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Dutch documentary awakens euthanasia debate about wider rules

Dutch documentary awakens euthanasia debate about wider rules

A recent Dutch television documentary on euthanasia in which a 68 year-old woman suffering from semantic dementia was given a lethal injection may well herald a turning point in what many consider to be an increasingly broader - and unacceptable - interpretation of the rules. Hanneke Sanou assesses the reactions. The documentary, broadcast by public broadcaster NTR in Feburary to mark the start of a week of discussions on euthanasia, followed three clients of the Levenseindekliniek, a clinic for people who want to end their lives but whose family doctor is unwilling to cooperate. Some cases include people with mental problems or dementia, and people who consider their lives to be complete. Earlier this month an advisory commission rejected the norm ‘a life completed’ as grounds for euthanasia if the person requesting it does not also suffer from physical problems constituting ‘unbearable and hopeless suffering’, the basis on which Dutch law allows euthanasia to take place. All cases are reviewed by a committee which determines if doctors acted in accordance with due care. Deterioration The story of Hannie Goudriaan, a former health care worker, begins in 2008 when she starts to notice ‘something not right in the head’, as her husband Gerrit Goudriaan puts it. His wife turns out to be in the early stages of semantic dementia, a disease that gradually erases meaning from words and concepts. She tells family doctor Gert Bloemberg that if she deteriorates to the point where she can’t recognise loved ones or is unable to communicate she no longer wants to live, a statement she also puts in writing. Several years later, in 2014, Hannie decides the time has come but her first port of call, the family doctor, now doubts whether she is mentally competent enough to confirm her initial wish. The doctor, overwhelmed by the complexity of the case, decides that there are insufficient grounds. Remco Verwer, the doctor in charge of her case at the Levenseindekliniek, to which the couple then turns, becomes convinced of her wish to die. Hannie, by this time, has lost much of her understanding of words and seems to use the word ‘Huppekee’ (something like ‘there goes’) as a substitute for the act to end her life. Nothing left Meanwhile Hannie is shown fit enough to drive a car and enjoy the occasional outing. According to the review committee’s report, which states that doctors had acted with due care, Hannie then has an unusually lucid moment during a talk with a SCEN doctor ( SCEN stands for Support and Consultation in cases of Euthanasia in the Netherlands) during which she ‘clearly and calmly’ repeats her wish to die because ‘there is nothing left’. The final scenes show Hannie as she is given the injection, murmuring ‘terrible’. Reactions to the programme were immediate, and mixed. In the NRC clinical ethicist Erwin Kompanje professed himself ‘gobsmacked’ and ‘worried’. ‘If she was able to clearly state that she was suffering and wanted to die while the point of the euthanasia was the lack of the ability to communicate, then there is a contradiction there. Especially when you consider that semantic dementia is a progressive illness which can’t suddenly improve.’ (..) The fact that many health professionals had expressed similar doubts ‘could precipitate a discussion about the limits of euthanasia: ending the lives of people who can no longer confirm their wish by people who have no primary involvement, based on subjective interpretation of empty words and earlier living will should not admissible anywhere, including the Netherlands,’ he wrote. Slippery slope Professor of cognitive science Victor Lamme wrote in the Volkskrant that euthanasia in the Netherlands is on a ‘slippery slope’ and that euthanasia is used to ‘solve other problems than putting an end to unbearable suffering.’ According to Lamme Hannie Goudriaan was ‘under pressure’ to keep to her declaration of intention even though ‘a person with dementia becomes a different person’. He also points to the societal pressure on the elderly. ‘Which problem is euthanasia supposed to solve? The elderly cost time, money and effort. Modern society is unwilling to provide all three,’ he wrote. There were many who thought the documentary ‘touching and beautiful’.One Volkskrant reader said she thought she had been watching a 'totally different documentary than many others': 'I saw a loving couple grieving because one of them was deteriorating more and more.' Quick process According to Volkskrant journalist Maud Efting who has written extensively about the subject of euthanasia, the ‘euthanasia process was shown in the documentary as relatively very quick. 'In twenty minutes Hannie Goudriaan came to her end,’ she wrote, implying that this is one of the reasons the film was criticised so vehemently. In her considered piece on the programme she quotes family doctor Gert Bloemberg as saying that Hannie Goudriaan’s suffering was perhaps not shown ‘sufficiently’. Tragically the term ‘Huppekee euthanasie’ will now probably enter the language and this is doubly ironic when you consider that it was the lack of language that was at the heart of it.  More >


10 great things to do in March

10 great things to do in March

From beautiful kimonos and flying acrobats to leaping horses and films that matter, here's our pick of the best things to do in March. Admire Breitner's kimono girls For the first time, all the paintings of a girl in a kimono by Dutch artist George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) are being displayed together. Based on new research, the exhibition displays for the first time the full series of 14 paintings. Most of them feature the young Geesje Kwak, who posed for Breitner between the ages of 16 and 18. The paintings also include a hitherto unknown Girl in a Red Kimono from a private collection. As well as the paintings, the exhibition also includes drawings, sketches and photographs used by the artist in the preparation of his paintings. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam until May 22. www.rijksmuseum.nl Gasp at top show jumping Indoor Brabant is one of the world’s top show jumping events and features show jumping and dressage for horses and ponies for several international prizes, including two World Cup finals. It attracts around 250 horses and their riders, many of whom are in the world top 10, such as Scott Brash, the current number one in show jumping. There is also the chance to see carousel riding, which is team dressage with two columns of riders performing synchronised patterns. Indoor Brabant has grown so fast - visitor numbers have reached 65,000 - that last year the organisers added a second ring. Brabanthallen, Den Bosch, March 10 to 13. www.indoorbrabant.com Dress up as a superhero The Dutch version of the American Comic Con event covers comics, films, games, graphic novels, cosplay, science fiction, fantasy and cartoons. There are meet & greets with actors, artists and cosplayers, the newest films and memorabilia such as the 1969 Dodge Charger from The Dukes of Hazzard, Optimus Prime and the Autobots from the Transformers films and the Batmobile from 1966. Among the stars at the event are the actors John Ratzenberger (The Empire Strikes Back), Billy Dee Williams (Return of the Jedi), Eugene Simon (Game of Thrones) and Doug Jones (Fantastic Four, Hellboy), the cosplayers Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club and the writers and illustrators Brian Froud, Tony Moore and Steve Scott. Jaarbeurs, Utrecht, March 26 and 27. www.dutchcomiccon.com Take in a Broadway show The Tony award-winning Broadway production of the musical Pippin comes to the Netherlands. The story of a young man searching for meaning in his life and his time with a circus was written by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked) in 1972 and directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. This production is the 2013 revival directed by Diane Paulus (Cirque du Soleil) which won four Tony awards. Theater Carré, Amsterdam, March 9 to April 10. www.carre.nl Pick whose side you're on It rates as one of the most eagerly anticipated films of this year. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a $2 million-plus head-to-head between the two superheroes. It has Ben Affleck's Batman (casting which got the fan boys grumbling) facing off against Henry Cavill's Superman (first seen in Man of Steel) because he fears what will happen if Superman is left unchecked. Meanwhile Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) creates new threat Doomsday, so differences between superheroes must be set aside to save Metropolis from destruction. Director Zack Snyder promises lots of practical special effects rather than just the usual display of CG. Also in the mix is Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who will get her own film next year. Oh and Jeremy Irons takes over from Michael Caine as Batman's faithful butler. Cinemas around the country, March 24. Find out about human rights The Movies That Matter festival screens around 70 feature films and documentaries dealing with various human rights issues. For instance, A Good American, in which whistleblower William Binney says the NSA could easily have prevented the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Or 3 and 1/2 minutes, 10 bullets which shows the aftermath of a shooting when four boys were asked to turn down their music. In addition, there is a full programme of debates, Q&A sessions, workshops, talk shows, seminars and masterclasses. Filmhuis and Theater aan het Spui, The Hague, March 18 to 26. www.moviesthatmatter.nl Catch a genius in all his glory The David Bowie exhibition, which moved to the Netherlands from the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, had its closing date extended following the announcement of Bowie's death on January 11. There is just over a month left in which to see the hundreds of objects, including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, photography, set designs, album artwork and rare performance material from the past five decades from the David Bowie Archive. This is a fascinating and comprehensive look at the career of the man who has influenced music, art, design, theatre and contemporary culture for the past five decades, and will no doubt continue to do so for some considerable time. Groninger Museum, Groningen until April 10. www.groningermuseum.nl Wander through some gorgeous antiques The European Fine Art Fair is one of the world’s most prestigious art and antique fairs. It is certainly the largest, and it has the strictest system for ensuring the objects on offer are of the highest quality. It offers Old Master paintings, sculpture and furniture from all periods, modern and contemporary art, classical antiquities and Asian art. Newer sections cover 20th century design and applied arts, drawings and limited edition prints, antiquarian books and manuscripts and even wallpaper. MECC, Maastricht, March 11 to 20. www.tefaf.com Celebrate an opera anniversary To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the Dutch National Opera has inaugurated the Opera Forward Festival to celebrate new work from a new generation of artists. Among the operas being performed are Il matrimonio segreto (the secret marriage) by Domenico Cimarosa which is a coproduction by the National Opera Talent, the Netherlands Touring Opera and Opera Zuid, and the world premier of Michel van der Aa’s chamber opera for soprano and 3D film Blank Out, with Miah Persson and the baritone Roderick Williams and the Netherlands Chamber Choir on film. There is also the first performance in Amsterdam of Only The Sound Remains for which Peter Sellars has combined two pieces by the Finnish Kaija Saariah and taken noh dramas as his inspiration. Muziektheater and other venues, Amsterdam, March 15 to 25. www.operaforwardfestival.nl Wonder at the artistry of acrobats The spectacular and artistic Cirque du Soleil circus company returns to the Netherlands with the show AmaLuna. It’s about a mysterious island ruled by goddesses and what happens when a group of young men wash up on the shore. But it’s really about the high quality of the acrobats, clowns, dancers and singers, and the amazing lighting and costumes. Big top, next to the Arena, Amsterdam, March 17 to May 1. www.cirquedusoleil.com  More >


