the Rotterdam industrial area, the two Shell Pernis chimneys built between 1968 and 1974, are 213 metres high. Tallest Person The Dutch are often said to be the tallest people in the world and Robert Zwaan is considered by the Guinness Book of Records to be is the tallest Dutchman ever at 2.23 metres. He is still more than 50 cms shorter than world record holder, Robert Wadlow from Illinois, who died in 1940. This list was first published on website Netherlands by Numbers  More >


Eight things about Jan Steen’s The Feast of St Nicholaas

Eight things about Jan Steen’s The Feast of St Nicholaas

Sinterklaas and his associates are back in town and in many Dutch homes children are singing Sinterklaas songs, eating pepernoten and hoping for a good haul of pressies on December 5. Many of the Sinterklaas rituals are very old. Here’s a painting by 17th century painter Jan Steen (1626-1679) which he produced around 1665 and which illustrates this perfectly (with not a Zwarte Piet in sight). 1 Who brought the presents? We are not quite sure when most children stop believing that Sinterklaas actually rides around on his horse over the rooftops on a dark and stormy December night dispensing presents through the chimney. But once the older children are ‘in the know’ the tradition is that they perpetuate the myth for their younger siblings. To the right of the painting you can see a boy carrying his baby sister while his awed little brother is standing by. He is pointing to where the presents came from. 2 A shoe by the fireplace In the days leading up to Sinterklaas, children put their shoes in front of the fireplace at night (or lacking that, a radiator) in the hope of finding something nice to eat in the morning, such as a sugar mouse or a handful of pepernoten. In Steen’s time it was no different. In the painting a laughing girl is holding up a shoe but clearly something has gone terribly wrong for the owner, who is crying his eyes out. 3 Have you been a good girl or boy? Sinterklaas is very moralistic in origin. ‘Wie zoet is krijgt lekkers, wie stout is de roe’ goes the song. If you are good you get sweets, if not a good thrashing’, a roe being a bunch of birch twigs tied together for that purpose. The crying boy (actually Steen’s son Thadeus) has been naughty and has found a roe in his shoe and he doesn’t like it. His grandmother, on the right, beckons him. Perhaps Sinterklaas has left something for him after all, hidden behind the curtain. The little girl (Steen’s daughter Catharina) has obviously been very good: she is carrying her doll and a bucketful of gifts very contentedly and she’s not about to share no matter how playfully her mother asks her. And is that a bulging apron full of sweets? 4 Is that a golf club? The little boy (Steen’s son Cornelis) in the centre of the painting is looking straight at us as he points to the shoe. He is probably there to highlight the importance of being good and the consequences of being bad. As so often with Steen, his depiction is so jolly and good-humoured you feel you don’t have to take too much notice. The stick the boy is holding is a ‘kolfstok’, or golf club: the ball is at the mother’s feet. 5 Special food A Sinterklaas celebration is not complete without the food associated with it. There’s plenty of it in this painting: a basket with a big piece of speculaas, or gingerbread, sticking out of it, nuts and fruit and a delicious-looking bread thingy which we can’t identify. Other, present day Sinterklaas foods include marzipan (in all shapes and sizes), pepernoten (ginger nuts), taai taai (an extremely chewy confection which people with iffy teeth should refrain from tackling) and chocolate letters. 6 Two times St Nicholaas Steen liked Sinterklaas so much he painted it twice. It is thought the version you’re looking at was made for a Catholic client and the little girl’s doll is a saint. In the other version (in the Catharijneconvent in Utrecht) she is carrying a big speculaas-like goody (which again she is unwilling to share) which may mean it was made for Protestants. 7 Mess Things are always a bit of a shambles in Jan Steen's paintings and this one is no different. Look at that discarded shoe in the foreground and the food strewn all over the floor. Of course, this is done on purpose and every little item has a meaning. In spite of this, his messy paintings have made their way into the language as ‘Een huishouden van Jan Steen’ means a messy, jolly household with lots of noisy kids. 8 No St Nicholas In Steen’s day Sinterklaas was never a person who entered the house, nor did he come accompanied by a Zwarte Piet. All he did to make his presence known was to throw his presents down the chimney when the children were in bed. The painting is of the morning after the Sint’s visit. According to the Meertens Institute, the depiction of Sinterklaas joining the festivities doesn’t happen until halfway into the 18th century.  More >


