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


How online maps are helping Haiti rebuild after Hurricane Matthew

Since Hurricane Matthew swept through Haiti last month Paul Uithol and a team of volunteers have been using online maps to help rebuild devastated communities, as he explains to Moira Holden Modern disaster relief is about data as much as food and shelter. In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, the most powerful storm to hit the Atlantic for a decade, aid agencies in Haiti have been using data from OpenStreetMap to plan the distribution of vital supplies to areas of the country. ‘Not everywhere is covered by Google Maps, and in particular not the less developed areas that also have little resources and capacity to prepare for and respond to natural disasters,’ says Paul Uithol of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). ‘The least mapped countries are those which have massive issues.’ The 34-year-old became involved in HOT two years ago, having started using OSM as a student at the University of Twente. ‘It struck me immediately as an awesome and very powerful way to make use of the OSM platform,’ he says. Established in 2006, OpenStreetMap (OSM) is dedicated to providing a web platform to create a free and open map of the entire world. The American Red Cross is one of the agencies that used its data as it helps to rebuild Haiti. Crucial information on roads, buildings, schools, hospitals and shelters helps it to the priority areas in Haiti and estimate what support they need. Most data supplied by HOT comes from volunteers – the organisation has been working on disaster response projects with the help of local communities. Relay race Paul's background is in telematics – a combination of electrical engineering and computer science – and cartography. Paul worked with friends on a system to try to keep track of the runners in the Batavierenrace, the world’s largest relay race, to ‘try to find some order in the chaos’ of 8,000 runners travelling over a 200km course. ‘We initially made some horrible mistakes in our usage of maps and treatment of cartographic detail,’ he said. However, with the help of the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation of the University of Twente (ITC), his team developed the Batavieren Positioning System (BPS). After university Paul founded a company in location-based services, using lots of open geographical data and services on projects for government agencies, including the Dutch railway network NS. ‘Some years and companies later, I found myself in Dar es Salaam, and in a position to apply my combined cartographic and management knowledge in a completely different context,’ he says. ‘It’s been an incredible experience since then.’ 'Pure crisis management' Paul has also been to Tanzania and Uganda to galvanise communities into carrying out mapping exercises to help with the severe seasonal flooding. In Dar es Salaam, the objective of the project is to map all of the drainage and water systems of the city with the help of students and volunteers. The collected data will be worked into improvements to the infrastructure so that preventive measures can be taken to reduce the threat of flooding. Many of the volunteers in Tanzania had been directly affected by the problem, so they are highly motivated to make a difference. ‘Universities are perfect locations to find bright, young people willing to take on difficult challenges,’ says Paul. ‘Moreover, these are also the people that often turn out to be the future leaders in their country and can benefit a lot from the experience and knowledge gained. ‘Being in the middle of it, at times it can be pure crisis management. It’s very hectic and things will go wrong in new and unexpected ways just about every day. There are cultural challenges because management styles differ in effectiveness in different cultures, or time is not regarded as so important, making it hard to arrange appointments or have people be when and where you’d like them to be.’ Global reach HOT has 23 staff and 20,000 volunteers around the globe. For Haiti over 2000 users contributed more than 2.5 million map edits, based on imagery before and after the hurricane – some of the data had already been available since the 2010 earthquake. Medecins Sans Frontieres is another important partner for HOT because it uses OSM data to co-ordinate vaccination campaigns, fumigation, and contact tracing – during the Ebola crisis – as well as other actions to stop the spread of disease. Following the Nepal earthquake in 2015, a unit of the Canadian Armed Forces used crowdsourced data, satellite imagery and highly detailed maps to reach remote villages. More OSM data helped to direct aid in the wake of major landslides in Sri Lanka in April last year. ‘I don’t really see myself going back to commercial software engineering any time soon,’ says Paul. ‘The work I’m doing with the communities in Uganda, Tanzania and in other countries is immensely rewarding, and I really enjoy seeing so many people grow and learn so much during these projects and to be able to play a part in that.’  More >


Dutch health insurance: make sure you check your policy

Dutch health insurance: make sure you check your policy

Dutch health insurance premiums and provisions fluctuate every year so it is definitely worthwhile checking whether your current insurance policy still suits your needs and your budget. The end of the year is the time when Dutch health insurance companies go all out to attract new customers with tempting offers and special deals. In fact, the difference between the cheapest and most expensive health insurance policies on offer in the Netherlands will go up to over € 250 euro in 2017, according to ZorgWijzer.nl. So shopping around can cut your health insurance bill by a tidy sum. However, price is not the only thing you should take into consideration when comparing health insurances. Chances are your current policy does not meet your specific needs or wishes anymore. For example, why should you cover yourself for maternity care or orthodontics when your children have already left the family home? Too much choice? This all may sound easy, but there are so many different types of policy, benefits and brands which should be taken into account when looking for a new insurance company that many people just give up. Fortunately, ZorgWijzer.nl offers an English health insurance comparison tool which will make this whole process a lot easier. You will find out that signing up with another health insurance provider may often prove to be beneficial. What changes next year? Like every year, the government has made some changes to health insurance (zorgverzekering) in 2017. The average Dutch health insurance policy will cost around €95 more next year, or around €8 a month. People on low incomes are often entitled to financial aid (zorgtoeslag) from the government which will probably offset next year's premium hikes. Families with average to high incomes, however, are the ones who have to pay the price. This makes shopping around for a cheaper deal an even more sensible option. Fortunately, the mandatory excess (eigen risico) of €385 remains the same in 2017. Several political parties want to reduce the excess or even scrap it altogether, but that won't be an issue until after the March general election. In addition, very few changes are being made to the basic insurance policy. These are the most important items which are now included: Blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) in case of a medical necessity Circumcision, in case of a medical necessity Prosthetic front teeth for the under 23s who were involved in an accident Switching is easy Now is the time to switch if you are unhappy with the service, monthly premium or cover that you insurance company provides. Luckily though, switching is easy and can usually be done in less than 15 minutes. When you switch within the six-week changing period (November and December), your new health insurance company will make sure your previous policy is cancelled. This is an automatic process so you don’t have to do anything yourself. If you are thinking about switching your health insurance, you may want to check ZorgWijzer.nl. This site offers several English guides and an English tool that will help you find new, suitable and affordable health insurance for 2017.  More >


British royal painting return to their spiritual home of the Netherlands

British royal painting return to their spiritual home of the Netherlands

Works of art owned by the British royal family are back on Dutch soil in an exhibition, At Home in Holland, at the Mauritshuis, The Hague. By Moira Holden The paintings now on loan from queen Elizabeth II were originally collected by her predecessors during a surge of enthusiasm for the Dutch artists of the Golden Age. Most of the 22 paintings on display today were bought by George IV during the early 19th century. This royal collection is considered one of the most important collections of Dutch art anywhere in the world and reflects the huge influence the artists from the Netherlands had on the English art world. The first purveyor of the English monarch’s artworks in 1625 was Dutch. ‘The style appealed to English collectors,’ explains Jane Choy, guide at the Mauritshuis. ‘The genre of painting everyday life and its details was popular until the mid-nineteenth century before the rise of the Impressionists. England had a close relationship with Dutch art because the English did not have this custom of painting, so many Dutch artists went over to England.’ Daily life The genre movement focuses on ordinary Dutch people’s everyday lives and leaves a unique insight into the social history of the Golden Age. The first link between this art and the British royal family came when Gerrit Dou’s The Young Mother was given to Charles II. The Dutch republic gave him the ‘Dutch gift’ when he left Holland to become king of England in 1660. Charles was so impressed that he asked Dou to become his court artist, but the artist turned him down, saying ‘I would rather live like a prince in Leiden than work for a prince’. Dou was a student of Rembrandt and later founded the Leiden School of Fine Art. His painting stayed in England until William III inherited the royal collection and sent the picture back to decorate the Het Loo palace, at Apeldoorn. It remained in the Netherlands, despite queen Anne asking for it back, and is now owned by the Mauritshuis. Genre The genre stage of Dutch art brought in a highly detailed record of daily life for the lower classes of society. Artists concentrated on the setting of their paintings, people’s clothing, objects surrounding them, the expressions on their faces, the interaction between them and, in some cases, inserting hidden messages. Paintings by Adriaen van Ostade vividly portray interaction between men and women. An Elderly Couple in an Arbour shows a frequent theme in Dutch art – a man attempting to persuade a woman to drink. Other everyday social interaction is shown by Pieter de Hooch with his Card Players in a sunlit Room and A Courtyard in Delft which chronicles women at their work of spinning and collecting milk. Highlight The stand-out painting in the collection is Delft-born Johannes Vermeer’s The Music Lesson, which was initially wrongly attributed to Frans van Mieris the Elder until 1866 when it was recognised as a Vermeer masterpiece. The Venetian collector Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini had purchased the picture in 1718 and it was eventually bought by George III, who had principally wanted the 50 Canaletto paintings alongside it and dismissively referred to it as a ‘little nothing’. Now it is hailed for its perspective and the way in which it draws in the viewer’s eyes to the back of the interior to look at the two figures around the instrument. The mirror above the woman’s head reflects the legs of Vermeer’s easel and the inscription on the instrument translates into ‘Music is the balm of sadness and the companion of joy’. Moral message The most famous painter of genre scenes is probably Jan Steen – the exhibition showcases several of his works portraying the working classes, often at play. ‘He uses comedy in a happy scene, but usually there is a little moral message in there too,’ says Choy. ‘Jan Steen tells a story whereas Vermeer creates an atmosphere.’ The scene in A Twelfth Night Feast: The King drinks shows the boy who has been chosen as king for the evening while another character has an exquisitely detailed wicker basket on his head, which signifies gluttony. Some of his paintings include an owl, a symbol of folly, which gives a ‘gentle condemnation’, says Choy. Innuendo Another highlight of the exhibition is Steen’s A Woman at Her Toilet. She is gazing seductively at the viewer and pulling off her stocking – or putting it back on after a tryst - suggesting a woman of ill-repute. ‘George IV bought these paintings not only for their technical brilliance, but also for their subject matter,’ says Choy. ‘I don’t think he was bothered by propriety – I think he liked those little sexual entendres.’ At Home in Holland: Vermeer and his contemporaries from the British Royal Collection, runs until 8 January 2017. www.mauritshuis.nl  More >


