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Decoding the history and mysteries of the Dutch national anthem

Decoding the history and mysteries of the Dutch national anthem

Suggestions that the next government might make lessons about the Wilhelmus part of the Dutch school curriculum led to raised eyebrows and considerable criticism earlier this month. But then, as Ryan Walmsley reports, the world’s oldest national anthem is steeped in heritage, myths and misunderstandings. It’s the 1570s. Spain is in the midst of a golden age after conquering the mighty Incan and Aztec empires. Silver, gold and other treasures from the New World are flowing into the Spanish Hapsburg’s coffers through newly-opened oceanic trade routes. King Phillip II rules over a formidable and extensive global empire. But for Spanish interests in continental Europe, things are starting to unravel. Religious unrest, brewing in the Netherlands since 1566, led a famous nobleman named William of Orange to lead a revolt opposing the unbridled persecution of Calvinists and the inefficiencies of some Spanish governors. Against this background, and in ode to their leader, the world’s oldest national anthem Het Wilhelmus was penned. Although the genuine author is wrapped in mystery, Wilhelmus is written from the point of view of William. The structure is complex and symmetrical, with each stanza having a related partner on the other side: the first and last verses emphasise William’s loyalty, while the second and penultimate highlight religious devotion. The anthem is also an acrostic, meaning the beginning letter of each fifteen stanzas spell out the name William van Orange. First verse Since its official adoption in 1932, the length of the piece means that usually only the first verse is sung. A decade later, under Nazi occupation, the sixth verse was popularised by resisters, with the last two lines reading: 'And drive the plagues that try us, And tyranny away'. The anthem was adopted by all Dutch - even the anti-monarchist socialists - and helped to unify the nation. But Wilhelmus might hide a more chequered past. One legend asserts that during the gruesome torture of Balthasar Gérard, William’s assassin, guards sang the anthem to drown out his screams. Another rumour claims Dutch sailors, mocking the warning shots fired by their English counterparts, sang Wilhelmus during a tense encounter in the North Sea. Upon finishing, captain Maarten Tromp fired on the English flagship, beginning the first Anglo-Dutch War. Rumours aside, Wilhelmus has a long history of controversies and misunderstandings. The the first verse is often a cause for confusion, where William seemingly speaks of his German blood and professes his loyalty to the King of Spain. Why would the author, speaking as the father of the Dutch independence movement, want to highlight his loyalty to Phillip? The answer lies in the structure of society at the time and the ‘divine right of kings’ argues Jan Burgers, specialist in medieval history at the University of Amsterdam. Monarch's authority 'At that time, most people were convinced that society, as it is, was ordered by God’,  Burgers says. And so it was extremely uncommon to question a monarch's authority, as the King was 'set by God to reign the land, and to stand up against the King was felt by many as heretical’. Unlike today’s European monarchies, a ruler in those days held absolute, unquestionable authority. They were not accountable to any legal constitution, or anyone other than God. What’s more, a lot of the popular discontent centred on the incapable (and often oppressive) Spanish governors, rather than the King. By stressing William’s longstanding allegiance to Phillip, he effectively shifts the criticism onto the administrators, and does not question Philip’s ‘divine right’ - a highly unorthodox act. Another controversy concerns William’s origins. A direct translation of the original text refers to William as being ‘van Duitsen blood’. Today in the Netherlands, the word Duits is used to reference anything relating to Germany, and it can come as a shock to hear the narrator, the patriotic symbol of the Netherlands, speaking of his 'German blood'. However, this view rests on a historical misunderstanding of the word Duits, says Thijs Porck, lecturer in historical linguistics at the University of Leiden. German ‘Duits, as well as the English variant Dutch derive from a word that meant people or folk’, explains  Porck. Old English, along with Middle Dutch: 'are known as Germanic languages, and were spoken by the people who lived in North and Central Europe’. Anyone in this vast area not speaking Latin (which would have been almost everyone outside the Church), would be said to have used diu diutisca zunga, or ’the language of the Germanic people’. Porck says the confusion around William’s heritage is a recent development, as only in modern language has the meaning of Duits narrowed to refer exclusively to Germany. When the Wilhelmus was composed: 'the Dutch word Duits could have referred to Dutch, modern-day Germany, or simply of the people’. The historical context supports this argument. The nation we now know as ‘Germany’ would not exist for hundreds of years, and simply did not exist in the collective imagination of people at the time. During this period ‘Germany’ was a patchwork of loose, interconnected peoples and states. William would have been referring to a large stretch of territory including Central Europe, Denmark and the Netherlands. Amongst its most famous enigmas, the author of Wilhelmus is unknown and has always been fiercely debated. For years, many assumed it to be Philips of Marnix, the mayor of Antwerp and a close friend of the House of Orange-Nassau. The changing of certain vowels in order to pair them with others is, however, very different from the mayor's style of writing. Last year, the debate over the authorship of Wilhelmus was blown wide open by a team of Dutch researchers using advanced computer analysis techniques. ‘Our model is called the imposters method’ explains Mike Kestemont, a researcher on the project from the University of Antwerp. ‘This method for authorship verification will compare an anonymous document to a document written by a known author’, before comparing these findings with a large database of ‘imposter’ authors whose styles are similar to that of the Wilhelmus. From this, it is possible to build a statistical database of different writing styles used by each author, and check for similarities between these and the style of Wilhelmus. Things like word frequency, word patterns, and the frequency of conjunctions are all taken into account. After analysis, the findings presented a strong connection to a previously overlooked candidate - named Petrus Datheen. 'Petrus Datheen was a Calvinist theologian from the West of present-day Flanders’ says Kestemont. ‘He enjoyed good contacts with William of Orange’, and was present at the Siege of Chartres: ‘where he could have picked up the melody for the Wilhelmus’. Although it is unlikely we will ever know for sure, this new method has shown remarkable similarities between Datheen’s style and the anthem, far more than candidates posed by previous historians. Whoever the author, the text’s advocacy of religious liberty, and its symbolic meaning during Nazi occupation, stand as a testament to Dutch unity and multiculturalism. The recent discoveries show that the world’s oldest national anthem is an example of a core belief in Dutch culture: when an ancient society embraces new technologies, it can uncover important new ideas.  More >


Dutch food which has officially protected status within the EU

Dutch food which has officially protected status within the EU

You thought the Netherlands was all mashed potato dishes, cheese and herring when it comes to traditional food? But there are a fair few Dutch items on the EU's official lists - even if rather a lot are cheese. And just so you know what we are talking about,the EU logos PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) indicate region while TSG (Traditional Speciality Guaranteed) means the production process is as old as the hills. Hanneke Sannou has the the Dutch score. 1 Boeren-Leidse met sleutels (PDO). The sleutels, in case you are wondering are imprinted on the reddish rind of the cheese and refer to the keys of Saint Peter who is the patron saint of Leiden. The cheese, from the Leiden region and from the Leiden region only, is made from skimmed cow’s milk and therefore only has a 30% fat content. Available with or without cumin and said to go down very well with stewed rhubarb. 2 The Westlandse druif (PGI). This Dutch grape actually has its own theme park in the Westland area in the province of Zuid Holland. Anyone who’s ever flown into Schiphol at night will have seen the light given off by the green houses there which may very well have housed, at that very moment, a bumper crop of Westlandse druiven which by all accounts are sweet and delicious. 3 Brabantse Wal asparagus (PDO). Dutch white asparagus, also called ‘the white gold’ is grown in the area of Bergen op Zoom in Brabant. Apparently its unique flavour is a result of the pure groundwater that runs underneath the Kalmhoutse heath and the salty sea wind blowing in from Zeeland. With a buttery sauce and sprinkling of boiled egg, yes please. 4 Kanterkaas (PDO). This cheese comes from Friesland and the Westerkwartier, which is part of Groningen province. Made from cow’s milk it comes with either cloves or cumin. Its deliciousness is a result of a clean environment, the EU says, which leads to a superior type of grass and, presumably, contented cows happy to produce good milk. 5 The Opperdoezer Ronde (PDO) is a potato which can only be grown around the town of Opperdoes in the province of Noord-Holland. In spite of its knobbly, pale appearance it is a delicate flower of a potato with a thin skin which has to be harvested and sorted by hand. It has a relatively short growing time although it is no longer the ‘nine weeker’ it used to be 145 years ago. The Meerlander (PDO) is another protected potato, developed and grown in the Haarlemmermeer in Noord Holland. The taste, according to potato connoisseurs is ‘mildly velvety, somewhat dry but with a lot of body’. 6 Gouda Holland and Edam Holland (both PDO). We are lumping these two together because there are an awful lot of cheeses on the list and because these two had a battle on their hands with Germany which produces cheeses labelled Gouda and Edam as well. It took seven years for a solution to be found and it simply consisted of adding ‘Holland’ to the original Dutch, now protected, version. The Brexit negotiations will be shorter. Confusingly, the protected cheese platter also comprises Noord-Hollandse Gouda and Noord-Hollandse Edam. Not that it matters; it will all be eaten: the Dutch munch their way through 16 kilos of cheese a year. There’s also a Dutch goat’s cheese (PDO), made from milk from Dutch goats. 7 Jenever (PGI), or Dutch gin, can only be produced in the Netherlands and Belgium. The most popular drink during the 1960s and 70s, its consumption has now plummeted to record lows. The drink does not appeal to the young: the image of an elderly man gingerly bringing a kelkje filled to the brim to puckered lips is not the coolest in the land and the competition from drinks like vodka and British gin have further done for jenever. Producers are, however, trying to boost its image by introducing different flavoured jenevers. 8 Suikerstroop (TSG), a thick sugary syrup, is a traditional Dutch product used to put on sandwiches and pancakes. It also goes by the name of pannenkoekenstroop or simply stroop. Little Dutch children (and many an adult) like to write their names in stroop on their pancakes. 9 Basterdsuiker (TSG), a type of caster sugar has also made it onto the list; its production process is apparently unique to the Netherlands. ‘Basterd’ comes from ‘bastard’ as the stuff is made with a waste product of sugar production mixed with suikerstroop, sugar, glucose, fructose and a little acid. It dissolves easily and gives your apple pie a nice colour. 10 Hollandse Nieuwe, Hollandse maatjesharing (TSG). The Hollandse Nieuwe pickled herring was accorded protected status as well, not for being Dutch, which it isn’t, but for the way it’s processed. The young herring is gutted and salted but with the pancreas left in place. This organ contains an enzyme which allows the fish to ripen. Nieuwe herring is caught and sold between June 15 and September 30, after which it goes by the name of Hollandse maatjesharing.  More >


