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


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 >


From space to sunshine: great things to do in October

From space to sunshine: great things to do in October

There's an autumn chill in the air and the leaves are starting to tumble, but that's no excuse to stay cooped up at home. Here's a round-up of some of the best ways to get out and about this October. Check out a royal handbag Amsterdam's quirky museum of bags and purses is staging a new exhibition of handbags that belonged to princesses and queens. Check out bags owned by Britain's Queen Elizabeth, Princess Grace of Monaco and, of course, the Dutch royals. Queen Maxima has selected three bags from the collection of former queen Juliana. Get spaced out On October 2, the European Space Agency is holding an open day at its headquarters in Noordwijk. Visitors will be able to wander round the sprawling facility at their own pace, meeting astronauts, scientists and mission designers while seeing special exhibits and actual space hardware. You need to register in advance to take part. Remember Marilyn Monroe The Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam is staging an exhibition of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia based on the collection of German Monroe aficionado Ted Stampfer. The items on show include a turtleneck sweater and black-and-white capri pants, dresses the star wore in several of her films, jewellery and even a little silver baby cup with her name engraved on it, as well as diaries and other papers. Dance into autumn The first weekend in October is the traditional home of the Dutch Dance Festival, featuring performances from up-and-coming choreographers as well as established dance companies at locations throughout Maastricht. The programme ranges from classical ballet to urban dance and avant-garde to modern dance. Visit a museum at night On October 29 it's The Hague's turn to open its museums into the wee small hours. In total 38 of the city's cultural institutions are taking part in Museum Night 2016. This year the theme is 'real fake'. The clocks go back that night as well, so you've even more reason to stay out and enjoy. Celebrate language Saturday October 1 is the second day of the popular Drongo language festival at the Jaarbeurs exhibition centre in Utrecht. The event is aimed at everyone who works in the language industry or who is interested in words. Take in some sunshine If your Dutch is up to it, why not catch legendary performer and tv personality Andre van Duin in a successful production of The Sunshine Boys at the snazzy De Lar Mar theatre in Amsterdam? Van Duin and Kees Hulst play two comics who attempt to reunite after years of not speaking to each other. This comedy production was awarded five stars by the NRC and AD. Have a good laugh The International Comedy Festival Rotterdam is now in its third year. This year's event, which runs from October 7 to 9, has a star-studded line-up including deadpan British comic Jimmy Carr, Brendon Burns (Australia/UK), and Gina Yashere (UK). Get close to the music lesson The British royal family owns one of the finest collections of Old Masters in the world, and 22 of them are featuring in a new exhibition at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. The show include works by Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriël Metsu and Jan Steen. The highlight of the exhibition is ‘The Music Lesson’ by Johannes Vermeer. Timed tickets for the exhibition are now on sale. Get into Dutch design Every October Dutch Design Week  takes place in Eindhoven. What is billed as the biggest design event in Northern Europe features the work and ideas of more than 2,400 designers at 80 locations across the city. The event, which includes concerts, debates and award ceremonies, runs from October 22 until October 30.  More >


Get on with the job, and let us take care of the details

Get on with the job, and let us take care of the details

Congratulations! You’ve successfully secured that dream job in the Netherlands. Now you need to make sure you get the most out of the tax system. Tax breaks are a nice extra and if you know your rights the benefits can add up to a considerable sum. After all, there are few things the Dutch love more than a discount. Legislation The Dutch knowledge economy has prospered by attracting migrants with the right type of expertise, so it makes sense for the government to make it as appealing as possible for people like yourself to come and work here. To attract foreign specialists whose field of knowledge is scarce or unavailable in the Netherlands, the Dutch government introduced a special tax facility for expats known as the 30% ruling. Briefly put, this tax advantage means that you only pay income tax on 70% of your gross salary, so the remaining 30% is tax free. This tax benefit is applicable to expat employees working in the Netherlands as long as they meet certain requirements. The 30% ruling in detail If you’re coming to work in the Netherlands your earnings are dependent on your job group and salary grade, and possibly a collective labour agreement (cao). A special cao is in place for temporary and flexible workers. You can read all about that here. So who qualifies for the 30% ruling? You’re allowed to make use of the rule for a maximum period of eight years, provided you meet the income requirements set out by the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND). The 30% ruling makes it financially more attractive for employers to hire you as their employee, but of course you benefit too in the form of a lower tax bill. Payroll administration There are plenty of jobs in the Netherlands, but some companies are still hesitant to hire highly skilled migrants. A recent political audit has also called for a thorough check on the effectiveness and consequences of the 30% ruling. But regardless of any changes, umbrella services can take care of all your needs, from screening and advice on how to implement the 30% ruling in your payroll administration to payroll calculations and dealing with the Dutch tax authorities, as well as all the administrative burdens. If you want to arrange this quickly and conveniently the Dutch Umbrella Company can assist you in the entire process. Use the Dutch Income tax calculator to calculate your net pay and the Dutch Umbrella Company will get in touch with you as soon as possible.   More >


