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


A suitcase full of secrets found in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter after 70 years

A suitcase full of secrets found in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter after 70 years

The discovery of a suitcase filled with photographs and paintings and hidden in a cupboard in an Amsterdam flat was the beginning of a story stretching back to 1920s Berlin. Gordon Darroch unravels a mystery which plays out across the globe. Cities are shaped by their past: it courses through them like blood, unseen but vital. Charlaine Scholten's boyfriend told her about the suitcase in his attic shortly after they started dating last February. It was a hard brown leather case, weighing about 30 kilos, familiar from those black-and-white photographs where cases are piled high on the quayside behind families waiting to board passenger steamers for a new life across the ocean. When Charlaine sprung open the brass clasps, it began a year-long quest spanning three continents and 70 years of history. Her brother-in-law had found it while renovating an apartment building in Amsterdam's Beethovenstraat in 2009. 'It was in a meter cupboard, shoved behind an old chair and beneath a bundle of old clothing,' explained Charlaine, 26, who works at DeLaMar Theatre. 'It was clear from where it was placed that it wasn't meant to be found. It was a heavy old leather hardboard case, very heavy, and lined with a very fine material. When my brother-in-law opened it up everything inside was in perfect condition. 'His boss was just going to throw it away but he said "you can have it”, so he took it home and gave it to my boyfriend, and since then it's been sitting in his attic.' Six years had passed when Charlaine went up to the attic and the case was opened again. Inside she found a neat bundle of German newspapers, some postcards in German and, most intriguingly of all, a collection of photographs, sketches and oil paintings. Many of them were self-portraits of a raven-haired woman of arresting beauty, with firm cheekbones and piercing eyes. The postcards gave the artist's name as Emmy Porges and mentioned a relative called George Porges. The only other significant clue was the newspapers: copies of the Schweizer Illustrierter Zeitung, a weekly picture paper published in Zurich, with cover dates between 1933 and 1940. Charlaine grew up listening to her grandmother's stories of life under German occupation. 'She lived through the war in a village just outside Amsterdam,' she said. 'People who had been conscripted to go and work in Germany fled to the farms, or they came from Amsterdam looking for food and milk.' And now she had a wartime mystery of her own to uncover. She resolved to track down Emmy's family, return the case to them and and find out why it had been hidden in the Beethovenstraat. German enclave Porges is a Jewish name which in pre-war Europe was concentrated in Prague and Vienna, with offshoots across the German-speaking world. After 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, German Jews fled across the border to the Netherlands. The apartments on Beethovenstraat, built less than a dozen years earlier, quickly filled up with refugee families until it was virtually a German-speaking enclave. After the Germans invaded in May 1940, the area became a focal point of repression and violence: the tram stop on the Beethovenstraat was the departure point for 18,000 deported Jews, and a monument on the corner of the Apollolaan marks the spot where 29 resistance fighters were mown down by the firing squad in reprisal for the murder of an SS officer. It seemed as if Emmy Porges had fled Amsterdam in a hurry when the Germans arrived, bundling her most intimate personal possessions into the old suitcase and secreting it in the meter cupboard. Perhaps she hoped to return once the war was over, pick up her paintings and start over, but either died in the death camps or was unable to come back. That was the most obvious explanation, but as the real story emerged, it proved to be wrong in almost every detail. Last May Charlaine enlisted the help of her mother ('she's very good at archiving') to try to track down Emmy's surviving relatives. 'We tried Google but that didn't get us very far,' she said. 'Amsterdam has records of where everybody lived since 1900, but there were no Porgesses at numbers 48 or 50 on the Beethovenstraat. Then we widened our search to Hamburg, where we found a number of families called Porges who lived there in the 1930s, including an Alice Porges. And that led us to Haydee.' While Charlaine and her mother were tracing Emmy's relatives in pre-war Hamburg, over in Buenos Aires, Haydee Fabian, a 70-year-old retired biochemist, was joining the dots on her own family tree. She knew her family had fled Nazi Germany and been dispersed all over the Americas and New Zealand, and her research had put her in touch with a cousin, Frank Meier, living in Florida. Frank had been born in Hamburg in 1928: Alice Porges was his mother. She had six sisters, one of whom was Emmy. Sheer luck 'It was sheer luck that our paths crossed,' said Charlaine. 'If we hadn't been able to follow in Haydee's footsteps we probably wouldn't have found the family.' Nobody in the family knew the suitcase even existed, Haydee said. 'Charlaine contacted me through the GENI website, asking for help in finding living relatives of Emmy Porges, because they had found a very well-preserved suitcase with the belongings of Emmy and perhaps of her near family hidden behind a closet,' she said. 'I was astonished that something like this could happen so many years after the end of the war, and happy that Charlaine was trying to find a connection through the family tree.' Frank Meier, now 87, fled to Amsterdam with his parents in 1932, when he was three years old. The family found an apartment on Albrecht Dürerstraat, two streets from the Beethovenstraat. Most of the other sisters stayed in Germany and were deported to the camps. 'A lot of Jews in the 1930s didn't think Hitler would do anything really bad,' Frank said on the phone from Florida. 'Nobody thought it would turn out the way it did. We escaped, but my aunt Leni, her husband and their two children, Peter and Sonya, were all shipped to Auschwitz. Uncle Alfred survived and came to live near us in Canada, but his family were all dead.' Having escaped the Nazis once, Alice and her husband, Max, wasted no time when Germany invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. 'My mother had a better sense of things than my father,' Frank said. 'He believed the Germans wouldn't take Holland – he'd say, “What are they going to do in Holland: come and fetch the cheese?” 'She came home the day the Germans arrived and said, “We're getting out of here”. Someone drove us to IJmuiden and we boarded a boat to England that night. That was where I lived during the war.' Berlin Emmy Porges, however, neither fled across the Atlantic nor perished in the gas chambers. By the time the war broke out she was already dead. Alice only occasionally spoke of her sister, but Frank believed she had died some time in the mid-thirties while living in Berlin. 'I know very little about her except one of her beautiful paintings hung in our living room in Amsterdam,' he explained. 'Fortunately for her, she escaped the Holocaust and died before all the Jews were shipped to Auschwitz.' Alice Meier died in 1983 in Montreal, Canada. During the war the family were separated: Frank grew up in London with his mother, but his father, Max, and his brother, Wolfgang, were sent to Canada shortly after landing in Britain. 'The English thought we were 99% okay, but there was a doubt in their minds that there might be some spies among us,' said Frank. 'So they were all sent to Canada, including my brother who was 16. They were interned in a rural facility in Quebec province out in the wilderness. They were released in 1944 and my father ended up living in Montreal.' When the war ended in 1945, Alice and Frank boarded a Cunard liner for Canada, where they were reunited with Max and Wolfgang in Montreal. The past was a distant country, separated by the Atlantic ocean and the horror of the Holocaust. Max Meier set up an import business in Montreal, but died just nine years later of a heart attack, aged 57. Wolfgang changed his name to the less German Fred Richard Maitland, enlisted in the Canadian army and eventually moved to Chicago where he died in 1995, at the age of 72. The suitcase in Beethovenstraat was lost in the folds of memory; the family were too busy building their new lives, if they even knew it was there at all. It might just as well have been abandoned on the moon. Returning the suitcase Once Charlaine had found Emmy's relatives, the next challenge was to return the suitcase to them. 'We didn't think the items would survive if we tried to post them,' she said. Frank had a solution: his daughter, Vivien, had just retired as a stewardess with Continental Airlines. 'I used to fly into Amsterdam all the time; it was my favourite route,' she said on the phone from her home in Texas. 'We used to stay near the Beethovenstraat. All that time I never knew the suitcase was there, a few blocks away from where I was staying. That was the irony.' As a former Continental employee, Vivien could claim free flights with the airline's successor, United Airlines. 'So I thought, I'll go over to Amsterdam,' she said. 'I flew first class both ways; my best friend was on the flight serving me. After we booked into our hotel we just walked over to the place where the suitcase had been hidden.' Charlaine brought the suitcase to the hotel that same evening. 'That was when it hit me, the whole gravity of the thing,' said Vivien. 'We had been planning and organising it for months. One of my girlfriends said to me, this is like our Anne Frank moment. The idea of this beautiful, talented and independent woman leaving all this stuff behind. I looked across at my friend, and she looked up at the carpenter who had found it, and we were all crying.' Taking a suitcase made for the ocean-going age back through Schiphol airport wasn't a straightforward exercise, Vivien explained. 'It raised a few eyebrows at customs. We basically had to open it up and tell them the whole story, and then they let it through.' In March, a few weeks after returning to Texas, she drove over to her father's house with the case. How Emmy's paintings came to be hidden in a suitcase in Amsterdam was a mystery. As far as Frank knew his aunt had never been in Amsterdam, and most of the Swiss newspapers were published after the date she was thought to have died. 'It might have been one of her friends,' said Frank. 'Some parts of the story we may never find out. My mother never talked a lot about Emmy; we just had the painting that hung in our living room.' One piece of the jigsaw has emerged since Vivien returned with the case. Later in March, Haydee Fabian wrote to Frank with the details of Emmy's death, which she had obtained from the New Synagogue in Berlin. The records show that Emmy Porges died in Berlin on February 21, 1929, earlier than Frank believed, while Alice and her family were still living in Hamburg. The cause of death was given as heart failure. Emmy's body was taken by train to her native Hamburg, where she was buried in the city's vast Ohlsdorf Cemetery. Emmy's death certificate also yields some intriguing clues. The person who registered her death was Hans Robertson, one of the best known photographers of Weimar Germany, who won acclaim for his pioneering pictures of the city's dance scene. Her last address at Rocherstrasse 16 was in the beating heart of artistic life in 1920s Berlin, a street where lawyers and doctors rubbed shoulders with artists and musicians, with a strong Jewish contingent. It represented everything the Nazis despised and, like Amsterdam's Beethovenstraat, became the scene of vicious repression in the next decade. The author Erich Kästner bought the house at Roscherstrasse 16 a few months after Emmy's death and lived there until it was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1944. Hans Robertson, himself a Jew, was forced to flee to Copenhagen with his wife, a Danish dancer. Unanswered questions The question of who left the suitcase in the Beethovenstraat, and why, may never be answered. Someone was fond enough of Emmy to stash her paintings away in the back of a cupboard, with the intention of coming back for them some day. 'It's very difficult to say, but I think it was Alice's suitcase,' said Charlaine. 'If you look at what was inside, it's all family photos and mementos. Alice and Max lived two streets away, so perhaps they hid the suitcase before they fled.' But Frank is unconvinced: 'My mother never expressed any wish to go back to Europe after the war,' he said. However the suitcase came to be there, its discovery opened a window onto a period of history when darkness was spreading across Europe. Its cities were being strangled by tyranny, its people scattered across continents. And someone wanted to ensure Emmy Porges's artworks, her postcards and memories of a brighter time, outlasted the impending nightmare. Thanks to Charlaine Scholten's efforts, that promise has been made good. 'I'm so glad we did this,' she said. 'My grandmother lived through the war and took in people who were forced into hiding on her farm. She told us a lot of stories about those days. This felt like a way to do something in return.'  More >