Amsterdam Light Festival brightens up dark days

Amsterdam Light Festival brightens up dark days

From tulips to lace, from the experimental to the spectacular, this year's Amsterdam Light Festival involves 35 art installations across the city, giving locals and tourists a light spectacle during December and January. By Julia Corbett Picked from a selection of 1800 applicants, designers, architects and artists have contributed from all over the world to create light art that is innovative and designed specifically to be showcased in Amsterdam. Now in its 5th year, Amsterdam Light Festival can be enjoyed by water on canal tours and on foot when the walking tour opens later this month. Laser lights have been used to show off of some of the city's most famous buildings, while massive tulips that dazzle and change colour are among the top pieces of art that can be enjoyed while aboard canal boats in the city. Launching this year’s festival, chairman Felix Guttmann said: 'There are three reasons for doing this festival, to give artists the chance to showcase the most innovative in light artistry, to make the dark winter months more bearable with light and to make Amsterdam attractive to visitors in the winter. 'There are so many artists who have created these pieces specifically for Amsterdam and have been exclusives in the sense that they are site specific and culturally conscious.' Rogier van der Heide, who is in his final year of working as artistic director of the festival, added: 'Within the first hour of opening up applications we had 500 applicants and nearly 2000 in total. It is a global platform for the progression of light art that is attractive to artists across the world. 'Our exhibits on the water route are large and vivid and monumental and were chosen by an international panel of judges. Then by the zoo and the opera house you have the smaller exhibits that are more interaction based and experimental. This we call the ‘nursery room’, where young artists and talent are given a platform. This is where science, technology and art combine.' Described as the 'jewel in the crown' of the festival, The Lace was designed to echo the shape of traditional Dutch bonnets and is made of special reflective material to glow as it is suspended over the Herengracht near the Royal Palace. The piece was created by Massachusetts based architects Choi+Shine. Creative teams revealed that they had been working on the project for over a year before it came to fruition and was unveiled to the public. Light Waves, designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects and Jólan van der Wiel reflects 3,000 LED lights that change and move according to movement and changes in weather. Francine van den Berg from Bentham Crouwel Architects, said: 'We have been working on this since 2015 and are so excited to see the result tonight. Many more of our team will also come to see the art being realised on the water. 'We developed this technology, where the lights are controlled by the wind and weather, which we have now patented, so we will use this again in the future.' Visitors can explore the light spectacle by boat from December 1 2016 to January 22. Walking tours will be launched on December 15.  More >


10 of the best: DutchNews.nl readers photograph the Netherlands

10 of the best: DutchNews.nl readers photograph the Netherlands

To celebrate DutchNews.nl's 10th anniversary, we asked our Facebook page friends to submit their favourite photos which they think best sum up the Netherlands. Yes, all the cliches were there, but so was Albert Einstein. Here are the five winners and the five runners-up. This photo had so many votes on Facebook, we suspect a little help from family and friends. But it was also a winner with the DutchNews.nl team. This reminds us of walks on a chilly winter's day. We know clogs are out of fashion among all but Volendam fishmongers and farmers, but we wonder if these were ever actually worn? You can't get more Dutch than skaters passing windmills in the snow. Fingers crossed we have a winter like this again soon. This has definitely been through some sort of filter but we like it. We love the idea of Albert Einstein as an Albert Heijn worker, complete with carrier bag. But could some bright spark please enlighten us... E=ah2? It wouldn't be a Dutch photo competition without tulips. Or bikes for that matter? And we could not miss out on an Amsterdam canal view either. You can't get more Dutch than a proud lad with football and Netherlands strip. We'd just like to know if this would-be Dutch international actually went on to play for Oranje. Thanks to everyone who sent in their photographs. We really appreciate it. And to celebrate, we've been inspired to launch an Instagram account. And keep those photographs coming to molly@dutchnews.nl  More >


10 surprises Dutch homes have for new arrivals

10 surprises Dutch homes have for new arrivals

Moving to a new country always comes with a handful of new experiences and the Netherlands is no exception. Trying unusual foods, learning some of the language, and getting to grips with cultural nuances all await the newcomer. However, that’s not where the differences end. Even your new home will have a few surprises. Gardens or hallways full of bikes It is no secret that the Netherlands is a bike nation. Just glance outside, and you will be treated to scenes of people on bikes, transporting everything from small dogs to several children. And at the end of the day, those bikes have to go somewhere–and quite often that destination will be the communal garden or downstairs hallway. Hello shower, goodbye bathtub If you are used to relaxing after a long day at the office in a hot bath, perhaps with a good book, you might need to find another relaxation activity. While it isn't impossible to find a bathtub in the Netherlands, they aren't that often found in the average Dutch home. The matching window accessories If you want to fit in when you move to the Netherlands, then forget about first introducing yourself to your neighbours, and instead head straight to your local shops. You are on the hunt for two matching plants, two matching lanterns, or two silver statues of Buddha. Once home, place your newly acquired treasures in your front room window and rest assured that you have begun the process of Dutch integration. The open curtains And while you are at the window, don't worry about closing the curtains. The Dutch are known for keeping their curtains open on their large windows allowing those passing by to have a good look in. Some say this shows the Dutch have nothing to hide, others think they might just be showing off their newest purchases. Killer stairs A perfect introduction to Dutch living comes in the form of the extremely steep stairs that greet you when you open the door. While these near-vertical climbs may have served a purpose in the past when canal houses were taxed on their width–building a tall and skinny house meant fewer taxes and steeper stairs–they might very well have you ascending and descending on all fours. The toilet - part one While Dutch toilets won't have you hovering over a hole in the ground, older style ones do still provide an element of surprise with something lovingly referred to as the inspection shelf. These types of toilets collect what you have just left behind on a small platform or shelf ready for your review. Sometimes the best advice really is 'never look back'. The toilet - part two Dutch toilets aren't only distinctive in their design; they are also usually located in a separate room all on their own. This room is almost always 'cosy' (i.e. tiny) in size, so mind your knees when it comes to sitting down. While you are there have a look around for the calendar that is often hanging on the wall dutifully complete with the birthday dates of family and friends. And last but not least, if there is a sink (you might have noticed it when manoeuvring around it), don't be surprised if it only spouts cold water. Tiny fridge/freezers If you thought the room where the Dutch toilet is located was small, wait until you see the fridge/freezer. If you are used to a full sized side-by-side fridge/freezer, take that image and split it in half vertically. If you are lucky, this is the size you can now expect. If you are a little less lucky, cut that size further in half horizontally. Gas stoves If open flames make you a little nervous, then brace yourself when it comes to the Dutch kitchen. While not all stoves in the Netherlands are gas ones – with that satisfying 'whoosh' when you light the gas – a decent number of them are. Small balconies While having some form of balcony is almost a guarantee in the Netherlands, any dreams you might have of large BBQ parties will need to be put on hold. Dutch balconies, while ample in quantity, tend to be lacking in the space department, giving new meaning to the phrase 'three’s a crowd'. If small appliances, steep stairs, and over revealing toilets have you ready to press the emergency button, don’t worry, there is another option. ServicedApartments.nl offers homes away from home for short and long term rentals. And while we can’t change the country’s housing, we can ensure your stay will be a comfortable one.  More >