10 years of DutchNews.nl: stories from the Netherlands that made a splash

10 years of DutchNews.nl: stories from the Netherlands that made a splash

DutchNews.nl is celebrating 10 years of providing Dutch news in English. Since its launch in September 2006, the website has published 35,000 articles which have been read 76 million times by 13 million unique visitors from all over the world. So what have been the biggest stories and features over the years? ‘We have been surprised by the broad range of news stories which have made the top 10 of most-read items,’ says editor Robin Pascoe. ‘Classic Dutch subjects such as cannabis and euthanasia are included of course, but so are Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb’s outspoken views on Isis and sexual abuse within the Catholic church.’ Top news stories in 10 years More prisons to close as falling crime leaves cells empty Amsterdam will not ban tourists from cannabis cafes Dutch to scrap ban on insulting foreign heads of state Catholic church abuse: at least one youth castrated for ‘homosexuality’ Time is right to wipe out Isis, says Rotterdam’s Muslim mayor Doctors back euthanasia in severe dementia cases Ukraine air disaster leaves 295 dead, 154 are Dutch nationals Green light for driving instructors who accept sex for lessons More Dutch cities may join basic income experiment The moment a giraffe says goodbye to a dying zoo worker Top 10 features DutchNews.nl has only been publishing features for the past few years, so many of the stories will be familiar to regular readers. Following in Van Gogh’s footsteps, 10 places where he lived Suitcase full of secrets found in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter Bright sparks: 10 Dutch ideas we wish we had thought of first 10 things you should know about Dutch windmills 10 things you need to know about the end of World War II in the Netherlands Get off the beaten track. Here are 14 of the prettiest Dutch villages It’s nearly spring, and Amsterdam is ready to celebrate with 500,000 tulips Find out if you are a witch: eight weird things to do in the Netherlands Laura Dekker: stubborn,self-absorbed and a devil of a sailor 10 things you need to know about Easter in the Netherlands  More >


Bol.com’s English site is online but not yet ‘under the knee’

Bol.com’s English site is online but not yet ‘under the knee’

Since mid-June online hypermarket bol.com has been available in English to increase its appeal to non-Dutch speakers in the Netherlands and Belgium. The feature is in the beta phase and bol.com has been using automated translation software to translate the content from Dutch to English. So how is it working out so far? To carry out the translations, bol.com is working with Microsoft Translate. Because the translation is done automatically, the English doesn't always come out perfect. Bol.com admit to their customers in the drop-down information bar that they don't quite have the service ‘under the knee’. You can, of course, buy a dictionary from bol.com to look up the original Dutch phrase onder de knie, which mean's you've mastered something. Books, music, computers, washing machines, baby clothes, cat baskets, bikes... you name it, bol.com probably sells it. Since being founded in 1999 bol.com has become the biggest online store in the country. And after receiving a number of queries from the non-Dutch speaking community it started developing a translated version of its site. There are already over 200,000 people in the Netherlands who would rather shop in English than in Dutch. Most of these customers surf Dutch or Belgian webshops with the aid of Google Translate, albeit with mixed results. Easy to switch   You can switch to the English version of the site by clicking on the country flag in the top right-hand corner of the screen and selecting “translate into English”. Emails are not yet translated but contain a link that will take them directly to the relevant information in English on bol.com. Customers who have their browser configured in a language other than Dutch or English will automatically see a translated website. You can switch back to Dutch at any time using the flag. Customers can help to improve the translations using the feedback service on the translate bar, by saying if they understood the translation easily and whether it suited their the needs. Bol.com plans to continue improving its English machine translation step by step in order to ensure accurate English throughout the site. To be continued!  More >