10 great things to do in May

10 great things to do in May

From swinging over a 100-metre drop and celebrating spring with a festival to learning about Meissen porcelain and getting fit at the fair, here's our pick of the best things to do in May. Admire the winning press photos This year’s winning World Press Photo is the Australian photographer Warren Richardson’s image of a baby being handed through the barbed wire along the border between Hungary and Serbia. It takes pride of place in the exhibition of other winners in various categories, such as images of migrants wrapped in foil against the cold as they approach the Italian coast in a tiny boat, a hugging married couple who get their chemotherapy treatment together, a wrestling tournament in Sierra Leone and a young IS fighter being treated for burns in a Syrian hospital. Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam until July 10. www.worldpressphoto.org Learn about Meissen Ceramics expert Anne Haworth talks about the history of Meissen porcelain, also known as the ‘white gold’ of Saxony. The first high-quality porcelain to be manufactured outside the Orient, it appeared in 1710 when Augustus the Strong and Johan Friedrich Böttger overcame financial and technical problems to create this new type of porcelain. Later craftsmen made superb tableware, models of animals and delightful small scale figures. Decorative and Fine Arts Society, The Hague, May 10. www.dfas.nl Brave Europe's highest set of swings The landmark 22-storey tower, former home of Shell, on the banks of the river IJ, just across from Central Station reopens on May 14 as A´dam Toren - Amsterdam Dance And Music. It boasts the city´s first 360-degree observation deck, complete with a set of swings right on the edge of a 100-metre drop. It also has a revolving restaurant, clubs, bars, cafes, office space and a 110-room hotel, Sir Adam, run by the people behind luxury boutique hotel Sir Albert, also in Amsterdam. Its quirks include clubs on both the top and bottom floors and the two-floor ´Loft´ with seven-metre-high windows, a bar and DJ booth, which could well be the coolest hotel suite in the city. Amsterdam, from May 14. www.adamtoren.nl Experience the new The international performing arts festival SPRING Utrecht provides 10 days of new dance performances, theatre productions and installations. It opens with 6: The Square by the German-Dutch choreographer Nicole Beutler. It is the second part of her Bauhaus trilogy and brings together dance, fashion, visual art and electronic music in a plea for freedom. The festival also includes masterclasses and workshops. Stadsschouwburg and other venues, Utrecht, May 19 to 28. www.springutrecht.nl Cheer on young talent The programme Ballet Bubbles features 12 young talents from the junior company of the National Ballet who dance extracts from the classical repertoire and works by legendary company choreographers. There are also two brand new pieces: one by Ernst Meisner, the other by Charlotte Edmonds of the London Royal Ballet. Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam, May 12; Stadsschouwburg, Groningen, May 17; Schouwburg, Tilburg, May 22 (matinee); Parktheater, Eindhoven, May 25; Korzo Theater, The Hague, May 28. www.operaballet.nl Mix it up with the mutants The X-Men are back following their highly successful 2014 outing Days Of Future Past, which brilliantly combined the original characters with their younger selves, creating the best film in the series so far. The sixth entry in the mutant saga, X-Men: Apocalypse, also takes place in the past: 1983 to be exact, the year Apocalypse, an incredibly powerful mutant, awakens from enforced hibernation. Once again directed by Bryan Singer and with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the young Xavier and Magneto, this promises to be the summer blockbuster. In cinemas on May 19. Feel the power The UFC Fight Night, a hugely popular event in America, arrives in the Netherlands for one night. It features the top mixed martial arts fighters slugging it out in several bouts in the specially built ring known as the Octagon. Ahoy, Rotterdam, May 8. www.ahoy.nl Celebrate opera Opera Days is the annual opera festival which takes in existing and new works. There are also activities such as a special walk along three operas in surprising locations around Rotterdam. The festival opens with the Slovenian vocal theatre company Carmina Slovenica, an all female choir. They perform Toxic Psalms which denounces acts of cruelty conducted for religious reasons. Schouwburg and other venues, Rotterdam, May 20 to 29. www.operadagenrotterdam.nl Listen to a video game The Netherlands Philharmonic plays the music composed by Nobuo Uematsu and Masashi Hamauzu for the video game series Final Fantasy which has been arranged into a symphony. It is being performed in the Netherlands for the first time. The conductor is Eckehard Stier and the soloist is pianist Katharina Treutler. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, May 7. www.orkest.nl Get fit FitExpo covers fitness, martial arts and a healthy and sporty life, with stands offering advice on everything from oils and cosmetics to wellness centres and fitness equipment. Also part of the fair are the Benelux body building championship and the Dutch karate championship. Ahoy, Rotterdam, May 20 to 22. www.ahoy.nl  More >


10 ways to survive King’s Day – this year, take an umbrella

10 ways to survive King’s Day – this year, take an umbrella

If you are in the Netherlands at the moment, you cannot fail to have noticed it. Yes, King’s Day is upon us. This year the weather forecast is not doing us any favours... rain (possibly sleet), hail and a chilly 8 degrees. Event organisers have been reviewing their plans to take account of the expected chill, and the best way to make money this year will probably be to sell waterproof orange ponchos. King's Day is when the Dutch really let their hair down, so expect lots of bedraggled bunting and rain-wear clad revellers determined to party whatever the weather. Here at DutchNews.nl opinion about King’s Day is divided. Some of us have been collecting our clutter to sell for months, some of us have a 24-hour feest ahead of us and some of us are even leaving the country to get away from it all. All you need is a plan. Here’s an updated version of ours. 1. If you are a party animal, you need to know that the best parties all take place the night before King’s Day and run until breakfast. This means you will not be up and about before mid-afternoon and will miss almost the whole thing. 2. If you are a bargain hunter, you need to get up early. If you are a real bargain hunter, you need to get out of the big cities and head for a small town where they won’t expect you to pay €15 for an old pair of shoes or tatty last-season skirt from Zara. The same applies if you hate crowds. Small towns are where the original spirit of King’s Day lives on – if you like silly games involving eating cake which has been tied to a piece of string with your hands behind your back, that is. 3. Take a big bag for your purchases and take lots of coins. No one has 50 cents change to give you for that Beatles plate you just bargained down from €10 to €9.50. 4. Don’t buy too much – like that huge fire fighter’s coat and the books and the straw bag and the wine glasses and the hat stand and all the other things which seemed like such a good idea at the time. You’ll have to carry them around and then when you get home you will find nothing fits and the book is missing the final pages. However, you will at least have stock to sell next year. 5. If you have children, buy plastic dinosaurs now. Every child goes through the dinosaur phase and then sells them on again a couple of years later. Same goes for ski clothes, Donald Duck comics and cuddly toys. You will never find Lego on sale on King’s Day. 6. Do not buy dvds of television series and films you have always wanted to see because you will never watch them. 7. Do not overdo the orange unless you want to look like a tourist or a frat boy or girl. An orange hair decoration or a t-shirt with a jokey slogan is okay. But an orange wig, feather boa, crown, trousers and Aperol spritzer is just slightly over the top. However, given the weather forecast this year, an orange rain cape and an Oranje bitter could be a good idea. 8. Do not feel guilty about not giving 50 cents to cute kids with violins who can’t play or not buying lurid cup cakes from kids whose mums can’t bake - even if they have turned into a soggy heap. These kids make a fortune. One DutchNews.nl team member has a son who earned hundreds of euros every year getting folk who had drunk just a little bit too much to drop a euro into a glass in a bucket of water. 9.  Do make sure you have befriended someone who lives in a good vrijmarkt spot, so you can drop by and sit down for a bit to watch the world go by - unless it is pouring with rain of course. 10. Do not feel obliged to have a good time because, yay fantastic, it’s King’s Day! Lots of people hate it. They really do. And you can always stay home and watch it all on the telly.  More >


How local can you get? Farming fish and vegetables on a The Hague office rooftop

How local can you get? Farming fish and vegetables on a The Hague office rooftop

An empty Philips office block in the heart of The Hague is producing vegetables and fish on a commercial basis. Senay Boztas explores Europe's largest commercial urban farm. Ramon Melon Martinez proudly displays a perfect, bright green, six-inch vegetable. ‘Our first cucumber!’ he exclaims, laying it reverently on the desk of a messy, temporary office. This dilapidated, 1950s office block in the middle of The Hague, is growing something astonishing: on its sixth floor is a 370 sqm fish farm, while the roof has been converted to a 1,200 sqm greenhouse for vegetables, making this Europe’s largest commercial urban farm. The project will be formally launched on May 20 and a team of young enthusiasts from the private business UrbanFarmers BV is busy with the fitting-out of a large events area and roastingly-hot visitor greenhouse. Martinez is director of operations at the unromantically-named ‘UF002 De Schilde’. This is the Swiss-owned business’s second farm; its first (UF001 LokDepot, in Basel) is described by managing director of UrbanFarmers Benelux Mark Durno as a ‘break-even facility’. But it has high hopes that this €2.5m construction will show the way to a future of urban farming, reusing vacant office buildings that are simply too expensive to pull down, or supplying shopping centre restaurants with their own rooftop greenhouses. The idea began in 2011 as a technology spin-off from the University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Zurich. With the help of private investment and a European loan via Stimuleringsfonds Volkshuisvesting (SVn), the Dutch municipal housing development fund, UrbanFarmers BV is turning the top of a former Philips telecommunications building into a farm for the modern age. Come September they expect to be selling 500 fresh-water tilapia fish a week and 50 tonnes of rooftop veg a year. Then they have set their sights on other floors, and other places in Rotterdam and Amsterdam. 'I grew up on a farm in Aberdeenshire,' says Durno. 'One of my jobs as a six-year-old was to pick up the milk for the morning breakfast from the dairy. The only thing I got excited about was that the cream separated. We have this disconnect with what fresh is, instead of enjoying the fact that we have a good quality, fresh product in our mouths without questioning it.' So, he wants to connect people up again. In the first instance, the farm has ‘gastropartners’ in restaurants and a cooking school that will use its food. From September, they will also offer local people in the Hague a weekly basket of fish and veg costing about €12.50 per person for around 200g of fish, plus 700g of tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines, Swiss chard, baby leaf salad and those trendy ‘microgreens’. ‘I will be very happy to reach 900 customers a week,’ Durno adds. ‘In the next five or even 15 years, this will be a niche of the niche. But it links into the circular economy: we have empty rooftops and empty industrial buildings. In The Hague, 25% of buildings are empty. Let’s fill them with produce. ‘I think there is also a future for urban farming in the Middle East and Singapore. Qatar, for instance, imports 90% of its food. Although our challenge here is heat, light and wind, there it is cooling. The next challenge is to get people to come here and be part of this revolution – the fresh revolution.’ So what does the ‘fresh revolution’ look like? There’s a massive, fishy-smelling room full of 28 tanks and shimmery tilapia that swim up to visitors in the hope of food. Tiny fish farmed in Eindhoven come in on one side, given sustenance by an automated feeding system. On the other side are tanks for the bigger fish, which will be killed by electrical stunning. Then, at the head of the room is the bio-filter, a tank full of thousands of little plastic spools to maximise surface area. Marketing assistant Shuang Liu describes it as the heart of the system, although it is more accurately the gut: a massive vat of water, where bacteria convert waste ammonia (fish faeces) into nitrates that are used to fertilise the plants. Meanwhile, the plants – which are grown without soil – purify the fish water. The system is known as aquaponics. 'This is nothing new,' Liu explains. 'It was used in ancient times in Asia and Africa, but we bring modern technology and controls to balance it better.' She admits that one challenge could be to get people buying tilapia, which is a popular fish worldwide but has been plagued by recent stories of poor farming techniques, high use of antibiotics and high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which a report has suggested may promote inflammation, aggravating some diseases. ‘Tilapia don’t have a good reputation in the Netherlands,’ she says. ‘They used to be grown badly in Asia but in our production, we work to higher standards. We don’t use antibiotics for the fish or pesticides for the plants. If they become diseased, we take them out of the system. However, we can’t be certified organic as they don’t certify hydroponics and water-based plant systems. But we really have more control of all of the elements, and our operation is checked every day.' Sure enough, in the next room along is the ‘brain’, a computer that monitors water, oxygen levels and temperatures. There’s a large space for packaging, plus a couple of offices. Then, upstairs, is the massive greenhouse, filled with leafy greens and unrecognisably hot Dutch air. Durno has to admit that he can't see his old fellow farmers from Scotland moving onto the rooftops of defunct shopping centres. 'It’s a little bit different,' he says. 'Traditional farmers look at us as a community which is a design or hipster-driven trend.' But change is happening. 'Five years ago, contemporaries in Scotland were laughing or thought I had had a breakdown. Now [some of them] want to listen and learn about it, [where it could help] with their business.' Chef and co-owner of Mochi restaurant in The Hague, Patrick Buyze isn’t laughing: he was quick to sign up to be a gastropartner. 'It was a bit of a fantasy to grow in the city on a skyscraper,' he says. 'So much of our deliveries have been shipped for thousands of miles. This farm is completely engineered: it isn’t biodynamic or full-moon harvested, but the taste is fantastic and they are willing to cooperate and try growing what you like. 'This is part of the future: there’s going to be a lot of change in the food landscape. I don’t think the way we are doing it now is sustainable for the long-term future, and also people want to know where their food comes from.' SVn manages The Hague’s Fund for Location and Economy (FRED), channelling European cash to loan money to commercial projects that help improve the city. Nico van Est, fund manager, thinks it’s a project with potential: ‘UrbanFarmers have their own view on how we should deal with our food. They bring food production close to the city dweller, in a sustainable and innovative way that really appealed to us. There are concrete plans to roll out vertical urban farming onto the other floors. De Schilde’s building has become central to innovation in the field of fresh agricultural and horticultural products near the city and consumers.’ And what about that cucumber? Liu took it home, cut it into sticks, and ate it with spicy sauce. She emailed her verdict: ‘Thin skin, crunchy texture, and a surprising sweetness from the flesh, not to mention the freshness and excitement of eating the first harvest! :-)’  More >