Six Dutch tours to keep your parents busy when they visit

Six Dutch tours to keep your parents busy when they visit

Your in-laws have arrived. They are staying for over a week. They've recovered from the jet lag, you've taken them to the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum and checked out the Girl With The Pearl Earring. Now what? Molly Quell has six suggestions for tours for the seasoned traveller. It's autumn, so you can't head out for a tour of the tulip fields. So why not then combine those other Dutch cliches of biking and beer on the Bikes and Bites Tour. The craft beer scene has exploded in Amsterdam lately so there’s plenty to try besides Heineken. Offered by the Amsterdam Craft Beer company, the trip takes you to a brewery and you can try some Dutch snacks along the way. You do need to be a competent city cyclist for this. Food to go Should bites not be sufficient, you can go on a gastronomic tour of Amsterdam. Eating Europe offers a Food and Canal Tour of the Jordaan that serves up a dozen Dutch specialities. (Yes, there are that many tasty things in the Dutch culinary lexicon.) The trip takes in the history of the neighbourhood and food traditions in the Netherlands as well as a boat tour of the canals. Sometimes you want to spend more time on a boat and more time eating. If this sounds like your thing, take the train to Rotterdam and check out De Pannenkoekenboot Tour. It is exactly what the name suggests: a two-and-a-half-hour long tour with views of Rotterdam's harbour and skyline and all the pancakes you can eat. There’s also an ice cream buffet. There’s no food on the Black Heritage Tour, but there is plenty of history. This three- hour canal tour takes you along Amsterdam’s main canals and includes a stop-off at a museum. It covers an often undiscussed aspect of history, that of the slave trade in the Netherlands and its colonies, which touches on everything from the Anne Frank House to the Hermitage museum. Red lights and windmills The Red Light District can be a difficult subject but one with a fascinating history, which you can learn all about on the Amsterdam Red Light District Walking Tour. The one-and-a-half-hour tour takes you on a guided walk through the Red Light District where you visit a peep show and the world’s first condom shop. The tour group also offers a tour with the Fokkens, 74-year-old twin sisters who worked in the Red Light District for 30 years. While the Red Light District is certainly quintessentially Dutch, so are windmills and cheese, which you will see and get on the Countryside, Windmills and Cheese Tour. It’s hard to get more Dutch than touring the polders, dykes and, of course, a working windmill. The tour finishes with a picnic, including a local cheese tasting. It's a six-hour tour in a minibus, so not cheap, but it will keep the rellies away from mass-market excursions. If you've got more time or live near Limburg, why not go underground in Maastricht? The Guided Tour of the North Caves will take you into the heart of the Sint-Pietersberg hill to explore the marlstone mines - a labyrinth of over 20,000 tunnels dating back centuries. For a few more euros you can explore the St Pieter Fort as well and learn a lot about sneaky defences and cannons as well.  More >


A documentary is somebody’s truth: IDFA founder Ally Derks takes stock

A documentary is somebody’s truth: IDFA founder Ally Derks takes stock

With the 29th edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam about to kick off, Paris Carr talks to founder Ally Derks. Striking a pose against her office window, where she enjoys sitting to sneak a cigarette and just watch the world go by, Ally Derks (1958) – founder of the world’s largest and most influential documentary festival; International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), is having her photograph taken. One of the most important figures in the Dutch film industry, her office is humbly decorated compared to the ornate Frederiksplein it looks out upon, just metres away from Amsterdam’s prestigious canals. The combination of grandeur and modesty is not only evident within IDFA’s physical headquarters, but the festival’s ethos and founder herself. Labeled by Indie Wire as the ‘high priestess of documentary,’ Derks built IDFA from 2,000 tickets sales in its first 1988 edition, to an expected 250,000 in its 29th year due to kick off later this month. Institution Far more than only a festival, IDFA has become an institution for international documentary and a central pillar of arts and culture within the Netherlands. Its products range from IDFAcademy, DocLab (exploring the boundaries of what documentary is) to Docs For Sale – a market forum facilitating selling and co-financing opportunities between commissioning editors and fresh talent. Whilst activities get more advanced every year, there is a constant trademark of every IDFA edition: the determination that it’s just as important to have the illuminati of the international film world pound the streets of the Dutch capital for 12 days, as it is upcoming filmmakers from all backgrounds, particularly non western countries. 'We want to be truly international… I have never been interested in putting on a festival for the happy fielders, the privileged few, especially from this country. No way, we are all humans on this planet,' says Derks. Having announced her planned departure from IDFA on its 30th birthday next year, the 58 year-old self-confessed ‘dinosaur of documentary’ is certainly in her natural habitat behind a camera. Being in front of the lens however, appears a more uncomfortable experience. Selfies 'I really hate having my picture taken,'she says before she smiles genuinely into the camera. 'And the whole ‘selfie’ thing blows my mind. I’ve taken a couple [of selfies] for my husband, but why anyone would enjoy taking them all the time I don’t know.' Given her apparent unease at being a muse, Derks' relaxed and cooperative response to fulfill a photography request from an unknown interviewer is surprising and generous. With a budget of more than €5m, surely IDFA 2016’s camera shy director could have saved herself this ordeal by palming me off with a stock press photograph? 'Well yes, I do have my press photo taken every year but to be honest by the time they’ve finished with it, I can hardly recognise myself,' she says. 'When you’re operating in the realm of documentary and talking about reality, I think it’s important to be real yourself, exclaims Ally after the final shot is taken.' Challenging elitism It’s this down to earth directness, openness to being vulnerable and attempt to challenge the perpetuation of elitism in whatever small way possible, that epitomises not only Derks and ‘her’ IDFA, but arguably the egalitarian roots of Dutch society itself. The combination means IDFA’s Netherlands born founder is willing to discuss anything from why the Dutch are lacking in fiction film, to her shameless appetite for ‘takeaway TV’ such as MasterChef Australia and Expeditie Robinson. So why are the Dutch so closely associated with documentary? 'It’s part of our genes,' she says.  'The documentary genre belongs to our Dutch culture. We don’t have great fiction filmmakers, really we don’t have them, maybe one or two but it’s nothing compared to our documentary makers like Heddy Honigmann, Ester Gould, Joris Ivens, Herman van der Horst and Hans Keller. The reason IDFA shows a lot of Dutch documentaries is because they’re there. At International Film Festival Rotterdam, they don’t show Dutch films because they are not there. Not good fiction anyway.' So how does she define documentary? 'We discuss the directions and trends in documentary every year and that’s why a festival is important as it enables the definition to be put under scrutiny and evolve,' says Derks. "‘It’s so heavily scripted, it’s only 30 seconds long and was filmed on a mobile phone, it’s only made for a computer", are these all still documentaries?’ Creative reality 'You don’t have space to talk about these issues or question documentary on TV or in the cinema, but you do at a festival. After discussing it for more than 30 years, I maintain it’s a creative way of looking at reality, that doesn’t mean it’s the truth, but it’s somebody’s truth.' As a political tool, documentary is a great place to start discussion and debate, she says. 'Anything is better than starting a war... The genre is not only about form it’s about content. There has always been a need for documentary but it hasn’t always been there. When I started in 1988, documentary was almost non- existent in the mainstream: there were practically none on television and you could forget about seeing one in the cinema. 'Something happened in the early 90s however, and suddenly everything changed. Almost out of no-where appeared thematically constructed channels like National Geographic, National History and CNN - and they all needed content. Documentary is a great way of getting cheap content.' 'When I started IDFA, many people had absolutely no clue what a documentary was – they couldn’t even spell the word. Our first few audiences were elitist to be honest, but I never wanted to make a festival for only the intellectuals that worked in television in Hilversum. James Bond 'After teaming up with Hans Beerekamp (journalist at NRC Handelsblad) to get IDFA off the ground, I wrote to Amsterdam city council and the foreign affairs ministry in the Hague saying look we want to do this but not in art film houses, as then we’d only be catering for a certain type. I wanted the documentaries to be shown in commercial venues alongside blockbusters like James Bond, and they were. 'We don’t like criticism of course but we’re open to it and try our best to take it on board,' says Derks, who is acutely aware of the struggle not to be elitist. 'I remember when Central Park (1991) by Frederick Wiseman came out, we were like ok we have to invite all the people who work in the local Amsterdam parks to see this film because it’s completely unique, I mean it’s a beautifully special film. 'But then I realised they don’t speak English. And then I thought shit, I don’t want this, I don’t want to be an intellectual festival for only people who understand English. But then if you want to be international how do you afford to subtitle all the films? We’re still battling with the problem that all the films are in English and not in Dutch. OJ Simpson Ally’s penultimate IDFA will be running from the 16th-27th November this year, screening 300 documentaries ranging from a 30 second installation to a nine hour film on the trial of OJ Simpson. Rather than showing signs of slowing down, Derks has a refreshingly rock ‘n roll attitude to the importance of always pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. 'Of course staying would have been more safe and steady, but when the opportunity came up [Ally has been invited to join the prestigious German Robert Bosch Foundation] my mind started racing in terms of all the things I could do,' she says. 'And boy do I love a challenge. Plus saying goodbye to IDFA on its 30th birthday to leave for Berlin is a kind of chic exit and way to pass the IDFA baton on to the next generation.' As Derks gets ready to embark upon her German themed adventure, she seems to have sparked some kind of domino effect within the international film world. Since announcing her departure so has Nick Fraser- BBC’s Storyville, Mette Hoffmann Meyer - Danish television and Claire Aguilar - Sheffield Doc/Fest. Whilst humorously suggesting they could start a whole new team together, Ally also has these words of wisdom for the next generation of filmmakers all around the world: 'Know where your weak spots are and don’t surround yourself with yes people. That won’t get you anywhere.' IFDA takes place from November 16 to 27 at locations across the city.  More >