Eleven things you need to know about Dutch women’s football

With the Dutch women's team having won the European title for the first time in their history, here's a few key facts about female football in the Netherlands. 1 The first female team The first female team, the Oostzaanse Vrouwenvoetbal Vereeniging, emerged in 1924 but was soon side-lined by the Nederlandse Voetbalbond, the precursor of the KNVB, which was of the opinion that the role of women should be restricted to  that of ‘wife, mother or fiancée of football players’. 2 The national association In 1955 football-crazy women started their own league of 14 clubs while the KNVB pretended nothing was happening. More clubs joined who happily played each other in regional competitions. The number of female players had reached 5,500 by this time. It was not until 1971 that the KNVB finally admitted women’s football to the fold and 1973 before they played their first official international, losing 1-0 to England. 3 Over 150,000 players Last season the KNVB had 153,001 women and girls on its books, a rise of 4% compared to 2014/15. More than 2,000 of the country's football clubs have one or more female teams and pundits predict the European win will boost numbers even higher. Only England and Germany have more female players. 4 Going professional The women's Eredivisie was launched in 2007 and the title has been won by FC Twente for the past four years. Attempts to form a joint league with Belgium lasted for just three seasons. Currently eight clubs take part in the competition: Achilles '29, ADO Den Haag, Ajax, Heerenveen, PEC Zwolle, PSV, FC Twente and Telstar VVNH. Many of the top Dutch women play abroad. European championships star Lieke Martens, for example, left Limburg to follow football at the age of 15 and now plays for Barcelona. Jackie Groenen plays for Frankfurt and Shanice van de Sande plays for Liverpool. 5 The pay According to research cited by Trouw, 35% of female football internationals are not paid at all. Those who do make a living wage derive most of their income from sponsorships and endorsements. 6 National investment The nation that actually invests the most money in women’s football is England with some €15.8 million last year. The Netherlands comes second with a paltry €4.46 million while long-time favourites Germany do not make an appearance in the top three at all. 7 The prize money The prize money is certainly not much to write home about: the Dutch women will take a share of €8m in prize money for the European title. In the men's competition in 2016 the total prize pot amounted to €301m. 8 The coach The Dutch team was the only one of the final four in the competition with a female coach - Sarina Wiegman, a former international with 104 caps. She became national coach in January 2017 and led her team to European victory only a few months later. Her contract runs to 2019. 9 The final The 2017 European final was watched by a record numbers of television viewers in the Netherlands - an average of four million people watched the game, with peak moments of 5.5 million people tuning in. 10 A football pundit changes his mind Last but not least, Dutch women’s footie now has an unlikely advocate in football pundit Johan Derksen who always dismissed female players but who changed his mind when he watched a match involving American female soccer players. ‘I have to eat humble pie. That is tough. I now look like a dick because I always regarded football as an exclusively male sport,' he said in the Volkskrant. 'And now I have to admit women can play just as well. The time for laughing at women’s football is long gone.’ 11 What's next? The campaign to qualify for the 2019 World Cup in France kicks in October when Oranje take on Norway.  Slovakia and Ireland are next on the list.  More >


From pride to paper miracles: 11 great things to do in August

From pride to paper miracles: 11 great things to do in August

Spending your summer at home and looking for some tips for great days out? Here's some suggestions. Be proud The main event in August is Gay Pride or Pride Amsterdam, as it now inclusively styles itself. There are activities galore, such as the Drag queen Olympics and Bear Necessity (for extremely hairy men) with the Canal Parade on August 5 as an exuberant highlight. Until August 6, Amsterdam. Website Find love in Sloterpark On August 12 Amsterdam's Sloterpark becomes Loveland. The line-up includes Tale of Us, Ferro, Sad Girl and many, many others. Website Party on the beach The Northsea Summer Festival in coastal resort Katwijk aan Zee is a great family day out which combines music, activities like golf and fitness clinics, a Lego building competition and much more. Free. From August 4 to 12, Katwijk. Website   Check out some paper miracles The CODA Paper Art 2017 exhibition demonstrates the wondrous things artists can do with paper. Take Kumi Yamashita from Japan, for example. By tweaking sheets of paper she creates different shadow profiles projected against the wall. Here they are. Until October 29 in Apeldoorn. Website Enjoy glorious food The NDSM werf in trendy Amsterdam Noord is hosting Amsterdam Kookt, a four day food fest where you will be able to sample numerous culinary treats but also enjoy live music. And there is Karaoke (with Joke) for the brave. August 4 to 7, Amsterdam. Website Get fired up in Scheveningen The annual Scheveningen firework festival takes place over two weekends - 11/12 and 17/18 August - and this year eight countries are taking part in the competition to create the most spectacular firework displays out at sea. You can get a good view from a wide stretch of beach but get there early as the shows attract tens of thousands of people. Website Take in some culture The Amsterdamse Bostheater presents a tale of political intrigue, plots hatched in back rooms and thwarted ideals. No it's not the Dutch cabinet formation but Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, with actors Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen, Jip van den Dool, Erik van der Horst, Mattias Van De Vijver, Charlie-Chan Dagelet and Amarenske Haitsma. Until September 9. Website For the little ones, there's The Gruffalo by theatre company Meneer Monster. He has orange eyes, a tongue as black as liquorice and purple spines from top to tail. Spoiler: he's real. From August 15 Website Take a long walk August, when so many people are away, is a great time to get out an enjoy the Dutch countryside. We suggested these walks in the winter - but they are pretty good in the summer too. Marvel at Mongolia Some 145 precious objects from inner Mongolia, many of which were discovered in the last thirty years, made the journey to Assen to impress and awe once more. The nomadic Liao became a great power in Asia and the mostly funerary objects - ceramics, gold jewellery, gilded horse tack and silver plate- reflect their riches. The Great Liao - Nomadendynastie uit Binnen-Mongolië (907-1125) runs until October 29 at the Drents Museum in Assen Website Watch a film The World Cinema Festival has selected four films for its free open air programme this year. Esteban, Newton, Mawlana en Wallay (uit Cuba, India, Egypte en Burkina Faso/Frankrijk/Qatar) can be seen at the Vondelpark open air theatre in Amsterdam on August 12, 18 and  19 and at Marie Heinekenplein on August 23 and 26. On August 11 and 12, and this will be a rare treat, the films will be shown in the garden of the Royal Tropical Insitute (KIT). Website Watch another film For €5 a pop you can watch films in the open air at Rotterdam's Pleinbioscoop. The line up includes gems such as Manchester by the Sea (handkerchiefs at the ready), The Shining, Apocalypse Now, Buster Keaton Live and Get Out. From August 9 to 27 at Museumpark. You can bring your own chair or rent one for €1. Cats, dogs and parakeets are welcome too. Website  More >


Top blogs: From cartoon Englishmen to the best food in Amsterdam

Top blogs: From cartoon Englishmen to the best food in Amsterdam

When you move to a new country, there’s nothing like getting some good information from people who have done it before. In the past, you’d have to venture out of your house and actually meet people to get that sort of knowledge. But now, anyone can share their insider tips on the internet for all to read. Molly Quell compiled a list of her favourite Netherlands-based bloggers Invader Stu Invader Stu is one of the most famous of all of the Netherlands-based bloggers. Nearly every international here has seen his iconic red-headed cartoons. You might even own an ‘I survived a Dutch Circle Party' tee shirt. Intending to apply for a job within bus distance of London, Stuart Billinghurst accidently found himself in Amsterdam nearly twenty years ago. Now the Englishman has a Dutch wife, two children and has moved to Friesland. His most famous post might be the Dutch Circle Party Guide, but I rather like the Hair Dye Incident. Amsterdam Foodie Don’t venture out for food in Amsterdam without first consulting the Amsterdam Foodie, the moniker of food writer Vicky Hampton. The British-born blogger started her Amsterdam restaurant review site in 2007 and it's grown to a small, foodie empire. She’s got a cookbook and has now written food-related articles for The Guardian and Rough Guides. She’s even contributed a few pieces to DutchNews.nl, on Christmas restaurants and North African and Middle Eastern restaurants. My favourite post is only somewhat food-related: Toilet Humour: 10 of the Weirdest Bathroom Signs in Amsterdam Restaurants. Words For Press You might be more familiar with our very own Gordon Darroch from the Dutch News Podcast, but when he’s not making coalition-talk related puns, he’s got his own blog to attend to. The updates are infrequent but the writing is excellent. The Scottish journalist discusses topics in depth and has a focus on politics. His work on the coalition talks are a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what’s going on with Dutch government. 24 Oranges 24 Oranges is a group effort based in Amsterdam which wants you to know it is not an expat blog. Instead, it’s a website which covers funny, weird and quirky things about the Netherlands in English. Canadian DJ  Natasha Cloutier and Dutch web developer Branko Collin update regularly on topics ranging from local Dutch news (Cat stays stuck in tree over weekend) to the weird (Dutch man with fake Scottish accent). Amsterdive Amsterdive is what you get when someone with excellent aesthetic taste starts a blog. The blog is the brainchild of Ana V. Martins who describes herself as an actress who writes. The blog centres around her life in Amsterdam and focuses on arts and culture events and activities around the city. Her weekly events agendas are a great way to find something unique to do. But she also discusses her personals struggles with integration and being an international. We’ve recently featured her post The Good Old Language Struggle on the DutchNews.nl site. Turning Dutch British-born blogger Amanda van Mulligen has found herself turning Dutch and she’s writing about it all on her aptly named blogged Turning Dutch. The mum of three writes about her own experiences of living as an international in the Netherlands and she’s got a focus on parenting. She has a positive view on being a Dutch parent, as she outlines in this post from earlier this year called 10 Reasons To Love Being Knocked Up In The Netherlands. Stuff Dutch People Like And you can’t compile a list of your favourite Dutch bloggers without including Stuff Dutch People Like. The blog turned book turned turned spin off books is immensely popular. The content is written by Canadian Colleen Geske who has lived in Amsterdam since 2004. As the title indicates, the blog chronicles a humorous look at stuff that Dutch people like, from liquorice to home birth. Check out #51, which covers a topic that we can all agree on. You can check out more blogs in the Dutch News blog section. There’s a lot of really talented writers in the Netherlands, on everything from coffee to parents. And if you have a blog of your own, you can submit it to be included in our list.   More >