Dutch museums celebrate European prizes as Museum Week kicks off

Dutch museums celebrate European prizes as Museum Week kicks off

This week is National Museum Week and that means the Netherlands' hundreds of collections focusing on art, natural history, social history, technology, crafts and even beachcombers' finds are again in the spotlight. So far 2016 is turning out to be a good year for Dutch museums. Charles de Mooij, director of the Noordbrabants Museum, must still be pinching himself as his blockbuster exhibition Hieronymus Bosch: Visions of Genius has sold out multiple times, leading to several extended opening hours including 39 hours non-stop on the last weekend (May 7-8). Earlier this month, Micropia, the museum of microbes and molds attached to Amsterdam's zoo, was named most innovative museum in Europe. Not, perhaps, for those who would rather not know about the bugs in their eyebrows, the exhibits include a Kiss-O-Meter which measures how many microbes are shared between two people as they kiss. You can watch massive projections of microbes as  they move around and be slightly horrified at the walls of agar dishes growing bacteria found on tooth brushes and between toes. Cultural heritage Micropia may be innovative, but three other Dutch cultural institutions have also just won European recognition in the Europa Nostra awards. Museum Oud Amelisweerd, Fort Kijkuit  and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden are among the 28 heritage sites recognised for their outstanding contribution to preserving Europe's cultural heritage.   Museum Oud Amelisweerd in Bunnik (near Utrecht), situated in the beautiful Amelisweerd nature reserve, was given the prize for ‘outstanding achievements in the conservation, enhancement and adaptation to new uses of cultural heritage’, something that certainly didn’t apply to the government when it decided it would be a good idea to cut a swathe through the Amelisweerd to build the A27 motor way. Protesters managed to limit the number of felled ancient trees to 465 in the end but for many after nearly 35 years the decision still rankles. Few places in the Netherlands are, inevitably perhaps, without the background hum of a motorway these days. However, the surroundings of the museum are still hugely enjoyable – a boat ride taking in the museum comes recommended - and the museum itself is exactly what you would buy if you won the lottery. Privately-owned until 1989, the estate was taken over by a foundation which, with the financial help of Utrecht local council, set about restoring it to its 18th century splendour. That included much painstaking work on some spectacular original Chinese wallpaper made in Canton (now Guangzhou)  brought over by the United East India Company. It is also home to a large number of works by Dutch writer and artist Armando. Another great day out is Fort Kijkuit in Kortenhoef, also a recipient of the Europa Nostra award. The fort was built between 1844 and 1847 as part of the New Dutch Water Defence Line, a military barrier made up of forts, refuges and floodable polders. In 2013, natural heritage organisation Natuurmonumenten came to the rescue of the crumbling fort and turned it into the office complex, exhibition space and lookout spot that charmed the members of the jury. It is by no means the only fortress of the kind to be given a new lease of life. Many have been turned into museums, conference centres and cultural centres. Architecture It’s a good year for Museum Het Schip in Amsterdam as well - a prime example of the Amsterdamse School building style, which is celebrating its centenary. The Amsterdamse School, with its wonderfully detailed and playful brickwork and characteristic shapes, is the name given to a group of architects who thought beauty was a requirement of all architecture, whether it be social housing, street furniture or civic buildings. The resulting buildings, from the relatively restrained housing block De Dageraad to the exuberant splendour of the Scheepvaarthuis, now the Amrath Hotel, can be visited on tours organised by Het Schip. The museum has joined forces with big brother Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam for the occasion. It is currently hosting the exhibition ‘Living in the Amsterdamse School’ (April 9 – August 28) which concentrates on the interiors of the buildings. Not content with designing beautiful façades, the Amsterdamse School architects wanted the inside to be on a par. The museum has managed to bring together a great collection of furniture, clocks, lamps, wallpaper, ceramics, textiles and all kinds of other artifacts, much of it found in the homes of private collectors. And finally, 2016 is also the year that ex-Rijksmuseum director Wim Pijbes will be heading the Voorlinden Museum in the pleasant country surroundings of Wassenaar. Opening in September, it promises to be a spectacular temple of modern art, one that Pijbes is sure to turn into an international success. For more on the special events in Museum Week, visit the website.  More >


Hazy legality: how legal is Dutch weed really?

Hazy legality: how legal is Dutch weed really?

In the Netherlands, officials turn a blind eye to the sale of small amounts of cannabis in licenced cafes, known as coffee shops. Marijuana is, after all, a multi-billion euro business. Graham Dockery looks at the grey area between this pragmatic approach to demand and the supply side, which is still very much against the law. The working day of a coffee shop manager in Amsterdam is a hectic one. As well as the steady stream of customers to serve, Daan* has to meet with suppliers and drive to and fro across the city, transporting his wares from his stash house to his coffee shop. Daan’s shop, Happy Days, is a small one in the south of Amsterdam. Coffee shops are free to operate, as long as they refrain from causing a ‘nuisance’, selling hard drugs, advertising, selling large amounts, and selling cannabis to minors. All coffee shops in the capital are licensed by the city council. However, all of the weed he sells is sourced illegally. ‘I meet [the dealer] somewhere quiet, do the deal, and then stash the weed in a different location.’ This is a necessary precaution, as coffee shops must have no more than 500 grammes in the shop at any one time, and the police make sure this rule is obeyed with random inspections. ‘Every coffee shop owner is a criminal,’ he told DutchNews.nl. ‘The current laws mean I have to drive across the city transporting the weed and hash with no licence to do so. It’s impossible to work normally this way, and I’m more scared of the police than the dealers I buy from.’ There is no alternative to sourcing illegal cannabis. While Dutch policy allows coffee shops to sell cannabis, cultivation remains illegal. ‘I’d like to see things change a lot,’ said Daan. ‘It’s not easy to run a company this way.’ Back door Much of the Netherlands’ cannabis comes from the southern province of Brabant, where criminal growers turn over an estimated €1b annually. As well as producing 340 tonnes of cannabis per year, the open farmland of Brabant is home to much of the Netherlands’ methamphetamine and ecstasy production. Last year police closed down 14 labs and 30 storage points. Last week they raided a further six and arrested 55 people. Law enforcement has for the better part of two decades maintained a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy regarding where coffee shop owners source their products. Large-scale grow operations are most definitely illegal, but police usually won’t press coffee shop owners to reveal their suppliers. Growers, however, will usually be prosecuted to the full extent of the law if caught. ‘The current system, in which you can sell cannabis but not grow it, is unsustainable,’ said D66 MP Magda Berndsen last year. ‘It ensures high health risks, costs too much police capacity, and is a threat to public safety.’ Heads in the sand Many politicians and law experts think the government is not doing enough to solve this problem and pressure is mounting for change. At least 41 municipalities have endorsed a manifesto calling for the cultivation of cannabis to be legalised and regulated, and 25 have applied to the minister of justice for permission to experiment with legal growth and supply. Last November, the local authorities' association VNG, which represents all 393 Dutch municipalities, issued a report stating that 'the current situation cannot continue’. ‘By turning a blind eye [to marijuana], the government is giving criminals free rein to sell their products. The cannabis industry is closely entwined with organised crime, which is also involved in ecstasy and human trafficking,’ the report said. The government has consistently refused to consider any form of licensed growing. Former justice minister Ivo Opstelten in 2014 introduced new legislation making it a crime to help people grow marijuana in the first place. His replacement, Ard van der Steur, has also said ‘cannabis social clubs’ are not permitted under both national and international law. D66 MP Magda Berndsen estimates that regulating the growth and supply side of the cannabis industry could net the government €500m per year - €200m from the savings to the police and the courts system, and €300m from tax on legal weed. The Netherlands, once leader of the pack in terms of cannabis policy, is now being overtaken elsewhere. The American state of Colorado, for example, has granted licences for the cultivation and sale of ‘retail marijuana’. The Colorado government collected $98m in taxes from marijuana sales, licences and fees in 2015. Local knowledge Just as Colorado’s marijuana policy differs from federal policy, which has only recently begun to shake off the hangover of the failed Reagan-era ‘war on drugs’, local governments and justice officials in the Netherlands have worked within the national legal ambiguity to try and shape drug policy to the unique needs of their areas. When the government proposed implementing a ‘Weed Pass’ in 2011, which would only allow registered Dutch smokers to visit coffee shops, it was blasted by the mayors of the Netherlands’ four biggest cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. The proposal was shelved by the coalition government in 2012 and replaced by a more informal ban on serving non-residents, which has since been upheld in the Dutch supreme court. The back door, meanwhile, is still supplied by illegal growers. While local mayors have had more power to shape ‘front door’ policy for their local coffee shops, when it comes to the ‘back door’ judges have also recently begun to be more flexible in their application of the law. Enter the altruists Not all growers consider themselves criminals. Some ‘altruistic’ growers work to supply local coffee shops with high quality cannabis, grown organically and without stolen electricity and connections to criminal networks. In 2014, a middle-aged couple in Groningen province who were found guilty of running an illegal plantation were set free by a district judge without punishment. He said that although they had acted illegally, they showed high regard for public safety and the health of consumers. Last year, public prosecutors appealed the court’s ruling, and the green-fingered Groningers were given three-month suspended jail sentences. Paid taxes ‘These were people who decided a long time ago that Dutch cannabis policy was untenable in its current state,’ their lawyer, Sidney Smeets, told DutchNews.nl. ‘They grew in a very respectful way, with no pesticides. They only sold to licensed coffee shops and paid their taxes.’ 'We’ve always argued that the lack of courage in Dutch politics to provide fitting regulation…shouldn’t be something that normal Dutch citizens get punished for.’ In another high profile case last year, cannabis rights activist and altruistic grower Doede De Jong was found guilty of large-scale marijuana cultivation and supply, but had a two-month jail term quashed on appeal. Despite finding De Jong guilty on all counts, the appeal court judges said he had grown the marijuana plants in the open air, using organic pesticides. ‘There was no question of fire safety issues or electricity theft,’ the court said. Nor was De Jong involved with criminals who produce cannabis. ‘If politicians won’t make adequate laws, then judges shouldn’t convict people based on inadequate laws,’ said Smeets. ‘But some judges are more lenient than others.’ Where to from here? The Cannabis College in the middle of Amsterdam’s red light district is a tourist attraction and information centre. There, staff member Tam gives a brief history of Dutch dope policy and makes his case against prohibition to curious visitors, while offering them hits from his vapouriser bong. ‘Policy should be developed based on real life experience, but at the moment that’s not happening’ he told DutchNews.nl. ‘I believe that if there’s an unjust law, you have an obligation to break it.’ Until the situation changes, Daan will still have to source his weed from criminals, the altruistic growers will still need sharp lawyers and sympathetic judges to escape prosecution, and Tam will still preach against unjust laws to glaze-eyed tourists. And as other countries, including the USA, Uruguay, Mexico, and Chile, liberalise their cannabis policies, the policy of the once tolerant and liberal Netherlands is beginning to look more and more antiquated. *Daan is a pseudonym  More >