Dutch seaside resort hosts new exhibition of Picasso sculptures

Dutch seaside resort hosts new exhibition of Picasso sculptures

Pablo Picasso’s move into the world of ceramics and sculptures is detailed in a new collection of his work on show at the Museum Beelden aan Zee, Scheveningen. By Moira Holden Picasso had reached the height of his fame in the mid 1940s, but he was still striving for innovative ways to progress as an artist. He moved to the south coast of France to begin a new professional phase and the stunning results of it are now on display at the Dutch coastal museum of Sculptures by the Sea. The Malaga-born painter’s foray into the world of sculpture and ceramics began with a chance meeting on the beach with the owners of a pottery factory in the village of Vallauris, near Antibes, on the Mediterranean coast. This friendship with Suzanne Douly and Georges Raine was to prove crucial to a new development in his work. ‘In his life, he was always looking for new directions and new ways of doing things,’ says Lyke Burger, guide at the Museum Beelden aan Zee. ‘Every time there was a great change in his life it was seen in his work.’ Ceramics The pottery factory owners offered Picasso a workshop and it was here that he embarked on the next stage of his life and his career. He was already 65 by this time and lived here with Francoise Gilot – their son, Claude, was born in 1947, and daughter, Paloma, two years later. Picasso was drawn to the pinky-red clay of the region. ‘It became a new inspiration,’ says Burger.  ‘Ceramics interested him and he was attracted by the great simplicity of the clay.’ He had complained about the transience of paint, so the durability of ceramics appealed to him. At first, he chose the conventional shape of a vase as a starting point and imposed ‘flat’ images around the vase. He was a fan of bull-fighting, so many of his designs included bulls, picadors and bull fighters. Several of the artworks on show today at the museum are a homage to his enthusiasm for the pastime. Other themes include women, animals and birds. When he was at work, a small, injured owl flew into his workshop; the little bird was nursed back to health by Picasso, became a pet and featured heavily in his work. Waste and sculpture Today’s display has been gathered from both private and museum collections in Europe. Many art experts feel Picasso’s legacy of sculptures and ceramics have been overlooked in comparison to his paintings. ‘Picasso was one of the first people to think of gathering objects and to use unusual materials and waste in his artwork,’ says Burger. The most striking sculpture in the museum is La Chevre (The Goat) and is evidence of his newfound idea of utilising objets trouves. The 1950 sculpture is based on Esmeralda, a goat owned by Picasso. He uses bronze and many other inventive materials to create the astonishing likeness of the creature. The udders are made from milk cans, the structure of the back includes a palm leaf and a wicker basket is also used in the construction. He was not afraid to replace the traditional sculpting materials of stone and wood with tin, iron and found objects. Picasso’s new artistic venture spilled over into his private life when he met Jacqueline Roque at the pottery - Francoise soon left with the children. Picasso married the woman who was 40 years younger than him and she stayed with him until his death in 1973 at the age of 91. The Netherlands Many of the exhibits in the museum are being shown in the Netherlands for the first time. Picasso was no stranger to the region and had previously stayed in North Holland in June and July of 1905. His friendship with the Dutch racing driver and journalist Tom Schilperoort brought Picasso to Schoorl. He used this base to visit the towns of Alkmaar and Hoorn and observed the cheese markets, the windmills, the farmhouses and the people living in the villages. One of his most famous paintings, Les Trois Hollandaises, was produced during this time. He also used the time to hone sketches of his work carried out earlier in Paris. Last week saw the 125th anniversary of the great painter’s birth. The huge interest in his work displayed at Scheveningen is a testament to his continuing appeal today. Picasso by the Sea: ceramics and sculptures, Museum Beelden aan Zee, until 5 March 2017. www.beeldenaanzee.nl  More >


Get arty; take a guided tour round Amsterdam Art Weekend

Get arty; take a guided tour round Amsterdam Art Weekend

The Amsterdam Art Weekend is being staged for the fifth time in November, focusing on top notch contemporary art for the duration of four days. Over a hundred programmes are organised at some fifty renowned galleries and other locations around the city. Featuring exhibitions, performances, film showings, lectures and tours, the weekend gives you the opportunity to discover the latest developments in contemporary art. On Friday 25 November 2016 you can join  fellow art lovers for an exclusive tour around some of the city's leading galleries, organised by the Amsterdam Salon. Amsterdam Salon aims to build a vibrant community of professional internationals living in the Amsterdam region by introducing them to the very best that cultural Amsterdam has to offer. Unique events Whether you're working at an Amsterdam based company, you're a start-up entrepreneur or a graduate living in Amsterdam, Amsterdam Salon events are intended to bring together internationals at unique, inspiring events. The Amsterdam Art Weekend tour is followed by drinks and plenty of snacks at the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam so plenty of time for networking and no need for dinner plans! Have a look HERE for an overview of all the galleries that are participating in the Amsterdam Art Weekend. Interested? Apply for Amsterdam Salon membership at www.amsterdamsalon.org Date: Friday 25 November 2016 Time: 17:30 hrs - 21:00 hrs Location: Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam. We will walk to the Jordaan together. (after ticket purchase we will send you details about our meeting point at the Stadsschouwburg) Drinks & snacks: 20:00 hrs - 21:00 hrs at the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam   More >


Hands off the Dutch electoral system

Hands off the Dutch electoral system

There should be strictly no tinkering with the Dutch electoral system, says Patrick van Schie, a historian and director of the VVD think tank Teldersstichting. As the election date draws nearer, claims that the Netherlands has too many political parties are growing increasingly loud. At the moment 16 parties are represented in parliament. Of these, five are splinter groups, formed by MPs leaving the party they were elected to serve. In 2012, 11 parties won seats in parliament, and this is not a historical record by any means. Of course it is too early to predict how many parties will be represented in parliament come 2017. If  the aforementioned 11 parties were to return, possibly joined by DENK and VNL, the total would still fall short of the 17 parties that were represented in 1918. And in those days there were only 100 seats in parliament, not 150 as there are now. What exactly is it people are objecting to with every election? When they talk about health insurers they complain that having only four big players is limiting consumer’s choice. We need more insurers, not fewer, they say. So why would politics be any different? Because, some politicians claim, the country is in danger of becoming ungovernable. First past the post But the politician most likely to have experienced the disadvantages of this so-called ungovernability is, himselve, dismissive of the complaints. Prime minister Mark Rutte says that all ministers have to do is seek majorities in parliament and stop moaning about a surplus of parties. Reducing the number of parties would only be possible by means of a number of heavy-handed measures. You could, for example, impose an voting threshold, so that only parties which won a certain percentage of the vote would be represented. An election threshold of 10% would – if the latest polls are to be believed - put Labour, the SP, and possibly GroenLinks and D66 in the danger zone. It is, of course, lovely to dream of a parliament without any left-wing parties but it would be a far from honest reflection of society. The most effective way of weeding out a number of parliamentary parties would be to introduce a constituency system. Britain only has a handful of parties apart from the Conservative Party and Labour. As a bizarre consequence of the constituency system one party (the Scottish SNP) which gained in 4.7% of the national vote in 2015 ended up with 56 seats while another  (UKIP) gained 12.6% of the vote and ended up with one. It’s a system that is far from fair. Newcomers In the United States it is practically impossible for a third party to get into Congress. The field is dominated by the Republicans and the Democrats which not only results in stagnation but in the formation of politically widely divergent coalitions within the parties themselves. Recent events in both the United States and great Britain have uncovered another danger. What if one of the two big parties ends up being dominated by a reckless, extremist politician? It happened to the Republicans with Donald Trump and to Labour  in Britain with Jeremy Corbyn. Either a completely unsuitable leader will, unfettered by a coalition partner, get into power, or, as seems more likely, form an opposition that no-on will take seriously. One party That means that one party effectively becomes the ‘natural’ government party: the Democrats in the US and the Conservatives in Britain. That may be very nice for the party in question but power needs opposition. Voters must have a real opportunity to opt for an alternative. Dutch parliamentary democracy may have its faults but we should count ourselves lucky to have a system that offers newcomers a way into parliament. It makes parliament into what it should be: representative of most of the population. We shouldn’t allow big parties to get away with election thresholds, constituencies or other tricks to oust their smaller competitors. Voters must have choice. And the Dutch electoral system of proportional representation is giving them just that. So hands off! The views expressed in this article are Patrick van Schie's own. This article was published earlier by Trouw  More >