Master cyber security with a Webster University degree

Barely a week goes by without a new cyber security scare - a corporate website paralysed with a sustained attack by hackers, a phishing expedition that nets millions of euros, or a major government information leak. Good reason then, for Webster University in Leiden to launch a new Master of Science course in cyber security this year. ‘Here at Webster, we look at relevant trends in society and aim to take a leading role in them. Cybercrime is very relevant these days, and it’s a development that needs to be addressed,' says Webster director Jean Paul van Marissing. 'We’ve been one of the biggest providers of educational training to the military since the 1980s, and that expertise, along with our connections at the CIA and NATO, makes it possible for us to set up this programme.' The course will teach students to deal with sensitive areas like fraud, theft, information protection, terrorism, digital forensics, intelligence and counter-intelligence, says academic director doctor Islam Qasem. 'An MS degree in cyber security is one of the most currently "in-demand" qualifications in the world,' he says. 'With the proliferation of internet and smart devices, there is a lot of sensitive information in cyber space that needs to be adequately protected.' Open day You can find out more about the cyber security course on March 19, when Webster is holding an open day for prospective students at its Leiden campus. Webster University is the only certified US university in the Netherlands, offering both bachelor's and master’s courses taught by experts in their field. ‘There is no such thing as a typical Webster student,’ says spokeswoman Joijcelyn Hoost. ‘Our classes are small, you really get to know your teachers and it is a great way to build up an international network.’ Leiden itself is a city with a rich past and a bright future – where you see students, bicycles, canals and charming buildings all in one place. The city has been a centre of historical and commercial importance for centuries, where new ideas and philosophies were explored and education cultivated. This heritage of education is still very much alive today. In the heart of Leiden is Webster University, offering bachelor’s and master’s degree courses in business management, the behavioural and social sciences, international relations, and media and communications to a small, highly motivated and international group of students. And if you are already forging ahead with your career, Webster even has an Amsterdam annex where you can study for an MBA or other master’s programmes part time. Find out more about Webster's degree courses, study options, flexibility and what you can expect from the only accredited American university in the Netherlands on March 19. You will also be able to meet heads of department, students, staff and faculty members. Sign up online  More >


75 years ago Amsterdammers went on strike to support the Jews

75 years ago Amsterdammers went on strike to support the Jews

It is 75 years ago this year that workers in Amsterdam and the surrounding areas went on strike in a protest against what was to be the beginning of the large-scale persecution of Jews in the Netherlands. The 1941 februaristaking, or February strike, is commemorated every year on February 25. What went before On February 11, a member of the WA, a club of bully boys affiliated with the Dutch Nazi party NSB, was killed in a fight with Jewish and non-Jewish Amsterdammers who were standing up for the rights of terrorised Jewish citizens. Tension mounted and when, later that month, the German police raided Jewish ice parlour Koco they were met with a spurt of ammonia gas (used for refrigeration purposes). The German response was swift: on February 22 and 23, 425 Jewish men and boys were rounded up and deported to concentration camps Mauthousen and Buchenwald. Most perished there. The strike The Dutch communist party CPN was illegal at the time and from its ranks would come some of the most dogged resistance fighters. In this instance it issued a now historic pamphlet with the words Staakt!!! Staakt!!! Staakt!!!, an impassioned call for strike action ‘to show solidarity with the Jewish part of our society which has been hit so hard’. It was heeded en masse. Day 1 On February 25 some 300,000 people downed tools in Amsterdam. Trams stood still, docks stood deserted, shops and offices closed and schools were empty of students. Civil servants, too, joined the strike. People took to the streets to demonstrate against the German regime. Day 2 The next day the Zaanstreek, Kennemerland (Haarlem and Velsen), Hilversum, Utrecht and Weesp joined the strike. The 26th was also the day the Germans, who had been taken completely by surprise, retaliated. Clashes on the day left nine dead and 24 severely wounded. The aftermath Never before had there been a strike to protest against the treatment by the Germans against the Jews. Civil servants were fired and Amsterdam mayor Willem de Vlugt was forced to step down. Many were arrested and the city was ordered to pay a 15 million guilder fine. Communists The members of the CPN, already targeted by the Germans, were now even more at risk. At the end of February one of its members, 23 year-old Leendert Schijveschuurder, was arrested when he was putting up posters calling for a strike on March 6. He was sentenced to death and executed the next day, the first Dutch citizen to be shot by a German firing squad. Some time later, three other members of the Communist party were executed, along with 15 members of the Geuzen resistance movement on the Waalsdorpervlakte near Scheveningen in 1941. Many others were also to die in the same place. The song of the 18 dead The 18 executed men were honoured in a poem written by writer and resistance fighter Jan Campert, who died in concentration camp Neuengamme in 1943. This is the first stanza: Een cel is maar twee meter lang en nauw twee meter breed, wel kleiner nog is het stuk grond, dat ik nu nog niet weet, maar waar ik naamloos rusten zal, mijn makkers bovendien, wij waren achttien in getal, geen zal den avond zien. A cell is only two metres long And scarcely two metres wide, Smaller still the plot of land That I know not but where I will rest, namelessly and my comrades too We were eighteen in all None of us will live to see the night. Jonas Daniël Meijerplein The February strike is commemorated every year with a ceremony at the Dokwerker statue on the Jonas Daniël Meyerplein in Amsterdam, in the former Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. The square was renamed Houtmarkt in 1942 in a bid to eradicate Jewish street names. Jonas Daniël Meijer (1780-1834) was the first Jewish lawyer in the Netherlands. The square was the scene of the infamous raid on the Jewish community’s boys and men that preceded the strike.   The Dokwerker The statue of the Dokwerker (the dock worker) with his hands about to turn into fists, was made by sculptor Mari Andriessen. The person who posed for the statue was builder Willem Termetz whom Andriessen knew from their days in the resistance movement. The statue was unveiled by queen Wilhelmina in 1952. This year The theme of this year’s commemoration of the February strike is Verander in de ander, or put yourself in their shoes. Former mayor Job Cohen will open a photo exhibition about the 1941 raid on the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein on February 21 at 5pm. A complete programme of activities surrounding the commemoration can be found here.  More >


Second Iamexpat fair takes place in Amsterdam

Second Iamexpat fair takes place in Amsterdam

The IamExpat Fair 2016 will take place on Saturday, March 5 at Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek. The fair is the spring meeting place for expats and local businesses and is designed to support internationals in the Netherlands, providing them with everything they need in one location, on one day! The first edition took place last year. With more than 3,000 check-ins, 75 exhibitors, 20 free workshops and registrations from120 different nationalities, the IamExpat Fair 2015 was met with great enthusiasm by both expats and local businesses. Running from 10am to 5pm on March 5, in the Zuiveringshal West at Westergasfabriek, this free event will host stands from dozens of companies and organisations working in housing, careers, education, expat services, health and leisure and family needs. Free workshops and presentations will also be happening throughout the day at Het Ketelhuis and the North Sea Jazz Club. Visitors to the IamExpat Fair can: - Get assistance to find a rental property or understand Dutch mortgages - Meet with recruiters and companies that are hiring - Attend workshops about living and working in the Netherlands - Learn about advancing their career through professional development - Benefit from many special offers - Find local health and lifestyle organisations - Connect with like-minded locals and expats from around the world Whether you’re a new arrival or a long-term resident in the Netherlands there’s a lot to explore and understand: from finding a house, a new job or a great school for your kids, to choosing a trustworthy accountant, legal advisor or MBA programme, and much more. Don’t miss the expat event of 2016. Book your free ticket now  More >