10 of the oldest Dutch things

10 of the oldest Dutch things

Being built on a swamp, where wood was the building material of the day, not much remains of the prehistoric Netherlands. Even the Romans avoided much of the country because of the risk of wet feet. But here is a list of 10 old Dutch things. 1  Oldest signs of life The oldest signs of human life in the swampy lowlands were left by a humanoid called Homo heidelbergensis who decided the perfect place to roam was what is now the middle bit of the Netherlands. There they left flints and tools that may be 300,000 years old but could possibly be double that number. The tools, sharpened stones, were probably used to scrape hides. 2 Oldest burial The oldest burial place found so far is in Hardinxveld-Giessendam, where the complete skeleton of a woman was discovered. Trijntje, so dubbed because she was found during building work on the Betuwe train (trein) line, is thought to be between 7,000 and 7,500 years old. She was 158 cm tall, and between 40 and 60 at the time of her death. How she died could not be ascertained. 3 Oldest road The oldest roads which can be identified were part of the Roman Limes, the border defences which marked the edges of the Roman empire which roughly ran from Katwijk and then followed the Rhine. The roads were not thought to have been paved, but packed with gravel and clay. 4 Oldest town The oldest town in the Netherlands as far as official town privileges are concerned is Stavoren (1058) in Friesland but Nijmegen is probably the oldest town of some importance today. In 1980 a roman victory column dating from 17 AD was stumbled upon, celebrating the emperor Tiberius’ successful campaigns in the Lower Rhine. Nijmegen was known as Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum  in Roman times. 5 Oldest house The oldest Dutch house still standing is in Deventer. It has a bit of wall dating from 900. The rest of the house was built in 1130, including its city gate (which is the oldest city gate in the Netherlands.) 6 Oldest written Dutch Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic anda thu, wat unbidan nu? It means, or was thought to mean ‘All the birds are making their nest except you and I, what are we waiting for?’ and it has long been considered the oldest example of the Dutch language. The text was found on a manuscript copied in Winchester Abbey and is thought to be a little doodle to try out a new pen by a monk in his native West Flemish. In 2012 Belgian professor Luc de Grauwe made a very convincing case for the sentence to be in Old English. According to the professor this translates into the much less romantic and frankly incomprehensible: ‘All the birds have now built their nests except you and I, now what do you expect?’ The official oldest Dutch bit is Maltho thi afrio lito, or ‘I tell you I release you’ which dates from 510 and was the standard phrase to free a serf. 7 Oldest reclaimed land Reclaiming land has been a Dutch pursuit since the 14th century but the first polder of any significance is the Beemster (1607 – 1612). It even made the World Heritage list. Brilliant engineer Jan Adriaanszoon Leeghwater (literally empty (of) water) used 47 windmills to drain an area of almost 73 m2 km. The Beemster was turned into extremely fertile agricultural land and generated much wealth for the canny investors of the time. 8 Oldest church The oldest church in the Netherlands still functioning as a church is the Oude Kerk in Oosterbeek (Gelderland) which is pre-Romanesque and dates from the 10th century. In 1944 the church was the backdrop to heavy fighting between the Germans and the Allies during Operation Market Garden. It remains a place of pilgrimage for many veterans today. 9 Oldest university Leiden University is the oldest university in the Netherlands. It was founded on February 7, 1575. Apparently William of Orange offered the city a choice: an exemption of tax for ten years or a university. It would have been interesting to know how close the vote actually was. Apart from such 19th century Dutch luminaries as statesman Johan Thorbecke, father of the Dutch constitution, an impressive 13 Nobel prize winners worked at the university. Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Niels Bohr also visited. 10 Oldest company The oldest Dutch company still in business is Hotel De Draak in Bergen op Zoom. It was listed as an inn as early as 1406 and is a hotel still. It has had its share of mishaps, most recently a devastating fire in 2013, but it has since reopened. One of the most remarkable people to (dis)grace the guest list must be the Spanish Duke of Alba who stayed the night in 1567, a year before the start of the 80 Years War’, or the Dutch revolt against Spain. This list was first published on website Netherlands by Numbers   More >