New to the Netherlands and not a tourist? This is the fair for you

New to the Netherlands and not a tourist? This is the fair for you

Learning Dutch, finding a house, experiencing Dutch culture, making connections, solving immigration and tax issues, and finding employment – all at the 'I am not a Tourist' fair for Internationals in the Beurs van Berlage - Amsterdam on Sunday, 2 October 2016. For those not familiar with this annual celebration, the I am not a Tourist' fair is the biggest expat-oriented event in the Netherlands – expected to host 4,500 internationals and friends again this year. Still going strong after 13 previous editions, and the introduction of the Eindhoven edition, it brings you everything you need to enjoy life in the Netherlands. In just one day and under one roof at the beautiful Beurs van Berlage, this event is all about enriching your life abroad, whether you are new to the expat lifestyle or an old hand. Featuring the Job Fair for Internationals This year the Expat Fair will feature the Job Fair for Internationals, where expats can meet with some of the top employment agencies, recruiters, and companies currently looking for new team members. For an additional fee, visitors looking for employment can attend exclusive workshops and presentations and will be provided with an upgraded visitors pass, enabling them to provide recruiters with their CV digitally. Order your FREE tickets for the 'i am not a tourist' Expat Fair 2016 at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam here (€12.50 on the door) or your exclusive ticket for the Job Fair for Internationals (access to both fairs) for a discounted price of €12.50 (€17.50 on the door) here! Fun and factual: exhibitions, workshops and entertainment Newcomers who are still finding their feet in the Netherlands will have the chance to learn about setting up a bank account, doing their taxes, or finding childcare, a school or university. Both arrivals and settled expats can enjoy these resources alongside entertainment and a wealth of cultural activities to dive into Dutch culture. Discover delicious Dutch food and beverages, entertainment, networking opportunities and much more. The extensive program also includes a variety of workshops to help you integrate into life in the Netherlands. There will be entertaining performances and presentations on the main stage, and even speed dating for expat singles. For families with children, the Expat Fair has a dedicated kids’ area managed by childcare professionals. Shake up your world and broaden your horizon by discovering what's going on in the rest of the expat community. Whether you have lived in the Netherlands for days, months or years, or are yet to move, make sure you keep Sunday 2 October 2016  free in your diary. Get your FREE ticket online now to ensure you don’t miss this valuable opportunity!  More >