Soul searching: Volkskrant columnist Nadia Ezzeroili says she is not Dutch

Soul searching: Volkskrant columnist Nadia Ezzeroili says she is not Dutch

It isn’t often that a newspaper column causes such a stir. But Volkskrant journalist Nadia Ezzeroili’s column entitled ‘Ik ben geen Nederlander’ (I am not Dutch) seems to have struck a chord with many. Ezzeroili, who is of Moroccan descent, directly addressed the Netherlands, the country of her birth, and told it that the relationship between them is at an end and that a separation, or even a divorce, is on the cards. ‘The words "I am Dutch" stick in my craw,’ Ezzeroili wrote. Her disenchantment with the Dutch lies in the fundamental Dutch refusal to accept her as one of their own, she maintains, and increasingly she labels herself Moroccan, ‘not from Moroccan chauvinism but to harness myself against your distrust and casual rejection’. Ezzeroili recounts how she’s stopped going to the hip bars and cafés frequented by the white chattering classes and is turning to waterpipe cafés. She is angry, she says. For all her education, her job and all the middle class trappings she’s acquired, true acceptance still eludes her, and for many who don’t have her level of education things are worse still. Judas kisses And it is not the supposedly Wilders-voting ‘Tokkies’ that make her feel unwelcome but rather the elite who dole out ‘Judas kisses to [MP] Khadija Arib in front of the cameras and mock her accent behind the scenes’. At a party she feels unable to comfort a young man of mixed Pakistani-Surinam descent who feels increasingly lonely the more successful he becomes. What she can’t bear to tell him is that ‘The Dutch dream is a deception. It’s a deception because it comes with a condition: that your background becomes unnoticeable to others.’ On a trip to Morocco, a country where she ‘would be much worse off as a woman’, she is welcomed: she has ‘come home’, an old man tells her. The Dutch show no such loyalty towards her unless she can elicit their approval by telling them ‘stories about my skating talents, my preference for stamppot over lamb chops and the fanatical attempts of my mother to learn Dutch’. Narcissistic navel-gazer The column, aimed at the white, middle class readers of the Volkskrant, generated a lot of response, some soul-searching and some online abuse. Ezzeroili was described as a narcissistic navel-gazer and a victim with no backbone. But others said she was spot-on about the way people with different backgrounds are treated in this country. Columnist Ebru Amar let rip in her own column on tpo.nl. ‘A mocro’s choice is simple: do I remain a victim or am I just as good as any Dutch person?’ she wrote in her usual abrasive style before slating Ezzeroili for choosing to be ‘a professional Moroccan. I can’t really interpret her whining in the Volkskrant in any other way’, Amar wrote. She also has a go at the paper: ‘Being pathetic, pointing the finger and whining about feeling excluded because of the colour of your skin are bound to make you a hit with the Dutch media. Add the curly hair, the smooth face of the post-adolescent, the discontented hipster gaze and you know: there’s a new kid in town and her name is Nadia Ezzeroili. Embraced by the respectable media who crow: WE’VE GOT HER!’ You are Dutch In a VN piece entitled Nadia Ezzeroili, you ARE Dutch,  journalist Henk van Renssen urged Ezzeroili to stay and not give xenophobes the satisfaction of seeing her leave. He did, however, express surprise at her description of a ‘warm and honest white working class and a cool, fearful and hypocritical (seemingly tolerant but hiding their racism) middle class. The Netherlands is split between people who reject the multicultural society and those who embrace it and try to find solutions if there are problems. 'That split runs through all classes’, Renssen wrote. Political scientist Meindert Fennema, also on tpo.nl, said Ezzeroili is right: background does matter and pursuing the dream comes with a price. He compared the columnist to successful writer and journalist Anil Ramdas who ‘desperately tried to ingratiate himself with the elite by slating the Tokkies' - the Dutch equivalant of trailer trash. Not so Ezzeroili who squarely blames the elite. Fennema concluded that ‘For Ramdas, the price for his successful adaptation was too high. He left for India as a correspondent, wrote the beautiful novel Badal, and shortly after returning ended his life.'  More >


The visions of Hieronymus Bosch are centre stage in landmark exhibition

The visions of Hieronymus Bosch are centre stage in landmark exhibition

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) whose bizarre creatures struck awe and admiration into the hearts of his contemporaries and continue to do so today. Here are ten facts about this extraordinary painter whose work will be on show in a landmark exhibition at the Noordbrabants Museum from February 13 to May 8. 1 What is his real name? Jheronimus/ Hieronymus/Joen/Jeroen van Aken, as he is variously called, hailed from the city of Den Bosch in the province of Noord-Brabant. In 1488 Jeroen van Aken began signing his work using the name of his native city and became Jheronimus Bosch. It is said that this was actually a clever marketing ploy: Bosch wanted his patrons to know where to find him (and presumably not go looking for him in Aken (Aachen), Germany, where the family originally came from). Bosch did indeed live in Den Bosch all his life and died there in 1516. The 500th anniversary of his death is the reason the Noordbrabants Museum is mounting this unique exhibition. 2 Bosch was in demand in his lifetime Born into a family of painters, Bosch was unlikely to turn to another profession. Fortunately he was extremely talented, and very successful during his lifetime. His outlandish iconography, so different from what was on offer from his contemporaries, far from repelling his wealthy clientele actually drew their admiration and Bosch paintings were in great demand. Aristocratic patrons included Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy and Brabant and Henry III of Nassau. 3 Where did the images come from? So how can someone who stepped outside his house to walk the short distance to his studio every day come up with such hallucinatory images? Man-machines and monsters engage in such bewildering activities that ‘a lively imagination’ just doesn’t seem to cover it. And yet that is all we are left with, although some hold that Bosch’s visions sprang from eating mouldy rye bread. Bosch’s depiction of cities on fire is said to spring from his witnessing a great fire in Den Bosch in 1463 – 4,000 houses were burned to the ground - as a child but even that is unproven. In fact, very little is known of his life at all. 4 Was Bosch a heretic? What is certain is that subsequent arbiters of taste did not quite know what to make of Bosch and his images. In 17th century Spain he was branded a heretic for his ‘devilry’ while the psychoanalytic movement of the 1930s had him down as a loony obsessed with guilt and sin (Bosch was a Roman Catholic). Others thought he must have been a member of the Brethren of Free Spirit, a sect trying to create a new garden of Eden mainly by means of unbridled sex. Later Salvador Dali and his fellow surrealists hailed him as a kindred spirit. 5 Symbolism Much in the paintings continues to defy interpretation but here’s what Stanley Meisler of the Smithsonian says about some of the symbols in Bosch’s work: ‘Although scholars don’t always agree on interpretations, this sampler suggests possible meanings for some symbols found in the paintings: pig: false priest; gluttony, fruit: carnal pleasure, rat: lies against the church; filth; sex, fish: false prophets; lewdness, closed book: futility of knowledge in dealing with human stupidity; flames: ergotism; fires of hell, flying monsters: hallucination of ergotism sufferers; devil’s envoys, keys: knowledge, lute and harp: instruments for praise of god and pursuit of love; breasts: fertility, mussel shell: infidelity, black birds: unbelievers; death or rotting flesh, knives: punishment of evil, rabbits: multiplication of the race, egg: sexual creation, key symbol of alchemy, ice skater: folly, funnel: deceit and intemperance; false alchemist or false doctor, strawberry: fleeting joys of life, love, owl: great learning, ears: gossip, spheres: alchemical apparatus.’ 6 How many Bosch works are there? How many works Bosch painted is unknown. A number of them perished; 24 have now been attributed to him with any certainty. Copies abounded, made to look conveniently older and authentic by exposing them to smoke, according to disgruntled art collector Felipe de Guevara who owned no fewer than 6 ‘El Boscos’.   7 Analysis and restoration The Bosch Research and Conservation Project  has been busily analysing and restoring Bosch’s work for the last five years. This has led to new insights and a ‘new’ painting was added to the oeuvre, no doubt to the delight of present owner - the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas, Missouri. This tiny rendering of the Temptation of St Anthony was previously attributed to one of his apprentices. 8 Persuasion Intrepid museum boss Charles de Mooij has managed to persuade museums all over the world to part with 20 of Bosch’s 25 surviving paintings, using participation in the prestigious project as his lure. Not included is his famous Garden of Earthly Delights (painted between 1480 and 1505) which was considered too fragile to travel. The Prado was kind enough to send the Haywain (1516), however, which is leaving Madrid for the first time in 450 years!. 9 Marketing Like many other painters Bosch has spawned a sea of tat, but tat, it seems, mainly targeting the young: Garden of Earthly Delight Doc Martens, leggings and skateboards, for instance. For the present craze for colouring books there is even a Garden of Earthly Delight colouring book for hours of colouring fun. 10 His Year 2016 is Hieronymus Bosch year. Apart from the exhibition, Den Bosch will be the scene of artistic interpretations of the painter’s work in theatre, dance and film.    More >


Dutch students help refugee artists find an online voice

Dutch students help refugee artists find an online voice

A project by Utrecht art school students has become a platform for artists who have come to the Netherlands as refugees to tell their stories. By Tracy Brown Hamilton Mahmod Kharrat, 22, is a professional photographer who specialised in portrait photography in his native Damascus. He has lived in the Netherlands for four months, and while he has found himself labelled as a ‘refugee,’ he identifies himself first and foremost with his art form. ‘I am a photographer; I always have been,’ he says. ‘It’s my job, and it makes me feel free.’ His haunting black-and-white portraits - mostly taken during his time in Syria - appear on a newly launched website that features the artwork and writing of refugees. Utrecht The Publisher, as the website is called, is the creation of six students at HKU University of the Arts Utrecht. The students - Sacha Schemkes, Sophie Roumans, Sophie Dogterom, Welmoed Terpstra, Mirthe Vos and Jöran Zeeuw - made the decision to create a platform for refugee artists when tasked with completing an interdisciplinary project for a  college assignment. ‘We all felt we wanted to do something with refugees,’ Sacha Schemkes said at a recent site launch presentation at Pakhuis Zwijger in Amsterdam. ‘But we didn’t know precisely what.’ The group was concerned about the portrayal of the refugees in the mainstream press. ‘You heard a lot in the media about the refugees, but they don't have much opportunity to speak for themselves,’ Sophia Roumans says, ‘And that was our goal, to give a voice to the refugees.’ Social media The team began trying to contact refugees in Nijmegen, which has the largest reception centre in the country. Some 3,000 new arrivals reside there. ‘We approached people there, and contacted a Facebook group for refugees to find people who might want to meet with us, to see what could develop,’ Roumans explains. ‘And we met some very inspiring people.’ The students wanted the project to be a true collaboration. ‘We did not want to present it as something that we would do about them; we wanted to have their input into what they wanted to express,’ Schemkes says. ‘Not something the "white Westerner" says is good for them.’ Self-expression What they heard was that the refugees wanted a platform on which they could express themselves directly. Being art students, the developers of the site believe you can sometimes say more with a photo or a film then with an article. ‘The people we’ve met are very creative,’ they say. ‘We are very proud of the work we have received.’ The site is an eclectic mix of styles and art forms, from photography to poetry, all of which sheds light on the people behind the ‘refugee’ tag. Among the contributors is 16-year-old poet Tamara Mehhook, who writes about the pain a boy feels for his country, and the sadness at having to leave it. ‘Oh Syria… my home […] I am proud to be your son.’ You’ll also find recipes accompanied by the gorgeous food photography of Rada Assi, a mother of two teenagers who came to the Netherlands six months ago. Ten attempts Shady Zen Aldeen is a 27-year-old architect who wrote about his journey to the Netherlands, including his harrowing ten attempts to cross by boat from Turkey to Greece. ‘They left us stranded in the sea,’ he writes, surrounded by three-meter waves with no motor. Aldeen says he shared his story to help break the barriers between himself and the Dutch people. ‘It’s important for us to be able to project a positive image,’ he says. ‘So that people can know more about who we are.‘ Although he says most people have been very friendly, he has encountered resistance. ‘When I first arrived four months ago, we went to the centre of Nijmegen to hand out flowers to people, to say thank you,’ he says. ‘Some people refused to talk to us. Some people are afraid. They have a lot of ideas about us, and there is some prejudice.’ Dreams He hopes initiatives like The Publisher will help improve this. ‘I think we have to tell them more about ourselves, about who we are, our dreams,' he says. 'About our plans.’ The students behind the site also intend to continue their work on the initiative, beyond the college assignment. They believe artistic expression is vital for the refugees, both for their well-being and also for their livelihood moving forward. ‘The image people have of refugees is that of people in need. The focus is on how much money they cost, that everyone will need to be given a house,’ Schemkes says. ‘But actually we've met many creative people who say "I don’t need to be given a house, I just want to be able to do my work, earn my own money, and then I can look after myself". But they can’t do that because they don’t have a network, they don’t have the right papers.’ Sponsorship For now, the site can give refugee artists exposure, and hopefully access to the equipment they need - cameras, paints, computers. ‘Right now, we do everything ourselves,’ Schemkes says. ‘But now we want to find more sponsorship. With more money, of course you can do a lot more. So that’s what we’re seeking now.’ Most of the current work on the site has come from the network they have formed in Nijmegen, but now that the site has launched, they hope it will extend to other areas of the Netherlands. And there are ideas for taking the work offline, as well. ‘We would like to have an exhibition of the work, perhaps even a pop-up restaurant,’ Roumans says. ‘We have lots of ideas.’  More >