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

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 or VON The letters KK in housing adverts stand for ‘kosten koper’ (buyer’s costs). This means that all the costs involved in buying a house –  transferring ownership in the land registry, notarial costs for drawing up the contract and the 2% property transfer tax – are to be paid by the buyer. Together with the cost of your estate agent and mortgage broker, this adds around 6% to the price of a house, some of which is tax deductible. ‘VON’ (Vrij op Naam)  means that part of the costs involved are paid for by the seller. This relates to the transfer tax. 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 civil lawyer specialised in family and private law. The notary will execute the deed of mortgage and the deed of ownership (as well as wills, prenuptial agreements and that sort of thing). In the Amsterdam area, a notary is also responsible for drawing up the preliminary sales contract for the property. 4 WOZ The ‘Wet Waardering Onroerende Zaken’ is the official value of your property, determined by your local authority. The WOZ value is adjusted once a year and is used to calculate the amount of local council taxes you have to pay, as well as the ‘deemed rental income’ (eigenwoningforfait) 5 Eigenwoningforfait The ‘eigenwoningforfait’ (deemed rental income) is an extra tax on home owners and is based on the property’s official local authority valuation (WOZ). In 2016, home owners pay 0.75% of the WOZ value of their homes in extra tax, as long as the WOZ value is not more than €1,050,000 For properties worth over € 1,050,000 it gets a bit more complicated. The tax was introduced years ago as an income equalizer 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 will cover homes valued up to €245.000 from January 2017. 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. 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’ (selling agent) is the real estate agent representing the people selling the property who will do his or her best to maximise the price. The ‘aankoopmakelaar’ (buying agent) 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. The amount you pay, known as ‘canon’ can be charged annually. It could also been paid for in advance. 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, so make sure your estate agent checks out the organisation’s finances beforehand. 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 >


Green fingers in the city: urban farming in Amsterdam

Green fingers in the city: urban farming in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a crowded city. In between the canal houses and bike racks you may have spotted the occasional flowerbed or tomato pot. But agriculture in the city is thriving and as local gardens bring in their harvests, Molly Quell looks into the state of urban farming. One especially hot July day, 13 students from as far as Singapore trampled through a garden in Amsterdam Noord. As it was summer holiday, the university students missed the usual gardeners, a group of nine and 10-year-olds from a nearby primary school. The students were participating in a month-long graduate course called The Urban Food Experience offered by the University of Amsterdam. As part of the course they were touring Voedseltuin IJplein, one of the many community gardens in the city. In fact Amsterdam has 188 registered city gardens, ranging from small community herb gardens to a football pitch full of pigs. Allotments The idea of farming small plots of land isn’t new to the Netherlands. The country distributed its first allotment gardens to working-class families in 1838, so people could grow their own vegetables. Over 6,000 such units in Amsterdam are now used primarily for recreation, but there are still a lot of keen veg growers about. And not all city veg growers are pensioners either. School gardens are a common part of primary school life in Amsterdam. Parents will tell stories of fobbing off baskets of courgettes onto their neighbours because they did not know what to do with them all. The city has 13 official school gardens registered, but many other schools work together with community gardens to give their pupils a sense of the soil. Local schools aren’t alone in seeing the value of teaching their students about agriculture. Lynn Shore, who manages a herb garden in the west of the city, also teaches at the British School of Amsterdam. 'Sometimes I find that it helps to get through to pupils if they have spent some time in the nature, just playing in the dirt,' she says. Local restaurants While school pupils work on the IJplein gardens, the entire space is overseen by a group of volunteers. One-third of the harvest from this particular community garden is given to the volunteers who take care of the space, another third is donated to a food bank and the final third is given to a restaurant which, in turn, offers large discounts to local residents who are economically disadvantaged. The garden produces a wide range of produce, from carrots to kale. It even has fruit trees and bees. More than producing food, the purpose of many of these gardens is to bring together members of the community. 'It’s great to be in the city but still be able to get your fingers into the earth,' said one of the group’s volunteers. Food security Courses like The Urban Food Experience have become popular in recent years. According to Jan-Eelco Jansma, a researcher in urban-rural relations at Wageningen University, consumers started to become more and more interested in where their food came from 10 years ago. Farmers, meanwhile, began to realise that selling their produce locally reduced transportation costs and was thus more economically attractive. As concerns grew about climate change and food security, more and more residents in Amsterdam began to grow their own food. Regardless of interest, Jansma’s research shows that a city like Amsterdam could only ever grow around 10% of the food it needs. 'But today Amsterdam is much closer to 0% than 10%,' he says, so there’s ample room for expansion. And this is just what the city is trying to encourage. Amsterdam already offers an urban garden subsidy of up to €5,000 and is planning to bring in a second one specifically targeted at community gardens. Subsidies The IJplein project relies on both subsidies from the city, grants from foundations and private sponsorship. It was started with an initial grant from Shell. Shore’s herb garden relies mostly on small subsidy support. 'We have had some money from the city, but mostly for community and neighbourhood activities,' says Shore. Meanwhile, the Food Village project aims to be financially viable through sales of its produce. The concept has been put together by Creative Labs and is housed on the grounds of a former refugee centre in Amsterdam North. The pigs themselves were crowdfunded, with each backer getting their return in pork chops and bacon. The Village is more than a garden, with cooking spaces, exhibition areas and a restaurant. From herb gardens to football pitches of pigs, that empty lot on the corner of your neighbourhood could be filled with a lot more than stray rubbish and weeds. More on urban farming How local can you get? Fish farming on a The Hague office block rooftop  More >