What’s on this autumn? English language theatre, comedy and other shows

What’s on this autumn? English language theatre, comedy and other shows

The International theatre scene continues to blossom, with an increasing number of English language companies, language-no-problem shows and internationally focused festivals popping up all over the country. Esther O’Toole had a look at what the new season promises. Theatre Toneel Groep Amsterdam In the last few years TA’s programming has become increasingly interesting and diverse. This season the theme of freedom runs through all the productions. Though most shows are in Dutch they still offer English surtitles on all their Thursday night performances and are continuing their cooperation with internationally renowned theatre directors. This season stellar director Katie Mitchell (UK) will be one to watch out for. Website The International Theatre in English Theodora Voutsa’s company return to the Compagnie Theater in Amsterdam November, with their much lauded modern version of Sophocles’ Antigone, which enjoyed a sell-out run back in March. November 4 and 25 only. Well worth a look. Website Badhuis Theater This lovely little spot in Amsterdam Oost is home to the inventive Shakespeare Karaoke nights led by Shakespearean performance specialist Will Sutton. In October it’s the turn of Antony and Cleopatra to get the ‘Shaoke’ treatment. A fun and imaginative way to get familiar with Shakespeare’s greatest hits. Also, back by popular demand is their English language show The Shadow of a Gunman which will have an extended run at the end of September. Website Mezrab A firm favourite among Amsterdammers and those in the know, Mezrab cultural centre does storytelling, impro nights and music for English and Dutch audiences. Highlights this season include improvised storytelling on the 16th September and a Storytelling Festival starting on the 22nd. Great homemade soup too! Website NT Live! at Pathe The British National Theatre first launched broadcasts of their live performance back in 2009. Now they offer multiple shows per year, at venues worldwide. On September 22 you can catch a new production of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill´s The Threepenny Opera in Amsterdam or The Hague. In Utrecht, they will also be reprising Terrence Rattigan´s masterpiece The Deep Blue Sea, and reruns of other shows are on offer at various local arthouse venues. Website STET Well loved company STET have been in The Hague for 10 years now. With this being their anniversary year they have pulled out the stops for some great international collaborations. Alongside their own language-no-problem shows for kids (this season a puppet version of Cinderella, 5+) they are also bringing in the freshest new talent from London's acclaimed Guildhall Drama Academy for a series of one-man shows and have partnered with Nationale Toneel Gebouw for a new production of Medea in Greek. Website Comedy Boom Chicago Amsterdam-based comedy group Boom Chicago have a packed autumn programme, including their US political show Angry White Men - Trump up the volume, with focuses on the presidential election. A one-off on September 26 is a look at the Amsterdam startup ecosystem. It's big, they say, and so is its ego. Website English Language Stand-Up More and more excellent stand-up comedians are now making the Netherlands a stop on their tours. Amy Schumer was over recently and Eddie Izzard will be playing Carre in November (18th). What is cooler still is new international talents, like Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss and Swedish sensation Johan Glans, are becoming a strong feature at Toomler in Zuid. Website International Comedy Festival Rotterdam Also tapping into the demand for some serious laughs, the ICFR is now in it's third year. It has a great line up this time round including massive names like deadpan Jimmy Carr (UK), Brendon Burns (Australia/UK), and Gina Yashere (UK). October 7-9 in Rotterdam. Website Other shows BOSCH500 Celebrations of the life and works of Hieronymous Bosch, continues through the Autumn in the city that shares his name. With 500 events planned overall there’s documentary films, a VR experience and a special theatre spectacular, Bosch Dreams (at Theater de Leest in Waalwijk) all still to come. A spectacular evening is promised in the form of a specially composed Bosch Requiem, at St John’s Cathedral on 6th November. Events will continue throughout the year and right up until April 2017. Website Scapino Ballet One more group enjoying an anniversary this year, Scapino Ballet. They´ve been producing high quality dance for 70 years now. To celebrate they are showing revivals of some of their best work alongside the ambitious new project TING!, which is an unusual collaboration between their choreographer Wubbe and the Dutch band NITS. Website  More >


Volunteer organisation Access has been helping new arrivals settle for 30 years

Volunteer organisation Access has been helping new arrivals settle for 30 years

Whether it be sensible advice about childbirth or making friends, finding a job or even where to buy a tie, volunteer organisation Access has been helping internationals in the Netherlands for the past 30 years. Molly Quell looks back at the organisation's history as they celebrate their anniversary this month. The Access model is unique in the world but the problems it seeks to solve aren’t. The experience of moving abroad is, unsurprisingly, a stressful one. In 1985, the American Community Council (ACC), an organisation which brought together all of the American-focused groups in The Hague - from churches to schools - took on this challenge. According to Gale Metcalf and Joel Wallach, who helped with the founding of Access: 'It was not about the availability of support or information, it was access to and awareness of it that we noted as being absent in The Hague.' The ACC looked at that model and concluded that what its community needed was a clearinghouse for information that international families needed, including opportunities for professional development and a list of service providers who worked with international families. From this, Access was born. Volunteers Within the first year, it had 70 volunteers. They came mostly from the community of spouses who had followed their partners and were often highly educated and with in-demand skills but who were unable to find work in their new country. This very volunteer pool is what makes Access so unique.. The organisation currently has only four paid roles. While providing services to the international community, Access also seeks to provide opportunities for those very same people to have something to do that wasn’t 'house, spouse or kids' says the organisation’s director, Deborah Valentine. During its 30 year history, Access has worked with 3,000 volunteers. The organisation currently boasts 130 volunteers with around 40 nationalities with John Pellet, the longest serving member of the team after 12 years. Nationwide Those volunteers staff their national back office, which can be contacted via email or a 0900 number. They also staff the first Access help desk in The Hague and the satellite offices it has recently opened in Utrecht and Amsterdam. Soon it will have a similar desk in Leiden. When relocating from France with his partner, American John Fields ventured to City Hall to visit the desk located there. 'I spoke with an Access volunteer who was extraordinarily welcoming, friendly, knowledgeable, and supportive. I had been doing volunteer work in France and within 6 months of arrival, I had successfully become part of Access as well.' Internationals can get practical information about health, employment and legal matters but advice about life necessities isn’t the only information it provides. Office manager Qin Cai was once asked where one could buy a tie within a five minute walk from The Hague central station. Funding Initially the organisation was supported in large part of a grant from the US State Department’s mental health services division and was supplemented by support from local organisations. By the mid-90’s, Access was receiving most of its income from publications. In more recent years, the funding has come from sponsorship. It is also launching a patron programme, in which international organisations can contribute financially and in return, receive assistance with onboarding their international employees. Despite some financial difficulties in the past, the core of the model remains strong. In 2015, Access became part of Utrecht's official expat centre. When the Expatcenter in Amsterdam wanted to expand its services, it looked to to them as all. 'Access was the perfect partner to help us. In particular, their team of volunteers is highly knowledgeable,' says Colleen Geske, international community liaison at the Expatcenter Amsterdam. The organisation is now talking with the city of Leiden as well. 'I believe ACCESS’ role will continue to prosper and flourish with all the new initiatives that continue to be undertaken,' says board member Pauline O’Brien. Access returned to its origins with its 30th anniversary celebrations by hosting a reception at the American School in Wassenaar, where the organisation was founded. The party was attended by current and former volunteers and a whole host of friends and supporters. 'The reception,' says Valentine, 'gave us an opportunity to reflect on our history and celebrate our volunteers. Without them, what we do would not be possible.' Find out more about Access and volunteering via www.access-nl.org  More >