Nine things you need to know about having a baby in the Netherlands

Nine things you need to know about having a baby in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is notorious for its painkiller-free home births. But there are lots of other essential things you need to know to make sure you have a baby the Dutch way. The Netherlands by Numbers has a useful list. The home birth We’ll get this out of the way first. You can have your baby in a hospital. A generation ago, 60% of the Dutch were born at home but that has now dropped to around 20%. There are all sorts of reasons for this – complicated calculations about perinatal death rates, local hospital closures, changing fashions – but we like to think having the option of pain relief might also play a role. The Dutch think pain is part of the process, which it is, but it is also a part which many of us would like to be able to avoid. The placenta This is one thing nobody tells you about a home birth. What happens to the placenta? If you are a bit of an earth mother you can always eat it, but if you are not, the midwife will present it to you in a plastic bag to put out with the other rubbish. Seriously. The maternity nurse When Dutch women have a baby, a kraamverzorgster comes to their home for a week or so to help with the new-born. This is an amazing institution (paid for by health insurance). Help with breastfeeding, nappies, bathing, pouring cups of coffee for the people who come to coo over little Daan or Sophie, she does it all. The kraamverzorgster may well be the reason new dads in the Netherlands are only allowed a couple of days unpaid leave. Not only has he been usurped by the new baby, but the nurse is doing all the other leaky stuff. Registering your child By law, the arrival of your offspring has to be reported to officialdom within three days. Either a parent or someone else who witnessed the event is supposed to do this. Your baby will then get a birth certificate and its very own BSN – burgerservicenummer – the key to all things official in the Netherlands. If you are not married and you are both foreign it may be complicated to get the dad’s name on the official documents. We have heard too many horror stories and suggest you ask a lawyer. Naming your child Do not think you are free to name your child just any old thing. Oh no. There are rules about this. According to the government’s website, it should not be a swear word, a name which can open the child to ridicule or a combination of lots of names. And the civil servant behind the counter can refuse to accept the name if he thinks it unsuitable. We wonder if civil servants were sleeping when they approved the registration of little Ridley-Scott, Alpacino and Lexus. Your child may take either the mother or father’s surname but not both. Despite this discouragement of doubled-barrelled names, there is a Dutch government minister whose surname is the four-barrelled Schultz van Haegen-Maas Geesteranus. There are also perhaps some surnames to be avoided. Kraambezoek Going on kraambezoek – the Dutch have a word for visiting a new mother and her baby – is an institution. Expect all sorts of people – including your boss – to drop round with a soft toy for the baby, when you would much prefer a bottle of whiskey. If you wish to discourage visitors at certain times, you can include this on the birth announcement card. ‘Charlotte and Emma are resting between 2pm and 4pm’ might not mean you are actually dozing off, but it will give you a couple of hours to catch up on the laundry. New baby traditions Beschuit met muisjes are traditionally handed out at work by new dads. Take a Dutch crispbake, spread it with margarine and pour on the aniseed sprinkles – blue for a boy and pink for a girl.  It is very rude to refuse beschuit met muisjes when offered by the proud parent. The Netherlands by Numbers crew know of one foreign worker who had to empty half a drawer full of pink and blue crumbs when she left her job. You can often spot households where there is a new baby by the wooden stork in the garden or smashed into the window, or the pink and blue bunting. Papadag Papadag is the increasingly popular term to describe the day of the week which some fathers take off from work to look after their offspring – often as part of the paternity leave allowance. According to the national statistics office, around 13% of young fathers take advantage of their legal right to spend one day a week looking after their children. Mothers complain that the washing, ironing and other chores never get done on papadag. Growing up Surveys by the United Nations and others repeatedly show that Dutch children are among the happiest in the world. So you’ve picked the right place to reproduce. And just for good measure, here is our list of things foreign children love about living in the Netherlands as well.   More >


It’s party time south of the rivers: get ready for Carnaval

It’s party time south of the rivers: get ready for Carnaval

Soon the south of the Netherlands will be plunged into the mayhem that is Carnaval, the feast that traditionally preceded the big fast at Lent. Here’s what you need to know should you decide to spend a couple of jolly days onder de grote rivieren (south of the big rivers) or any of the other, mainly Catholic, regions in the Netherlands where Carnaval is king. 1 Carnaval is a moveable feast. This year the festivities will kick off on February 7 and end two days later, on February 9 - the day before Ash Wednesday. Preparations start on the 11th of the 11th, at 11:11 - 11 being the fool’s number in the Netherlands. 2 If you plan to go off and celebrate, there is no use consulting your NS train schedule because the names of many towns change for the period. Den Bosch becomes Oeteldonk; Bergen op Zoom Krabbegat and Tilburg Kruikenstad. The northern cities are making an effort to join in the fun but calling Den Haag Kreesiedentie seems a tad contrived. 3 Amsterdam deserves a separate entry: it will have a Carnaval name for the first time this year. Thanks to a group of Brabanders living in the capital, Amsterdam will go by the name of Gròòtgragtegat, meaning something like a big place full of canals. 4 Every town has a Raad van Elf (the number, not the pixie) and a Prins Carnaval. Eleven men (DN found only one Carnaval organisation that stipulated that both men and women could apply for the job) are given the important job of monitoring the festivities. The prince, often an important or well-known inhabitant of the town- is master of ceremonies. 5 The Dutch carnival optochten, or parades, often take the mick out of of local or national politicians. Politics is spilling over into the festivities in another way this year: in Maastricht, it would be appreciated if you didn’t turn up wearing terrorist garb. Not surprisingly considering the climate, Dutch parades do not feature many scantily clad nubile dancers in glittery costumes as they do in Brazil or the Caribbean. 6 Ok, so carnival is much more than the annual totally-out-of-your-skull-continuous-bender, as envious and non-jolly northeners like to portray it. Nevertheless, a lot of beer is consumed. According to a poll from 2012, on average Limburgers drank almost 36 glasses of beer in 2.6 days (around twice the amount consumed by more abstemious revellers in Flevoland). Of those who came down to celebrate from 'above the rivers', 28% were off work ill on Monday. 7 A charming if incomprehensible carnaval tradition is the beer barrel speaker. Tonproater, sauwelaar, ouwoer or buuttereedner - you will not understand a word as these discourses from the beer barrel are delivered in the local dialect. While the locals are falling about laughing you can slink away to the nearest barrel that actually contains beer. 8 You would think that carnaval with its ancient roots would have pride of place on the Unesco cultural heritage list. But the Brabanders, for one, are not keen. The Brabant Carnaval Federation fears the festivities might attract tourists from abroad. ‘This isn’t Volendam’, its chairman has said. 9 Even the way people say hello changes at carnival. You say alááf and if you’re really brave you’ll accompany the word with the appropriate gesture: you move the fingertips of you right hand to your left temple (with the back of your hand facing your face, otherwise it will look as if you have an itch). Alaaf is said to derive from elf (eleven) or alle ab, which is German for tables and chairs against the wall, we’re having a party! 10 On your wanderings from bar to bar you will often encounter a dweilorkest, or roaming-the-streets-under-the-influence band. These will play carnavalskrakers, silly songs written especially for carnaval, such as this, and other jolly tunes. Alaaf!  More >