Nine diabolically Dutch ways to celebrate Halloween

Nine diabolically Dutch ways to celebrate Halloween

Though still not nearly as popular as Koningsdag, Halloween has been steadily gaining devotees in the Lowlands in recent decades. Brandon Hartley has put together a creepy collection of local events where you can celebrate the most spooktacular time of the year. Halloween Fright Nights Biddinghuizen, until October 30 The Walibi World theme park is once against hosting this colossal Halloween extravaganza. Do you dare experience its horrific events, activities and performances? Those who are not faint of heart or weak of stomach can try their luck in the haunted Jefferson Manor, or a blood-soaked clinic lorded over by the mysterious and malevolent Dr. Adams. The park’s other ‘scare zones’ are devoted to pesky pirates, mischievous monsters, yucky yokels and vexing video game characters. You can also dig into the Halloween Buffet or even spend a night in one of Walibi World’s cottages. Amsterdam Halloween Festival Until October 31 This annual Halloween blowout has been going strong for over a decade. The 2016 edition will feature makeup workshops and family-friendly activities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! throughout the month of October. Mr Horror’s Halloween Horror Show, an all night movie marathon, is also set to return to the Tuschinski movie theatre on October 29. The festival’s infamous annual costume party is taking over the Hotel Arena the same night and will feature a sci-fi theme. Expect an ‘intergalactic lineup’ of 35 artists and DJs in addition to a small army of cosplayers and Halloween diehards in costumes that must cost more than an average month’s rent in the nation’s capital. Amsterdamned Film Festival October 26 - October 28 Several films from the worlds of horror, fantasy and beyond will be screened at this event hosted in the Filmtheater Kriterion. Along with a restored version of David Bowie’s 1976 cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth, the line-up also features 2016’s The Windmill, in which a group of international tourists encounter a Dutch miller who prefers to grind bones instead of grain. The real draw, though, is a 28th anniversary screening of Amsterdamned on October 26 that will include an appearance by director Dick Maas and members of the cast. Halloween in Concert  Nijmegen and Arnhem, October 27-28 Conductor Daniel Raiskin and the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra will take their audiences on a journey through some of history’s most hair-raising symphonies. They’ll be tangling with Saint-Saëns’ ‘Danse Macabre’, Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ and more during these two performances. Haunted Castle  Lisse, October 28-29 The historic Keukenhof Castle in Lisse, between Amsterdam and Leiden, serves as a majestic neighbour to the iconic garden during the spring months. Every October, though, it’s invaded by a cavalcade of werewolves, psycho killers, vampires and no less than a dozen zombies. They might be a bit scary but they’re a lively bunch. You can join them as they celebrate Halloween at this event that features activities, performances and walk-through haunted houses populated by everything from ghosts to evil dolls. If you’ve ever wanted to eat a cupcake with a severed ear made out of marzipan on top, you’ll probably find one in the castle’s creepily cool annual market. Zombiewalk Rotterdam, October 29 If covering yourself in fake blood and festering wounds is your idea of a good time, you might want to head to this gathering of the undead. Dozens of zombies will once again stagger through the streets of Rotterdam as they tour the city, take in the sights and (hopefully) avoid biting any innocent bystanders. Admission is free but those who would like to look like one of the creepy crawlers from The Walking Dead can show up early to have their makeup put on by a professional team of artists for an additional fee. Halloween Hairball Amsterdam, October 29 If you're not in costume, you won't get in to this all-night, adults-only Halloween fiesta, which is heading for Paradiso’s Tolhuistuin this year. Those who get into the right spirit can look forward to burlesque performances, horrific sideshows and dancing ‘go go ghouls’. Zombie rockers Sir Bald Diddley and His Ripcurls will perform followed by sets featuring DJs Ir VenderMummy and Deadly Daan Modern. Director's Cut: Goeie Mie Recomposed Leiden, October 31 Leiden’s very own Maria ‘Goie Mie’ Swanenburg was one of the Netherlands’ most notorious serial killers. By the time her reign of terror ended in 1883, she had managed to murder no less 27 innocent souls. Some say the real number of her victims could be well over 90. A movie devoted to her life and crimes will screen on Halloween night at the Vrijplaats in Leiden as part of the city’s annual international film festival. Director Henny Hartevelt will also be on hand to discuss it after the screening. Halloween in Houtwijk The Hague, October 31 The custom of knocking on doors and collecting armfuls of candy is still a rarity in the Netherlands, but this suburb of The Hague goes all out for the holiday. Its family-friendly celebration features elaborately decorated houses and trick-or-treating for children and their parents. Now celebrating its fifth All Hallows’ Eve, the event is a collaboration between local businesses and residents.  More >


Europe’s first calling card to Australia heads back down under

Europe’s first calling card to Australia heads back down under

Exactly 400 years ago this month the Dutch merchant sailor Dirk Hartog and the crew of the Eenderacht were blown off course on a voyage to Java and came unexpectedly upon ‘various islands, which were however, found uninhabited’. Hartog had stumbled on the Great Southern Land now known as Australia. He was the second European to land in Australia, 10 years after his countryman Willem Janszoon, and the first to leave behind an artifact, a pewter plate tied to a post. The Hartog plate is inscribed with the date, 25 October 1616, when the Eendracht made landfall. Hartog spent three days making charts of the previously unexplored western coast of Australia before sailing on to Batavia, arriving five months behind schedule. The tiny island in Shark Bay where he first landed, around 800 kilometres north of Perth is named Dirk Hartog Island. Between 1947 and 1971 some 160,000 Dutch nationals emigrated to Australia. Today around 300,000 Australians claim Dutch roots and a string of events has been taking place to commemorate Hartog's visit. The celebrations will culminate in an official four-day visit by king Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima at the end of the month. Among the royal couple's luggage will be a special case containing the Hartog plate, which is now owned by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which is going on temporary display at the Australian Maritime Museum. Restoration The delicate plate has been subjected to a painstaking conservation process under the careful eye of Rijksmuseum metals conservationist Tamar Davidowitz to ensure it survives the long journey. Davidowitz will personally escort the artifact as it travels to Australia in a purpose-built case. ‘I have developed an affection for it and I have become very protective of it,’ she says. Remarkably, Hartog's plate was largely intact when it was discovered 80 years later, half-buried in sand, by another Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh. De Vlamingh took the artifact home and left another plate in its place. The land mass was not claimed as a colony until British captain James Cook landed in 1770, some 160 years after Hartog. To this day Australia is still a member of the British Empire and as such has queen Elizabeth II as its head of state instead of Willem-Alexander and Maxima, notes John Mann, an Australian national who lives in the Netherlands. ‘As the Australians would say “Bugger, we could have been speaking Dutch” and the Netherlands would have had a great addition to its colonies.’  More >