Make the most of the last days of summer with a swim in a Dutch lake

Make the most of the last days of summer with a swim in a Dutch lake

Children are back at school and the workplaces are almost back to normal. But a bout of late summer sun means shrieks of delight can still be found in lakes and rivers from Friesland to Limburg. The Dutch do love their water, as Simon Weedy discovers. The celebrations which followed Sharon van Rouwendaal and Ferry Weertman's gold medals in the 10K open water swim at the Rio Olympics were a joy to behold. But to a nation which needs little excuse to jump into a lake or river, their achievements – as superb as they were – should have come as little surprise. Weather-wise, you wouldn't honestly say that it's been the best summer ever. Frankly, it's been a bit of a wash-out. Or at least it had been until a couple of weeks ago. Right on cue, a decent spell of sunshine arrives and suddenly everyone is rushing to embrace this 'Indian Summer', topped off with a cooling dip. And despite an abundance of outdoor swimming pools, there is no shortage of places to indulge in 'wild swimming', be it at a local lake, river, canal or, of course, in the North Sea. Facilities The facilities for swimming in lakes and rivers are often excellent, with many boasting a mixture of spotless toilet blocks, manned car parks and refreshment vans, to ensure the best possible experience. Amsterdam, for example, has nine official places where you can swim, if you dare, and the water is currently around 22 degrees. In fact in the Netherlands as a whole, there are around 600 official places to swim. Noord-Holland tops the provincial league with 151 but even Utrecht has 25 places you can take a safe dip. Every province publishes an annual list of approved swimming spots, and the transport ministry – which manages 6,000 kilometres of rivers and canals – teams up with local water suppliers and the environment ministry performs weekly checks on the water quality at each site during the official swim season, between May 1 and October 1. Health risks The risks to public health are plentiful. Bacterial contaminants range from dogs playing in the water to discharge from sewer overflows and the presence of blue-green algae. But the biggest problem, according to the government, is actually a self-made one. 'The greatest threat to swimmers in outdoor water is not in the quality of the bathing water, but by the people themselves' says official guidance. 'People are jumping from unsafe sites in rivers and canals, and swimming in unsafe locations in the sea... navigation, currents and objects in the water pose the greatest threat to the safety of swimmers.' River swimming is a particular bugbear of many provinces, simply because of the sheer number of potential risks to life and limb from shipping lanes, cramp and hypothermia. Anyone found swimming in places where it is banned can face a fine of up to €140. High spirits But none of this seems to dampen the spirits of a nation proud to show off its credentials as a land at one with nature in more ways than one. The Netherlands, don't forget, has history with water. About a quarter of the country remains below sea level, thereby explaining why flooding remains the country's biggest natural threat. Little wonder then there is such a collective fascination with the wet stuff. The crowds which lined the waterways of Dordrecht recently for the Swim to Fight Cancer event exemplified the nation's passion for wild swimming. And if that were not enough, they were treated to a guest appearance by gold medallists van Rouwendaal and Weertman. Popularity 'People here have always been keen swimmers but now the popularity of open water swimming is certainly increasing,' says Ellen Julius of the Dutch swimming federation, which organised the event. 'Swims like the one in Dordrecht are regularly happening across the country and attract lots of people. People love to take to the water in the Netherlands, but they are also well aware of the regulations around these activities,' she adds. And that really is the key. To all of you out there soaking up the last bits of summer, take the opportunities to swim outdoors but take heed of the warnings. Above all, enjoy. * Visit www.zwemwater.nl for a clickable map of all the official swimming places  More >