14 things you may or may not know about Johan Cruijff

Dutch football legend Johan Cruijff died at the end of last month at the age of 68. A number of initiatives are underway to commemorate the life of the man credited with pioneering the Dutch system of ‘total football’. In the meantime, here are 14 facts about the world's most famous number 14. 1 Johan Cruijff joined the Ajax academy when he was 10 but initially preferred to play… baseball. Fortunately wiser heads convinced him to opt for a footballing career at Ajax some five years later. 2 Cruijff scored on his debut appearance for the Amsterdam club at 17, but Ajax lost 3-1 to GVAV. ‘I remember two moments,’ he said 51 years later. ‘One was scoring my first goal for Ajax and two, not having the strength to take the corner shot. I pointed at my foot to suggest I had injured myself. We needed a substitute quickly because I simply didn’t have the strength.’ 3 Servaas (Faas) Wilkes, nicknamed Il Tulipano Volante (the Flying Tulip), was Cruijff’s idol. Born in 1923, he was a mean dribbler and, according to many, a pleasure to watch. Wilkes was the first player to say goodbye to Dutch amateur football and go abroad to play for money. In 1949 he went to Italy where he played for Inter Milan. However, it cost him his place in the national team which at that time was also amateurs only. 4 Like Wilkes, Cruijff was convinced that his talent was worth a lot of money and he proved himself an astute negotiator. One of the first to sign a full professional contract with Ajax at 18, he bargained for, and got, four times the amount the club had in mind. 5 In the summer of 1973, having proved himself to be one of the best players in Europe, Cruijff joined Barcelona for six million guilders, a record fee at the time. Cruijff’s subsequent role in Catalan society was a political as well as a sporting one. Real Madrid represented the harsh rule of dictator Franco over the Catalans and when Barcelona became Liga champions their delight knew no bounds. When Cruijff named his son Jordi, after the Catalan patron saint, the presiding franquista civil servant refused to enter the name but got nowhere with Cruijff and Jordi it was. It earned him even more respect from the Catalans. 6 It was in 1974 that Jan Olssen of Sweden found himself at the receiving end of one of Cruijff’s most celebrated moves, the Cruijff turn. What the player himself said about it years later was surprisingly gracious: ‘I played 18 years in top football and 17 times for Sweden but that moment against Cruijff was the proudest moment of my career. I thought I'd win the ball for sure, but he tricked me. I was not humiliated. I had no chance. Cruijff was a genius.’ 7 Johan’s wife of 48 years, Danny Cruijff, was famous for her sense of style. Perhaps she was the deciding influence when Cruijff agreed to play two games with Paris Saint-Germain in 1975, and whose president happened to be fashion designer Daniel Hechter. 8 In 1977, Cruijff and his family became the victims of an armed attacker who forced his way into his flat in Barcelona. According to newspaper AD, the man, a labourer from Rotterdam, drove to Barcelona buying a sawn-off shot gun on the way. He forced Cruijff and his wife Danny to lie on the floor, bound Cruijff– who asked with admirable and typical sang-froid for the rope not to be tied too tightly because he’d just had an operation (which wasn’t true) – and held a gun to the footballer’s head. Danny made a dash for the door and when her screams alerted neighbours the attacker fled, dropping his gun. After some fisticuffs with other residents he was handed over to the police and spent a couple of years in prison. Later Cruijff said the attempted kidnap was the reason he decided not to go to the World Cup in Argentina in 1978. 9 Leicester City (current surprise table-toppers in the Premier League) almost signed Cruijff in 1981. Johan was reportedly keen on joining up with manager Jock Wallace at Leicester's Filbert Street ground but, after three weeks of talks, signed for Spanish club Levante instead. 10 Cruijff returned to Ajax for a second spell but was refused a new contract in 1983. With characteristic contrariness he left to play for arch rival Feyenoord – and won the Eredivisie for them for the first time in a decade. 11 The Dutch national team never lost a match in which Cruijff scored. Johan knotched up 33 goals in 48 appearances for Oranje. 12 Cruijff liked Norman churches. The inhabitants of a certain Cornwall village remember it well. One evening a figure in a mac, accompanied by a blonde woman, entered the village pub. ‘My God, that’s Johan Cruijff!’ one of the men drinking at the bar said, almost dropping his pint. ‘Don’t be daft’, said his friend. But it was indeed Johan, doing a tour of Norman churches in the area. The following day, a beaming crowd bore Johan and Danny off to the village’s Norman church which was specially opened for them. 13 In 2010, the International Astronomical Union (IUA) named a planetoid after Cruijff. ‘He wasn’t only a great football player, he also helps others with his foundation. And that is why he is the first Dutch sports champion to shine in the sky,’ it was said at the time. The number of the planet is 14282; number 140014 had already been taken. Planet Cruijff is circling at around 432 million kilometres from the sun in the space between Mars and Jupiter and has a diameter of around 9 kilometres, or the length of 90 football pitches (approximately). 14 Cruijff, in true bolshy form, refused to conform to the rules from a young age: it had to be number 14 for him despite the Dutch authorities demanding he pick a number, any number, between 1 and 11. In 1974, ahead of the World Cup, a competition in which the Netherlands were beaten finalists, Cruijff refused to go along with plans which insisted numbers be decided by alphabetical order. Aptly enough he would have been number 1. If you look closely at the match photos you’ll also see that his specially-tailored Adidas (Oranje’s sponsors) strip (shirt, shorts and socks) has only two stripes instead of the three worn by the rest of the team.  More >


Ukrainians in the Netherlands react to the Dutch no vote

Last week the Dutch took part in a referendum on the treaty of association between the EU and Ukraine. Just under one third of the electorate bothered to vote, but those who did voted 62% to 38% against the treaty. Graham Dockery spoke to two Ukrainians in the Netherlands about the result. ‘If I could have voted, I would have voted no,’ Anna stated bluntly. ‘Ukraine has to deal with its own problems first before getting into any kind of union. Ukrainians f****d up their own country like barbarians and now they wonder why people won’t accept them into the union? There’s a lot of double standards here.’ Anna (24) is a Ukrainian student living in Amsterdam. She came to the Netherlands three years ago from Donetsk, one of the regions hit hardest by the country’s ongoing civil war. Disappointment Iryna Rud was disappointed when she heard the result. ‘I think the problem was that many Dutch people have a negative opinion of Ukraine…which is of course influenced by the media. It was also more a message against the EU.’ Iryna (30) is an economics researcher at the University of Maastricht. Originally from Kiev, she has been supporting pro-European causes while in the Netherlands, organising online campaigning and donating money. ‘I was supporting from a distance,’ she said. ‘There are a lot of problems in Ukraine, and economically this [treaty] would be very good for the country.’ The no vote is advisory, meaning that the Dutch government is not legally bound to scrap the treaty. However, prime minister Mark Rutte has already said the Netherlands can no longer ratify the treaty ‘just like that.’ Instead, Rutte said that whatever happens next will be handled ‘step by step.’ Corruption The prevalence of political corruption in Ukraine was one of the key points in the no campaign’s platform. Ukraine is currently the 130th least corrupt country out of 160, according to Transparency International. ‘Our president is involved in the offshore [Panama papers] scandal. He is the one who was fighting on an anti-corruption platform, and he is the most corrupt of them all. It’s a hypocritical thing,’ said Anna. Iryna also recognises the corruption common in Ukrainian politics, but sees Europe as important in fixing it. ‘It’s very difficult for Ukraine to deal with this problem without external intervention,’ she said. ‘The control of strong European institutions would lower corruption.’ Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko said the referendum results are ‘no hindrance’ to the Ukraine’s road to Europe and described the vote as ‘purely advisory’. ‘We will press ahead with implementing the treaty of association with the European Union and the broad trade agreement it contains,’ he told reporters. Moving forward With the government yet to decide how to act on Tuesday’s results, Iryna will keep supporting the pro-European movement remotely from the Netherlands. ‘People who voted no will keep the stigma about Ukraine going, but I’ll be a good citizen and try convince them that Ukraine has good people,’ she said. Anna isn’t so optimistic. ‘I know other Ukrainians’ opinions will differ, but the government is in a state of war right now. Ukrainians have to deal with their own country’s problems, and then they can talk about expansion,’ she said.  More >


A guide to some of the Netherlands’ best coffee shops (no, not those!)

A guide to some of the Netherlands’ best coffee shops (no, not those!)