Signed, sealed, undelivered: 300-year-old letters reveal secret lives

Signed, sealed, undelivered: 300-year-old letters reveal secret lives

In 1926, a chest containing 2,600 letters dating from between 1689 and 1706 was bequeathed to the Museum voor Communicatie in The Hague. As many as 600 remained unopened. Now an international team of researchers is busily reading what is in them, writes Hanneke Sanou. Reading other people’s letters is usually frowned upon and researcher David van der Linden, one of the project leaders, has admitted reading the letters has made him feel something of a ‘voyeur’ at times. The letters contain gossip and scandal but also tell of political turmoil and heartbreak. ‘Many of the letters were written by Huguenots, persecuted French Protestants who fled to the Netherlands and so became separated from their families. They were writing to say how much they missed each other. But there are also love letters refused by the intended recipients, and an order list from a book seller. I happened to know the titles that were on them, they were pornographic books,’ Van der Linden says. Undelivered and unclaimed, these so-called dead letters were kept in a linen-lined leather chest waterproofed with sealskin where they remained, perfectly preserved, for the next three hundred years. The prudent owner of the chest was Frenchman Simon de Brienne. In 1676 De Brienne became postmaster of The Hague and assumed responsibility for the postal traffic to and from France, the southern Netherlands and Spain. Postmasters were highly regarded and well-remunerated in those days. Their task was to keep records and hire postilians to transport the letters. De Brienne, a self-styled lord used to moving in royal circles, was chamberlain and confidant to stadtholder Willem van Nasssau, Prince of Orange. Contrary to normal practice De Brienne didn’t destroy the letters that were refused (the postmaster would write ‘Wil niet hebben’ or ‘unwanted’ on the back of the letter) or otherwise undeliverable. Instead he put them in his ‘piggy bank’, as he called it. Postage and delivery charges were paid by the recipient and De Brienne expected to profit from them at a later date. Not all letters that came back went unread, however. People went to some lengths to get out from under the charges. The most important message in the letter would be written on the outside by the sender so the recipient could read it at a glance and then refuse to take receipt – and pay. The contents of the letters are opening a window on what were turbulent times in Europe and senders and recipients, aware of the safety implications of exchanging confidential letters, employed an ingenious security method known as letter locking. By dint of some 17th century origami the letter effectively became its own envelope. Any tampering with the intricate folding of the letter would show immediately. The folding was also highly personalised and functioned as something of a signature. The collection includes letters from aristocrats, spies, merchants, publishers, actors, musicians, barely literate peasants and highly educated people with beautiful handwriting, and are written in French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Latin, the Guardian reported. In order to preserve and study the letter locking method, the 600 unopened letters will be perused using a powerful CT scanner. ‘Old letters are usually flattened and filed but that means the folds will fade over time and then we can no longer tell how it was folded. We still want to know what’s in them so we’ve turned to the same method used to decipher the Dead Sea scrolls,' says Van der Linden. 'But because of the many twists and turns the scanner has to make, the letters present a more complex challenge, and a more expensive one,’ Van der Linden says. The team have their work cut out: paper, postal marks, matching enclosures, seals and hands will also be scrutinised. Once all the letters have been digitised, transcribed and edited they will be published on the museum’s website. Already on show in the museum are De Brienne’s administrative documents, including the bills of the postilions who carried the letters. The project, titled Signed, Sealed & Undelivered, is a partnership between researchers from five leading universities — Yale, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Universities of Leiden, Groningen and Oxford — and the Museum voor Communicatie.  More >


Dutch theatre groups wake up to an international audience

Dutch theatre groups wake up to an international audience

With more internationals living in the Netherlands than ever and staying longer than before, Dutch theatre groups are seeking to engage international audiences on their own turf. Esther O’Toole reports. Walk through Amsterdam centre on any given day and you are likely to hear as many people speaking a foreign language as speaking Dutch, and they’re not all tourists. Hundreds of thousands of non-Dutch nationals have made the Netherlands their home. Culture and entertainment groups are getting wise to the fact that there is this new permanent audience with plenty of disposable cash, time to explore and an eclectic taste. In theatre, for instance, accessibility has become a higher priority and theatre companies are looking for new ways to engage the diverse international community. Toneelgroep Amsterdam Toneelgroep Amsterdam is the largest theatre company in the country and has long offered weekly performances with English surtitles on Thursdays, though this still isn’t widely known. In order to get the word out about these and in an effort to try and entice more international residents through their doors, they’ve recently begun a series of complimentary programmes, in English, that run alongside their normal productions. Last month a Sunday afternoon performance of Medea was kicked off by a breakdown of Dutch theatre history by a Groningen University theatre professor and a comic take on ‘the dos and don’ts’ of visiting the theatre from Dutch-American stand-up Greg Shapiro. Karlijn Mofers has been heading up the programme for the group: ‘This is what we do best’ she said. ‘We tour the world and perform in Dutch, with surtitles. The actors use of language is their strong point. We want to be able to capitalise on that whilst making our productions more accessible to an international audience here in Amsterdam. We’re also under the impression that people may need more from us to understand Dutch theatre.’ The next international programme will complement their show The Hidden Force on Monday 11th January. ‘I guess I was hoping to get an insight into why the Dutch theatre is so director-orientated – as I’ve been led to believe,’ said Kristine Johansson, a literature professor originally from the US. Alajandro Mondragon (originally from Mexico) was keen to see ‘what the largest theatre might have to offer.’ ‘So far it’s been really good for us, we really enjoy theatre but don’t speak Dutch and it’s hard to find performances in English,’ added his wife, Alline Pẽna. Mofers says the Toneelgroep does not have plans to add English language shows to their repertoire at the moment, preferring to play to their strengths. These expat programmes are a simple and effective way to open their doors to international residents. Additionally, they are becoming more international by bringing in top notch directors from around the world, to work collaboratively on producing new work in Dutch. English language productions Throughout the country smaller international theatre groups are taking root. Performing in English with professionally trained international actors, groups such as STET, based in The Hague, Mezrab storytelling centre and Orange Tea Theatre (who both work out of Amsterdam) are forming small but loyal followings. ‘Though we perform our work in English, we feel our company and work reflect our modern, global world’ said Lora Mander the co-founder of Orange Tea, which focuses on new writing. Elske van Holk, who spent time in Britain at the renowned Southwark Playhouse and now heads up STET, has a very collaborative approach to producing. ‘We like to help each other. We’re hoping to set up a small touring circuit soon. Though we get visitors from around the country to our shows it would be great to take work to the growing expat communities in Eindhoven and Groningen for instance.’ So what should companies such as these do to increase their appeal to internationals? New approaches Teunkie van der Sluijs is a director who has trained and worked in both Britain and the Netherlands. His company, DubbelAgent, focuses on bringing work from one country to the other and cross-border collaboration. Having worked extensively around the world he had this advice for theatre makers looking to engage broad international audiences. ‘What works in one culture, and how one culture works, might not apply to another. But the tension between the two can create wonderful results. And never assume that everyone everywhere will just (want to) speak English.’ Old favourites Currently resident director on Anne, the stellar Dutch language musical based on the diaries of Anne Frank, Van der Sluijs also pointed to digital innovations coming into vogue. For instance, visitors to Anne can use a tablet computer mounted on the seat in front of them to follow the show in eight different languages, either through surtitles or dubbing. Other methods are on show at Royal Theatre Carré where world music stars, such as Turkish ‘pop diva’ Sezan Aksu, together with massive events like the World Christmas Circus, seek to entice a local audience as well as temporary visitors. Later this month, the original English cast, including Jason Donovan, will be on stage performing Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. ‘Language no problem’ shows are also becoming more visible, as the recent programme at The Hague's De Betovering (the Enchantment) festival testifies. Further information Toneel Groep Amsterdam Carre (information in English) Anne is on until the end of 2015   English language theatre STET, the English theatre Orange Tea Theatre InPlayers (Amsterdam's oldest English language theatre group) Queen's English Theatre Company Mezrab International Theatre in English Rotterdam English Speaking Theatre Mike's Badhuis Theatre   (Amsterdam)   French-language theatre L’Autre pays du théâtre (4-5 productions from France a year) Alliance française de La Haye (2-3 French language productions) Amateur groups include: GEST, Le Coq et la Tulipe, Compagnie Avalanche of Alliance Française, Les Bandits du grand Moulin, and Compagnie Coup de Théâtre, part of the Institut Français Amsterdam,  We are compiling a list of foreign language and surtitled theatre in the Netherlands. If you know of an initiative which should be included, please email editor@dutchnews.nl  More >