Dutch justice? Falling crime rates and prison closures

Dutch justice? Falling crime rates and prison closures

The closure of five prisons in as many years against the background of a falling crime rate, is the kind of news many governments would give their eye teeth for. But not everyone in the Netherlands is happy, as Gordon Darroch reports. The Dutch cabinet has faced awkward questions since justice minister Ard van der Steur told parliament in March that the rapid decline of the prison population has left around one-third of cells empty. Unions accused him of breaking a promise made by his predecessor, Fred Teeven, that no more jails would shut before the election in March 2017. And opposition politicians claimed that the decline had more to do with the police lacking the means to track down criminals than any real fall in the crime rate. The impact could have been even more dramatic if the government had adopted the recommendations of a prison service report published in July, which concluded that eight jails and three youth detention centres will be surplus to requirements by the year 2021. No more closures But under pressure from the opposition and the FNV union, deputy justice minister Klaas Dijkhoff pledged that no more prisons would close before the election. That gives a temporary reprieve to around 3,000 prison service staff whose jobs were on the line, but a new government may take a different view next year. The official figures indicate that recorded crime has been falling for around a decade. Between 2014 and 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, recorded crime was down by nearly 5%, according to national statistics office CBS. In total, recorded crime has shrunk by 25% over the past eight years. Many of the offences that cause public concern fell even faster: violent theft and burglary fell by 7.3%, sexual offences were down by 8.1%, drug offences by 9.1% and public order offences by a third. Over the decade the sustained trend has seen all crimes fall by 28.6%. Sex offences and violent theft or burglary were both reduced by more then 40% and rape fell by 52.3%, although the number increased by 1.3% in 2015. Reasons Experts argue about the reasons for the fall in crime, but agree that one factor is the ageing population: young men are responsible for a high proportion of offences, so when their share of the population goes down, so does the crime rate. Better preventive measures such as stronger locking mechanisms and CCTV surveillance are credited for deterring car thieves, muggers and burglars. René van Swaaningen, professor of criminology at Erasmus School of Law in Rotterdam, says many teenagers spend less time on the streets and more time at home on their computers, which partly explains the steep fall in public order offences. 'They're probably getting involved in other types of crime online, but we don't know enough about that yet,' he observes. Europe-wide Crime figures has been falling in nearly all western nations this century, but the decline in the Dutch prison population has been spectacular. In 2006 the Netherlands had the second highest number of inmates in Europe with 125 prisoners per 100,000 population. Only the UK, with 145, had a larger share. But by last year the Dutch were down to Scandinavian levels, with 69 out of every 100,000 citizens behind bars. In fact, the occupancy rate had fallen so far that last year the government agreed to take in prisoners from Norway and Belgium, where there is a shortage of prison capacity. The Norwegian government is paying €25.5 million to rent cells for 240 inmates at Veenhuizen prison in Drenthe and the deal has been credited with saving 240 jobs. Van Swaaningen argues that part of the reason for the surplus is that the government built too many prisons around the turn of the millennium, in response to a surge in the number of inmates. That was largely the result of specific measures such as screening every passenger flying into Schiphol on known drug trafficking routes which led to the cells filling up with drugs couriers. 'The anomaly is not the level of today, but 10 years ago when we had far too many people in prison,' says Van Swaaningen. 'We built far too much capacity in the 1990s, just as it was becoming clear that crime was levelling off.' Police station closures Opposition politicians say the statistics only show a fall in the level of recorded crime and the government's wide-ranging police reforms, which has seen police stations close or shorten their hours, has made it harder for victims to report incidents. 'People are discouraged from reporting crime; they're sent away and told to come back to the police station the next day or on Monday morning,' says Christian Democrat justice spokeswoman Madeleine van Toorenburg. Geert Priem, chairman of the ANPV police union, says the effect has been to weaken public confidence. 'People don't bother reporting crime because they think the police won't do anything, or they can't because there's no police station nearby. Police officers don't like the fact that they can't investigate incidents. They get into the job because they want to put criminals behind bars.' Despite fewer crimes being recorded and evidence gathering becoming more sophisticated, the number of crimes being solved has hovered at around 25% for the last decade and dropped below 23% in 2015. Detection rates 'We have one of the lowest detection rates in Europe,' says Van Toorenburg. 'A lot of crime is moving online and the police have no idea how to deal with it. If the police were better resourced and the clean-up rate improved we'd need all those empty cells.' Van Toorenburg is also critical of failures to enforce sentences handed down by the courts. In the week that Dijkhoff announced that the prisons would stay open, justice ministry figures revealed that around 12,000 convicted prisoners had not completed their sentences. A special police unit set up to trace those with four months or more to serve had found just one in six of the criminals on its hit list. Many of them 'disappeared' after being sentenced in their absence and not replying to the letter instructing them to report to prison; some fled abroad to countries which have no extradition arrangements with the Netherlands. 'We release suspects too quickly from pre-trial detention and then when they're given prison sentences we can't find them,' says Van Toorenburg. Cost cutting Nine Kooiman, the Socialist Party's justice spokeswoman, blames the government's cost-cutting drive for damaging the police's capacity to fight crime. 'We have seen severe cuts in the police service and as a result fewer crimes are being solved,' she says. 'That's a big problem. The prosecution service and the courts also don't have sufficient capacity, so that far fewer cases come to court and lead to prison sentences.' Van Swaaningen maintains that the downward trend in crime is real. 'The police have been busy with internal issues for the last few years and the reorganisation has taken up a lot of time,' he says. 'But if you look at other sources such as victim of crime surveys, all the evidence indicates that crime is going down,' he says. Another reason for the emptying prisons is that in the last few decades the courts have favoured alternatives to prison, such as community sentences and electronic tagging. 'There is a consensus among practitioners in the justice system that sending people to prison has little effect,' he says. The autonomy of the Dutch justice system has allowed the courts and prosecutors to resist political pressure to impose more frequent and longer jail sentences. This has been reinforced by a culture of scepticism towards incarceration that was fostered by the leading criminologists of the 1970s and 1980s such as Herman Thomas Bianchi. Bianchi, who taught at the VU University in Amsterdam, believed locking criminals away in prison was a 'counter-productive waste of money' and said the focus of justice should be reconciling the victim and the offender, rather than the state laying down the law. 'The current generation of judges and justice officials were at university in the 1990s, when the prevailing consensus was that prison doesn't work,' says Van Swaaningen. 'The effect is that they have a very low confidence in the effectiveness of stricter sentences.' Shorter sentences Van der Steur told parliament in March that shorter sentences are one reason why there are fewer prisoners. The trend is visible right across the spectrum of offending. Last month a report by the National Reporter for Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence Against Children found that 43% of convicted child abusers were given non-custodial sentences if the court found that no physical force was used. Just one in five of all offenders was jailed for longer than a year. 'You can hardly explain that to people,' says Geert Priem. 'We have this attitude that we should help people who are sick in the head and that's all very humane, but I think society needs protecting too.' Kooiman says rehabilitation, which she sees as one of the strengths of the Dutch penal system, has also been weakened by budget cuts. 'There are more shared cells, prisoners are locked up for longer and the evening activity programmes have been scrapped,' she says. 'What that actually means is that you lose sight of how people are doing when they're in their cells, which is dangerous not just for the staff but also when they're released. We're seeing more people with mental health difficulties on the streets, many of whom have offences to their name or have spent time in prison, and that's a real concern.' Reintegration Van Toorenburg, a former prison director, also voices concern about the closure of open and semi-open prisons, whose main purpose is to help prisoners reintegrate into society as they reach the end of their terms. 'Prison should be for rehabilitation, making people reflect on their crimes, giving them a sense of routine and work,' she says. Both politicians argue that closing prisons is premature and the government should focus its efforts on improving detection rates and rehabilitation, so that prisoners are less likely to reoffend. 'It sounds great to be closing prisons because crime is going down, but when we look at the reasons for it I have a lot of concerns, particularly when it comes to reintegration,' says Kooiman. The government says prison closures are inevitable because it costs too much to keep empty cells open. Official forecasts predict that the downward trend in crime will continue, though how far the fall reflects an actual drop in criminal behaviour remains a hotly contested issue. 'If you take away the speed cameras it doesn't mean everyone suddenly starts observing the limit,' says Priem. Van Swaaningen says the trend is in line with other countries in north-west Europe. Moreover, while politicians are under pressure from voters to take a strong line on law and order, in practice their influence on the justice system is minimal, he says. 'It's similar to the refugee crisis. The politicians in The Hague took a particular line because it appealed to voters, but the mayors and local officials said: these people are on our streets, we need to do something for them.'   More >


Exhibition highlights the handbags that graced the shoulders of royalty

Exhibition highlights the handbags that graced the shoulders of royalty

What do Queen Maxima, Grace Kelly and Dries van Noten have in common? They all feature in a royal-themed exhibition in Amsterdam, writes Julia Corbett. The Museum of Bags and Purses, located in a canal house on Herengracht, has a reputation as one of the world's finest fashion museums. Its experts have spent a year putting together a display of royal handbags that celebrates the style of some of Europe's most iconic kings, queens and princesses. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands has selected three bags from the collection of one of her predecessor, queen Juliana, to include in the collection. Also on display are six bags selected by Britain's queen Elizabeth II. Hollywood style icon Grace Kelly, who later became princess Grace of Monaco, is represented too with the famous Kelly bag designed by Hermes. The exhibition will run until February 26 and looks at how Europe's royals influenced handbag styles down the centuries. The travel collection of the empress Elisabeth of Austria, better known as Empress Sisi, shows how 19th-century royalty was accustomed to travelling in style. The exhibition is split into four distinct parts - travel, fashion, etiquette and the Dutch royal family  - and a selection of bags owned by an iconic figure accompanies each stage. Curator Leonie Sterenborg said :'We are so happy to have so many bags in this collection. It has taken a year to put together and has been a huge project. The bags represent the history, protocols and styles of royalty. ‘We started with the Dutch royal family because that was very important to us, and from there we worked outwards, sending out letters to many royal families throughout Europe and awaiting their responses. ‘The exhibition then became a natural process. Royal families still travel a lot, so we created the travel section and then what they wear has gone on to create iconic pictures and fashion moments so we dedicated space the that. ‘It is so interesting to look at how the bags were worn, what they were used for and what will they be carrying inside them.‘ Dutch fashion houses such as Jan Taminiau and Belgian designer Dries van Noton feature in the range of luxurious bags loaned by the Dutch royal family. The museum itself provides a spectacular setting for these royal accessories. It was started 20 years ago when antiques dealer Hendrikje Ivo and her husband Heinz turned her personal collection of historic bags and purses into what is now the largest bag museum in the world. Today the museum is curated by the couple's daughter, art historian Sigrid Ivo. Its collection, displayed over three floors, includes some 5,000 bags dating from the 15th century right up to the present day, giving visitors an insight into the changing fashion influences and production techniques through the ages. The museum is also currently home to the eight finalists of The Joke Veeze Award 2016 where upcoming fashion designers were set the challenge of designing a royal purse. From 40 entries the top eight are now open to a public vote and the winner will be announced at a ceremony in January. The exhibition of Royal Bags runs until 26 February at the Museum of Bags situated on the Herengracht in Amsterdam, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Amsterdam's Canal Belt. You can visit the museum's website here.  More >


Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei pledges ‘one voice’ for refugees

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei pledges ‘one voice’ for refugees