10 Great Things To Do In February

10 Great Things To Do In February

From the latest film from the Coen brothers and a major celebration of Karel Appel to all the latest designs and gadgets for your home, here's our pick of the best things to do in February. Celebrate a modern master Karel Appel (1921-2006) is perhaps the most renowned Dutch artist of the latter half of the twentieth century and this major retrospective marks the tenth anniversary of his death. The 67 paintings, 12 sculptures and more than 60 drawings in the exhibition demonstrate that Appel was more than just a member of the Cobra movement. The show also revisits his early interest in Outsider Art, his wide-ranging stylistic experiments, and his highly individual – sometimes almost abstract – interpretation of traditional genres like the nude, the portrait and the urban or rural landscape. The exhibition is part of a wider international reappraisal of Karel Appel’s work during this anniversary year which also includes exhibitions in Paris, London and Washington. Gemeentemuseum, The Hague until May 16. www.gemeentemuseum.nl Improve your home and garden The Huishoudbeurs is the Dutch version of the Ideal Home Exhibition in London. Here you will find everything you could possibly want to improve your home and garden. There are the latest designs and gadgets for every space, from the kitchen to the bathroom and the basement to the attic, including how to make an outdoor room of your garden. In addition, there are tips on fashion and beauty and ideas on how to fill your free time. RAI, Amsterdam, February 20 to 28. www.huishoudbeurs.nl Go mad in Oeteldonk Carnival, the feast that preceeds the famine that is the fast at Lent, is a big deal in the south of the Netherlands where processions and street parties are the order of the day, towns are given special carnival names - Oeteldonk is Den Bosch - and ridiculous costumes are the order of the day. Check out our feature on February 1 for ten things you need to know about carnival. The northern provinces of the country have for years been immune to the charms of carnival but this year the usual half-hearted attempt to enthuse the northerners is given a boost by a number of Brabanders who live in Amsterdam. The capital now has its own carnival name, Gròòtgragtegat. All that's now missing are the processions. Nationwide but mainly in the south, February 7 to 9. Welcome the latest Coen brothers film Yes, that is George Clooney, once again forgetting any thoughts of dignity to appear in a film by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan. Hail, Caesar! is the Coens' latest offering and it will open the 66th Berlin International Film Festival on February 11. The film follows one day in the life of a studio fixer (Josh Brolin), who is presented with a host of problems to fix, including the kidnap of one of the studio's stars (Clooney). Also in the cast of this tale set in the Golden Age of Hollywood are Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum. Cinemas nationwide, February 18 onwards. Cheer on top tennis players Top international players compete in the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament. Among those already scheduled to play are Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev, and Dutch players Robin Haase and Thiemo de Bakker. The tournament also offers special entertainment on Ladies' Day, Kids' Day and Family Day. Ahoy, Rotterdam, February 8 to 14. www.abnamrowtt.nl Listen to gorgeous music The Netherlands Bach Society performs several versions of the Sabat Mater, the hymn to Mary, mother of Jesus, including that by Domenico Scarlatti for ten voices and the famous Miserere by Allegri. The conductor is Jos van Veldhoven. Concertzaal, Tilburg, February 18; Nieuwe Kerk, The Hague, February 19; Grote Kerk, Naarden, February 21 (matinee). www.bachvereniging.nl Treat yourself to an eclair A stroll along the IJ passage at Amsterdam Centraal Station reveals that eclairs are not necessarily just choux pastry filled with cream and topped off with chocolate. The eclairs at the recently opened Le Clair come in tastes ranging from the sweet - such as mango and passion fruit and salted caramel and coffee - to the savoury - including smoked salmon and hot dog. Le Clair, Amsterdam CS, IJ passage Enjoy ultra modern dance Modern dance company Conny Janssen Danst performs two works in one programme. The first is I'm Here (2005) in which ten urban characters are in search of love, warmth and recognition. The photographs and film images which create the background are by Carel van Hees. The second piece is Álbum Familiar (2001), with three women and four men meeting at a portrait gallery. It is danced to new music performed live by Beppe Costa. Posthuistheater, Heerenveen, February 3; De Flint, Amersfoort, February 5; Chassé Theater, Breda, February 13; Schouwburg, Leiden, February 17; Stadsschouwburg, Groningen, February 18; Schouwburg, Amstelveen, February 19; Schouwburg, Rotterdam, February 26 and 27. www.connyjanssendanst.nl Watch Sherlock take on Hamlet Another chance to see Benedict Cumberbatch - BBC tv's Sherlock Holmes - take on the title role in Shakespeare's great tragedy. It was directed by Lyndsey Turner (Posh, Chimerica) for a 12-week run at the Barbican in London last October and streamed into cinemas around the world. This monumental production was the fastest-selling show in London theatre history and gained fine reviews for Cumberbatch's swaggering yet touching performance. Pathé Tuschinski cinema, Amsterdam, February 23. www.pathe.nl Hear how wars could be avoided Joris Voorhoeve, professor of International Organisations at Leiden University and lecturer in Peace, Justice and Security at the Hague University of Applied Sciences, begins a series of lectures in February in which he searches for the best possible answers and practical policies which should help to avoid war or end ongoing wars to prevent further bloodshed. Voorhoeve was Dutch defence minister during the Srebrenica affair of 1995. Lecture titles include: Recent Wars, Civil Wars and Peace Operations (February 25); The Various Causes of Armed Conflicts; their Victims and Damage (March 10); The Possibilities to Intervene and the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (March 24); The Foreseeable Conflict Trends in the 21st Century (April 7); and Building Structures for Peaceful Settlement of Conflicts (April 21).  Maastricht University, Student Services Centre. www.sg.unimaas.nl  More >


Dutch start-up develops secure instant messaging for doctors

Dutch start-up develops secure instant messaging for doctors

A Dutch tech start-up is looking to hit it big with a doctors-only communications app which, it says, combines the benefits of Linkedin and Whatsapp in one secure instant messaging tool. MDLinking.com aims to connect millions of healthcare professionals worldwide so they can share information in a private and secure environment, without worrying whether it is being viewed by others or even used for commercial purposes. The idea for a secure communication platform for doctors came from Dutch vascular surgeon Hans Flu, who realised that existing tools had too many constraints and major security issues. Privacy ‘Doctors should be able to use communication platforms such as LinkedIn or Whatsapp in their professional lives, but unfortunately that is not really the case,’ says Flu. ‘These communication tools are not developed for doctors and as such do not offer the specific features that doctors need. The second problem is privacy. Existing communication tools are not secure with regards to patient privacy.’ According to recent research involving over 2,000 doctors and 4,000 nurses in London, almost all doctors and around half of nurses found their smartphone to be ‘very useful’ or ‘useful’ in helping them to perform their clinical duties. In practice, 90% of doctors and 67% of nurses who owned medical apps were using these as part of their clinical practice, the report in the British Medical Journal said. 'These results provide strong evidence that healthcare organisations need to develop policies to support the safe and secure use of digital technologies in the workplace and that strategies are needed to secure further innovations in digital health,' the researchers from Imperial College London concluded. Mission Flu has since quit the medical profession to focus purely on his idea. ‘I have made it my mission to connect healthcare professionals across the planet,’ he says. ‘Doctors learn from doctors. That is how it works. Our tool allows healthcare professionals who have never met to connect and share their knowledge in a totally secure environment.’ At the end of last year it emerged that a number of medical websites in the Netherlands, including some run by some hospitals and doctors, were passing on information about visitors’ online behaviour to commercial companies. 'This scandal shows the importance of privacy issues in healthcare information,’ says Flu. ‘Hospitals, medical societies and doctors should never get mixed up with deals which could compromise patient details for profit. The main goal should be providing evidence-based quality of care, and not damaging the confidence of the patients in the healthcare system.’ The MDLinking app is free for all healthcare professionals to use. The company itself, which is independent and has no exclusive ties to the pharmaceuticals or medical technology industries, is self sufficient for the time being and is looking at possible future revenue models, including paid-for special features, as well as recruitment and publishing. At the same time, the company has already won initial backing from several wealthy private individuals in the Netherlands and abroad. ‘Having been involved in the early days of Booking.com was fantastic, but being involved in the early days of MDLinking.com is much more rewarding,’ says Alec Behrens, one of the co-founders of Booking.com which grew from a tiny Dutch start-up to a global company valued at $60 billion. ‘I have no doubt that MDLinking will save thousands of lives.’ Challenges Flu has put together an advisory board made up of over 100 doctors across the globe and together they developed the concept. The beta version of MDLinking was rolled out last year and healthcare professionals from across Europe, Asia, Africa and the US have already starting using the tool in a test environment. ‘I think there is a great future for a platform like MDLinking,’ says professor Nageshwar Reddy from the Asian Institute of Gastroenterology in Hyderabad, India, who has supported the project from the beginning. Meanwhile, the Amsterdam-based team is continuing to invest time, money and energy in developing the technology and expanding the e-learning library. 'We know we are on the right track, but at the same time we realise we still have a long way to go,' says Flu. ‘Doctors all over the world know they need to connect and share their knowledge. And they need to do it in a secure environment. That is exactly what we are providing them with.'  More >


Taking the integration test: how do you deal with a noisy party next door?

Taking the integration test: how do you deal with a noisy party next door?