Eight Dutch scientists who changed the world

We'd suggest calling the following Dutch scientists 'clever clogs' if it wasn't so disrespectful. So we won't. But these eight theorists and inventors from the Netherlands made breakthroughs that shaped our modern world. Christiaan Huygens Christiaan Huygens (1629 -1695) was a mathematician, astronomer and physicist. Huygens formulated the wave theory of light, determined the shape of the rings of Saturn and contributed to the science of dynamics. Late in life he speculated about life on other planets, niftily sailing around the religious implications by saying that god, underestimating mankind’s scientific progress, had put the planets at such a distance from each other as to preclude any possibility of contact. Cornelis Drebbel Inventor Cornelis Drebbel (1572 – 1633) is credited with building the first working submarine. Drebbel was born in Alkmaar but moved to England in 1904. Some 20 years later he was asked by the English navy to design a boat which could move underwater without the loss of human life. Drebbel built a watertight vessel clad with leather, with holes for oars, also made watertight with leather. It could go down to five metres below and stay there for a couple of hours at a stretch. His final prototype could hold sixteen passengers, with oxygen supplied through a kind of snorkel device. Drebbel’s submarine was never used for military purposes, but he had taken the science of warfare to new depths. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) did all sorts of things not remotely connected with science and it wasn’t until he was 40 that he embarked on the career that would make him famous. Self-taught microbiologist Van Leeuwenhoek mastered the art of lens making and in 1674 he was able to observe single-celled life forms, a discovery which was met with disbelief. He also discovered bacteria in water and spermatozoa, and was the first to correctly describe red blood cells. He guarded the science behind his lenses jealously and never told anyone how he made them. Rogier Verbeek The first person to discover infrasound was Dutch mining engineer Rogier Verbeek (1845-1926). Infrasound is inaudible to human ears and includes anything up to 20Hz. Verbeek was given the task of analysing all the phenomena that occurred in the wake of the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883. When he looked at the barometric records he noticed a spike in pressure occurring at certain intervals. That spike was a sound wave that had travelled the circumference of the earth four times. Infrasound monitoring is used to detect nuclear testing but also has other scientific uses, such as detecting earthquakes or tracking the movement of icebergs. Willem Einthoven Dutch physician Willem Einthoven (1860 – 1927) developed the first instrument with which to register the electrical activity of the heart, the string galvanometer electrocardiograph. His apparatus was too bulky to take to the patient, so the patient had to go to it. That was deemed too great an effort and doctors feared patients might expire before the experiment could be conducted, but undaunted, Einthoven used a phone line to make the connection between the patient and his giant string galvanometer and got his readings that way. The invention earned him the Nobel prize for physiology and medicine in 1924. André Geim In 2010 André Geim (1958) (Russian by birth, Dutch by nationality) and his colleague Konstantin Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of graphene, a material with lots of properties – among them super-efficient conductivity – that make it fantastically useful for application in innovative electronics. Plastics combined with graphene turn into a material that is lightweight, pliable and extremely strong. Soon cars, planes and spacecraft will all contain graphene in some shape or form. Geim discovered graphene during his so-called ‘Friday night experiments’, a sort of scientific fooling around that, he said, ‘should take up 10% of one’s time at least’. During one such experiment in 2004 he pulled a piece of Scotch tape off the point of a pencil. The result was an ultra-thin layer of carbon: graphene. Jan Haartsen It’s used in billions of devices the world over but it hasn’t made Jaap Haartsen (1963), the Dutch inventor of Bluetooth, a penny. Haartsen invented the wireless connection between devices while working for Swedish company Ericsson in 1994. The patent, however, is in his name and Haartsen has been inducted in the American Hall of Fame, an honour he shares with Edison, the Wright brothers and Henry Ford. Desperate for a name, a harassed marketing department finally unearthed medieval ruler Harald Gormsson, nicknamed Bluetooth, presumably because walked around with a dead tooth in his mouth. Bluetooth unified Denmark and Norway much like the device that bears his name connects phones and computers. Or maybe the marketing department just liked the name. Ben Feringa Ben Feringa jointly won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2016 for his work in creating minuscule motors. The 65-year-old professor from the University of Groningen and chairman of the scientific board at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences told NPO Radio 1 he was ebullient. ‘This is the dream of every scientist, and I can’t deny I also dreamed about it,’ he said. In 2011, Feringa created the first synthetic motor, a tiny device that keeps turning in response to light. ‘I often feel like the Wright brothers, who built the first primitive plane. Nobody knew exactly what to do with it,’ he said of his invention.  More >


Blogwatching: Amsterdive – The good old language struggle

Blogwatching: Amsterdive – The good old language struggle

Ana V. Martins is a Portuguese actress and a writer who lives in Amsterdam. Her blog, AmsterDive, is about her relationship with Amsterdam with a focus on arts and culture. In this post, she writes about a common problem among many internationals - losing her native language. Yesterday I was thinking of the downs of living 'abroad'. I must say I very rarely ask myself this question, but I know that this is a very relatable topic to most expats. If you are one, you might immediately have a whole spectrum of ideas on it. Things like the absence of friends and family might automatically pop into your mind, or the missing of certain foods, your hometown, the weather, or a type of human warmth very specific to where you come from. Personally, the following sentence immediately banged in my head: Will I ever get used to making mistakes in almost every single sentence, or group of sentences I articulate? The biggest challenge I face as an expat is the fact that I am not able to express myself the way I could back in Portugal. When confronted with limitations, one becomes especially aware of how it feels not to have them. And it seems like a miracle to me now how one’s native language flows within. How you effortlessly communicate what you want in your language, the way you want, without giving it much conscious thought. Don’t get me wrong, my level of English is advanced and I speak fluent Dutch, but somehow I'm never satisfied with my proficiency level in either of them. First of all, my skills in the Portuguese language set a very very high bar in any other language I attempt to learn or improve. Second, most of my creative work is in English. I write, and mostly perform in English, and having to confront myself with a certain degree of language restriction is probably my biggest of daily frustrations. The notion of 'being abroad' is for me – I came to realize -, directly related to language. A language is an undefinable place: it does give you some sense of direction, but it doesn’t necessarily correspond to a physical location. It does correspond to a sense of intimacy, instead. Precious Now, I don’t have a very strong bond with my country of birth when compared to other fellow expats, but my native lexicon, Portuguese, used to be my precious (Smaug style). My self-esteem used to depend on my communication skills. The way in which I could put myself and my inner world into words was the measure of my own worth. I guess I still work like that, and that’s why I made myself learn Dutch, as fast as I was able to. I just couldn’t stand the fact that I didn’t fully grasp the world around me, that I couldn’t navigate it. I refused to be 'imprisoned outside'. Living abroad, I had to get used to expressing myself differently from the way I would, back home. And at first, it didn’t really matter. I was busy meeting people, happily absorbing whole new cultures around me, reinventing myself, surviving. What’s more, I love languages. When I had my first Portuguese friend visiting me in Amsterdam, I remember asking him to just keep on speaking English to me (imagine that). This, of course, doesn’t happen anymore, but that’s how committed I was to my life abroad. Creativity The beginner’s adrenaline made me, for the longest time, divert from a deeper loss: language allowed me to live creatively on a verbal level. Not anymore, or at least not in the standards I was used to. Back in Portugal, I could say exactly what I felt – in a regular way, or with more refinement, or in poetic fashion, or intentionally in a rough way - depending on the situation. I could surprise others with certain words or expressions, I could, more often, make people laugh. It allowed me for a sort of playfulness which, in return, made me feel smart. In a way, words are the matter from which we are made: it is through them that we perceive, reflect, and interact with the world around us. Through them we create. Through them we are. My native language was more than a sense of identity. It meant freedom. Just now, after 5.5 years living in The Netherlands, I feel that I have a full understanding of this. So there’s this little part of me which is mourning. And that’s okay. I feel happier living abroad than I did when living in Portugal, so this is a consequence of a very conscious decision of mine. But there’s one thing I have to tell you: now when I go on my once-a-year holiday to Portugal, my favorite activity isn’t lying on the beach anymore, nor swimming in the ocean, nor eating pastéis de nata. My absolute favourite thing is speaking with people. Chatting, making small talk: in the lift, in a shop, on the streets, basically everywhere. This verbal connection which fills me with joy, right from the gut, is incomparable to anything else. And you know what’s beautiful in all this? The Portuguese language will always remain this happy cherished zone deep within me, a solace which I can always resort to. You can read the original post on AmsterDive. Every month we feature a blog post from one of our bloggers. Interested? See if your blog meets the criteria to be included on the site.  More >


The art of thriving: how an Amsterdam chiropractor kept a dancer on his toes

The art of thriving: how an Amsterdam chiropractor kept a dancer on his toes

Early this spring, a Belgian dancer walked into an American chiropractor’s new office in Amsterdam—no, this isn’t the set-up to a joke. It’s the set-up to the dancer’s journey towards improved mind-body wellness, with the help of Kate Cox at Thrive Chiropractic on the Prinsengracht. ‘Dancing has always made sense’, says Birger van Severen, 41, of Amsterdam. ‘My earliest memories are of dancing to The Village People and Michael Jackson.’ These days, he dances and performs in Tineke Schouten’s touring show, performing for Dutch audiences in the tens-of-thousands each year. To still be dancing professionally at his age is extremely rare Van Severen started late as a dancer. At 18, he had his first ballet class—there, he says, he was surrounded by people who’d been at it for close to ten years already. They possessed a natural flexibility which he could not match. Instead, it was his passion and work ethic which propelled him, bringing him to Amsterdam to study at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten, and eventually kick-starting his career in commercial musicals in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. Yoga He always had to take especial care of his body before, during, and after 6-8 weekly performances, though. Warming up and down was crucial. He became a yoga practitioner, leading his peers through exercises and meditations while on location for jobs. But a serious knee injury brought his work in musicals to an end. Then, after a brief ‘retirement’, Van Severen met the well-known comedic writer and performer Tineke Schouten. She was impressed by his spirit, humour, and tenacity. She took him on as a company manager, and with each new show she produced, she incorporated more of him, as a dancer and partner onstage, into her work. ‘Tineke provided the opportunity for me to dance and perform, while adapting the physical content of the show to suit my limitations and abilities’, he says. This kind of adaptation—unity of the body and the mind to produce remarkable long-lasting results—is also Cox’s primary interest at Thrive, where Van Severen has lately received chiropractic treatments to address back pain and muscular tightness. Long-lasting ‘At Thrive, we’re not interested in the ‘crack-and-go’ Band-Aid style of chiropractic care,’ she says. ‘That’s certainly a legitimate treatment option for some folks, but at my practise, I’m interested in equipping people to adapt the use of their bodies in order to effect long-lasting results.’ Cox, like Van Severen, was also an active and athletic kid; this led to an international rugby career. But after a serious injury of her own, for which she received extensive therapy, she realized that a love for the game was secondary to a passion for her own wellness, as well as that of others. ‘I’ve always liked the dirty work,’ she says. ‘The difficult tasks worth overcoming—because it’s those which teach us to thrive.’ Van Severen agrees with her philosophy. ‘Kate’s therapies have helped me to find a new physical balance,’ he says. He was impressed when, within minutes of their first meeting, Cox quickly diagnosed much of his medical history. And more impressively, over time her specialised treatments have gradually loosened and begun to erase his recurrent muscular tightness and back pain. Affordable option Chiropractic is a process of muscular and spinal correction—Cox is focused on its potential to produce long-lasting effects. And Van Severen’s experience at Thrive is shared by her many patients, who hail from a diversity of backgrounds and professions. The new practice, on the Prinsengracht, is steadily making a name for itself in Amsterdam as a viable and affordable option for life-changing therapy which addresses back and spinal issues and pain. ‘I have seen many physios, and many chiropractors, too,’ assures Van Severen. ‘Kate is the best in her field. Her work at Thrive can help a lot of people, dancers and non-dancers alike.’ The motto of the practice—a Maya Angelou quotation which greets visitors at the door—is fitting: ‘my mission in life is not merely to survive, but to Thrive.’ Schedule a complimentary 15-minute consultation with Kate on Thrive’s website here. You can also read posts on her blog for chiropractic-related information and advice here.  More >