Ai Weiwei’s new exhibition at the Foam, Amsterdam, highlights his feelings of affinity with the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe.   By Moira Holden Ai Weiwei candidly admits he ‘never had a good memory’, so his enthusiasm for social media solves that problem. ‘I just push the button to record the moment,’ he said, during the opening of his exhibition, #SafePassage, in the Dutch capital. The artist (59) has visited many refugee camps around the Mediterranean since his passport was returned to him by the Chinese authorities, allowing him to travel abroad for the first time in four years. Since December last year, he has recorded the daily life of refugees in camps on the Greek island of Lesbos, Syria, Turkey, Italy, Israel and France. Social media His Instagram feed has functioned as a de facto real-time newswire and the printed images of the refugees’ faces chronicling their day-to-day life, their hope and despair are displayed in thousands of small iPhone photos mounted from floor to ceiling in the Foam. Ai labels the experience of the refugees as the ‘biggest, most shameful humanitarian crisis since World War II’ and says he views social media as ‘democratic spaces for freedom of speech’. ‘I take the photos and post to share with other people,’ he explains. ‘It is a sign of life – it is a form of life. For some people, it is like riding on a bicycle, or for somebody else it’s like taking exercise or having a conversation. For me, this is how I see the world.’ Alongside the photos, the creator of the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing has mounted exhibits to reflect the fragility of life. A marble tyre-shaped sculpture symbolises the lifebuoy rings for the thousands who have drowned. Ai also uses videos to emphasise the lives lost in the refugees’ desperate bid to escape. On the Boat sees Ai on an abandoned boat drifting in the middle of the ocean. Does he view himself as an artist or an activist? Immediately, he answers: ‘If I am being an artist, but not at the same time being an activist, then I am not the artist.’ Affinity Ai now lives in Berlin with his son (7) and identifies with the refugees’ sense of displacement. He won’t return to China because he fears further detention and won’t risk separation from his boy. ‘I don’t speak German,’ he says. ‘As long as you feel you cannot fully extend your feelings or emotions, or communicate freely with another person, then I think you are a refugee to some degree.’ His own experience of surveillance in his home country echoes the fear of the refugees under suspicion as borders now close to them. Ai’s criticisms of the Chinese government began in 2008 following the earthquake in Sichuan - he questioned the information released about casualties and spoke out about poorly constructed buildings which he claims had led to the deaths of many students. He was arrested at Beijing airport and secretly detained for 81 days in 2011 without any official charges being filed. When he was released, his passport was confiscated and he was put under constant surveillance. Photos in the exhibition convey the state’s scrutiny of his daily life as he is followed and observed by the secret police. His response was to set up a webcam to livestream his life, so he could attempt to reverse the invasion of his privacy and to gain some control. The webcam received 5.2 million hits before the authorities closed it down. He has no idea why his passport was returned to him, but rejected previous reports that he had written to a Chinese politician in a bid to get it back. ‘I will never ask a politician for freedom,’ he states, firmly. ‘This is against my principle.’ Goal His objective with the exhibition? ‘I want to show my position,’ he said. ‘I want to give one voice to these people.’ But he acknowledges there is little he can do to help the refugees he met in their quest for the ‘very essential values of human rights, or humanity, or basic human dignity’. He says: ‘That makes me feel very, very sad.’ Ai Weiwei, #Safe Passage, Foam, Amsterdam, runs until Wednesday December 7 2016. foam.org  More >


The IamExpat Fair comes to The Hague this November

The IamExpat Fair comes to The Hague this November

The IamExpat Fair in The Hague will take place on Saturday November 5, 2016, at the Grote Kerk. The IamExpat Fair is designed to support internationals in the Netherlands, and connect them with local businesses and service providers. This event is an exciting opportunity for internationals to find everything they need in one location, on one day. From companies and services in the areas of career, housing, education and expat services, to family, health and leisure - the IamExpat Fair has it covered! From 10am to 5pm this free single-day event will host stands from dozens of companies and organisations in the landmark Grote Kerk. Free workshops and presentations will also be running throughout the day. Visitors to the IamExpat Fair in The Hague can: - Get assistance with finding rental properties or understanding Dutch mortgages - Meet with recruiters and companies that are hiring - Attend workshops about living and working in the Netherlands - Learn about advancing your career through professional development - Benefit from many special offers - Find local health and lifestyle organisations - Connect with like-minded locals and expats from around the world Don’t miss the newest event on The Hague’s expat calendar! Book your free ticket now! The leading expat fair in the Netherlands The IamExpat Fair, launched in Amsterdam in 2015, has quickly evolved into the leading fair for internationals in the Netherlands. Since its launch, the IamExpat Fair has hosted more than 125 companies, run more than 40 workshops and welcomed more than 4.500 visitors. From November 2016, the IamExpat Fair takes place in two cities each year: Amsterdam and The Hague. Save the date and reserve your free ticket online!  More >


What happened here? Liberation Route Europe keeps World War II memories alive

What happened here? Liberation Route Europe keeps World War II memories alive

Think of war memorials and you think of somewhere to lay flowers and remember the dead. But with many war veterans no longer with us, it's becoming incumbent on us all to remember their sacrifices through shared stories. Many of these stories are literally just around the corner, as Simon Weedy discovers. Much of my love for history back in my school days can be attributed to our teacher. Mr McCauley was a magnificent narrator whose infectious zeal for the events of decades and centuries ago made everyone sit up and listen. His great passion was World War II and he loved telling us all about how Europe and the USA came together to defeat nazi Germany. Those 'stories' weren't a result of his vivid imagination however, but borne out from the accounts of those who had lived through the war and, of course, reflections on those who hadn't. I was captivated. Some 30 years later, I am recalling those stories as I stand beside an obscure monument on a street corner near my house in Breda. Since moving here from Britain two years ago, I've often thought what it must have been like to live in a city which, like the rest of the country, existed under forced occupation. And here's a clue. Night On the Ginneken is part of Liberation Route Europe (LRE), and is one of dozens of such remembrance sites scattered across Europe. It's something my children and I would cycle past every day on the way to school, but only recently did I decide to investigate how it came to be here. History I am standing at the location of the first battle for the liberation of Breda, part of the Allies’ drive across Western Europe, and part of the key battle for the nearby Belgian port city of Antwerp. On October 28th 1944, at this very junction, soldiers from the 1st Polish Armoured Division drove unsuspectingly into an ambush by a hidden German unit, which was armed with an anti-tank weapon. The Poles were forced to retreat, but responded with a heavy artillery bombardment, supported by British and Canadian troops. A long night ensued, resulting in many civilian casualties. Ginneken, then a village rather than the affluent suburb of Breda as it is today, was liberated by the Poles the following day. Standing here, as cyclists, pedestrians and motorists pass the spot, you are struck by the realisation that this isn’t just another history tale. This is history. It is where momentous things took place, and that’s something you can only feel when you’re here, and not reading it from a book. Allies advance Launched in June 2014, Liberation Route Europe links the main regions along the Allied Forces' advance from southern England, through Normandy, the Ardennes region, and the heart of The Netherlands, taking in Gelderland, North Brabant, Limburg, Zeeland and Overijssel. It continues through Germany before ending in the Polish city of Gdansk. As the name suggests, it focuses on the liberation of continental Europe and the consequences of the Second World War. Though it began as a Dutch project, LRE is now a truly pan-European operation, encompassing war museums and tourist organisations across Europe, and is even co-funded by the European Union (an expense surely even the Brexiteers wouldn't begrudge). Each site has a multimedia facility, so passers-by can hear a brief description in several languages of what happened on or near that spot. A few streets away lies another 'monument' that is hard to miss. General Maczekstraat – so named after the man who led the 1st Polish Armoured Division – is home to a German Panther tank presented to the citizens of Breda by the Poles. It is a truly magnificent relic. Younger generations Piotr Danczuk, 41, is a Pole living in Breda, and not surprisingly he is keen to keep alive the memory of how his countrymen fought for the city he now calls home. 'I have children growing up in this city and every time we go past this tank I remind them why it is there. They love to ask questions, and it is important that the younger generations learn from what happened in the past,' he says. 'There is a danger that too many people are starting to forget about the war years. My family lived through it but you can not say the same for many others.' And this is just Breda. Wherever you find yourself in The Netherlands you are never too far away from something of significance. It might be the site of the Battle of Woensdrecht at Ossendrecht where an order of friar monks provided citizens with refuge from the Germans. Stories The project recently launched the American Friends of the Liberation Route Europe, aimed at creating awareness about the USA's experience in Europe, and honouring those who travelled across the Atlantic to help liberate the The Netherlands and its neighbours. Victoria van Krieken, executive director of LRE, said: 'War is not only 'black and white', not only about victory and loss. We want to show the world that every country that was involved in the Second World War had, and has, its own stories to tell.' These are stories we should all aim to make sure our youngsters are aware of. My own children might never love history in the way that I do but hopefully they’ll grasp the significance of such events. In doing so, they will hopefully retain a deep sense of respect for those who gave everything to ensure future generations could live freely. Visit www.liberationroute.com  for details of where you can find remembrance sites across The Netherlands.   More >