Trix the T Rex makes her mark on Leiden in new exhibition

Trix the T Rex makes her mark on Leiden in new exhibition

What’s over 66 million years old and roughly the length of a city bus? Why, it’s Trix the Tyrannosaurus Rex, one of the most recent expats to arrive on the shores of the Netherlands. Trix goes on show at the Naturalis natural history museum in Leiden on September 10 and Brandon Hartley has the low down. When a team of paleontologists and other scientists from Naturalis embarked on a journey to the United States in the summer of 2013, they weren’t sure what they would find. By the following September they had unearthed a remarkably well-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton during an excavation in the state of Montana. During its lifetime, the dinosaur would have stood 4 - 5 metres tall and weighed 5,000 kilogrammes. According to their analysis, the dinosaur was likely a female and would have died at about the age of 30 around 66 - 67 million years ago. Finding a nearly complete T Rex skeleton like this one is the paleontology equivalent of coming across a long lost Rembrandt or a Van Gogh painting. It’s hard to exagerate the importance of the discovery. The team from Leiden were able to extract 80% of the skeleton during the excavation. ‘[It’s] one of the best three that have been found,’ Pete Larson, president of South Dakota's Black Hills Geological Research Institute, recently told The Chicago Tribune. Cost But the cost of purchasing and moving a T Rex skeleton that weighs roughly 13,000 pounds from the United States to the Netherlands doesn’t come cheap. Naturalis was able to initially work out a deal with the landowners to purchase the dino but a large chunk of the millions of euros that the centre invested in the project and its upcoming exhibition came from donations. To help raise all that cash, the centre launched a cheeky fundraising campaign titled Tientje voor T Rex in late 2013. It included collection containers located in cafes and shops in addition to a television advert featuring a clumsy dinosaur going door-to-door in search of spare change. The skeleton was eventually christened ‘Trix’ in honour of former queen Beatrix. The name was suggested so many times by donors and Naturalis visitors that it became ‘an obvious choice’ according to museum representatives. Plane On 23 August, 250 passengers on a KLM flight departing from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport heard a surprising announcement while they were waiting to board. They were told that they’d be flying to Amsterdam with the 66+ million year old Trix. At an earlier press conference, a group of representatives from the Netherlands and the US unveiled a large Dutch passport for the dino. Trix officially arrived in Leiden a few days later and was welcomed to town with a celebration featuring hundreds of local school children. A caravan that included a marching band, a T. Rex parade float, tv naturalist Freek Vonk, and paleontologist Anne Schulp led a lorry carrying the bones to a stage set up in the city’s historic Beestenmarkt. But all's not well in Dinoland. Reports have recently emerged of a battle between landowners in Montana over which one of them deserves the payment for Trix’s bones. The initial seller and a neighbour each say that they deserve the estimated €5m the museum paid for the dinosaur. This isn’t the first time that the discovery of a T. Rex skeleton has led to a legal standoff over ownership. The extraction of a similar dino named ‘Sue’ in 1992 resulted in a ruckus that later involved the FBI and members of the US National Guard. Now in place, Trix is the first and only T. Rex to be permanently displayed in mainland Europe. The exhibition will continue to June next year and will then go on an international tour. Trix will return to the Netherlands to take up permanent residence at a space in the newly renovated Naturalis in late 2018. Trix is being presented in a unique, low to the ground pose that will make her seem more dangerous and intense than other T Rex skeletons in museums around the world. The decision was a practical one. Unlike similar displays, Trix will feature her actual skull instead of a replica, which will require a substantial amount of support that can’t be achieved with a more traditional pose. As Schulp told The Chicago Tribune, 'You can really look the beast in the eye.' Oh, and in case you were wondering, her missing bones will be replaced by 3D printed replications based on previously discovered T Rex skeletons. For tickets and further information about the exhibition, head over to the museum’s website.  More >


Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk welcomes Marilyn Monroe – and (not quite) that dress

Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk welcomes Marilyn Monroe – and (not quite) that dress

On June 1 actress Marilyn Monroe would have turned 90. That, and the lucky discovery of a substantial collection of Marilyn-related objects practically on the Dutch doorstep, has prompted the Nieuwe Kerk to mount an exhibition ‘reflecting on the life of a female icon’. By Hanneke Sanou The exhibition is almost completely made up of items bought by German collector Ted Stampfer, who also collects Rock Hudson memorabilia. At his Mannheim treasure trove, Stampfer has over 700 items relating to the star - including such startling ones as a few strands of Marilyn’s hair in a curler and a half-empty pot of face cream. He describes himself nevertheless as someone who likes to ‘keep at a safe distance from Marilyn fanatics’. Stampfer’s chance came when many of Marilyn’s personal and professional possessions  were auctioned off in the nineties after having been boxed up for forty years. No doubt Stampfer will be found in the auction room again in November this year. That is when the largest collection of film costumes worn by Marilyn comes up for auction, including the black dress she wore in Some Like it Hot. De Nieuwe Kerk managed to borrow some 140 objects owned or worn at one time by the actress. ‘We have lots of different types of objects,’ says Nieuwe Kerk spokesperson Martijn van Schieveen. Capri pants ‘There are her clothes – a turtle neck sweater and black-and-white capri pants which was one of her looks – dresses from several of her films, jewellery, a quite moving little silver baby cup with her name engraved on it.. We also have interesting documents, such as contracts and scribbled notes. Marilyn was a highly organised person and kept her bills and diaries, of which we have a few as well.’ Also on show is some of the boxes that contained her medication ‘a poignant reminder of how she died’, says Van Schieveen. One of the exhibition highlights is one of two nearly identical dresses costume designer William Trevilla designed for Marilyn Monroe. The one on show in the Nieuwe Kerk is not the dress Marilyn Monroe wore in The Seven Year Itch (1955) when she stood on that draughty New York subway grate trying to keep her dress from wrapping itself around her head. It apparently took three hours and 14 takes before director Billy Wilder was happy. The several thousand onlookers could have stayed there all night. Not that Wilder was happy for long: the final version of the scene was shot on a Hollywood lot. Silly dress William Trevilla later called the ivory halter-neck number ‘that silly dress’. He had, in his opinion, designed far better dresses for Marilyn, among which the pink dress she wears in Gentlemen prefer Blondes when she sings Diamonds are a Girl’s best Friends. In 1971 the dress Marilyn wore in the film was bought for 200 dollars by actress and musical star Debbie Reynolds who had become an avid collector of Hollywood memorabilia and costumes when she was a young actress (with remarkable foresight). Financial difficulties and the failure to find backing for a museum finally forced her to part with the collection. In 2011 that dress fetched a staggering 4.6 million dollars. The dress on show in the Nieuwe Kerk forms part of the Maite Minguez Ricart collection. And what about that curler with Marilyn’s hair and that pot of face cream? ‘Yes, they’re both here,’ says Van Schieveen. Doesn’t he think the inclusion of these objects is…well, a little bit too morbid and intrusive? ‘Not at all. It’s fantastic to have them. What better than to have the icon’s DNA right here in the Nieuwe Kerk? It brings her that much closer.’ 90 years of Marilyn. Reflecting on the life of a female icon' October 1 – February 5 Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam. Tickets available now   More >