In the final part of his series on the formal Dutch integration process, Brandon Hartley visits an examination centre and looks at suggestions from people who have gone through the process on how it could be improved. Part 3: The Future Some who have gone through the inburgering process have welcomed the opportunity to become better acquainted with the Netherlands and to learn its language in a formal setting. For others, it has been an overpriced, ineffective and even humiliating experience. But whatever happens, the process is unlikely to be phased out or substantially reformed in the near future. The arrival of thousands of immigrants from Syria and Iraq has again focused attention on how the Netherlands absorbs its new arrivals. Meanwhile, xenophobic groups across Europe are ramping up efforts to ‘strike back’ with demonstrations. Here in the Netherlands, the government has been struggling to come up with solutions, while Geert Wilders, the controversial leader of the PVV who’s currently awaiting trial on charges of hate speech, continues to rise in popularity. Norms and values No Dutch party queries the need for integration courses and compulsory language lessons. Indeed, the government is pressing ahead with its plans to ask all new arrivals to sign a 'participation declaration', pledging to uphold Dutch norms and values and participate fully in society. ‘The Dutch government and parliament are already discovering that the sky is not the limit in how they can treat non-EU citizen immigrants,’ said Jeremy Bierbach, a lawyer currently working on a court case involving two long-time residents who are refusing to take the integration exam. ‘They are increasingly limited by EU law. In EU law, one of the core principles is called "proportionality". Integration requirements are perfectly OK to achieve certain goals, but they can't go beyond what is absolutely necessary.’ Given recent additions, like the ‘Orientation on the Dutch Labour Market’ section, there’s also the question of what could possibly be added to the already overstuffed exam programme. ‘[The programme] is already pretty damn strict, so I think it's about reached its limit,’ Bierbach said. ‘Besides, it's already clear that by making people answer multiple choice questions about what the proper way to behave is in certain social situations, you're not actually changing their mentality. You're just forcing them to learn to regurgitate what the authors of the test want to hear.’ Taking the test So what about the test itself? It’s a few days before Christmas and there are many unhappy faces inside the inburgering test centre in Rijswijk. A stern-faced clerk quickly rattles off a series of rules to a perplexed test-taker. He’s extraordinarily reluctant to repeat them or slow down. Meanwhile, a computerised coffee machine in the adjacent waiting room conveniently offers instructions in both English and Dutch. A cheerful Christmas tree in the corner can’t brighten the spirits of those waiting to take the ‘Knowledge of Dutch Society’ portion of the exam. Some test-takers are nervously tapping their feet or going over their notes one last time. A middle-aged man stares into space while listening to Dutch lessons on an mp3 player and quietly repeats various phrases under his breath. A jittery young man who has come to take the test with his girlfriend looks like he’s about to vomit. A moderator eventually ushers the test-takers into an examination room lined with kiosks, each one with a pair of headphones and a computer. Mirrored spheres posted on walls around the room obscure security cameras pointed in various directions. After signing a form and showing their identification, each test-taker is led to a kiosk. The computer screens feature a peculiar photo of four people sitting in front of a tulip field. Each one of them has their back turned. Quick fire questions After the moderator goes over the rules, the test begins. The test-takers are given 45 minutes to answer 42 questions. Before each section, they must watch a 30-60 second video scenario followed by further audio instructions. The automated test then quickly 'speaks' each question and all three potential answers. After watching the video and hearing the instructions, test-takers only have a few seconds to click on an answer. If they miss a detail and try to go back, the test’s  interface will start playing multiple bits of audio at once. There are some who can’t keep up with the frantic and unforgiving pace. Then there’s the questions themselves, many of which are entirely subjective and have multiple answers all of which are arguably correct. Party In one scenario, a garbage man gets a mysterious headache during his work day. The test asks if he should go to an emergency room, his doctor or make do with some paracetamol instead. In another, a frustrated apartment dweller frets over how she should deal with a loud party next door. The potential answers: ‘call the police’, ‘ask when the party will be over’ or ‘tell the neighbours to turn their music down’. The test also still contains the oft-discussed ‘what do you do if you see two men kissing?’ question. The potential answers for this one: ‘call the police’, ‘ignore them’ or ‘tell them to go home’. Almost all of the videos feature Middle Eastern or African actors. It’s hard to leave the examination room without feeling like the ‘Knowledge of Dutch Society’ portion of inburgeren is primarily geared towards these particular subsets of the Netherlands’ immigrant population. 'The exams are so racist - I was truly shocked,' says American national Anne.  'Every person who does something crazy is a non-white person with a non-Dutch name - Mohammed beating his son, Abdhi getting very angry at the doctor (to the point of yelling), Aarifah not taking her medication, or, worst of all, a non-white Muslim-looking man saying the Holocaust wasn’t really that terrible. 'Every person who needs to be taught a lesson or have something “explained” to them was a non-white person. Every person in a position of power (like the boss or the doctor) was white.' Moving forward So how can the integration programme be made more relevant to more of the immigrants who are required to go through it? ‘I don’t know what the answer is. Perhaps split it off into two separate groups somehow?' says American national Pamela, who passed the test in 2014 and is now a Dutch citizen. 'Perhaps everyone has to take an entrance exam to gauge how much they know of the language and culture, with additional points if they have a job already. Or let people that actually have jobs and meaningfully contribute to society have a pass until they no longer have a job contract or apply for welfare benefits (bijstand). 'And, of course, if they want to keep the current system, they need to make it more human. Instead of "rules are rules’’ on not being able to pass the speaking test via the computer, give people a reasonably priced option to have a human evaluator. The "one size fits all" approach pisses people off and makes them hate the process.’ People who claim welfare benefits must now learn Dutch, if they don't already speak it, to a reasonable level. Optional ‘First of all, the exams need to not be overly difficult and only cover the Dutch language,' says Philip, who has lived in the Netherlands for 25 years and refuses to take the test.  'In most cases they should be optional but, for example, could be mandatory for naturalisation, some university programmes and some forms of employment. 'The costs for exams, classes and study materials need to be significantly reduced or offered for free. People learning Dutch often have very different backgrounds, ranging from not being able to read or write in any language to being university educated. Classes need to be made available that are suitable for the people taking them. 'Learning Dutch needs to be thought of as a lifelong learning process for most people, and integrated into an entire programme of lifelong learning and community development that includes Dutch people too.’ Worthwhile ‘I strongly believe that inburgering is a worthwhile programme,' says Rita, who moved to the Netherlands from Jamaica in 2013. 'I don't think it is too much to ask that immigrants learn the language and about the culture of their new country. I would not change a thing about it as I consider the requirement quite fair. Learning the language and as much as possible about the culture is the best way to be able to get along in any country. I think it is also only polite.’ Cultural focus ‘I think it should be completely overhauled,' says Roger, who passed the test in 2013.  'If you want to live here in Holland, the language plays a big part, but are you going to learn the language in a once or twice a week class for six months or a year? 'I don’t think you’re going to learn Dutch in a couple of hours a week in a class. I work and was working full-time back then and you’re expected to do a lot of homework. That’s fair enough but your job is going to come first. 'I would overhaul the programme in terms of what living here means, still with a strong emphasis on language lessons, but with the expectation that people aren’t going to learn a language in a short period of time. I would focus more on the cultural part.’ Relevancy ‘I think it's a good idea which is executed terribly poorly,' says lawyer Jeremy Bierbach 'In particular, expats, by which people generally seem to mean English-speaking migrants from rich countries, could do with more integration in Dutch society for their own happiness. 'Yes, you can live here for 20 years speaking only English, but then your interaction with Dutch people becomes limited to just superficial transactions. I think it would be nice if the government funded a form of education that inspired people to really learn Dutch rather than just go through the motions.’ The names of the foreign nationals in this article have been changed. If you have been through the integration process, we would welcome your comments. Read the previous entries in this series here: Part 1: How to be a good citizen Part 2: Going Dutch  More >


How to feel at home in The Hague: the city hall fair is back

How to feel at home in The Hague: the city hall fair is back

Ten years ago, Englishman Billy Allwood launched the first edition of the Feel at Home in The Hague fair – an event where the city’s businesses and expat organisations could profile themselves to the international community. Now, after a break of nearly two years, the fair is back home in the huge glass atrium of The Hague’s city hall. ‘Even in the internet age, there is still a need for the international community to physically meet and connect,’ says Allwood. ‘The fair is the place where the city’s international community shares knowledge and the secrets behind making the most of their time here, whether it be a few months or many years.’ Petroleum Wives An outsider would probably be amazed to discover just how many clubs and societies the international community operates - from the St Andrews Society to volunteer organisation Access and the grandly named Petroleum Wives Club. In total, 60 sports, social and community groups will have a presence at this year's fair, which takes place on Sunday 31 January. They will be joined by small businesses and expat service providers - taking the total number of exhibitors to 140. New this year is the Innovation Quarter with ideas and inspiration for young entrepreneurs. There is also a seminar programme providing useful information about living and working in the Netherlands, including presentations on buying a house. Sumo wrestling Outside city hall there will be activities organised by the Uithof, including a snow park, trampolines, a bungee run and sumo wrestling. Centre stage will be a fun five-a-side human table football tournament in which companies are invited to enter teams. ‘A lot has changed since the first fair way back in 2006,’ says Allwood. ‘Social media was in its infancy and most sports, social and community groups had no internet access.’ ‘In those days, people were just happy to come and gather information and go home with a stack of leaflets. Today, the fair is more about having a fun day out, and celebrating why we feel so at home in The Hague.’ Entry to the event is free if you pre-register and you can sign up for tickets online.  More >