Tired of coffee that comes out of a plastic capsule? If you’d rather down a mug full of Folgers than a cup of coffee spat out of a machine operated by an indifferent waitress, well, keep reading. Here’s Brandon Hartley’s rundown on some of the best independent coffee cafes in the country. Feel free to include your own picks in the comments section below. Sweet Cup - Amsterdam In the Netherlands, the term 'coffee shop' has become synonymous with a certain vice favoured by Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg. Sweet Cup, along with the rest of the cafes in this article, isn’t that type of coffee shop. You won’t find any weed at this charming micro coffee bar and roastery located a short walk from the hustle and bustle of the Leidseplein. Oh, and the only dog (literal or otherwise) you’re likely to encounter is Sjefke. Lots of Amsterdam restaurants have a cafe cat but Sweet Cup is one of the few with a cafe dog. Sjefke, a young basset hound owned by Lisa Rooimans and Paul van Duuren, the roastery’s proprietors, can often be found snoozing near the counter when he’s not begrudgingly having his photo snapped by customers with Instagram accounts. While Sjefke gets plenty of attention, the real attraction at Sweet Cup is the outstanding coffee. The roastery’s Kenya blend won a cupping contest in Dubai in 2014. Sweet Cup’s beans can be purchased if you like making coffee at home, but there are plenty of drinks on the menu as well as pastries. In a town where you can’t toss a stroopwafel without hitting an artisanal coffee cafe, Sweet Cup’s unpretentious staff, fantastic cappuccinos and resident ‘coffee hound’ set it apart. Other great places to get coffee in Amsterdam: Two For Joy, Caffeination, Lot Sixty One, Quartier Putain and Espressofabriek. Man Met Bril Koffie - Rotterdam The bespectacled Paul Sharo originally founded this Rotterdam-based roastery in the late ‘00s and opened an actual coffee bar in the winter of 2015. It’s located off the beaten track in Rotterdam’s Agniesebuurt neighbourhood in a truly unusual location - the  arch of the former Hofplein Railway viaduct. It’s worth the trek if you enjoy exceptional flat whites and some of the best beans you’re likely to find anywhere in the country. While it may not be currently available, the roastery has been known to carry a blend dubbed ‘Vampier’ that, pardon the pun, is bloody good. It comes from a Colombian coffee plantation located in a region populated by vampire bats. The beans at Man Met Bril (Guy With Glasses) are rapidly becoming a beloved Rotterdam institution and many local cafes and other businesses have begun using them as well. The roastery has also been profiled in the pages of Esquire and won AD’s 2015 Coffee Test. Along with various coffee drinks, it also serves breakfast, lunch and pastries. Other great places to get coffee in Rotterdam: UEB West, Hopper Coffee and Mr. Beans. Lola’s Bikes and Coffee - The Hague Lots of cafes around the Netherlands mix coffee with unrelated services and products. It’s now possible to find hybrid businesses that crank out cortados alongside antiques, records, women’s clothing and even taxidermied animals. At Lola’s in The Hague, you can toss back a shot of espresso before jumping on a bike for a guided tour of the surrounding region. One of the most popular among them is the weekly ‘Fatbike Experience’ on Sunday mornings. Participants can enjoy coffee before a spin over to Scheveningen on a customised rental bike outfitted with large tires that can handle the sand and any potentially difficult weather conditions. Those who would prefer to relax with a latte and a magazine instead of braving the elements are sure to enjoy Lola’s quirky atmosphere. As for the coffee on the menu, it’s some of the best that you’ll find in the city. Lola’s Kampala Gold combines Ugandan, Ethiopian and Brazilian beans for a rich flavour with a sweet aftertaste. Even better, proceeds from the sales of bags of the blend go to help support a cycling club in Uganda. Other great places to get coffee in The Hague: Brood & Koffie bij Clarence, Pim Coffee Sandwiches & Vintage and Kleine Koffiebranderij. Chummy Coffee - Leiden Housed inside a charming former classical music shop with vintage stained glass windows, Chummy Coffee is one of Leiden’s newest cafes. Proprietor Jaap van der Schee, who opened the cafe a few months ago, is a definite coffee diehard. He learned the tricks of the trade from his colleagues in the business, among them the founder of Caffeination, a popular roastery in Antwerp that now has a location in Amsterdam as well. Jaap uses Caffeination’s beans at his cafe and can often be found double-checking the settings on his espresso machine with a smartphone app, and testing his coffee with special gizmos far beyond the comprehension of the average latte drinker. He definitely knows a lot about beans and is happy to answer questions about everything from the flavour of certain blends to the specifics of cold brews. Visitors to Chummy Coffee can enjoy straight-up, filtered coffee along with more elaborate drinks like iced frappes and lattes that contain a wide array of flavours and spices. Other great places to get coffee in Leiden: Borgman & Borgman, Van de Leur, Francobolli and 't Suppiershuysinghe. Miss Morrison - Delft If you step inside this small roastery in Delft and ask for Miss Morrison, you’ll likely receive a playful answer from one of the friendly baristas behind the counter. Its enigmatic namesake wasn’t inspired by the famous former frontman of The Doors or his fellow classic rocker Van Morrison and the staff, even the males, have been known to identify themselves as her. This mystery has perplexed customers since Miss Morrison opened its doors in the spring of 2014. The roastery focuses on selling its freshly roasted beans for home use but also offers a limited menu of coffee drinks for those who would like to sit for a spell beside the record player in the corner. You won’t find a large display case filled with pastries or elaborate lattes here though. Miss Morrison instead specialises in great coffee and teas along with a selection of sweets from Van der Burgh Chocolaad and the Amsterdam-based Chocolatemakers. Other great places to get coffee in Delft: The Buitenleven Cafe, Uit De Kunst and Kek. Black & Bloom - Groningen Coffee specialist Gerben Engelkes opened this cafe, the first artisanal espresso bar in Groningen, back in August of 2012. Since then, he’s provided his customers with tons of fantastic coffee and tips on how to make their own at home. The beans you’ll find here come from some of the best roasters in Europe and they’re as freshly roasted as possible. As a result, Blackjack, the house blend, and the cafe’s various filtered coffees are only offered in-season. Black & Bloom offers a tasting menu for those eager to explore different blends, as well as plenty of teas and speciality coffee drinks. Those with a sweet tooth can also enjoy an Oreo mocha or a Toblerone latte. This isn’t the cafe to visit with a MacBook though. Wifi isn’t offered and laptops are strongly discouraged. Other great places to get coffee in Groningen: MASMAS Groningen, Bartista and Staadse Koffie Branderij    More >


10 great things to do in April

From floating tulips and Pinocchio to clarinet music and Gainsborough portraits, here's our pick of the best things to do in April. Gasp at Gainsborough's portraits Gainsborough In His Own Words is the first exhibition in the Netherlands to feature the work of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). He was the dominant British portraitist of the second half of the 18th century, although he preferred painting landscapes. The portrait shown here is from 1758 and is of his daughters Mary and Margaret. The exhibition consists of around 30 paintings and 30 watercolours, on loan from a variety of international museums and collections. In addition, there are a number of the letters on display which Gainsborough wrote to family, friends and patrons, and which provide an intriguing look at the personality of the man. Rijksmuseum Twente, Enschede until July 24. www.rijksmuseumtwente.nl Expect carnage Hot on the heels of Batman v Superman comes the year's second big blockbuster:  Captain America: Civil War. Chris Evans third outing as Steve Rogers/Captain America sees the superhero community of the Marvel comics split by legislation designed to keep them in check. After the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) is guilt ridden en wholly supportive of the new law. But Rogers is more conflicted, leaving the most morally upright of the group wondering where his loyalties should lie. The promise is of a superhero film with considerable emotional weight behind the usual devastating punch-ups. Cinemas around the country, April 28. Shiver at this nuclear tale In Chernobyl and the Future of Nuclear Energy, and almost exactly 30 years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster unfolded, Professor Nathal Severijns talks about the sequence of incidents that caused the disaster, how the radioactivity spread afterwards, the main consequences for mankind and the environment, and the present situation at the site. He also makes a comparison with the other, more recent nuclear disaster at Fukushima, and considers the differences between the civil nuclear industry of today and that of the future. Severijns is Professor in Nuclear Physics and Experimental Physics, Institute for Nuclear and Radiation Physics, KU Leuven, and programme director of POC Medical Radiation Physics. Minderbroedersberg 4-6, Maastricht, April 25. www.sg.unimaas.nl Enjoy colourful tulips The month of April welcomes the Tulip Festival Amsterdam with tulips of various varieties blooming in beds and pots at 60 locations around the city. For instance, there are tulips in the fountain on the Museumplein, alongside the roads on Van der Pekstraat in Noord, and on the wharves outside the Eye film museum and science museum Nemo. Some 30,000 bulbs have been planted in beds near the Maritime Museum and 25,000 more at the Rijksmuseum. Various locations, Amsterdam, April 1 to 30. www.tulipfestival.com Feel the drama of a famous love story The National Opera is joined for the first time by the National Ballet for this production of Hector Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet. The director and choreographer is Sasha Waltz who combines opera and dance on a completely equal footing to tell the story of this 'dramatic symphony'. In his score, Berlioz referred to the singing roles as the vocal types contralto, tenor and bass because, he said, they function primarily as narrators. The chorus plays a prominent role, sometimes as a commentator and sometimes as the two rival families. Muziektheater, Amsterdam, April 15, 16, 20, 21, 24 (matinee), 25, 28 and May 1 (matinee). www.operaballet.nl Tempt a monster fish The Efteling, the Netherlands largest theme park, has added another story to its Fairy Tale Forest. Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who longs to be a real boy and whose nose grows if he tells a lie, is the 29th story in the Forest and sits alongside Little Red Riding Hood and The Red Shoes. The designers of Pinocchio have visualised three episodes from Carlo Collodi's story, including the boy's reunion with his father, Geppetto, in the stomach of a giant fish. Visitors need to tempt the monster, which has breath smelling of rotting shrimps, with fresh fish in order for father and son to escape. The Efteling opened in 1952 and is one of the oldest theme parks in the world. Over the years, it has evolved from a nature park with a Fairy Tale Forest into a full-sized amusement park, with a wide array of attractions for young and old. Efteling, Kaatsheuvel, all year round. www.efteling.com Celebrate Shakespeare The English Theatre celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with an unusual programme of events. For instance, Macbeth gets a make-over in a contemporary cloak-and-dagger version by director Lucas De Man and writer Jamal Ouariachi, influenced by the tv series House of Cards, and Hamlet becomes a theatre-dance performance, choreographed by the Tunisian dancer Meher Awachri and set in one of the rough neighbourhoods of the Tunisian capital, Tunis. There is more Macbeth from the British theatre company Infinite Jest and a dramatic presentation of a speech by Judge Theodor Meron on Shakespeare and just war. Schouwburg and other venues, The Hague, April 18 to 24. www.theenglishtheatre.nl Check out the clarinet The Dutch Clarinet Festival is a new festival completely dedicated to the clarinet and featuring top-class artists from the fields of classical, jazz, pop and world music. The opening concert is given by the Netherlands Wind Ensemble (photo) which will share the stage with some of the soloists making an appearance later on in the festival, such as Joris Roelofs and David Kweksilber. One of the highlights is the Royal Clarinets, featuring the clarinet section of the world famous Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a programme of works by composers who maintained close friendships with famous clarinet players of their time. There are works by Georg Philipp Telemann, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Guillermo Lago and world premieres by Dutch composer Tom Schipper. Muziekgebouw and Bimhuis, Amsterdam, April 7 to 10. www.klarinetfestival.nl Watch bodies gyrate Absolute America by ballet company Introdans features four American dance creators, composers and designers, each with a completely individual style, from punk to acrobatically muscled. The choreographers are Karole Armitage with the early work GoGo Ballerina (1988), performed in the Netherlands for the first time; two of the most famous figureheads of American modern dance, Jennifer Muller and Lucinda Childs; and Robert Battle, director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in New York. The music comes from great names such as Jimi Hendrix and Philip Glass and the stage sets from artists such as Jeff Koons and Sol LeWitt. Schouwburg, Leiden, April 6; Stadstheater, Arnhem, April 8 and 9; Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam, April 25. www.introdans.nl Visit a new museum Amsterdam has gained a new museum. Opened at the end of March, the Cromhouthuis was the home of the Cromhout family, one of the richest and most powerful families in Amsterdam during the 17th and 18th centuries. They provided the city with a number of mayors over the ages and took a leading role in the extension of the canal network in the centre. They lost their position, however, when a family member converted to Catholicism and the dynasty ended with a childless Princess in Paris in 1832. The rich furnishings and paintings of the house were scattered and lost over the years and very little of the original contents remain. The interior is therefore not a literal reconstruction but, with the judicious loan of objects from collections such as that of the Amsterdam Museum, gives an idea of how the family would have lived. Cromhouthuis, Amsterdam, all year. www.cromhouthuis.nl  More >