Spreek Nederlands met mij: A week of eschewing English

Spreek Nederlands met mij: A week of eschewing English

The Netherlands’ enthusiasm for speaking English leaves many newcomers struggling to learn the language. Could wearing a badge insisting on Dutch shake things up? Deborah Nicholls-Lee tries it out. 'Ah, it's you, David!' I sigh with relief as one of the two British hairdressers in the team of four picks up the phone at my local salon. No need to speak Dutch then. I have been in the Netherlands eight years and this wimpy attitude to speaking Dutch is hard to defend. My Dutch isn't too bad and it's time I got the bitterbal rolling. When I heard about the Spreek Nederlands initiative, I ordered the Spreek Nederlands met Mij! (Speak Dutch with me!) badge and committed myself to a week-long challenge. Founded in 2013, and billed as a chance to ‘fight for our right to speak Dutch’, the initiative is a response to the frustration felt by newcomers whose attempts to speak Dutch are thwarted by locals who insist on replying in English. Phone conversations aside - where the absence of visual cues and sympathetic smiles make the job ten times harder - I generally make a lot of effort to stick to Dutch, even if I feel a bit uncomfortable. But I’ve noticed that the Dutch proclivity to answer in English has left my listening comprehension lagging way behind. Could a cheeky little badge change that? I put it to the test. An enthusiastic response First up on my week of badge-wearing is the hair appointment that I booked in cowardly English a couple of weeks back. It is a three-hour stint with my Dutch hairdresser to highlight, wash, cut and blow-dry my tired-looking hair. I had better brace myself. Richa is enthusiastic when she sees my badge. She claps her hands together: ‘De enige manier om het te leren!’ (The only way to learn) she exclaims; and rather than dipping in and out as we normally do, we stick to Dutch for the duration. As well as discussing our various holidays – a favourite topic across salons worldwide – we cover parenting, immigration and health; and it’s all rather lovely. Afterwards, I feel all sort of glowing from the achievement – and my hair looks better too. 'Heel goed, dit!’ (This is great!), says one parent at school drop-off the following morning, grinning at me and tapping my badge appreciatively. 'Anders leer je het nooit!' (Otherwise, you’ll never learn). It seems like the Dutch are really on board with this challenge. But would those parents who seem hard-wired to answer me in English also play along? At pick-up, a bland comment of mine about the weather is batted straight back in English, but the parent is brought in line when I do a brisk tap, tap, tap on my badge, and we proceed in Dutch. What is cheating? The badge makes me question some of my own practices too. I catch myself clicking on the NL/EN button for English when doing some online banking and click back guiltily. And what about other non-native speakers of Dutch, do they have to muddle through too? On Thursday, a Spanish neighbour turns up to collect a parcel. He answers my Dutch with English and I don't have the heart to force him to switch. Is that cheating? After a while, I stop noticing the badge and insisting on Dutch becomes more automatic. People are happy to play along and my Dutch is improving too. On the Friday, I have a birthday party to attend. Rather than slowing the conversation, the badge - and its requirement for Dutch - makes a nice talking point. I learn a great new verb: bagatelliseren (to play down, trivialise) - a hefty six syllables that is sure to impress my hairdresser at our next appointment. No more badge The following week I leave the badge at home. No more pin pricks in my clothing; no more pointing and grabbing at its shiny little shell. It sits in my key tray in the kitchen, gazing up at me dejectedly. On the way to school, I strike up a conversation with a parent from the birthday party. He says hello in English and I reply in Dutch. He then apologises good-naturedly, says he remembers my badge from last week, and continues in Dutch. I feel really encouraged by this. The parent from the previous week, who had me tapping on my badge, now speaks to me in Dutch on the phone and in person. ‘I’m really trying to talk in Dutch to you, after I saw your button the other week,’ she says, lapsing momentarily into English. It’s working. Sort of. Do as the Dutch do Though the badge has now been put away, the effect has endured. Its cheerful little message has signalled to my neighbours that I am serious about learning their language, and it’s got newcomers and locals rethinking the way that they speak together too. I have learnt that if you want Dutch people to speak Dutch to you, you must do as they do, and state what you want clearly and directly. Even if it means wearing a badge. Spreek Nederlands Dag  is on Saturday July 1. Events will be taking place in the Central Library in The Hague. Free badges can be ordered here. info@directdutch.com  More >


Offering Brexit-affected citizens peace of mind is a priority, says UK minister

Offering Brexit-affected citizens peace of mind is a priority, says UK minister

The rights of British people in the Netherlands and Dutch nationals in Britain are central to the Brexit negotiations, says David Davis, Britain's secretary of state for exiting the European Union. Last week Michel Barnier and I sat down for the first time last week, to begin negotiating the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. The UK has been clear that our first priority is to provide certainty to EU citizens living in Britain – indeed, we had hoped to be able to do so last autumn – and to UK citizens living in the EU. I'm pleased that the EU has agreed this is one of the first issues we will address — and yesterday, the UK published a detailed policy document explaining our offer - Roughly 80,000 of our citizens live in each other’s country, highly integrated into their local community, reflecting the long-standing and close bonds between the UK and the Netherlands. Three million EU citizens have made the UK their home. They have contributed to the very fabric of this country. And they deserve to look at their futures with as much certainty as possible. Negotiations With Brexit negotiations just starting I will outline the UK’s offer to secure the rights of these people we value so much. And it is only fair we secure an agreement with the EU that protects over a million UK nationals in the EU in a similar, reciprocal way. We want to guarantee the status of EU citizens already living in the UK and enable them to continue to live their lives broadly as now.  We will treat EU citizens equally and will not discriminate between nationals of different member states. Our intention is to enable law-abiding EU citizens who have settled in the UK before an agreed date to apply for settled status under British law, along with their families. The UK believes this date should be no earlier than March 29 2017 and no later than when Britain officially leaves the EU. As long as they want to stay living here, they will see no immigration conditions placed on their residency. Work and study That means people will be able to work and study in the UK freely. They’ll be able to access UK healthcare. And they’ll be able to claim benefits, pensions and apply for social housing on the same basis as British citizens Why are we doing this? Because it is the right thing to do. We’ll continue to welcome people, whether in the EU or outside the EU, who want to come to Britain, work hard and contribute. There will also be a ‘grace’ period between the moment the UK leaves the EU and the time people obtain their residence document, to avoid a legal gap between the end of free movement rights and people from the EU getting settled status in Britain It means EU citizens will be able to remain lawfully in the UK during this interim period and bridge any gap for people waiting for their residency documentation to come through. Voluntary scheme And we intend to introduce a voluntary scheme to enable eligible EU citizens to apply for their residence document before the UK leaves the European Union — reducing uncertainty and making Brexit as smooth and efficient as possible for EU residents here. It is a fair and serious offer that rightly recognises the invaluable contribution EU citizens have made to the UK. Because our children go to school together. Our family and friends travel to each others’ shores to holiday, and work together in our hospitals and public services. And when faced with adversity, we stand together shoulder to shoulder. We hope that this deal will be reciprocated for the 80,000 Britons living in the Netherlands, including 3,000 students at Dutch universities. Because they too have made important contributions here too. Reciprocal deal That is why we are seeking a reciprocal deal, truly putting people first. Over the past year as I’ve spoken to leaders across Europe it has become clear that securing citizens rights and offering them peace of mind is a priority for both sides. Indeed, when I visited The Hague and met foreign minister Bert Koenders, it was one of the first things we discussed. I recognise that there has been considerable uncertainty for some of you and your family and friends in the UK. This is something I want to correct now. The UK is a tolerant, open, and diverse country. We will continue to be just that. We will make it simple for those Dutch people who have made their lives here to stay. We welcome the contribution you have made to our country. Welcome So I’ve no doubt this is achievable. We will continue to welcome your citizens to our shores after Brexit. We’ll continue to buy your goods, sell you ours, and holiday in your beautiful cities and countryside. Brexit is far from the end of our relationship — it is simply a new chapter in it. The histories of the UK and Europe are intrinsically linked, and our futures will be the same. I hope this offer demonstrates the fair way we intend to conduct these negotiations, and the deep and special partnership we now want with the EU.  More >