Going Dutch: The past, present and future of inburgeren, part 2

Going Dutch: The past, present and future of inburgeren, part 2

The second in Brandon Hartley's three-part series on inburgering deals with the experiences of several people who have recently gone through the process and finds out that formal integration courses are not compulsory at all. Part 2: The Present Philip has a predicament. He and his wife Beverly are both from America and they’re currently facing the possibility of being fined if they don’t take the inburgering exams even though they’ve been living in Amsterdam since 1990. Philip received his first letter from the city in 2011 and he was shocked. A letter for his wife arrived shortly thereafter. Their situation isn’t unusual and others like them have also been contacted. Following an outcry fueled by a 2010 article in the Parool newspaper about how several high-profile residents were facing the exams, Amsterdam officials vowed to turn their attention to ‘new arrivals’ instead of long-timers. But Philip and Beverly’s problem suggests otherwise. After paying a €100 fee and then being threatened with a second €200 fine if he didn’t comply, Philip finally opted to challenge the requirement in July 2015. ‘The [council's] response was very politely written,’ Philip said. ‘It basically said they have followed the procedures they are required to by law and they don't know about anything else in my letter. I still had to pay the fine.’ It’s now 2016. Both Philip and Beverly have no plans to go through inburgering, despite the possibility of additional financial penalties.  ‘After living here for 25 years I've become used to these sorts of things, which come and go,’ Philip said. ‘I think it's more their problem than mine, makes the government look dumb and weak and will just go away eventually. I am certainly considering possibilities for a court challenge, but mostly I plan to ignore it.’ Legal challenges The courts are already involved. Last spring the European Court of Justice looked at two cases, brought by an American and a New Zealand national, who asked for an exemption on the grounds they have long-term residency permits. ‘Through having that status, which was granted on the basis of EU law, they came under the protection of EU law and its provisions about how long-term resident non-EU citizens have to be treated,’ their lawyer Jeremy Bierbach said. ‘This is why the Court of Justice of the European Union had something to say about it.’ In a ruling delivered last June, the court opted not to create the exemption but ordered Dutch officials to reconsider the costs of fines for long-term resident permit holders who neglect to take the exam. At the time of this writing, this has yet to happen. Confusion Who exactly is required to go through inburgering, as well as standards for exemptions and how they’re evaluated, remains a tangled web of confusion and misinformation. Roughly speaking, anyone planning to move to the Netherlands for a long period of time, unless they are from Europe or Turkey, have to get some sort of certificate. However, what they have to do and where they have to take the tests varies greatly. Periodic updates to the exam’s requirements has only further muddied the waters. Among the latest changes is the addition of an entirely new version of the test for immigrants from certain countries called the Basic Civic Integration Examination that must be completed prior to their arrival in the Netherlands. Knowledge of society Meanwhile, as of January 1 2015, more traditional recent transplants who opt for the Dutch as a Second Language state exam must also pass the highly controversial ‘Knowledge of Dutch Society’ section and a new sixth section. Dubbed ‘Orientation on the Dutch Labour Market’, it requires test takers to complete a series of assignments and mail them to moderators at Duo, the government agency that oversees the programme. According to the official government website for inburgering, if the moderators determine that these assignments have been ‘done properly’, they’ll be invited for a 40-minute ‘conversation’ at a test centre. If everything goes well during this chat, test takers will have successfully completed this portion of the process. American Ivy League school graduate Anne told DutchNews.nl: 'This required me to fill out job applications at Albert Heijn and Hema (to prove I know how to fill out an application), even though the work I do is at a highly-skilled level.' Formal classes Currently, over 100 educational centres in the Netherlands offer preparatory classes for inburgering. Since January 2013, the government has stopped paying for the courses and offered loans to potential students instead. Making matters worse, many people automatically assume that they *must* take the classes. ‘The legal requirement is simply to take and pass the centrally administered exam. How you prepare for it is up to you,’ Bierbach said. ‘People think they have to take the specific courses that are offered to them and then they start taking these horribly condescending classes. As one client of mine put it: "if you're a woman, they assume you'll be at home making babies; if you're a man, they assume you'll get a job as a cleaner".’ Depending on an individual’s language skills and educational background, preparing for the exams by taking classes can take anywhere from a few months to three or more years. The costs of tuition can range anywhere from €300 to upwards of €5,000 (while taking all six current portions of the exam runs to an additional €350). 'Since January 2013, new arrivals are responsible for their own integration,' says social affairs ministry spokesman Ivar Noordenbos. 'So they pay for their own course.' The website Blik op Werk, a quality control label for companies geared towards helping people find work, has a list of integration schools, including a break-down of courses suitable for people with higher levels of education, Noordenbos points out. Quality Nevertheless, the quality of these classes has been called into question by many of those who have taken them. Rita, who moved to the Netherlands from Jamaica in 2013, began preparing for the exams shortly after her arrival. She signed up for a 10-month course  in Utrecht. ‘In my group of about 15 students there were people who have been living here for years as well as newcomers, such as I,’ she said. ‘Every student was at a different level, with varying levels of competency.’ After passing all but the listening test, Rita decided not to continue. ‘I was not very impressed with the coordination and management, so I prepared at home with my husband's help,’ she said. ‘In June of 2015, I again sat for the listening test and passed.’ Relationships Roger, an American who lives in Weesp, signed up for a course to prepare for the exams in 2011. ‘I’ve lived here for a while and I’m married to a Dutch woman. I feel quite assimilated into the culture,’ Roger said. ‘The holidays, the way of life, all that good stuff. The course was really geared towards people from northern Africa. It was very focused on male and female relationships, stuff like "the man does not rule the household" for example.’ Despite being frustrated with the course’s emphasis on educating its students on cultural differences instead of devoting more attention to language and grammar lessons, Roger managed to get through each portion of the exam in 2013. Looking back, Rita stated that her experience with the exams wasn’t so bad. ‘I strongly believe that inburgering is a worthwhile programme,’ she said. ‘I don't think it is too much to ask that immigrants learn the language and about the culture of their new country.’ Roger’s opinion isn’t so sunny. ‘When I took the exams themselves I had three questions about light bulbs. Another question was "Hey, you’re a woman and you want to get a job. Your husband doesn’t want you to. What do you do?’’' he said. ‘Nothing on culture, nothing on Dutch holidays, nothing on food, nothing on the way of life of the average Dutch person... In my opinion, [it was] a total waste of time.’ Please note: The names of all interviewees have been changed Part 3 will include a visit a test centre and reveal what it’s like to take the exam. It will also look at the future of inburgering and what might be done to improve various aspects of the programme. Publication date: January 22.   More >


Housing corporation Rochdale boosts flat sharing by friends

Housing corporation Rochdale boosts flat sharing by friends

Think you can’t afford to share a place with friends in Amsterdam and its surrounding towns? Think again. Housing corporation Rochdale has set up a system to help youngsters rent a place without needing huge deposits and massive salaries. It has never been harder to find a roof over your head in and around Amsterdam, particularly if you are new to the country and not exactly earning a huge salary. That is why housing corporation Rochdale has worked out a way to enable a group of friends to share a property with a proper contract and without being ripped off. The Friends contract works like this. You get together with your mates – the contract can be signed by up to three people – and get in touch with Rochdale by email. Explain what you are looking for and Rochdale’s experts will do the rest. Be aware, the properties are unfurnished without kitchen equipment. What do you need? A European passport or a residency permit, a job and a guarantor - your parents if they live in the Netherlands. If you don’t have a guarantor, you will need to come up with a deposit of three months' rent. There is no age limit and the combined salaries of your group have to add up to three times the rent of the property – this means we know you can afford the rent. Most of our Friends properties cost around €1,000 a month so even if you are all earning the minimum wage, you’ll be eligible. You do, of course, also need a healthy dose of realism. You won’t end up paying €300 for a fancy pad in the city centre. But you could end up sharing a house with garden in the Tuinsteden outside the ring road or a large modern flat with open views over the countryside in Noord. And don’t forget the commuter towns of Zaandam and Purmerend, with great public transport links to the city centre (just 15 minutes by train). The houses here are also bigger and cheaper so you get more home for your money. How long will it take? It really depends on how picky you are and how long you are prepared to wait. Not every house is suitable to be shared. We won’t, for example, put a group of 20-somethings in a complex where almost everyone else is over the age of 60. But if you have a look at Rooftrack and look for the Rochdale homes, you get an idea of the kind of properties we have. Why are we doing this? Because Rochdale is a social housing provider and we are charged with helping those on low incomes find somewhere decent and affordable to live. That means everyone in Amsterdam, whether a city born native or a new arrival. We recognise that if you are young and new to the city, there is no way you will qualify for social housing. So our Friends contract allows you to share a more expensive vrijsector home and split the rent between you. This means, say, a €1,000 a month apartment with three bedrooms will cost you €330 a month each plus bills. ‘Our job as a housing corporation is to help all Amsterdammers find somewhere to live, and that includes new arrivals and young people,’ says Rochdale director Hester van Buren. ‘The Friends contract is all about making this possible.’ If you think renting a Friends home via Rochdale sounds like the thing for you, you can either fill in the website form (in English) or email info@rochdale.nl.  More >


How to be a good citizen: the past, present and future of ‘inburgeren’

How to be a good citizen: the past, present and future of ‘inburgeren’