Ten things you didn’t know about prime minister Mark Rutte

Ten things you didn’t know about prime minister Mark Rutte

Last week, women's magazine Margriet published a special issue devoted to the Dutch prime minister, who was the latest in a long line of illustrious guest editors. Who is he and does his eternal smile hide a perhaps even jollier personality? And why is he still single? Here are 10 things we now know about Mark Rutte. 1 Mark Rutte is one of seven - his oldest (step) brother is 35 years older than him. He was a fractious five-year-old and, rumour has it, he still has a bit of a temper. This is denied – calmly - by the prime minister who says he only ‘slams the door twice a year and then pokes his head around to say sorry’. 2 Mark Rutte does not have a ‘teflon layer’ which allows him to shrug things off, no matter what his political opponents throw at him. Rutte says he is just as sensitive as the next person. 3 Mark Rutte is a 'happy single'. When asked about the conspicuous absence of a significant other in his life, the prime minister says he might have ‘a wife and kids’ one day. But not just yet. 'The most important thing to ask is "am I happy with how I live at the moment?" And I am,' he says. 4 Rutte says he will not be a politican forever. He spent 10 years in industry before going into politics and now spends one morning a week teaching Dutch and Civics at a nearby secondary school. 5 Mark Rutte likes his political opponents. His real friends, however, all date from before his political career and are not interested in the VVD. But, typically, he likes all his colleagues, especially the SP’s Emile Roemer. ‘He has integrity. And so does everyone in politics.’ 6 Mark Rutte’s favourite film is Milos Forman’s Hair from 1979. The film – about the Vietnam war - was made when he was twelve but Rutte was a precocious boy who started becoming interested in politics at a young age. 7. He uses an old Nokia to send text messages, blaming his big thumbs for making it hard to use a smart phone. 8 His favourite television programme is De Wereld Draait Door, the daily tv chat show hosted by Matthijs van Nieuwkerk, on which he has been a guest on occasion. 9 Mark Rutte’s favourite classical music include Mozart’s String quartet no 4, part 1 ‘Allegro’, Brahm’s clarinet quartet, opus 115 – part II, ‘Adagio’ and Franz Schubert’s ‘Gute Nacht’. 10. But when it comes to something more modern, you might find him belting out U2's Beautiful Day or Uptown Funk from Mark Ronson, featuring Bruno Mars. Previous Margriet guest editors have included princess Laurentien, Marco Borsato, Job Cohen and Jamie Oliver.    More >