Deep-lying, even violent, divisions are a recurring theme in Dutch history

Deep-lying, even violent, divisions are a recurring theme in Dutch history

Historian James Kennedy's new history of the Netherlands shows that the Dutch tradition of tolerance was not driven by idealism, but a hard-headed need to hold together the patchwork of minority groups that made up the nation. By Gordon Darroch To many outside observers the recent Dutch election campaign, and particularly the dominance of Geert Wilders and the issues of migration and identity, came as a violent shock. A country that had long been viewed – and sometimes derided – around the world as a bastion of tolerance, progressivism and unencumbered dope-smoking seemed to have succumbed to the populist bug. On the BBC's Newsnight programme, John Sweeney confronted a voter in The Hague with the question: 'When I was young Holland was the most tolerant and open society. What's changed?' The sense of aggrieved innocence was palpable, as if a much-loved celebrity from the 1960s had been exposed as an alcoholic wife-beating racist. James Kennedy's new history of the Netherlands should be required reading for anyone trying to understand this trend. Kennedy, an American historian of Dutch heritage, was appointed dean of University College Utrecht in 2015, having moved to the Netherlands in 2003. 'Since at least the seventeenth century there has been a sense, at least among some Dutch, that they were superior to others because of their tolerance,' he says. 'It's something that also characterised the predominantly Protestant nature of this country over its Catholic minority. Hierarchical 'That has a double legacy, because on the one hand it was a Protestant culture that did truly commit itself to a kind of freedom of conscience, but at the same time it was a hierarchical relationship. As I say in the book, there were people who tolerated and people who were tolerated. Tolerance was never intended to create equality of opportunity, and for a long time it certainly did not mean equal access before the law or equal social or intellectual status.' The limits of Dutch tolerance were reflected during the election campaign when Mark Rutte published an open letter 'to all Dutch people', but whose harshest criticism was reserved for a minority who refused to 'act normal'. 'We feel increasingly restless when people abuse our freedoms to stir things up, when that very freedom was the reason they came to our country', wrote Rutte. The prime minister later denied that his words were directed at migrant groups, but Kennedy says the message was clear. 'It's the idea that this is a normal country full of normal people, and those people are like you and me, or like the prime minister, and if you're not normal then you don't belong in this country. But it's is a particularly rude and confrontational choice of words; even by historic standards, it's a very direct way of saying who belongs and who doesn't belong.' Golden Age In his history Kennedy shows how the current polarisation and hardening of the political debate reflects the deep-lying, even violent divisions that are a recurring theme in Dutch history. He describes the popular uprisings of the Golden Age, when magistrates would come home to find their homes had been plundered and their worldly goods chucked in the canal by an angry mob. A more recent parallel is with the 1970s, when the political landscape was fragmented and divided, the rigid divisions between Protestants, Catholics and social democrats were breaking down, and there was widespread social anxiety driven by terrorism and fears about migrants – in that time the Surinamese – failing to fit in and radicalising. Kennedy cautions against drawing too many parallels between the past and the present, but he notes: 'There were 600 people wounded in the altercations between the police and the rioters in Amsterdam during the installation of Queen Beatrix in 1980. That's a level of violence that we couldn't countenance in this society any more. We'd all be astonished by it. So I think 37 years ago there was a greater acceptance that violence and terror went with the territory. But it does show that polarisation and ugly confrontations in the public sphere are not something unique to our own time.' One of the core lessons of Kennedy's book is that tolerance is not something that comes naturally to the Dutch or an accident of history, but the outcome of a rigorous, sometimes gruelling process of confrontation and compromise. 'Although I think I'm very clear about my appreciation of Dutch achievement, I also show that that achievement was often a perilous exercise, and that attempts to idealise the past are not the best way to consider the present. Social harmony and peace involve reconciling tough and sometimes intractable differences.' He cites as an example the way the Dutch presented their euthanasia policy to the world in the 1990s. 'They never said, “we're more humane than you are” or “we're better than helping people out of their misery”. What they said was: “We talk about it. We try to sort things out.” That's something I've always found interesting about the Dutch: they have this commitment to keeping the lines of communication open for some greater good before things lapse into violence or miscommunication.' The rising sea As a country the Netherlands is shaped to an unusual degree by its inhabitants rather than its landscape. Kennedy notes that even the fact that much of the country lies below sea level is the legacy of centuries of extracting clay to make bricks, in the absence of natural building materials. Measuring and mapping the world – another Golden Age speciality – is the first step towards controlling it. Kennedy explains: 'If you want to understand Dutch progressivism, it's built on two things. One is that there is this willingness to let groups or individuals give free form to their own lives. Up until the 1960s that meant letting people be themselves in a collective way, but more recently it's changed to letting individuals be themselves. But the other thing is that there is this very, very strong regulatory tendency. Part of Dutch progressivism is seeing social trends and coming up with working arrangements so that nothing gets out of hand. In that sense there's a control-freak side to Dutch society.' Between the 1970s and the start of the 21st century the Dutch strategy of settling difficulties by consensus produced a string of pioneering policies in areas such as soft drugs, prostitution, psychological treatment for prisoners, euthanasia and gay rights. Though all these innovations, with the possible exception of equal marriage rights, had negative as well as positive consequences, they contributed to the Dutch self-image of being a beacon of progressivism – a gidsland – that had the confidence and expertise to help build a better, more progressive world. Many foreign observers looked on in admiration, unaware of the conditions that had produced this pragmatic attitude, and concluded that the Netherlands was simply a more advanced society – in John Sweeney's words, the 'most liberal country in Europe'. Changes? So what, to pose Sweeney's question again, has changed? Fifteen years have gone by since the last groundbreaking social reform, Els Borst's law permitting euthanasia, and Kennedy believes the pioneering era has passed. 'I think two things have changed,' he says. 'The first is that what made the Dutch distinctive 15 years ago is no longer distinctively Dutch. There are other countries where euthanasia is allowed, there are other countries where gay marriage is settled law. The other thing is that the Dutch have come to talk about these things as past achievements to be cherished and defended. In that sense they've become more socially conservative. There's a stronger focus on preserving what's valuable about Dutch society. That's a very different mentality from the 1990s.' It was also around the same time that Pim Fortuyn arrived on the scene and articulated the grievances of those who did not celebrate the postwar consensus, particularly when it came to multiculturalism. 'What Fortuyn did was he catalysed doubt: silent doubt about the pieties of the last century and of the latter part of the century,' says Kennedy. 'When I came here in 2003 I remember thinking that multiculturalism as an ideal in the Netherlands was dead. It was the year after Fortuyn had been murdered and they were still letting the dust settle. But I think these more conservative tendencies and trends have become much more marked now than I anticipated even at that time.' Shifting debate The public debate has shifted, says Kennedy, from the ideological differences of the 1970s to divisions based on personal and cultural identity. 'It's really about what kind of country and what kind of society the Netherlands should be, and how we understand the dangers. I don't think that was true in the 1970s. You could still talk about the ideological triangle between Christian democracy, social democracy and liberalism, and that's largely fallen away now. 'Globalisation has destroyed the traditional left-right distinctions. You get people on the right and on the left who feel left behind, and you get people on the right and the left who feel globalisation and open borders is a great thing. 'But globalisation has also created the need for different kinds of identification. One of the things that strikes me is that 2017 is the breakthrough year of a party like Denk, which had been predicted for years. It shows in a way how slow migrant communities were to pick up on alternate forms of politics. For a long time Dutch parties were surprisingly successful in integrating them, particularly the PvdA (Labour party), but this is no longer the case.' The Dutch instinct for consensus is two-edged: Kennedy declares at the outset of his book his admiration for their ability to shape 'order out of chaos', both in the landscape and the political arena. But in our interview he admits that he predicted as far back as 2000, before the rise and murder of Fortuyn, that the Dutch were 'likely to become undone by their own progressivism'. The doubt that Fortuyn, and Geert Wilders after him, galvanised has forced the Netherlands to confront its progressive reputation and test the limits of its own tolerance like never before. Challenges Looking ahead, Kennedy says he expects the challenges of the next few years, such as the retreat of the US from the global stage under Donald Trump's 'America First' banner and the effect of Brexit in Europe, as well as the prevailing anxieties about terrorism and migration, to amplify the sense that the Dutch way of life needs to be protected from existential threats. 'You'll have parties on all sides that continue to emphasise national identity. I don't think it's going to be quite in a Donald Trump style, but I do think that there will be a strong tendency to do that.' Kennedy contends that the feeling of lost innocence that the likes of John Sweeney experienced during the election is a force in Dutch society too. 'I think for a long time the Dutch felt they were at the end of history, that they had escaped every human peril and become a completely free people in a completely free society. Since the turn of the century there have been profound doubts about that vision. So now the question is what is that history, and to what extent does that history matter? That's one reason for writing this book now.' A Concise History of the Netherlands by James Kennedy is published by Cambridge University Press on June 30.   More >


The best of the Netherlands in the summer: our list of lists

The best of the Netherlands in the summer: our list of lists

Amusement parks, beaches, islands, pretty villages... Here's a list of our lists of the best things to do in the Netherlands in the summer. One of the great thing about the Dutch coast is the sunsets, with the sun sinking into the sea. And they are not bad for swimming or sunbathing either. Here's a list of the best Dutch beaches, from Lloret de Holland to Timboektoe. Fancy some sightseeing but want to avoid the massed hoards of tourists? The Netherlands has some charming places which are off the beaten track. Here's some of our favourite villages. Want to go island hoping but no money for Greece? We've got it covered. Here's a list of some of the best Dutch islands where you can get away from it all. From pony rides to a roller coaster, the Netherlands is packed with amusement parks to keep the kids busy. Here's our selection of 10 of the best theme parks. If something more off the wall is your style, why not visit some of the Netherlands' weirdest places?  Mummies, witches, caves and pickled animals - there is a lot of strangeness in the Netherlands. If you are feeling active, why not take a cycle tour. Mike Cooper went on a bike-packing trip early this spring, but it will be much more pleasant in the summer. And if it is history you are after, we've got a list of some of the best Dutch castles to visit too. And if you feel that you have to give your relatives or other visitors to some truly Dutch experiences, here's a selection of tourist tours with a difference.  More >


Small Wonders at the Rijksmuseum: a treasure trove for the soul

Small Wonders at the Rijksmuseum: a treasure trove for the soul

This summer the Rijksmuseum is featuring an extraordinary exhibition of Dutch micro-carvings from the late Middle Ages. Christine Medycky has been finding out about 'Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures,'  - a testament to human creativity and ingenuity. The exhibition which brings together for the first time from private collections and museums around the world, is made up of more than 60 rare miniature boxwood devotional objects from the 16th century. These include rosaries, prayer beads, altarpieces, engraved plaques, prayer pods and even some memento mori in the form of skulls and coffins. In an unprecedented collaboration, curators and conservationists from the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), joined forces to investigate the long-standing mystery of how these tiny masterpieces were made and by whom. What their five years of research uncovered is fascinating. Private devotion The production of small devotional instruments in Europe coincided with the rise of private devotion between 1475 and 1525. Boxwood was considered the ideal medium for carving such intricate miniatures. Common to Europe, this hard and dense wood has a uniform and fine grain that polishes well. Moreover, boxwood was considered to be a sacred wood, symbolic of humility and salvation. The most important private devotional aid was the rosary. While the Cult of the Virgin originated in the 5th century, it was not until the 15th century that the Rosary was standardised to ‘an alternating repetition of one Our Father and ten Ave Marias, each related to a Christian mystery’. The Dominican Order popularised the devotional practice by establishing confraternities that were not only accessible to men and women, but also to all levels of society. Soon the Rosary proliferated throughout Europe. Small Wonders features a number of rosaries and prayer beads, including the magnificent Chatsworth Decade Rosary that belonged to King Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. The beads are small – the size of a hazelnut, walnut or small fruit and fit easily into one’s palm. Rosaries of course, were carried in the hand or suspended from a belt for easy reach. Power of the Rosary The power of the Rosary can be attributed to the fact that it is the only devotional aid that appeals to both the sense of touch and sight. According to the Senior Curator of Sculpture at the Rijksmuseum, Frits Scholten, reciting the rosary was 'a complex sensorial affair that comprised a tactile element...but also an imaginative and mnemonic one'. The constant handling of the beads liberated the mind, while gazing at images facilitated meditation. The great theologian St. Augustine considered sight to be the most important of the senses. ‘To see’ he stated, is ‘to know’ and to know is ‘to understand’. These carvings themselves are so microscopic in scale that it is impossible for the naked eye to make out all of their intricacies. In order to examine the boxwood miniatures more closely, curators and conservators turned to cutting-edge technology for help. High-resolution Micro CT scanning, 3D animations and photography revealed the most-minute details of these tiny treasures. In the Mass of St. Gregory narrative of the Chatsworth paternoster beads, for example, the research team discovered a man and a woman hidden behind a column in the gallery of the Church observing the Eucharist below. The Royal Arms of England and initials carved on the exterior of the prayer-nut suggest that the couple in question was in fact King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Details The most vivid and moving details are found in the Passion of Christ narratives. When the viewer sees the subtleties up close - the agony of Jesus carrying the cross, the brutality of the Roman soldiers and the mockery of the crowds - it is extremely moving. It is as if we enter into the story and experience it ‘here and now’. Indeed, at the Small Wonders exhibition viewers can immerse themselves into and explore the micro-spectacle, with the help of virtual reality. Advanced technology has also assisted the research team to uncover the secret of how these micro-carvings were made. Paternoster beads open up into two halves like a prayer book, each half telling a story. Construction Through virtual deconstruction researchers discovered that the interior of the prayer beads was carved from a single disc of boxwood in low relief or from a number of discs layered on top of each other in order to produce the effect of depth; these discs were then secured by tiny wooden pins or other means. Such complexity in design and construction attest to an unparalleled technical virtuosity. Indeed, gothic boxwood miniatures were extremely valuable and considered luxury items – ‘Rolexes’ of the day, prized possessions of royalty and noblemen. In addition to Henry VIII, Louis XI, Emperor Charles V and Archduchess of Austria either commissioned or owned boxwood devotional objects. Who made these masterpieces? The only clue found to date is a Latin inscription on the exterior of one prayer bead that reads: 'Adam Theordici (Dirksz) made me'. Whether Adam is its creator or patron is unclear. Scholars believe that Adam, if indeed he was the responsible craftsman, was not a sole actor, but a member of a guild specialising in boxwood carving. Research indicates his studio was not in the Southern Netherlands, as was long assumed, but must have been in the north, possibly in Delft. Whoever made these tiny miracles it is clear that the craftsman-artist had an excellent grasp of geometry, hyper-concentration, very good eyesight, steady hands, and unwavering patience. Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures will run in the Philips Wing of the Rijksmuseum until September 17, 2017.   More >