From billion bulb exports to Rambo: Here’s 10 things about tulips

From billion bulb exports to Rambo: Here’s 10 things about tulips

Spring is officially here and that means the tulip season is almost upon us. You'll still need a little patience before the tulip fields are in full bloom, but here are some facts and figures about the Netherlands' eponymous flower - which actually originated around the Mediterranean. 1 Dealing with cut tulips Dutch grandmothers have many wise tips to make the most of cut tulips. For a start, they say you should leave the flowers wrapped up in paper and put them into a vase of water (at room temperature) overnight. This will keep them fresh for longer. To stop the blooms drooping, push a pin through the stem just under the bloom. This is supposed to stop them growing - which many cut tulips do. A good bunch of tulips will last for well over a week, but beware of those bargain bunches of 50 tulips for five euros... they may well be past their prime. Mind you, we are very fond of the wonderful shapes which tulip petals form once they've been in full bloom. 2 Tulip varieties All new tulip varieties have to be registered with the grandly named Koninklijke Algemeene Vereeniging voor Bloembollencultuur (KAVB). It has over 8,000 different kinds on its list. Among the most popular sorts are the Strong Gold, the Leen van Mark, the Debutante and the Viking. 3 The black tulip A book by Alexandre Dumas about a competition to grow the elusive black flower.  No one has yet succeeded but some have come close. On the market today are the Black Parrot, the Queen of the Night and the Ayaan Hirsi Ali, named after the Somali refugee turned Dutch MP and anti-Islam campaigner who now lives in the US. Operation Black Tulip was also the name given to the process of deporting German nationals who lived in the Netherlands after World War II. 4 A major industry The amount of land dedicated to growing bulbs in the Netherlands has soared by almost 75% in the last 35 years. Most bulbs are grown in the sandy soils of Noord-Holland but Drenthe, Flevoland and Overijssel are doing their best to catch up. The tulip is still the most popular bulb by far: almost half of the bulb fields bring forth tulips. The Netherlands exports some two million bulbs a year and has almost 400 growers. 5 What you see is not what you get Few of the riotous blooms you see in the Netherlands in spring are going to end up in a vase on your sideboard. They are being grown for the bulbs. Once the flowers are in full bloom, the heads are stripped off and discarded. The bulbs themselves are harvested by big machines later in the year. Then they are washed and the dried roots and bulblets are removed by hand, a process known as bollen pellen. The bulbs are then graded according to size. Big bulbs are sold and smaller ones kept to plant next year. It takes two to three years for a bulblet to become big enough to sell. This video is a bit long (thank you Tractorspotter) but does show just how highly mechanised and unromantic the process really is. Most of the cut tulips which you buy in shops have been grown in greenhouses. They are first planted in sand boxes and stored in a refrigerated room. Then they are moved into greenhouses to speed up the blooming process. This means growers can ensure a supply of tulips over several months. 6 An emergency foodstuff During the last bitter winter of World War II when people in the Netherlands were starving, tulip bulbs became a source of sustenance. The war had stopped trade and there were plenty of bulbs to be had. The papers published recipes for potato, cabbage and tulip bulb stew. The bulbs, minus their green flower bud, took about as long to cook as potatoes and their taste is not dissimilar (apparently). 7 A stock exchange boom In the 17th century, Haarlem became the centre of tulpomania, or tulip madness. Bulbs like the Semper Augustus could fetch prices of 10,000 guilders, which was what you would have to fork out for a house on one of the canals. The speculative bubble burst and instead of bulb-shaped gold ingots, tulips became tulips once more. 8 A craze The craze for tulips – the wackier the flame patterns the better – was satirised by the artists of the time. Jan Breughel II, for instance, painted an allegory on Tulipomania which features monkeys as bulb traders going about their business. To the right, one of the speculator monkeys is hauled up in front of the magistrates while another pees on his stock of Semper Augustus, presumably already made worthless by the crash. The painting is on show at the Frans Halsmuseum in Haarlem. 9 A tribute When French artist Claude Monet visited the Netherlands in 1886 he loved the tulip fields around The Hague so much he painted them five times. He sold all five paintings to Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s art dealer brother. Vincent van Gogh, as we know, preferred sunflowers. He did have a reddish-brown tulip named after him last year by the Keukenhof when his work was that year’s theme. Other famous folk who have had tulips named after them include Mickey Mouse, Rambo, Armani, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Abba 10 Tulip events The Keukenhof, which opened for the 2016 season last week, came into being in 1950 when local bulb growers and exporters decided they wanted a showcase for their varieties. The park proved to be an instant hit. Now in its 67th year, the Keukenhof is a major tourist attraction and attracted a record 1,175,000 visitors last year. Every year the Keukenhof displays are centred around a specific theme. This year it’s the Golden Age. Museum De Zwarte Tulp is in Lisse where much of the bulb action takes place and is housed in an old bollenschuur, the sheds where tulip bulbs were processed and stored. Amsterdam has a tulip museum next to a cheese museum and we think both are simply an excuse to sell stuff to tourists. From 20–24 April, it's Corsoweek in the Bollenstreek - the area south of Haarlem where bulb growing is concentrated. The floral procession between Noordwijk and Haarlem takes place on April 23. Throughout April, Amsterdam has its own tulip festival. If you can't get enough of tulips, Haarlem's Frans Hals museum (with all the great paintings), local brewery Jopenkerk and the Keukenhof are working together on a Tulpomania tour, which runs until May 16.  More >


A good read: the best Dutch stories on the web this month

Cooking for refugees, real green electricity and a ban on short skirts. Ahead of the holiday weekend, here is our pick of the best longer reads from the international media and DutchNews.nl over the past month. From lawyer to chef Website Quartz carries a fascinating story about Syrian lawyer Kamal Naaje who is now cooking for hundreds of asylum seekers at an Amsterdam refugee centre.  'Dutch food is good - the volunteers are very generous in bringing it to us - but it is bland. We’re not used to it. We like spices,' Naaje tells Quartz. Read on First, pronounce inburgering Deciding to go through the inburgering process and learn Dutch led Molly Quell to discover that some people still think CD-Roms are the height of new technology. And that her dog likes to eat language books. Read on A WWII ghetto in Amsterdam Israeli news website Arutz Sheva looks at the Amsterdam district of Asterdorp, an Amsterdam ghetto where Jews were charged inflated rents during World War II ahead of being deported. Stephan Steinmetz has written a book about the enclave and spoke to the website about his findings. Read on Laser lights Wired interviews Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde - the guy behind the Smart Highway and Smog Tower - on his most recent project, Windlicht, which pays homage to wind energy in the form of a laser light show. Read on Cyber security According to Computer Weekly, IT security is about to rival cheese, tulips, windmills and flood defences as an export from the Netherlands. The Dutch, the website says, have implemented several initiatives in the public and private sectors to improve cyber security, or ‘heighten’ the digital dykes, as it were – with success. Read on Is the Netherlands becoming more prudish? Hema dropping Easter, a ban on short skirts and a row over topless feminist university students... the Dutch papers have been asking if the Netherlands is becoming more prudish or simply kow-towing to Islam. Read on A mother's story Munira Subasic lost 22 relatives in the massacre of Srebrenica in July 1995, including her husband and son. In this interview, she talks about burying the bones of her son and her feelings towards Radovan Karadzic, jailed for 40 years for war crimes. Read on Football legend No round-up would be complete without a long read about Dutch football legend Johan Cruijff, felled by lung cancer at the age of 68. This Guardian analysis of what made the Dutchman great is a must for football fans. Read on  More >


‘How could you do this, Karadzic?’ asks Srebrenica mother

Munira Subasic, president of the ‘Mothers of Srebrenica’, will be in court when former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic hears his verdict at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), writes Jesse Wieten. ‘This will be an historic judgment for both the victims and Bosnia and Herzegovina,’ Subasic said in an interview with Dutchnews.nl. Munira Subasic lost 22 relatives in the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995, including her husband and son. During the Bosnian war the ‘safe haven’ in Srebrenica was protected by Dutch soldiers under the UN flag. Over 8,000 men and boys were murdered and buried in mass graves when the enclave was over-run by Bosnian Serb forces, in what was Europe's worst atrocity since World War II. ‘At the beginning of the war I could not and did not believe that it would happen,’ Subasic said. ‘I could not believe that our neighbours would turn their backs on us and that they would turn into perpetrators. I could not believe that teachers would turn against their students, raping and killing them. 'The situation in Srebrenica and, I am sure, everywhere else in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was unimaginable. It is hard to explain what I saw and heard. I saw people getting killed and dying because of hunger. I heard cries and screams. It was unbearable.’ 11 counts The genocide in Srebrenica is one the 11 counts against former Bosnian Serb political leader Karadzic. ‘I hold Karadzic personally responsible for the loss of our loved ones,’ Subasic said. ‘He was the alpha and omega of the war of aggression in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who ordered the killings of innocent people just because he thought they were different and unworthy. He was the one who ordered who would live and who would be killed.’ ‘Karadzic ordered and Ratko Mladic killed with his army,’ Subasic added. ‘They tortured and raped innocent civilians and Karadzic could have stopped it if he wanted to.’ Mothers One year after the massacre in Srebrenica relatives established the movement of ‘Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves’ with an office in Sarajevo and a centre in Srebrenica. The mission of the organisation was to gather more survivors and family members of the victims who had disappeared or been killed in Srebrenica, Zepa and other regions, and to learn more about the fate of those killed or who had disappeared. Subasic became the president of this association. ‘Our actions are important,’ she said. ‘What happened in the past cannot be changed but we can learn from the past so that our grandchildren can live in a better and more prosperous, peaceful Bosnia and Herzegovina.’ ‘Over the past 20 years, we have given our utmost to seek truth and justice,’ Subasic continued. ‘We have tirelessly worked on making sure that there is a memorial centre in Srebrenica-Potocari. We have been and still are witnesses at ongoing trials. We have and still are working with children whose parents were killed. All of our efforts have been and still are to make sure that the past is not forgotten and that future generations will learn from the past.’ Arrest As president of the association, Subasic visited the ICTY in The Hague many times and she has seen many war crimes suspects in court over the past years. Her relief was immense when Karadzic was arrested in 2008 and he was transferred to the Tribunal’s custody. ‘I feared that the political apparatus would prevent Karadzic's arrest,’ she said. ‘Nevertheless, with the changes in international politics, he was arrested. I would say that he was arrested when Europe wanted him to be arrested.’ ‘I have seen Karadzic in the court room and I despised him,’ Subasic added. ‘I still cannot believe that in the 21st century, a doctor, in Karadzic's case a psychologist, would commit the crimes that he has committed. I asked myself how and why? How could he do it? I hope he will get life imprisonment, not only for the genocide in Srebrenica but for all of the municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina where genocide was committed.’ Subasic’s husband Hilmo was identified and buried in 2004 while the remains of her son Nermin were only found in 2013. Their remains were found in two different mass graves 25 kilometers apart from one another. Two small bones ‘I gave birth to a healthy baby boy who grew up to be a handsome young man,’ Subasic said. ‘Now, I have only buried two small bones belonging to him. Among the approximately 6,500 graves, his grave has the least and smallest bones or remains buried. 'I have a grave for both of them and their graves have their names on them. That means a lot to me as it would to any mother. This is proof that they lived and that they were loved. They have not been erased. This is why it is important to find every single victim, they deserve to have their names known and engraved.’ Despite the seeking for justice, the seeking for the truth, the travelling to face the likes of Karadzic, her grief will never fade away. ‘I last saw my son in Srebrenica before they took him away from me,’ Subasic said. ‘Now, as I am in my 70s, I am alive but I am not living, and the greatest injustice is waiting for justice.’  More >