How to buy a house in the Netherlands

How to buy a house in the Netherlands

Finding somewhere to live is one of the most difficult issues expats in the Netherlands have to deal with. Buying a home is certainly an option and may be even more interesting than renting. But there are conditions attached and customised advice is essential. ‘Did you know that the procedure for buying a house here is different from the way it is abroad? In other countries, you often need to apply for a mortgage before you start to look for a house. But in the Netherlands, it’s the other way around,’ says Susan Mulders, mortgage advisor at ABN AMRO International Clients in The Hague. It is exactly these differences between countries and clients that make Susan's work so varied. ‘You have to deal with new clients, new situations and new houses every time. It’s wonderful to look at Funda together with the client. I really do everything I can to ensure that they actually can buy their dream home,’ she says enthusiastically. Together with six colleagues Susan mans the ABN AMRO office in the Shell headquarters in The Hague. Most of her clients work there. ‘For them it’s ideal to be able to come along with financial questions during working hours.' Foreign languages Shell’s employees come from many different countries, including England, India, the United States, Germany, France and Russia. So naturally its useful that ABN AMRO International Clients Desk staff have a lot of experience in looking after international clients and are able to talk to them in English or some other foreign language. 'The reasons why they drop in at our office vary enormously, from replacing a bank card and taking out insurance, to mortgage advice, which is my own specific field,' Susan says. 'I arrange the mortgage and advise on everything that surfaces during the purchase of a house. I also discuss subjects like insurance and pensions with clients. I certainly know what it’s necessary to know, but if something like this really needs to be arranged, a colleague who specialises in such matters will get in touch with the client. All of us here are experts on expats, but we each have our own field.’ Different laws and regulations Every country has its own laws and regulations, including when it comes to buying a house and this is where expert knowledge comes in. ‘Most clients are highly educated and are clued up about financial matters. But exactly what the rules are on buying a property in the Netherlands, that’s a different story, Susan says. 'And that also applies to opening a bank account or taking out insurance, for example. That’s why advice is so important, and in a language you understand. 'Many of my colleagues here and elsewhere in the Netherlands have lived and worked abroad themselves. We therefore know from experience the obstacles that expats encounter. What is difficult, what is different? And also how we can smooth the way for them. I have noticed that clients appreciate this awareness and attention. When a client is happy that makes you feel good, too. Then you cycle home with a smile on your face. Deposits One of the biggest differences between buying a house in other countries and the Netherlands is the size of the deposit, you need. 'In England, for example, you must first put down a sizeable deposit before you can raise a mortgage on your prospective home,' Susan says. 'So clients are often pleasantly surprised that in the Netherlands you can borrow up to 103% of a property’s market value. This means that for many, their dream home is no castle in the air. What’s more, here they can often also pay all the associated costs with taking out a mortgage as well. 'That clients get more than they had expected is of course wonderful,' Susan says. 'I would therefore like to say to expats: just come along to International Clients and speak to me or another mortgage advisor without any obligation. We are experts on expats and will do everything we can to make you feel at home here. In your own Dutch home.’ A quick look at the financials If a house costs, say € 350,000, the maximum amount you can borrow under current Dutch rules is 103% or € 360,500. There are also costs associated with taking out a mortgage. Transfer tax, 2% of purchase price will be €7,000. On top of this will come legal fees of around €1,500 and the bank's consultancy fee of, say, €750. Added up, the costs come to € 9,550 which when subtracted from the mortgage, still leave € 350,950 - enough to cover the purchase price of the property (€ 350,000) plus any unforeseen expenses. What conditions does an expat have to meet? At least six months’ residence in the Netherlands Permanent employment contract or Letter of intent* or Details of income in the past three years * In a letter of intent, the employer declares that subject to the employee continuing to perform satisfactorily and the company circumstances remaining unchanged, the employer intends to change the employee’s employment contract into a permanent employment contract.  More information? Please visit abnamro.nl/house. Or call: 0900 – 8170 (you pay your usual call charges set by your telephone provider) or from outside the Netherlands: +31 10 – 241 1723. // // //   More >