Fifty years on, Dutch fashion duo Puck & Hans are at Amsterdam Museum

Fifty years on, Dutch fashion duo Puck & Hans are at Amsterdam Museum

It is half a century since Dutch fashion duo Puck Kroon and Hans Kemmink opened their first clothing store in The Hague. Together with the Amsterdam Museum, they have curated a rich retrospective on these flamboyant years: ‘Puck &Hans – Local Couture’. Deborah Nicholls-Lee toured the new exhibition with the famous designers to find out more. On Amsterdam’s busy Rokin, flanked by a mobile phone outlet on one side, and a cosmetics chain on the other, is yet another cheese shop. But the listed building at Rokin 66 was not always a tourist trap. From1986 to 1998, it housed one of the most iconic women’s fashion boutiques in the country. The elaborate, outlandish window-dressing – created by Hans himself – the avant-garde designs, and the promise of a glass of wine and a good chat inside, attracted style-seekers from far and wide and gave the shop its reputation as a ‘happening’ and not just a place to buy clothes. ‘Puck & Hans was really something,’ says Annemarie den Dekker, the Amsterdam Museum’s head curator. ‘It was where you went to feel special…It was something really new,…the place to be.’ Still stylish This was to be married couple - and design partners - Puck and Hans’ last and most celebrated store. In 1998, feeling that the fashion world was losing its sense of fun, the pair shut up shop and devoted time to other pursuits: Puck to the study of History of Art, and Hans to photography. Yet today, almost 20 years later, and now in their seventies, they are still unshakably chic. At the press opening for their exhibition, just a two-minute walk from where the Rokin shop stood, both stand tall in modish leather platforms. Hans’ leopard-print shirt is tempered by a well-cut dark suit and Puck is mostly monochrome in white jeans, black asymmetric blazer, voluminous printed scarf, and trademark tortoise-shell spectacle frames with matching over-sized earrings. But they have none of the airs of many modern-day designers. They quickly mix in with the visitors, shaking hands and squeezing in among them to chat. A Hands-On Approach This unassuming, hands-on approach to life was also much in evidence in the planning of the exhibition. It was Hans who put out the call on Facebook for the one thousand plus items needed for the retrospective. The project saw him and Puck criss-crossing the country, knocking on doors, collecting pieces from die-hard Puck & Hans fans who were delighted to meet their idols in person. They also teamed up with Voordekunst, to crowd-fund over €20,000. A mark of the quality of the brand is the survival of so many pieces, some of which were still being worn by their donators. Unsurprisingly, after decades of wear, some items had degraded a little and many of the minor repairs – a new button here, a small tear there - were undertaken by the nimble fingers of Puck herself. One unexpected complication was the historical setting of the exhibition as there were many restrictions in place to protect the precious artefacts and furniture. ‘We found it really hard to work in a museum,’ explains Hans, who had enjoyed much greater creative freedom with the displays in his shops. ‘We had to adapt to the museum’s rules’. Ever inventive, Puck turned adversity into art. The 17th century table which they wanted for their exuberant Last Supper display, is now protected by a splendid tablecloth, the fruits of months of Puck’s labour at the sewing machine. The immaculately stitched covering is, explains Puck, a pastiche of King’s Day finds, thank you letters from clients, and name badges in gold thread – a homage to all those who worked on the project and partnered Puck & Hans over the years. Nostalgia Under the guidance of curator and designer Maarten Spruyt, Puck and Hans faced another challenge: choosing what to showcase from the 1,700 items owned by the museum or loaned to the exhibition. This was a ‘nostalgic feast’ for Puck and Hans, says Spruyt, and it was difficult for them to remain objective when reunited with ‘all these designs that they had not seen for years’. Organised thematically rather than chronologically, the displays advocate an enjoyment of the outfits for their beauty and craftsmanship, independent of any historical context. For visitors wanting more background, the accompanying audio tour, narrated by Puck and Hans, paints a fuller picture of the era. We learn, for example, about their flower-painted Morris Minor, which attracted the attention of the police; their collaboration with stylist Frans Ankoné – who also worked on this exhibition; and the ‘immense joy’ ( Puck) of their colourful catwalk show at Amsterdam’s zoo, complete with Caribbean band, palm trees, and dancing. Escapism In Puck & Hans clothing, you could be anyone. The black and white ‘Business’ collection, with its newsprint patterns, severe shoulder-padding, and asymmetric pleats, implies power and non-conformity; while the black lace, leather and heels of the headless mannequins in the ‘Sexy Black’ gallery, suggest an anonymous, after-hours eroticism. There is exaggerated romanticism in the ruffles, billowing sleeves, and appliqué flowers of the ‘Water Lilies’ collection, and exoticism in the sequins and frills of the kaleidoscopic ‘Birds of Paradise’. The adventurous ‘Africa’, ‘Oriental’ and ‘India’ sections, with their rich spice colours, were inspired by the couple’s travels, which introduced them to new fabrics, techniques and ideas. Hans shows us the mannequin suspended from the ceiling in the yogic flying position, enjoying Spruyt’s fun interpretation of the theme. Humorous touches pervade the ambitious exhibition, from the pointed bras and corsetry, tossed mischievously amongst museum relics in the display cabinets, to Puck and Hans’ presence – in mannequin form - at the grand table for a symbolic ‘Last Supper’, where they feast on 50 years of memories. Beneath Puck’s hands with their painted red nails, letters in gold fabric spell out an aptly chosen quote from Nelson Mandela:‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ Puck & Hans – Local Couture can be seen at the Amsterdam Museum to September 3. A documentary about the exhibition by Peter Wingender at Smarthouse films is due for release later this year.  More >


8 people who are bringing Syrian culture to the Netherlands

8 people who are bringing Syrian culture to the Netherlands

From Dabke dancing to Muwashshah music, the Netherlands has a lot to learn about  Syrians and vice versa. Deborah Nicholls-Lee meets eight people who are building bridges between the two communities and celebrating the very best of Syrian culture here. Samer al-Kadri Located in some of Amsterdam’s most expensive real estate on the Herengracht canal, is a place where almost everything is free. Pages Bookstore Café is not a business, says Syrian founder Samer al-Kadri: ‘It’s just a message in my mind that I want to say to the world.’ On June 12, the artist and publisher opens a centre that brings literature, art, music and theatre from the Arabic world and from Europe to a diverse audience to create a place that feels like home to everybody. Pages Amsterdam is Samer’s second bookstore. Pages Istanbul opened in 2015, partly supported by the Prins Claus Fonds, whose motto is ‘Culture is a basic need'. Samer (42) already has plans for a third branch in Berlin. ‘My mission is to open one everywhere – even in the Himalayas!’ he says, and it’s not clear if he is joking. While Pages will be, he believes, the only Arabic bookstore in the Netherlands, he is keen to emphasise that it is a multi-cultural space for everybody, with books and entertainment in a variety of languages. ‘This place is not just for Syrians,’ he explains. ‘It is a way for Syrians to introduce themselves…We bring people together from different nationalities.’ This coming together is central to the bookstore’s aim to unite Syrian newcomers with their new neighbours. ‘The new arrival doesn’t know anything about the Netherlands and the Netherlands people don’t know anything about us. And this is very important, to know each other.’ He sees culture as facilitating this: ‘Let’s know each other before we judge each other. And when you do this through fun and art and happiness, it will be better.’ Ahmad Naffory and Claudia Willmitzer ‘People are amazed to listen to something new,’ says Claudia Willmitzer, a German, who together with her Syrian partner, Ahmad Naffory, form the band Coconaff, which is bringing Syrian rhythms to fresh ears in the Netherlands. They met at a gig in Lebanon and decided to share Ahmad’s long and difficult journey for asylum together, moving from country to country until they found sanctuary in the Netherlands. It was Ahmad who bought Claudia her first Oud, an Arabic lute, which she says is ‘an honour to play.’ They have just released their first album, Cleopatra & the crazy bird. They describe it as a ‘love story’ and an example that something positive and beautiful can emerge from an ordeal. Ahmad describes the band, which fuses Arabic melodies with flamenco rhythms, as ‘an international mixed band, playing traditional oriental music in a new way.’ He enjoys sharing Arabic music with Europeans and was happy to see the way his British percussionist, Simon Coleman, learnt to play the unfamiliar maqams and rhythms which you rarely hear in European music. The band sees itself as having an important role to play in bringing Syrians and Europeans closer together and, says Ahmad, aims to ‘break stereotypes and express the right of equality and freedom for everyone.’ Live music, Ahmad explains, is heard in every restaurant back in Syria and is something that newcomers here miss. Esseline van de Sande Dutch-born Esseline van de Sande, social psychologist, author, and Middle East advisor, first discovered Syrian culture when she worked for the United Nations in Damascus. But it was a trip with a friend down the Euphrates in a two-person kayak, and their arrival in the ancient Dura Europos (fort of Europe) where she was most struck by its importance and beauty. The monument’s name, she says, ‘is a message in itself’ as Europe is intrinsically connected and indebted to this region through the alphabet, astronomy and mathematics that ancient Mesopotamia brought us. ‘By living there, working there, and delivering my first child in Damascus, I got really into the culture and I realised how little we know about this region.’ Most of all, she was struck by the ‘abundance of generosity’ of the people she met. When war broke out, and many Syrians made the Netherlands their home, she realised that ‘people have no idea who will be their new neighbours.’ Her 2016 book, Ontmoetingen met Syriërs (Meeting with Syrians), was a way to address this and allow Syrians such as composer and music teacher Amer Shanati to tell their story, focusing on their career background. By pairing interviewers and interviewees that came from similar professions, the book inadvertently became an intervention in itself, linking the two communities and providing a useful network for the new arrival. Esseline is also one of the founders of the Great Middle East Platform, which aims to provide information about the Middle East that people can relate to and give a fuller picture than the one presented in the media. Under the umbrella of the Room of Listening, she and her colleague Shervin Nekuee organise events, such as networking dinners and a pop-up bazaar with music and poetry from the Middle East. Jurriaan Momberg ‘It’s quite a party to cook together,’ says Jurriaan Momberg, founder of Syrian Chefs, a team of caterers who are bringing the flavours of the Levant to the Dutch table. For 18 years, Jurriaan managed the Ekeko and Soeterijn restaurants at the Tropenmuseum, until, he says, funding cuts forced their closure. In 2015, he saw a Facebook post on Vluchtelingen Amsterdam, asking for a volunteer to help a Syrian cook with transportation. After this, Jurriaan met other cooks who were also at the Havenstraat asylum centre, and his help with logistics, training and networking, evolved into Syrian Chefs, a ‘foundation for every Syrian who wants to cook.’ Sharing food, explains Jurriaan, is central to Syrian culture and is a way of connecting with each other. ‘Wherever you go, there’s a table with food and it’s always cosy,’ he says. ‘How nice is it to be proud of something that comes from your country but makes people happy here in the Netherlands?’ Syrian Chefs are currently investigating plans for their own restaurant in Amsterdam. They will be at the celebrated Food on the Edge symposium in Galway, Ireland in October. Adnan Alaoda ‘Because of the circumstances in Syria, a lot of Syrians went out to many countries around the world, so it is very important in this time to keep our culture alive,’ explains Adnan Alaoda, a Syrian poet, songwriter, journalist, and award-winning theatre and TV scriptwriter, who moved to the Netherlands in January. He is currently based at the Verhalenhuis Belvédère in Rotterdam, a cultural centre which aims to bring diverse cultures together and, in association with Icorn (International Cities of Refuge Network), offers shelter to refugee writers. Here he has established Al Rewaq, a concept he founded in 2015 in Dubai, which hosts monthly evenings of Syrian and Dutch entertainment, such as poetry, plays, films, and singing. ‘I know that Syrian culture might be new for people in the Netherlands’, he says, ‘but it is very interesting also to see the beauty in it.’ With Al Rewaq, Adnan hopes to raise the spirits of Syrian newcomers. ‘The important idea is to bring Syrians together again, to inspire them, to make them believe that they can do a lot of important things here as Syrians, and this will lead them to be more integrated with the Dutch community.’ Adnan believes that we have much to learn from each other. ‘It is very important to take advantage of other cultural experiences and to be able to live with other cultures and affect them in a positive way.’ ‘Earth is a place for all,’ he says. Iris Loos and Tamer Allaloush ‘It’s like you have a best friend that lets you into all aspects of a different world to help you understand,’ says Iris Loos about Syrian national Tamer Allaloush, who she met when they both volunteered at a refugee clothing bank in Utrecht. In 2016, they founded Dreaming of Syria ‘to empower the Syrian community by giving them a stage and also celebrate diversity in the city of Utrecht.’ ‘Dreaming of Syria aims to show you another side of Syria,’ explains Iris. ‘And to connect different people by sharing music, history, stories, poetry, food and dance.’ For Tamer, it is important to show how life was before the war: ‘our hospitality, our traditional life’ and the ‘beautiful and lovely country we had.’ ‘It is important to keep those memories alive,’ agrees Iris. Upcoming projects include extending the Dabke dance nights to other Dutch cities, an Arabic market in Utrecht, and a Dabke flashmob in Utrecht town centre on June 15 to launch the Global Week for Syria. ‘Dabke is just an aspect of Syrian culture,’ says Iris. ‘But it gets Syrians and Dutch [people] dancing together. That’s what we love to see happening.’  More >


Solution or utopia? Can design really improve the lot of the refugee?