10 key periods in history which made the Netherlands what it is today

10 key periods in history which made the Netherlands what it is today

Being the well organised folk that they are, the Dutch have drawn up a list of 50 key events and periods which shaped the country and made the Netherlands what it is today. This mighty list is known as the Canon of Dutch history and forms the basis of history teaching at primary schools. We can't possibly remember them all, so here's the 10 we think might just be the most significant. 1 The early farmers The first people to abandon the hunter-gatherer existence in the Netherlands are known as the Trechtervolk, named after the funnel-shaped pottery they left behind, most of it in tiny pieces. These early farmers settled in what is now the province of Drenthe around 3400 BC. There they built a more enduring legacy: the hunebedden, which are among the oldest historical monuments in Europe. 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. Little is known about the Trechtervolk, or the status of the folk who were buried in the hunebedden. Any bones have long since disappeared and the graves, vandalised and misunderstood in later years, were most likely robbed of any enlightening artefacts. 2 The Roman conquest The Roman conquest of the south of the Low Countries - attempts to conquer the north failed and after a while the Roman stopped bothering - was successfully achieved in 12 BC under Augustus. They stayed for the next 300-odd years and built numerous fortresses to stave off attacks from troublesome local tribes. They also built public baths (Heerlen boasts the best-preserved thermae http://www.thermenmuseum.nl/ ), villas and roads- and provided a basis for a legal system that is still with us today. 3 Conversion to Christianity The tribes in the north of the Netherlands presented a challenge to the missionaries of the 8th century. Both Willibrord and Bonifatius – revered saints in the Catholic church – travelled from England to convert the unruly Friesians but they stubbornly refused to give up their own form of worship. The culmination came when Bonifatius, who did much to establish the catholic church in Europe, was killed at Dokkum by the Friesians as he was making another conversion attempt in 754. Whether the deed was done in open combat or during a cowardly night time attack remains unclear. Catholiscism never did become the dominant religion in the Netherlands. 4 The Hanseatic League In the 14th century a number of Dutch towns and cities became part of the Hanseatic League, a powerful organisation created by North German merchants to protect shared trade interests. In the century that followed the Dutch reclaimed the North Sea, ousting German traders and then continued jostling for power in the region with the Brits. Later still, in the 17th century, or the Golden Age, the Dutch East India Company VOC earned traders huge fortunes. The VOC gave out shares to finance trade expeditions and is therefore seen as the first multinational company. 5 The Republic of seven provinces By the time the Dutch were making their fortune in the East Indies the Dutch had gained independence of the Spanish after a war that lasted eighty years. A satisfactory king couldn’t be found so in an unusual move for the times they formed a republic of seven provinces (1588 to 1795) ruled by prince Maurits of Orange as stadtholder and Johan van Oldebarnevelt as the main legal advisor until the two fell out and Maurits had Van Oldebarnevelt beheaded. 6 An independent kingdom The Netherlands didn’t become an independent kingdom until 1815. In 1795 the republic had become a vassal state of France. In 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother – who suffered from rheumatism and didn’t relish a post in a damp country - reluctantly became king of the Netherlands. He soon rallied, however, and even tried to learn Dutch. Legend has it that he called himself ‘konijn van ‘Olland’ his French accent turning koning (king) into konijn (rabbit). After Napoleon was defeated Europe changed shape again and the Netherlands started on it royal course under king Willem 7 Women's rights In 1878 Aletta Jacobs (1854 – 1929) became the first Dutch woman to leave the university, of Groningen in this case, a fully-fledged doctor of medicine. She went on to promote birth control as a way of fighting poverty among the poor and became a vocal advocate for women’s right to vote and stand for election. Dutch women won the right to vote in 1917. 8 Two world wars The Dutch managed to stay neutral during the Great War (1914-1918) and, compared to the casualties and devastation suffered by many other countries it came off relatively lightly. The Second World War (1940-1945) was to have much more profound effect on the Netherlands. Some 89, 000 Dutch civilians lost their lives and over 100,000 Jewish citizens were killed in the German death camps. The war was followed by the ‘wederopbouw’, or reconstruction, a period in which the Netherlands rebuilt the country’s infrastructure and fractured economy. One of the most important and revered figures of the post-war period was socialist Willem Drees, who introduced old age pensions. 9 The flood of 1953 In the night of January 31 and February 1, 1953, a violent storm and a spring tide combined fatally to flood parts of the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Germany. In the Netherlands the province of Zeeland was hardest hit. The dykes were too weak to withstand the impact of the storm and 1,836 people died. Numerous heads of cattle were lost and agriculture in the area destroyed. The ‘watersnoodramp’, or flood disaster, led to the so-called Deltawerken, an enormous complex of coastal defences that was started in 1958 and finished in 1991. 10 Natural gas Much of the Netherlands’ present-day wealth is based on the ‘gasbel’ or gas bubble. In 1959 a huge natural gas field was discovered in the province of Groningen. This heralded an economic boom time in the Netherlands. At this moment it is thought that there is enough gas to last for another 25 years. The extraction of gas has recently developed a downside - large parts of Groningen are suffering earthquakes as the ground settles and gas extraction has been scaled back.  More >