The controversial integration exam has filled the hearts of many immigrants with dread since it came into effect in 2007. With its changing requirements, strange exemptions and even stranger test questions, even government officials across the Netherlands have a hard time keeping track of its various components. In this three part series, Brandon Hartley takes a look at the history of inburgering, shares the experiences of several immigrants who have grappled with the exam’s requirements and presents their suggestions for revising the programme to improve the process for exam takers and administrators alike. Part 1: The Past On the evening of the May 6 2002, Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn stepped out of a radio station in Hilversum after completing an interview and was shot dead by activist Volkert van der Graaf. The murder sent shockwaves across the entire country. Fortuyn, who was in the middle of an election campaign, had earned a controversial reputation for his outspoken views, especially on the topic of Islam. Two years later, Dutch filmmaker and popular television personality Theo van Gogh was stabbed to death by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim while cycling to his office in Amsterdam. The ripple effects of these murders is hard to completely calculate but the wave of xenophobia they ignited among certain segments of the electorate propelled populist sentiment. There was a lot of soul-searching about the way some immigrant groups kept to themselves, about Islam, and, most of all, about upholding Dutch values and society. Immigration minister Rita Verdonk was quick to capitalise on the mood and brought in a new integration exam for immigrants. Inburgeren was born. Problems From the beginning of 2007, most immigrants to the Netherlands had to take tests that covered understanding, reading and speaking Dutch abilities as well as a fourth very controversial component intended to judge whether or not they knew enough about Dutch culture and customs. Dubbed kennis Nederlandse samenleving (knowledge of Dutch society), the course and subsequent exam received a significant amount of criticism. Native Dutch people flunked the test on national television. Others questioned its relevance. One of the most often cited questions that was subjected to scrutiny was ‘what do you do with fat after making French fries?’ Few were able to correctly identify what the exam writers thought was the correct answer. Instead of containing conventional questions about the Dutch monarchy or the Netherlands’ system of government, this portion of the exam contained strange questions regarding everything from housing rights for single mothers to ‘what to do if you see two men kissing?’ Within a few years, many began calling for inburgeren to be overhauled or done away with entirely, especially since it was far more complex and demanding than similar integration exams in other European countries. The requirements were also considered confusing. It was difficult to keep track of exactly which immigrants needed to take the test and which didn’t. Exemptions were made for EU residents, the spouses of Dutch natives, Turks and people who came to the Netherlands on highly skilled migrants schemes, among others. Short-sighted Local politicians and government workers, tasked with enforcing the exams and organising preparatory classes for immigrants in their municipalities, became increasingly vocal with their objections. In an opinion piece written for NRC in October of 2008, former Utrecht alderman Cees van Eijk outlined a list of grievances against the exams that included their short-sighted requirements and inability to properly test everyone from illiterate immigrants to highly-educated expats. The peculiar double standard about who needed to take the exams only further contributed to frustrations among bureaucrats and immigrants alike across the country. In the years that followed, the national government pulled funding for preparatory classes, placing a further financial burden on those required to take the exam. Today, immigrants can borrow the money to pay for the courses and tests. It is considered to be the responsibility of a good immigrant to integrate off their own bat. And Rita Verdonk, the politician primarily responsible for creating inburgeren? She retired from politics in 2011. One American’s experience Pamela, whose name has been changed, moved to the Netherlands from America to be with her Dutch boyfriend in 2005. Her experiences with inburgering offer a good look into the state of the exams during this period. In early 2007, after moving to Almere, she was contacted by the council and told to come to city hall to discuss going through the new programme. ‘I got a letter, while on a three week holiday, saying that if I didn’t show up for an inburgering intake, I’d have to pay a very large penalty,’ she said. ‘The appointment was the day I got back to my house. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy.’ At this meeting, Pamela was told she would have to take classes several times a week at a location an hour away from her workplace. She was on a one-year contract with her employer and working full time. ‘The lady helping me informed me that my boss couldn’t stop me since it was a legal obligation,’ Pamela recalled. ’I informed her that if I did this, my employer was guaranteed not to extend my contract and it was NOT worth it.’ Failure Concentrated on her career, Pamela managed to put off studying for the exams for several years until one day she was sent a letter demanding she come to the council to discuss her failure to inburger. ‘My husband called them to tell them I was in the US on business,’ she says. ’Their exact words were "she works?" This is actually the reaction I got from everyone in the process.’ Pamela finally got through the exam in early 2014 and later became a Dutch citizen. In addition to the time and effort it took to prepare for and go through inburgering, Pamela says that the entire process, including textbooks, classes, test fees and other expenses, wound up costing her around €8,000. ‘I think the final slap in the face was my Dutch naturalisation,’ she said ‘Not only was the booklet about the ceremony in English, Turkish and Arabic (thus proving that inburgering isn’t about actually having to learn Dutch), but the "gift" Almere gave me was an international cook book.’ Part two in this series will take a look at the present state of the exam and feature additional stories from three other immigrants. It is scheduled to appear on DutchNews on January 15. Part three will follow on January 22. If you would like to share your own experiences of the integration course, please use the comment section below, or email editor@dutchnews.nl  More >


How to be well insured in the Netherlands: in English

How to be well insured in the Netherlands: in English

New arrivals to the Netherlands are often surprised by the number of different insurance policies people have. But for the Dutch, having proper insurance for all eventualities is the sensible thing to do. Why the Dutch find insurance essential Being insured in the Netherlands is seen as common sense. We want to be well insured against a wide variety of situations. Suppose a faulty washing machine floods our apartment (or that of our downstairs neighbours). What if we accidently spill coffee over a tablet, either our own or somebody else’s? What if our child scratches the neighbours’ car? Maybe our home gets burgled or we hit someone with our car or bicycle. The Dutch know accidents do happen and we want to avoid unpleasant surprises. Our advice to new arrivals is: 'Do it like the Dutch'. Then you can rest easy, because we are one of the best insured nations in the world. Eight types of insurance in the Netherlands The average Dutch person has eight different insurance policies. That sounds a lot, but insurance is relatively cheap in the Netherlands and is compulsory in some instances. For example, everybody must have health insurance. And homeowners must have buildings insurance and car owners need car insurance. In addition, liability insurance and home contents insurance are considered essential and are not expensive. Good liability insurance, for example, costs only a few euros a month. And full home contents insurance is around €10 a month. Peace of mind 'We are very well insured and that gives us peace of mind,' say Dutch couple Karin and Michel de Vries. 'Our boys are always playing football and have been known to break someone’s window. Fortunately, we have good liability insurance. And of course we also have home contents insurance. If there’s a burglary, fire, storm or water damage, for example, then we’re covered. Our car is only a year old and so is insured all-risk. So whatever damage may be done, we won’t have any hassle.' 'Every summer we take the kids to France for three weeks and in the winter we go skiing in Austria. Our multi-trip travel insurance is ideal for this and it also covers our weekends away. Oh yes, we also have legal expenses insurance in case we get into a dispute with our employers or neighbours, and naturally we also have health insurance, but everyone must have that.' Indication of the costs for this family of four                                                              Monthly premium (€) Home contents insurance                              15.00 Legal expenses insurance                              17.50 Liability insurance                                             5.00 Multi-trip travel insurance                                15.00 All-risk car insurance                                       65.00 Total                                                           €117.50* * excl. mandatory health insurance So for a small sum you can insure yourself against what are sometimes sky-high costs. What insurance do you need? Take a look at abnamro.nl/well-insured, where you can also easily take out policies yourself. We hope you have an enjoyable and untroubled time in the Netherlands. And if you have any questions, our experts will gladly give you tailor-made advice, based on your personal situation. In English, of course. More information? Please visit abnamro.nl/well-insured to find out how to be well insured in the Netherlands. Or call 0900 – 8170 (you pay your usual call charges set by your telephone provider) or +31 10 – 241 1723 from outside the Netherlands. // // //   More >


Locating your bike, feeding the cat: Dutch start-up boosts the Internet of Things

Locating your bike, feeding the cat: Dutch start-up boosts the Internet of Things

At the end of last year, Dutch start-up The Things Network raised €295,000 through a crowdfunding campaign to launch an open, free and decentralised internet of things network. Esther O'Toole finds out more. Imagine a house in which the plants alert you when they need watering or your cat is automatically fed. Then take it wider, across your neighbourhood and your city. The Internet of Things is a network of physical objects, or things, which have been equipped with software, sensors and network connectivity. This enables them to collect and exchange data and improve the way they work, bringing greater efficiency and economic benefits. Philips The idea behind the Internet of Things (IoT) first came about in the 1990s when the board of Dutch electronics giant Philips, together with American innovators, coined the term ‘Ambient Intelligence’. Ambient Intelligence refers to electronic environments equipped with devices that are sensitive to the presence of people, can sense change and relay information to a base -  independent of human control. The theory went that the instruments themselves, working in chorus, would support a more convenient, efficient, life-enhancing world for humans; and become reality between 2010 and 2020. Last year Wieke Giezeman, a serial start-up entrepreneur, launched The Things Network. The aim: to set up an IoT communication network throughout Amsterdam. He laid out his plans for citywide coverage, set up by and for users, with LoRa Wan (Long Wave Radio) gateway boxes which the company would produce themselves at low cost. Much to his astonishment it was fully crowdfunded and operational within six weeks. ‘We did it because we can. We believe in an open and free internet,’ Giezeman said. ‘The hardware is cheap enough. With this anyone can set themselves up. You don’t even need coding skills.’ Vision of the Future LoRa Wan is the same kind of tech that telecoms giants such as KPN and Vodafone are hoping to exploit in order to profit from the need for a reliable IoT network. 'If we leave this task up to big telcos, a subscription model will be enforced and we will exclude 99% of the cool use cases,' says Giezeman. 'Instead, let's make it a publicly owned and free network so businesses and use cases will flourish on top of it.' ‘In future everything will be connected. A lot of data will be collected to make our lives better. It will allow service providers, of all sorts, to make their services cheaper and better for us, the consumers.’ Since the launch the idea has rapidly gone global. Over 20 cities (from Rotterdam, Eindhoven and Almere to Sao Paulo and Montevideo) are now taking part, 2,000 people are actively seeking to help, and 200 are specifically looking to set up their own local network. In November, The Things Network launched a second Kickstarter campaign to try and support global roll out.The main aim is to have a network in every major city by the end of 2016. From then on it will need to grow via local communities. They succeeded in raising €295,000, more  than €100,000 over their target. So, how does it work? IoT devices don’t need the constant internet access of your laptop. However, they do need consistent coverage, to be reliable in varied environments, safe from hacking and have long battery life in order to transfer data as and when they need to. ‘LoRa Wan has a range of up to 10 kilometres, low bandwidth and the battery use is very low. This is perfect for machine-to-machine communication,’ Giezeman explains. By producing their own hardware, he and his team have worked hard to make options for different budgets: starting with The Things Gateway, a €200 version, with a range of five kilometres, allowing citizen users to contribute to the network from their own home. Users have been quick to start using the network, designing tools that can link to it. As an Amsterdam-born idea it’s not surprising that these uses include intelligent sensors that alert you if your boat begins to take on rain water past a safe level for staying afloat. Or a device that locates your bike among the hoards of others parked outside the city's main railway station. Practical uses The city's port authority and successful sharing startup Peerby have also joined the enthusiastic user crowd. Outside cities, IoT trackers are already being used to monitor rhinos in the wild. In the home, uses could include remote thermostat, cctv or baby monitor control. Some of these are essentially familiar and perhaps don’t seem like such a breakthrough change from apps. However, Giezeman and IoT innovators like him are anticipating the next stage of development being where the IoT will really take flight. ‘When I talk to people outside tech, in operations for instance, within ten minutes almost everyone can think of new uses. You just need to think of how far digital tech has come in the last thirty years and try and project forward.’  More >