Solution or utopia? Can design really improve the lot of the refugee?

Can design really improve the experience of the 65,000 displaced people worldwide who have fled their country in search of safety? Deborah Nicholls-Lee visits the Stedelijk Museum’s newest exhibition, Solution or Utopia? Design for Refugees. In stark contrast to the magnificent oil paintings that hang in the adjacent gallery, a sheet, a tent and a urinal are among the prosaic artefacts that populate the Solution or Utopia? exhibition. Here the emphasis is on necessity and survival - and the beauty is all in the design. Yet a closer look reveals that the items are less mundane than they seem: The sheet is biodegradable, the tent can be worn as a raincoat, and the urinal uses biofuel cells to convert urine into energy to light up the toilet block, making it safer to use at night. ‘Design and architecture…is not only about nice chairs,’ explains Ingeborg de Roode, curator of industrial design at the museum. It is hoped, she says, that the exhibition will show visitors the potential of using design for social purposes and will inspire other designers to consider this type of project. Many of the exhibits on show were entrants in the 2016 Refugee Challenge, a competition organised in partnership with UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency)  and the IKEA Foundation. The challenge, which attracted 631 submissions from 70 different countries, was launched at the annual What Design Can Do conference in Amsterdam, and set designers the task of improving the reception and integration of refugees. Migrant designers Andrea Venkeman, head of UNHCR Netherlands, really believes that ‘designs can help’ in times of crisis such as this, but emphasises that ‘making sure that refugees participate is key to any solution’.  This exhibition has certainly taken that on board. Syrian architects Mary Farwy and Michael Barchini were members of the team of curators, and many of the designers featured are refugees themselves. One of these is Syrian artist Yara Said. She designed the orange and black flag paraded by the refugee team at the 2016 Olympics. It was inspired by the life jackets worn by migrants and abandoned in their hundreds on Greek beaches. ‘One year and a half ago, I was on the road, fighting for my life. And five years ago [in Syria], I fought for my life every single day.’ The flag, she explains, was a response to the trauma she relived when faced with media images of the migrant crisis and the need for a new language to talk about it. ‘People were sharing so many pictures of dead children and women on the road. ..It breaks my heart every time I see these pictures…and for me it’s just traumatising every time. I was very upset about this and I thought we needed a visual sign. If you want to talk about refugees you don’t have to use a picture of a dead child, you can use a symbol.’ The language of migration Finding the right language was also a key challenge for the curators, who debated various alternatives for the word ‘refugee’, which some feel has become stigmatised in the media. The ‘Refugees Welcome’ stickers were particularly divisive, says curator, Ingeborg de Roode. ‘Is it a good idea to address refugees as a separate group when they are already trying to integrate into society? We don’t know. We don’t give the answer, but I think it’s an interesting item to discuss.’ This sensitivity to language is perhaps best seen in one of the exhibition’s many digital exhibits, the Common Sans font. When you type the word ‘refugee’, it automatically changes it to ‘human’. Refugee status, it suggests, is temporary, but we are all human. Several exhibits also address the challenge of communicating in a foreign country; there are picture dictionaries, audio flashcards and even refugee-specific emojis. Thought-provoking design Perhaps the boldest solution proposed in the exhibition is ‘Europe in Africa’, a city state created on an artificial island between Italy and Tunisia. Plans include a university, a business park, an agricultural zone, and even a football stadium. Ambitious and risky, but certainly inventive and interesting. In a time of crisis, with migrants spending an average of 17 years (UNHCR) in transition, the need for innovation is paramount. Solution or Utopia? is a celebration of the power of art and design to find practical solutions to widespread misery and provides an important insight into the migrant condition. ‘As you go through this exhibition’, urges Yara Said, ‘Don’t think about the beauty of it; think about the humans behind it, because it’s real people who want to use these designs, and you can really save a life.’ Solution or Utopia? runs from May 20 to September 3 2017. An additional part of the exhibition can be seen at Lola Lik, an asylum centre and community space in south-east Amsterdam.  More >


Amsterdam’s first bicycle mayor discusses her first year in office

Amsterdam’s first bicycle mayor discusses her first year in office

In June 2016, Anna Luten, the world’s first bicycle mayor, was elected in the Netherlands to act as an ambassador for cycling in Amsterdam and help other cities develop a cycle culture. Deborah Nicholls-Lee met Anna to discuss the highs and lows of her first year in office. There was a time when Anna Luten (29), a former brand manager in the bicycle industry and Amsterdam’s first bicycle mayor, thought she might never bike again. Seven years ago, hurtling through Noordwijk at 35kph in a road race, Anna collided with a pedestrian. ‘In the end, I was really lucky,’ she says. ‘It was only my face…and when you’re young, you recover quite quickly.’ This is typical of the positive outlook of this upbeat young woman, who lost several teeth, split her tongue and needed a total of 27 stitches. Just eight months later, she completed the gruelling Amstel Gold Race ‘to make sure to overcome my fear.’ A global mission In fact, falling out of love with biking equipped Anna perfectly for her first year as bicycle mayor, where she had to demonstrate the benefits of cycling to reluctant users all over the world who, unlike the Dutch, do not come from a biking culture. ‘Now I just understand better why there can be a barrier for people to ride a bike,’ she says. Cyclespace, the NGO which initiated the bicycle mayor scheme, has an ambitious goal: that by 2030, 50% of all trips are made by bike, in every city in the world. The aim is to export Dutch expertise and inspire other countries to embrace this form of transport. Currently based in New York, where she is helping the city develop its biking infrastructure, Anna admits to being ‘flabbergasted’ by the way things are organised there. ‘Some things are brand new’ – she loves the daily cyclists’ weather forecast – ‘And some things are really old-fashioned.’ Indeed, her hardest task has been establishing a programme in cities with very diverse cultural backgrounds. ‘Every city has a different system. It’s difficult to compare one city with the other,’ she explains. Meeting international people with a different outlook has also reminded Anna of how special our cycling culture is here. Foreigners describe the flow of cyclists as ‘something beautiful to see,’ she says, ‘like swans cycling through the city.’ ‘It opened my eyes talking to them, and now I’m surprised that more people can’t see this.’ Accomplishments The anniversary of Anna’s first year as bicycle mayor coincides with two key cycling symposia. Velo-City , the largest cycling conference in the world, will be held in Arnhem and Nijmegen from June 13-16, and is preceded by the Bicycle Mayor Summit,  which takes place on June 10-11 in Amsterdam. Anna considers the summit to be one of the highlights of her tenure. On this weekend, Anna and the newly-elected bicycle mayors from Australia, Brazil, India and Mexico will come together for the first time. ‘Getting more bicycle mayors than just me was one of the biggest goals of the programme…and to create a global community of bicycle mayors to have a network where you can share knowledge.’ The inclusivenes of the programme is also an important achievement. Four of the six mayors are women, and most have children. Anna is keen to broaden the demographic, engaging mayors of all backgrounds and ethnicities. The message is clear: ‘Riding a bike is something that everyone can do. And it’s something that everyone should try at least, because it’s fun and it’s easy and it gives you this sense of freedom.’ Anna is also proud of the hackathons (an intensive exchange of ideas for solving specific problems) which she has organised. These have included plans to investigate a ‘flexible road’ which alters its bike lane and car traffic capacity according to the time of day. Surprises I press Anna on the challenges of her first year on the job and it proves hard to get an answer from someone who does the (currently unpaid) job with such cheerfulness and good will. ‘I’m always thinking of the positive things,’ she explains, and there is silence for a while as she reflects. Finally, she acknowledges that the first few weeks in post were a shock to her. ‘It went like a rollercoaster. The press was going after me. And I was like, ‘What’s happening?’ I really had to find my own way.’ The project was started from scratch and the learning curve for all involved was steep. ‘Suddenly, I was the bicycle mayor and people found me by different channels and they were coming to me with a lot of different questions…I advised them in the best way I could or I put them in contact with others. In this last year, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge.’ Anna was also surprised to see how many organisations had similar goals but were working in isolation. She saw that the mayor had a role in bringing these groups together. ‘I just thought, if you guys are doing this and the others are doing that, why aren’t you just cooperating with each other? Because that would be more efficient and probably more innovative.’ A foundation for the future Mediator, spokesperson, innovator - Anna’s role has been vast. The blonde girl on a bike has become an appealing icon of the charm and freedom of our successful cycling culture here, which other countries are keen to import. But Anna is preparing to dismount, and another mayor will soon take her place. She has laid a strong foundation for her successor. ‘I set the plan and it’s built now,’ she says with pride. If you think you have what it takes to be the next mayor, Cyclespace will begin interviewing in the autumn.  More >


The ‘I am not a Tourist’ fair and International Festival are back in Eindhoven

The ‘I am not a Tourist’ fair and International Festival are back in Eindhoven

Learning Dutch, finding a house, experiencing Dutch culture, making connections, solving immigration and tax issues…everything is an option at the ‘I am not a tourist’ expat fair which is taking place in Eindhoven for the second time on June 11. The ‘I am not a tourist’ fair is the biggest expat-orientated event in the Netherlands, which until last year had only been held in Amsterdam.  The Eindhoven event has been organised together with the Holland Expat Center South in recognition of the growing importance of the region as an international centre. The ‘I am not a tourist’ fair in Eindhoven is a prime opportunity for internationals in Eindhoven and beyond to get the lowdown on life in the ‘lowlands’. The event brings together 50 exhibitors and more than 1,500 internationals in an historic setting: the former VDMA garage on the Vestdijk, a stunning industrial building in the heart of the city. Seminars Newcomers will be able to find out more about housing in the Netherlands, attend talks on the employment market, banking, education and the tax system. There will also be a programme of performances and workshops throughout the day. But there is lots on offer for old hands as well. International festival Outside the main fair location you can also drop into the the annual International Festival. Dozens of stalls selling food, drinks, hand-made products, art, paintings and jewellery - will also be open for business. The market will be combined with live music from international and local artists and, of course, entertainment for children. Inside the Hub Eindhoven for Expats, you can enjoy conferences and workshops, and there will be a bar on the outside deck. Sport and Leisure New this year is the Sport & Leisure Experience, organised together with EindhovenSport and the Holland Expat Center South. After all, there is more to sport in Eindhoven than top notch football and hockey! You can take part in more than 70 different sports in the Eindhoven region and many of the clubs will be on hand to help you pick the ideal sport for you. The south of the Netherlands also has some great cultural gems - think museums and theatre - great activities for children and places to get away from it all and relax as well. You can find out more on June 11. Shake up your world and broaden your horizon by discovering what's going on in the rest of the expat community. Come to Eindhoven on June 11 for the ‘I am not a Tourist’ expat fair and celebrate an international city. Order your free tickets for the ‘I am not a tourist’ Expat Fair at the International Boulevard, Eindhoven here.  More >