From dinosaurs to treasure troves: 10 great archaeological finds

From dinosaurs to treasure troves: 10 great archaeological finds

We are always going on about the Golden Age in the Netherlands, which might make you think there was little of note in the low countries before then. So, here is a list of 10 great archaeological finds, which all tell us something about the very early Dutch. 1 The Mosasaur At least six of the giant sea reptiles have been found in limestone quarries in the Maastricht area which, some 67 million years ago, was a shallow sea. The first was found way back in 1764. 2 Fish traps In 1978, archaeologists found five fish traps, thought to date from around 4,200 BC, during excavations in Bergschenhoek, Zuid Holland. The traps are made from twigs from the red dogwood tree. The original shape, say experts, was cigar shaped. Fish could swim in, but there was no way back. 3 Hunebedden Hunebedden, or dolmens, are among the oldest archaeological monuments in the Netherlands. Like stone age monuments everywhere, they required much hauling and stacking of colossal (‘hune’ means giant) stones, in this case conveniently left by a passing glacier. The biggest hunebed (22 metres long with covering slabs weighing several tonnes) is imaginatively called D27 and can be found in Borger in Drenthe. 4 Bronze Age jewellry In January 2015, a number of late bronze age objects, among which bracelets, rings and fibula of remarkable sophistication, were found in Hoogkarspel, Noord Holland. In 900 BC someone ‘ritually buried the equivalent of the Rolex that went with his Armani suit’ said archaeologist David Fontijn at the time. 5 The Bog Girl from Yde In 1897 two peat cutters stumbled upon what became known as the Girl from Yde. At the sight of a blackened head with long fiery hair the petrified men took to their heels never to return. Research carried out in the 1990s showed that this particular peat body dates from between 54 BC and 128 AD and belonged to a 16 year-old girl who suffered from scoliosis. Gruesomely but not uniquely, she was probably sacrificed. Half of her hair (turned red from the effects of the peat) had been shaved off and a cord was wound three times around her neck and tightened with a slip knot. She was also stabbed. In 1993 her face was reconstructed by forensic medical artist Richard Neave. 6 Bronze face mask In 1996 archaeologists digging around what is left of a canal between the Rhine and the Meuse built by Roman soldiers stumbled upon a beautiful bronze face mask. Identified variously as a military parade mask and a mask worn in actual battle in order to intimidate opponents with its immoveable features, its curly hair and intelligent expression quickly gained it the name ‘Gordon’ mask, after the eponymous Dutch singer. To see it you have to go to the Archaeological Museum in Leiden, which is  closed until December 2015. 7. A gold brooch A gold cloisonné brooch set with coloured glass, semi-precious stones and pearls was pulled out of a well in Wijk bij Duurstede in 1969. The brooch has various Christian symbols and Dorestad - as the town was known then - played an important part in the dissemination of Christianity. It was made in around 800 and archaeologists say it may have been hidden in the well to protect it when the town when the the town was invaded by Vikings in the early 9th century. 8. A castle in Amsterdam In spring 1994, archaeologists working in the very heart of old Amsterdam found a medieval brick foundation which, some say, is the remains of the ‘castle of the lords of the Amstel’, the noble family who ruled the Heerlijkheid of Amstelland around 1200. A castle on the banks of the river Amstel is described in documents and historians are still divided about whether the brick walls are part of it. We may never know, because plans to make the wall part of a permanent exhibition were dropped and it was buried again. 9 A treasure trove A hoard of treasure was found in 2013 behind the Rotterdam town hall dating from the turbulent and insecure period in Dutch history that was the Eighty Years’ War with   Spain (1568-1648). The city archaeologists who found it labelled it unique because treasure troves are not that common in the Netherlands. This one consisted of 477 silver coins and was found in a shoe. Perhaps the owner when fleeing the Spanish grabbed the wrong one. 10 A grave for horses A unique 50 metre-long grave containing no fewer than 65 horses was found on the edge of the town of Borgharen in Limburg in 2010. Originally the horses were thought to have died in 1632 when Maastricht was recaptured from the Spanish during the Eighty years’ war (1568-1648) but research has since shown they were killed when the town was conquered by the French, in 1794.  More >


Shell should be researching sustainable alternatives to oil and gas

Shell should be researching sustainable alternatives to oil and gas

There it goes! Shell wins the sustainability race! Not true, writes economist Mathijs Bouman, and green investors should steer clear. It was ahead in the race, miles ahead. The ‘Shell Solar Speeder’ was by far the fastest car in this year’s World Solar Challenge, the annual race for solar powered cars between Darwin in the north of Australia and Adelaide in the south. The roof of this aerodynamic racing car was fitted with revolutionary solar cells made at the world renowned Shell Renewable Energy Lab at Energy Valley in Groningen. They’re efficient, thinner and cheaper to produce than anything the competition has come up with. A unique international team of students and researchers at the Shell Solar Academy in The Hague – the company’s new flagship project – used the cells to build the Speeder which was flying way past the TU Delft’s Nuon Solar Team and TU Twente’s Team Twente. It also left Japanese and American challengers standing. This is all nonsense, of course. There is no such thing as a Shell Solar Speeder and it never went to Adelaide. There is no Solar Academy in The Hague. And Shell is no part of Energy Valley (a foundation which promotes the use of clean energy in the north of the country). For Shell, energy comes through a pipeline, or not at all. Oil and gas, that’s Shell’s business. Solar energy is something other companies do. Still and all, Shell thinks it’s doing its bit  to reduce CO2 emissions and combat climate change. In order to get rid of coal and oil the world needs to switch to gas. That will bring down C02 in one fell swoop. Shell is investing in gas and that means Shell is sustainable. The country’s biggest investor agrees completely. Pension fund ABP and investor APG are going to invest sustainably. The portfolio needs to be greener, ABP announced last week. It’s not a bad idea in itself but when I asked ABP boss Corien Wortmann if that meant Royal Dutch Shell would be out of bounds, she said Shell’s investment in gas made it part of the energy transition process. And that is something ABP will happily invest in. Even if the road to CO2 neutral energy goes via gas, Shell can only be part of the energy transition process if it puts large amounts of money into the research and development of sustainable alternatives, not in order to be able to stop producing oil and gas in the next few years but to do it as soon as is realistically possible. Without that vision Shell’s story is just so much waffle. That is why it has no place in the ABP’s sustainable portfolio. Mathijs Bouman is an economist. This article appeared earlier in the Financieele Dagblad  More >