New calls to release Morgan, killer whale caught off Dutch coast

New calls to release Morgan, killer whale caught off Dutch coast

By Senay Boztas There was a tidal wave of reaction when the American park chain SeaWorld announced it would stop breeding killer whales and end controversial ‘theatrical shows’ last week. But scientists and activists are concerned about what this means for Morgan, an orca found off the coast of the Netherlands in 2010. This female killer whale has ended up living ‘under SeaWorld’s care’ at an amusement park called Loro Parque in Tenerife. SeaWorld, which operates in San Diego, Orlando and San Antonio, built its brand around a leaping, splashing killer whale known as Shamu. But ticket sales suffered and animal rights protests rose after the release of a 2013 documentary Blackfish, about an orca called Tilikum who was responsible for the death of a SeaWorld trainer and two others. Now, though, the orca known as Morgan is the subject of a new short film that is starting to tour film festivals, giving an impression of what life in a concrete tank might feel like for these massive animals. Nursed back to health Morgan was found in a severely weakened state in the Wadden Sea and she was nursed back to health at the Dolphinarium in Harderwijk. Although activists say she was brought into the Dutch facility on a 'capture, rehabilitation and release' permit, she was then transported to Loro Parque on the Spanish island. In 2014, the Dutch Council of State ruled this decision was correct as there was no 'realistic alternative' or possibility to release her into the wild: Morgan’s family group had not been tracked, they said, and they believed she was too young to find enough food for herself. Now, the Dutch government says Morgan is nothing to do with them. A spokeswoman for nature and animal welfare at the Dutch government says: ‘Since she went to Spain, the responsibility is with Spain.’ Meanwhile, the Free Morgan Foundation campaign group alleges that Morgan’s capture and transfer were effectively ‘whale laundering’, in a white paper published last year. Dr Ingrid Visser, founder and principal scientist of the Orca Research Trust in New Zealand, says the SeaWorld announcement only increases the impetus for Morgan’s release, and is convinced scientists could find her family. ‘One of the big issues is how Morgan’s ownership falls under Seaworld, because wild-born orca cannot be sold and traded or used for primarily commercial purposes under EU law, and she is a wild-born (annex A) orca (Appendix 2 species),’ she explains. ‘These animals travel 100km a day, dive to 300 or 400m depths and have intense social structures and dynamic lives: they are deprived of all this in a barren tank that doesn't even have a fish painted on the wall. They do the same show three times a day; nothing changes. It is Groundhog Day for whales. Morgan is a poster child for all that’s wrong in the industry.’ Campaigners believe Morgan was considered valuable in captivity as she brought a new blood line to captive animals that were widely in-bred. A spokeswoman for SeaWorld confirms that she would be covered by the new announcement to stop breeding. However, Loro Parque – which would not respond to inquiries directly – is sending mixed messages. On March 18, it said in a press release: ‘Since the orcas are not the property of Loro Parque, we have to respect the decision made by SeaWorld.’ Reproduction rights Then it cited Spanish and European Community law ‘considering reproduction as an inherent right of all the animals.’ So, it said, ‘it is one of the principal functions and obligations of the zoological park to ensure that the right to reproduction is respected.’ A member of the public who recently attended Loro Parque has posted a video online that Visser claims is of Morgan receiving an ultra-sound, which can be used to check for ovulation or pregnancy. But Heiko Grimm, director of the short film I am Morgan – Stolen Freedom, believes that if breeding attempts stop, the way is clear to release her. ‘The whole situation could now change for Morgan with SeaWorld’s latest announcement to stop their breeding programme,’ he says. ‘Because of that, Morgan is not essential for SeaWorld any more. Additionally Morgan is a good candidate for a sea pen or sea sanctuary because she was born in the wild. ‘Can the last part of her 'capture, rehabilitation and release'  permit now be fulfilled? I believe so,’ he said.  More >


Video: A Syrian refugee family in the Dutch village of Kessel-Eik

Video: A Syrian refugee family in the Dutch village of Kessel-Eik

It is now five years since the start of the Syrian conflict and since then, thousands of Syrian refugees have come to the Netherlands to make a new life. The conflict has triggered the world’s largest displacement crisis. Half of all Syrians have fled their homes, around 4.8 million of them have become refugees outside the country, mostly in neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. The Thomson Reuters Foundation has been following Hanadi and her family who now live in the Netherlands. They had a middle-class life in Damascus, until the fighting closed in around them. They sold all they had and fled to Turkey. The team first filmed Hanadi and her family in 2014, when they had been in their new home in the small Dutch village of Kessel-Eik, for three months. Sixteen months later the team visited them again to see how Hanadi was getting on in her new European home. For the first part of the series, please visit the website.  More >


Jobs, language, the weather: why don’t international students stay on?

A record 90,000 international students are currently studying at Dutch universities and now account for some 10% of the student body. Despite programmes encouraging them to stay, most of them leave when they graduate - even though many would like to make the Netherlands their home. Molly Quell finds out why. In 2013, EP-Nuffic, the organisation for international cooperation in higher education, started a programme called Make It In The Netherlands (MIITN), aimed at retaining the foreign students who studied in the country, but left after graduation. When MIITN was launched, the numbers were pretty bleak. According to Nuffic, 70% of international students wanted to remain in the Netherlands when they graduated, yet only 27% actually did so. International students are said to cost the Dutch taxpayer an estimated €108 million per year and that money, according to official reasoning, is only recouped if those students stay on after graduation and work. ‘The recruitment and retention of talented international students is of great importance to the Dutch knowledge economy,’ says education ministry spokesman Michiel Hendrikx. Jobs Yet, despite the increasing internationalisation of the Dutch economy, the number one reason the students depart is because they are unable to find a job. 'My decision to stay or leave is based purely on career prospects,' says Molly Harper, a bachelor’s student from Britain studying plant biology. Bulgarian Marko Markov, who is taking international business and management studies, agrees: 'I would stay on in the Netherlands as long as I can find a job,' he says. The MIITN research shows the main reasons for the lack of employment options are the subject studied, the language, legislation and being unfamiliar with the Dutch labour market. Aastha Tyagi who is pursuing a degree in international relations at the VU university in Amsterdam, cites discrimination as another reason. 'It seems as if it is harder for international students to get jobs,' he said. Mismatch However, there is a mismatch between the subjects students are taking and the jobs market. 'Students’ study choices could be better, given the demand in the labour market,' says MIITN. This is an issue which affects Dutch as well as international students and a number of programmes are underway to try to improve the balance. International students themselves cite the language barrier as the most difficult obstacle to overcome. Lucas Milani, despite studying one of the more in-demand specialties by pursuing a master’s degree in medical and pharmaceutical drug innovation, does not expect to remain in the Netherlands, as he feels he would 'need to speak Dutch fluently'. Language barrier Not being able to speak Dutch weakens students' positions in the labour market but efforts to stimulate more students to study the language are also failing to have much impact. MIITN originally proposed developing online courses or MOOCs, and encouraged universities to make their language courses more accessible. Ultimately the MOOC became an app. And at the same time the Dutch government was acknowledging that learning the language is crucial to integration, it was cutting the subsidies for low cost language courses offered through local councils. The Dutch government’s own statistics suggest one needs 500-600 hours of study to master Dutch at a level of work proficiency. Bachelor’s students would need to tack 5-6 hours on to their study schedules to obtain that proficiency before they graduate. The prospects are even worse for master’s students, whose programmes typically only last one or two years. Socialising Yet even if students learn Dutch, there are still serious problems with integration. 'The Dutch students that I know have been really nice and helpful but when we socialise, I feel like I am not part of their group,' says Tyagi. MIITN acknowledges the integration issue and has instituted, among other things, a buddy programme to facilitate understanding between Dutch and international students. Even within English-language programmes, integration is an issue. 'I was also put on an entirely Dutch team for one of my latest projects and I was constantly being mocked for not being Dutch. The teachers would come to us, speak Dutch all the time and ignore me,' says Desislava Petkova, an art and technology bachelor’s student. Paperwork But not all the problems are social and cultural. There are many very practical problems such as residency permits for non-EU nationals. International students who have graduated from a Dutch university can now take one year to search for work upon graduation through the orientation year programme. Even getting internships to complete their degrees can be difficult. 'I am looking for internships in government offices over the summer, but the language has been a barrier,' one international student said. Further adjustments also now allow employers to employ recent graduates as highly skilled migrants without meeting the normal salary requirements. Morshed Mannan, who recently completed an LLM in law, credits the orientation year permit with helping him stay here. 'This means you can search for jobs and even start working as soon as you graduate,' he says. Weather While Nuffic and other agencies can certainly make improvements for foreign students, all the resources of the Dutch government cannot change another factor that is often cited by international students for leaving after graduation: the weather. Desislava Petkova says 'I dream about sunny beaches and palm trees'. Milani also cited the dark and cold weather as the main reason why he plans to move back to his native Brazil. Yet, despite the uphill battle, the MIITN programme has shown some improvement in retention rates. A recent study by Nuffic showed that 38% of international students who wish to stay are now doing so, compared with the 27% when the programme began. Ultimately, however, there may simply not be much any government programme can accomplish. And the MIITN programme doesn’t credit itself for the positives of Dutch society either. Bulgarian student Marko Markov says:  'As a gay man, the experience of not being discriminated against or abused is just amazing.'  More >


10 things you need to know about Easter in the Netherlands

10 things you need to know about Easter in the Netherlands

Easter (Goede Vrijdag, 1e and 2e Paasdag) takes place next weekend (March 25-28) and this year, coincides with the clocks going forward - so less sleep on Sunday! Easter Monday is a public holiday but Friday is a normal working day, apart from government workers, lucky things. Here is our updated list of Dutch Easter habits. Easter breakfast box If you have children at a Dutch primary school, they, rather you, will probably have to make an Easter breakfast box which they will give to another child in their class. This is a shoe box beautifully decorated with Eastery things and should contain all the ingredients for a delicious breakfast. Some schools have banned jam and sweet things, white bread and even chocolate eggs… which is a little odd. But hey, a cheese sandwich can be festive as well. Brunch An extended breakfast with all the family and friends on Easter Sunday – and possibly Monday if you are greedy. All sorts of rolls, cheese, ham, eggs, eggs and eggs. You may find the butter is in the shape of a little spring lamb (aah). Brunch will also include Paasbrood. We are not sure what the difference is with Kerstbrood apart from the fact it is wrapped in a yellow bow rather than a red one. No Easter brunch is complete without matsos – the Jewish crackers. Decorations The Dutch are very keen on Easter eggs and spring-related decorations, and many homes will put up willow branches hung with tiny wooden eggs and bows. Over the years these have become bigger and more elaborate, the supermarket shelves are groaning under ornaments and soon they will resemble Christmas trees. Egg painting The Dutch also like to paint boiled eggs in pretty patterns. If you want to do this, be sure to buy a proper egg stand at Blokker or Intertoys so you can colour your egg without getting paint all over your fingers and the rest of the eggs in the box. Easter egg painting is number 5 on the Dutch folklore centre’s list of the top 10 Dutch traditions. And according to the Dutch egg marketing board, we are going to eat 35 million eggs next weekend – not counting all the chocolate ones, that is. The Easter Hare Yes, the Dutch do have Easter egg hunts but don’t forget, the Netherlands has a Paashaas – Easter hare – rather than a bunny – well, it does rhyme better. Flower at St Peters in Rome The Dutch flower industry has for 29 years supplied the 42,000 tulips which are sent to Rome to decorate St Peter's for the pope’s Easter day appearance. Every year the pope – wherever he comes from – says in his best Dutch ‘bedankt voor de bloemen’ – the highlight of the Dutch television news coverage. In 2013, however, shock horror, the new pope Francis said it in Italian! Easter attractions There are, of course, Easter markets, special Easter brunches at restaurants and Easter events at amusement parks.  And there is the Paaspop festival which has taken place over the Easter weekend in the Noord-Brabant town of Schijndel since 1985. Paaspop, which attracts some 15,000 people, is seen as the unofficial start of the Dutch festival season. This year's event includes Dutch evergreens Golden Earring, Eurovision hopeful Douwe Bob and the Fun Lovin' Criminals. Many Dutch people also seem to consider visiting an out-of-town retail park selling furniture - a woonboulevard - to be a traditional Easter activity. Easter fires Easter fires are lit in various parts of Europe and probably have pagan origins. In the Netherlands, most are found in Drenthe, Groningen, Overijssel, Twente, Friesland and Gelderland but there are all sorts of regional variations about what is burnt and when. The village of Espelo in Overijssel has the world record for the highest hand-built Easter fire – 27 meters and no cranes allowed. St Matthew Passion This work by Johann Sebastian Bach is always performed at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on Good Friday (two performances). It is the sort of thing which people say you should have done once in your life. Some people go every year. Vlöggelen Okay, we’d never heard of this before, but it seems that in the Twente village of Ootmarsum, the good folk take part in a complicated ritual which involves much of the population winding through the village hand-in-hand, singing Easter songs. They also raise children up in the air which is said to represent the rising of Jesus from his tomb. We’d have to see this to believe it. This list was first published on website Netherlands by Numbers   More >