Get to grapes with Dutch wine

Get to grapes with Dutch wine

Is ‘good Dutch wine’ a contradiction in terms? Is it possible to produce a full-blooded red or a twinkly white in the Netherlands? Is there a ‘nose’ that isn’t permanently clogged up in its wet and windy climate? Can the Dutch attitude to wine still be summed up in the phrase ‘as long as it has 11% alcohol’? Questions, questions. Here are some facts & figures about wine, yes wine, from the Netherlands. 1 According to the quaintly olde-worlde named Wijngaardeniersgilde (the wine growers' guild, established as far back as 1999) the Netherlands has around 170 commercial vineyards. Some 300 more are owned by people who just enjoy making their own plonk. 2 So where are they all? Most are in the south, in the province of Gelderland, closely followed by Limburg where the soils, loess and marl respectively, are conducive to viniculture. But vineyards can be found as far north as Groningen. All in all, Dutch vineyards cover around 300 hectares. In the Bordeaux region there are 115,000 hectares, which gives you some idea of scale. 3 The earliest mention of vineyards situates them around Maastricht and dates from the year 968 when they pop up in an inventory of the belongings of an obscure Saxon queen named Gerberga. Until the climate went chilly in the 16th century and downright freezing in the 18th, Dutch wine, it seems, was quite drinkable. Disease and Napoleon’s alleged protectionist measures (he had foreign vines pulled up) dealt it a final blow. The vineyards went into decline and beer became the tipple of choice. 4 According to wine buff Nicolaas Klei, 15 years ago Dutch wines were so acidic ‘your teeth would drop out of your mouth’ at the first sip. The culprits were the types of grape used: sturdy little varieties cultivated to withstand the rigours of the Dutch climate but with an unfortunate tendency to dissolve teeth once in a fermented state. Much has changed since then. Take, for example, the owner of vineyard De Linie in the province of Noord-Brabant, who, after lengthy experiments, came up with a blend of seven grape varieties which proved both pleasant to the palate of exigent wine critics - Hubrecht Duijker among them - and careful of dental health. 5 The gripe about grapes is important enough to merit another entry so here goes. Classic grape varieties such as Riesling, Auxerrois or Pinot Gris were used in the south of the country and still are, but they need to be protected, and probably talked to in French. Now the most commonly used varieties are Johanniter and Solaris for white wine and Regent and Rondo for red. These were tinkered with in the wine lab until they could be convinced to ripen later in the year and withstand mildew. A hearty spraying of pesticides can thus be avoided and the wine produced from these grapes can be classified as organic. It also explains why the grapes thrive in inhospitable (to wine growing!) places such as Groningen. 6 The oldest ‘newly’ established vineyard in the country is Slavante in Limburg. The estate, in the grounds of a former monastery, was turned into a vineyard by Amsterdam wine merchant Frisch Bosch in 1967. After a number of mouldy harvests and changes of ownership, Slavante perked up sufficiently to produce some 2,000 half bottles a year of unassuming Slavante red and white using Riesling, Müller - Thurgau and Pinot Noir 7 The Dutch have their very own wine festival which takes place annually in the town of Groesbeek in Gelderland at the end of September. It seems to be a combination of rowdy Carnaval-like jollity and serious wine tasting. Groesbeek became a wine growing village in 2001 when half a dozen farmers abandoned the plough and turned to wine. Now the cultivation of grapes around Groesbeek takes up some 20 hectares. 8 Although Dutch wines are getting better, none of them are exported abroad, not because the Dutch think they are so good they jealously want to keep them all to themselves but simply because they are too unsophisticated – and expensive - compared to the wines from better-favoured climates. The Dutch import some 366 million litres of wine while home production accounts for a mere 900,000 litres. According to the Dutch statistics office CBS, the Dutch downed an average of 20.3 litres of wine per head of the population in 2014 (compared with 68 litres of beer). 9 The southernmost vineyard in the Netherlands is De Planck in Slenaken in Limburg. The northernmost vineyard is Ol Diek in Nieuwolda, Groningen. 10 Every self-respecting wine producing country has a national wine competition and the Netherlands is no different. It is a serious affair conducted according to the rules of the Organisation Internationale de la Vigne et du Vin. The national wine competition is in fact international because it includes Belgium which joined in 2012 and walked away with two gold medals this year. But there were silver and bronze medals galore for such charmingly named Dutch wines as Veluwsche Vreugde and Polderlicht (Polder light).  More >