Windlicht is a led laser light show on a wind farm (update)

Windlicht is a led laser light show on a wind farm (update)

This weekend's planned showing of a new project by Studio Roosegaarde focussing on the 'beauty of green energy' has been cancelled because the wind is coming from the wrong direction. The project involves beams of green light dancing across a wind farm in Zeeland but the weather has scuppered this weekend's planned laser display. Artist Daan Roosegaarde says has been inspired by the traditional windmills of Kinderdijk. At the same time, the installation is a tribute to modern ways of harvesting wind energy. 'There’s a lot of "I want it, but I don’t want to see it",’ Roosegaarde said in an interview with Wired. 'I think that’s weird. I think they’re beautiful, to be honest.' Keep a watch on the studio's Facebook page for new dates.   More >


How to go Dutch: ‘First, learn how to pronounce inburgering correctly’

How to go Dutch: ‘First, learn how to pronounce inburgering correctly’

Five years ago Molly Quell moved to the Netherlands as the wife of an academic for a short term project.. Now she's single, has fallen in love with the country and finds herself in the unexpected position of having to integrate. We’re far enough into the New Year to have reached the point where people have dropped the pretense of their resolutions and gone back to sleeping in, ignoring their gym membership, boozing it up and spending too much money. I, however, have kept mine. It’s not because I have more willpower or am a more moral person (hell, I’m still in my pajamas and just had four chocolate chip cookies for lunch.) It’s because at the end of this year I have a looming deadline. The dreaded inburgering. This website just finished running a three part feature about the exam and, after reading those horror stories, I thought it would be fun to try it out for myself. Integrate Due to the current terms of my visa, I am not obligated to integrate. But I want to. Having permanent residency makes a number of things easier, including negotiating contracts and finding housing. It also means I don’t have to wait anxiously every year to find out whether or not my visa will be extended. I have two choices: Inburgering or NT2. Supposedly, the integration exam is easier, so I figured I’d take my chances with that. The integration exam has five components: Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking and (the infamous) Knowledge of Dutch Society. (I arrived in the Netherlands prior to January 1, 2015 when the rules changed. You should check with IND, your lawyer or an astrologer to make sure you’re on the right track.) Four-fifths of the exams is essentially speaking Dutch. And my Dutch language proficiency is limited. I moved to the Netherlands in 2011 with my partner who had taken, what was supposed to be, a year-long post doc position at a university. Shortly after we moved, we enrolled in a course at a local community centre offered by the local government. When the course began a few weeks later, I’d found a position working at a nearby international school. Let me be frank. Working 40 hours per week, with an hour commute each way is challenging. Add to that a three-hour long course twice a week, as well as five hours of homework a week and it is exhausting. Tolerable, but exhausting. No English When you factor in the utter dysfunction of the course itself, co-taught by two instructors who didn’t seem to like each other very much, a lack of syllabus or even class schedule and the refusal of the instructors to speak to us in English (so much so that, on the first night of class, the teacher would not tell me where the bathroom was because I couldn’t ask the question in Dutch), it was terrible. I vowed I would not set foot in another Dutch classroom and, as I was expecting to move back to the US shortly after the course ended anyway. it didn’t seem too unreasonable. Instead my partner was offered another position. We stayed. Then, the relationship ended. And I stayed. Upon deciding that I did want to stay here, I revisited my anti-Dutch language stance. I was no longer in the position of living here because of someone else. I was choosing to live in the Netherlands and, as such, I wanted to learn Dutch. So I found a friendly Belgian to teach me. He is a retired engineer who is spending his golden years travelling the world and tolerating a group of foreigners butchering his language. Unlike my previous experience with learning Dutch, I actually enjoyed the experience. We discussed the news, we read Suske and Wiske, I baked cookies, his wife gave me flowers. Most surprisingly, my Dutch improved. I was starting to understand the conversation among my colleagues at lunch. I could chat a bit with the other dog owners at the park. If this was a fairy tale, the story would end here, with a fancy script reading 'And they all lived happily ever after. The End.' Don’t believe Disney. Life is not a fairy tale. Residency In 2015, my immigration lawyer pointed out that I could, in 2016, apply for permanent residency. No more fees paid to IND. No more anxiously waiting to see if I could stay. No more gathering paperwork in triplicate. All I had to do was pass an exam and I would be home free. Since the lawyers fees and the IND fees alone would finance a nice vacation every year, I was interested. Then a few months ago, my visa renewal was rejected. IND had, again and without notice, changed the paperwork requirements for my residency permit. Ultimately (and after spending a lot of money on my lawyer and my accountant and a lot of hours at IND) it was approved. The day I received the approval letter, I had a Dutch lesson. I walked in and asked my teacher what I had to do to pass the inburgering exam. ‘First, you should probably learn how to pronounce inburgering correctly.’ We found a textbook, I ordered it and a week later, my doorbell rang, during dinner, of course. The DHL guy handed over a package with the course materials which I put down on the stairs before rushing back to save my pasta from boiling over. Five minutes later, I thought I heard suspicious noises coming from the living room. My dog was using the box as a chew toy. CDs I was able to rescue the course materials from the clutches of my dog’s jaws and fortunately they were unscathed. A few days later, I felt like a kid on the first day of school as I took my shiny new textbook and folder of materials to my Dutch lesson. My Dutch instructor went through it approvingly. He emphasised the importance of using the e-learning portion, so that I could listen to the pronunciation as well as practise it myself. The e-learning programme was contained on the eight accompanying CDs. I haven’t had a CD-rom drive since college. I didn’t even know they were made anymore. I even asked the ICT department at work if I could borrow a laptop with a CD-rom drive. The student helper at the desk didn’t know what a CD-rom drive was. I was officially old. But, fortunately, not out of luck. Buried in the fine print, in a brochure, there was mention of the e-learning programme being available online. One quick trip to the website later and I was set up. Purple Easter I’ll spare you the gory details of the first few weeks of the course. There was a lot of counting (but only to twelve) and naming of colours (does anyone else confuse purple and Easter in Dutch?). There are also a lot of lessons about body parts and bleeding. A child bites its lip till it bleeds. Another child cuts its finger on a knife. I’m unclear what message this is sending to foreigners. The weekly lesson allotment from this textbook takes about 1.5 hours to complete. I’m still using another textbook on conversation which my instructor and I had been using before I decided to take on the inburgering exam, which is about another hour of homework. Plus 1.5 hours in lessons per week. Plus, I am also working every day with a language learning app for about 15 minutes. All told, that’s about six hours a week on Dutch. Which may not sound like a lot, but I work around 50 hours a week, plus I volunteer, plus finding time for exercise, household chores and, ya know, the occasional Netflix binge. I’m also in the very privileged position of being able to afford textbooks and private lessons. So if Game of Thrones could push back its start date, I’d really appreciate that. Molly will update on her progress in May  More >


Nijmegen – From Barbarossa to Bob Hope

Nijmegen – From Barbarossa to Bob Hope

For a city as modestly-sized as Nijmegen, it has a significant place in Dutch history. In fact, it is thought to be the oldest city in the Netherlands, and in 2005 celebrated its 2000th anniversary. Stephanie Dijkstra finds out more. When the Romans arrived in the area and set up camp, the camp was quickly accompanied by a new market: Novio Magnum – and with a little bit of imagination, you will realise this is the origin of the name Nij-Megen. It was home to 12,000 Roman soldiers, and was flanked by Oppidum Batavorum, or City of the Batavi, which was inhabited by Roman civil servants, tradesmen and a few Batavi (an ancient Germanic tribe). In 270, after squashing a Batavi uprising, the Romans built a fort which later came into the hands of the Franks and even later became part of the empire of Charlemagne. This fort was destroyed and rebuilt over a period of centuries, until Barbarossa (Red Beard, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Italy, Germany and Burgundy) decided this was where he wanted to build a castle. Today, you can still visit the Barbarossa ruin, located in what is now called Valkhof Park. A visit to Museum het Valkhof in the city centre will allow you to witness some of the archaeological finds made in the city. The museum itself is a delight in many ways: the entire back wall is made of glass, offering a view of the tree-lined pathway behind it and giving you the feeling you are taking a walk through the woods every time you enter the main passageway. And the rooms, with their collections of objects from prehistory, the Romans and the Middle Ages – as well as other exhibitions – are light and far from stuffy. Students Nijmegen is what the Dutch call a ‘student city’; it is home to Nijmegen’s Radboud University, as well as to the HAN hbo college. All in all, almost 39,000 students live in the city, making up 29% of its population. My tour of Nijmegen started at the Valkhof Museum and from there took us through the city centre. It was a sunny Saturday and the  town was full of students, locals, young couples with children and a sprinkling of Germans, as Nijmegen is just a few miles from the German border. First stop was Bairro Alto (which you will recognise by the words Hollandsche Spoorweg written over its window), Nijmegen’s answer to Starbucks. Housed in a former travel bureau and ticket office built for the Dutch railroad company, it is now a cozy place to stop for a cup of coffee or tea, as well as salads and sandwiches. You can even pick up a picnic basket and blanket (which you return when you are done). From there, it is a short walk to the Grote Markt, which you cross to go through an archway leading to a quaint little street that wraps around the Stevenskerk which dates from the 13th century. The church itself is magnificent in resplendent white and gold, with a gleaming stone floor and the tombs of many local dignitaries, including that of Catherine of Bourbon. American bombers Beside the Romans, Nijmegen was also involved in another, more recent, important chapter of this nation's history: World War II. On February 22, 1944 16 American bombers – presumably mistaking Nijmegen for a German town – dropped their bombs, killing 800 people and ruining substantial portions of the inner city, including the tower of the Stevenskerk. Then, just seven months later, in September 1944, Operation Market Garden started; an unsuccessful Allied attempt at securing the bridges across the river Meuse, the lower Rhine and the Waal so they could enter the German lowlands while avoiding its Siegfried defence line. As part of their efforts, the Allies started to liberate Nijmegen, but the Germans defended it tooth and nail. The fighting drove out tens of thousands of local inhabitants and when the Germans left, a few days later, they set fire to what was left of the inner city. Front line But that was not the end because Nijmegen was now on the new front line, and Germany bombed the city time and again, trying to destroy the bridges which were still intact. In short, during the last few months of the war Nijmegen found itself in the middle of a battlefield. By the end of the war, some 2,200 people had been killed and 10,000 wounded; 5,000 homes and 500 shops were destroyed and 12,000 people were left homeless. Nevertheless, during the war, Nijmegen became a popular place for allied soldiers who were on leave. At a certain point it was home to 150,000 allied soldiers – almost twice as many as there were local inhabitants – and was visited by both Bob Hope and Vera Lynn. This created something of a dilemma after the war, when the local inhabitants, well aware of who had dropped the bombs on February 22, were torn between their appreciation of the allied soldiers and the naked fact of the bombing. As a consequence, the bombing was swept under the carpet for decades afterwards; only recently becoming a topic that could be discussed openly. Rebuilding After the war, the city focused on rebuilding and repairing the damaged buildings – unlike Rotterdam, for instance, which only aimed for a return of 10% of its historical appearance. And now, the city is working on another ambitious project. In 1995, after a surge of water, caused by heavy rains in Germany and France, threatened the people of Nijmegen, the city decided something had to change. Instead of merely strengthening its dykes, it moved them 350 metres further back, creating a wider flood plain for the Waal. As they have done throughout history, the Dutch have come up with innovative and impressive plans that will not only ensure a city’s safety, but also its beauty, its atmosphere – and room for growth.  More >