Video: a Dutch view of why refugees should go to Denmark instead

Video: a Dutch view of why refugees should go to Denmark instead

Dutch satirical television programme 'Zondag met Lubach' has weighed in to the refugee debate in the Netherlands with a humorous message urging asylum seekers to go to Denmark instead. Denmark, unlike the Netherlands, may qualify for European football next year, everyone rides bikes and you get to build a house from lego, the video tells would-be refugees.   More >


Half-term holidays: great things to do, come rain or shine

Half-term holidays: great things to do, come rain or shine

It’s been a late one this year but autumn has now definitely arrived. The trees are turning but the weather is still pretty mild, making it a great time to get out and about with the kids. Come rain or shine, Esther O’Toole has a great selection of half-term activities around the country, to entertain children of all ages. Cinekid Festival This fantastic children’s cinema festival started in Amsterdam but now has 39 participating locations throughout the country. Running from 17th - 23rd October, this 29th edition sees expansion into new media experiences, such as virtual reality exploration and the Applab, in addition to the cinema and TV-related activities. What started as a single screen, a video recorder and some cushions on the ground, has grown into one of the world’s most successful cultural festivals for primary school children, attracting up to 60,000 visitors a year. Well worth a look. Prices: vary per location and activity but they aim to make the festival accessible for all budgets  www.cinekid.nl/english/festival Slot Loevestein Slot Loevestein is a 14th century moated castle on the banks of the Waal, 28 mins from Gorinchem, and is beautifully preserved as a museum and archeological site. There’s plenty to do. Take your ‘key to the castle’ and explore the fortress or grounds, visit the exhibition ‘Dug Up’ and see what’s been found there, hear stories of the early inhabitants and dress up as those very same knights, princesses and prisoners. On the 24th and 25th they even have a jousting tournament! All tours and exhibitions are available in English as well as Dutch. Prices: €12.50 for adults and €8.50 for 4-18 yrs  www.slotloevestein.nl/en/ Oerrr If there’s fine weather (or you fancy getting muddy) then check out the great selection of kids activities from Oerrr, the children’s division of national park organisation Natuurmonunmenten. During October half term they boast a great range: from night-time walks through the Dwingelderveld National Park and Wild Outdoors days (like that in Boekesteyn) to Halloween inspired magic lessons in the Sallandse Heuvelrug. Prices: variable but affordable, with discounts for members. Call for assistance in English 035 035 - 655 99 11 www.natuurmonumenten.nl/kinderen De Klim Muur Raining again? But the kids have energy to burn, right? Well, if you’re looking for somewhere that adventurous little people can let off steam indoors, then how about booking a trial lesson at one of the national Climbing Centres? There are centres in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam and two in The Hague. Price: €18 per child for an all inclusive 2 hour introductory lesson. Accompanying adults go free. http://www.deklimmuur.nl/en/jeugd/introductieles/ De Betovering One other children-specific festival to take note of is The Betovering (The Enchantment). This massive children’s arts festival takes place in The Hague, with events going on at more than fifty locations throughout the city. There are performances and workshops for children from 2 to 12 years old in dance, music, theatre, film and fashion. Their international focus means many of the activities are ‘Language No Problem’. Price: variable, early booking advised. www.debetovering.nl/english De Uitvinderij/Speelrij Here’s something unusual if you’ve got a little tinkerer or musician in the house. Under half an hour from Arnhem, the Uitvinderij (The Discovery Place) gives guided access to everything for doing and making. Your child can work with wood, metal, plexiglass, polystyrene and even a paint machine - to create their own art work or invention. Best of all they get to take it home! Next door in the Speelerij (The Play Place) children can play on life-size musical instruments and play artworks created by artist Jos Spaanbroek. What’s more, during half term, kids can make their own instruments and become a member of the Speelerij Orchestra for a day or catch the daily theatre show at 2.30pm. Price: €12.00 for 4- 65 year olds (under 4s free, over 65 €10). Call for assistance in English 0313 413 118  www.spelerij.nl/de-uitvinderij/ DinoAdventures - Amersfoort Animal Park Amersfoort Animal Park are going all out for half term. There is a ‘new arrival’, a dinosaur of unknown origin and your wee one (6+) can take a peek! You can only enter the park under the guidance of the Dinosecurity team and entering the Dinowoods is strictly at your own risk! If you’ve got a dinosaur obsessed, thrill seeker in the house then this could make for a great day’s adventuring. Price: €17 for kids 3-12 years, thereafter €20. Call for assistance in English, 033–4227100  www.dierenparkamersfoort.nl/doen/dinoadventures/ The Power of Poison If dinosaurs aren’t scary enough then take your little horrors down to Rotterdam where half term coincides with the opening of a major interactive exhibition about poison! Get a good look at poisonous beasties and dive into the history of humans' relationship with it. Runs till February. Price: €13 adults, €7.50 children, family group discounts available. Call for assistance in English 010 2030 482  www.thepowerofpoison.nl/nl/Home/  More >