12 great things to do in June

12 great things to do in June

Summer is now well and truly with us, so its time to check out some of the great things to do in the Netherlands in June. There is lots of outdoor stuff of course, as well as English-language theatre, art fairs and an electrifying exhibition. Stroll in a Japanese garden You have just eleven days to visit the magical Japanese garden at Clingendael Park in the Hague which only opens its doors eight weeks in the year. Tread carefully; the plants are extremely fragile and strollers, baby carriages and dogs are not allowed. There is a separate entrance for wheelchair users who follow a shorter route. Only a limited number of people are allowed in so expect a wait. Until June 11. Website Party at Pinkpop The traditional Pentecost Pinkpop Festival kicks off on June 3 but Saturday is Bieber day and tickets for that day sold out quite some time ago. But you may still be lucky enough to score a ticket for June 4 or 5 when the programme features Liam Gallagher, Broederliefde, Amber Run and many more. Website More Pinksteren festivals here Get steamy at the EYE The EYE film museum in Amsterdam is getting a bit hot under the collar with nearly three weeks of erotic films. The programme is an overview of the history of the erotic film from Ekstase (1933) which featured the first female orgasm on film to ‘titillating virtual-reality sensation Viens!’ ‘So many people, so many desires’, the EYE muses.  Until June 19. Website Pick up some art It’s time for the KunstRai again, where Dutch art galleries – and a sprinkling of Belgian ones - present their artists to the world. Among the many stands at the Rai exhibition centre in Amsterdam is an art cabinet for aspiring collectors where those who like art but whose budget falls short of a Basquiat can snap up bargains for up to €1,500. Until June 5. Website Take in fresh air and culture Terschelling becomes a beehive of cultural activity as the annual Oerol festival invades every nook and corner of the island, from its regular theatres to sheds, the street, and the beach. There’s music, dance, theatre, poetry, performance, and workshops. This year’s line-up includes the wonderful Amsterdam Klezmer group Septacost. From June 9 to June 18. Website Be electrified The venerable Teylers Museum in Haarlem has restored the laboratory of Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, one of the Netherlands most renowned physicists and Nobel prize laureates. A photograph publicising the new wing on the museum’s website shows a bolt of lightning hitting the museum, as if the scientist was creating his own monster of Lorentz. He wasn’t, he was tinkering with his ‘Grote Elektriseermachine’, or electrifying machine, which is also on show. Until May 18 2020. Website See Zeeland from a different perspective There is more to the province of Zeeland than Zeeuws Meisje, sun, sea, mussels and the Delta works.  That is why the Zeeuws Museum in Middelburg asked ten photographers for their take on the province. The result can be seen in Dit is Zeeland, a new permanent exhibition in which ‘the many sides of Zeeland’s culture and history come together.’ You may as well take in the Delta works as long as you are there. They are pretty spectacular after all. Website Enjoy English theatre at the Holland Festival Some Holland Festival treats are on offer in June as well: in Theater Frascati in Amsterdam you can be a witness to a family debate around an American kitchen table in the election year 2016. The subjects under discussion are money, art, history, culture, politics and changing times. The Gabriels, by Richard Nelson, is on from June 9 to June 11. The play is in English with Dutch subtitles. Also in Frascati the film The Tempest Society tells the story of three people setting up a theatre company in Athens and interacting with the audience about the state Greece and Europe find themselves in. It’s in Greek, French and Arabic with English subtitles.  June 13 and 14. Website Visit some Open Gardens Another outdoor activity, which combines the  love of a beautiful garden with unbridled curiosity about how the other half lives, is the annual Open Garden Days event in Amsterdam. Some thirty stately canal home dwellers in the capital are opening the French doors to their gardens (or have their butler do it, we hope) to temporarily share the magnificence of what remains hidden from view the rest of the year. The gardens can be visited from 10am to 5pm on June 16, 17 and 18. Website Walk through art ARTZUID 2017 offers a great opportunity to stretch your legs with plenty of excuses for dawdling. Rudi Fuchs is the curator of the fifth edition of this 5k open air sculpture route along the streets of Amsterdam Zuid and he has concentrated mainly on Dutch abstract sculpture of the post-war period. The exhibition shows the influence of the Stijl movement on different generations of sculptors. There are tours too. Until September 17.  Website Thrill to Limbo Boom Chicago is proud to present: Limbo. The band of musicians, aerial acrobats, illusionists and stuntmen who played to full houses in London, Sydney, Melbourne and Munich will now be performing in Amsterdam. It’s a show so hot Madonna came twice, apparently. If that is not an endorsement we don’t know what is. On June 22, 23, 24 and 25 you get two tickets for the price of one. Until August 6. Website Enjoy an improv marathon ImproGanga improv theatre company is organising Amsterdam's first annual Improv marathon. It's twelve consecutive hours of  improvised comedy and theatre performed in English by local talent as well as international artists, including ImproGanga from Amsterdam, Rebel Chicken from Germany and Merlin's Beard Improv Comedy Society from the UK. At Kunst & Cultuurhuis Cinetol in Amsterdam on June 24. Website  More >


10 things you didn’t know about the Efteling theme park

10 things you didn’t know about the Efteling theme park

A certain other magical kingdom may be ‘the happiest place on earth’ but the Netherlands’ homegrown Efteling has been going strong since 1952. Located in the town of Kaatsheuvel, the iconic Dutch theme park first opened its doors to the public on 31 May, 1952. As it approaches its 65th anniversary, Brandon Hartley lists some wild things you might not know about this ‘World of Wonders’. Walt’s Inspiration? A longstanding (and oft-repeated) legend claims that Walt Disney visited Efteling in the early 1950s and was inspired to break ground on his own theme park in California. How much of this is truth and how much is fantasy? Well, the initial conceptual drawings for Disneyland date back to at least 1948 and Uncle Walt’s muses didn’t hail from any one place. His park drew inspiration from everything including Los Angeles’ Griffith Park to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. However, there’s at least a small possibility that he may have made it to Efteling. Walt and his family toured the Netherlands at least once in the ‘50s but, according to this old news clip, he was more focused on visiting the studio that was handling the Dutch dubbing for his company’s films. A Titan among theme parks While Disneyland Paris continues to be something of a ‘top dog’ among European theme parks, Efteling has definitely come into its own over the past few decades. Disney’s ‘Imagineers’ even allegedly consulted the park’s creative staff while they were plotting the construction of their resort in France back in the ‘80s. Since opening in 1952, Efteling has attracted over 120 million visitors. It’s now open year round and hopes to average five million visitors annually by 2020. To meet those numbers, it’s been continually adding increasingly sophisticated attractions like Baron 1898, an elaborately-themed ‘dive coaster’ that opened in 2015. A new realm of fantasy The park’s next major attraction is set to debut this summer as part of Efteling’s 65th jubilee. Dubbed Symbolica, Palace of Fantasy, it will feature 34 ‘trackless’ carriages that will propel riders through an enchanting world along with Pardoes, the happy-go-lucky jester that serves as Efteling’s mascot. If you’d like to learn more, there’s an ongoing eight-part series all about the €35 million attraction's development and construction that you can watch on YouTube. Here’s a link to episode one. Kate Bush rocks Efteling The famous English singer-songwriter filmed a strange (and now extremely dated) television special at the park after the release of her debut single ‘Wuthering Heights’ in 1978. The 20-minute programme follows the young artist while she appears as a ‘ghost’ in the Spookslot, the park’s haunted castle, and sings alongside some of Efteling’s animatronic residents. She also pops up in a few of the park’s other attractions. You can watch the whole thing here. In case you were wondering, the tombstone that appears in the first scene with Bush’s name on it can reportedly be seen these days in the catacombs within Spookslot’s main hall. Ton van de Ven When he was only 19, this young designer managed to jump start his career at Efteling after one of its creative directors supposedly asked him only a single question during his job interview (‘do you master perspective?’). Van de Ven went on to become the park’s most prolific designer to date and played a major role in the creation of popular attractions including Spookslot, Fata Morgana and Droomvlucht. He retired in 2002 and sadly passed away in 2015. A portrait of him can be found within Villa Volta, the bizarre spinning ‘madhouse’ that opened in 1996. Who? If you grew up outside of western Europe, you’re probably unfamiliar with several of the magical characters that can be found throughout Efteling and Sprookjesbos, its famous 15 acre fairy tale forest. While you can enjoy recreations of moments from world famous stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, they appear alongside Langnek and Holle Bolle Gijs. The former is a character from The Six Servants, one of the Brothers Grimm’s lesser known stories. He can make his neck grow to impossible lengths in order to see across long distances. Gijs, meanwhile, is a fellow with an insatiable appetite. He can be found throughout Efteling at one of many rubbish stations in various different guises where he continually begs visitors to feed him their trash. After you hear him cry ‘PAPIER HIER!” you’ll never forget it. A very *European* theme park Foreign visitors might also be surprised by some of the more risque stuff that can be found in a few spots around the park. The Ariel in the Sprookjesbos seems to have misplaced her seashell bra and appears topless. There’s also Ezeltje Strekje, who hails from a Brothers Grimm story titled The Table, the Ass and the Stick. He’s a donkey that can poop gold. A statue in his honour can be found in a square within the fairy tale forest. In exchange for a Euro, it’ll shoot a plastic coin out its derriere. You won’t find that at Disneyland Paris! Here’s a video of Ezeltje Strekje doing what he does best. Nicotine free...mostly Along with 21 other theme parks and tourist attractions in the Netherlands, Efteling bulked up its rules against smoking earlier this spring. Visitors are no longer allowed to light up while they wait in outdoor queues but the park hasn’t stamped out smoking entirely. Visitors can still enjoy their various tobacco products in other areas like the Sprookjesbos but they’re encouraged to do so in designated smoking areas. A controversial cannibal Monsieur Cannibale has drawn negative attention in recent years. The attraction, which is similar to the Mad Tea Party ride at the various Disney parks, features cauldrons instead of tea cups and a statue of a stereotypical African tribesman at its centre. Visitors spin around in the cauldrons while ‘Monsieur Cannibale’, a 1966 song by the French singer Sacha Distel, pours out of the ride’s overhead speakers. Gisela Williams, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, is just one of the attraction’s naysayers. She received her first death threat after she wrote critically of the attraction in a 2014 article. Quieter corners While many Efteling visitors spend their time visiting its larger attractions and taking as many spins on the De Vliegende Hollander water coaster as possible, there are many corners of the park that are far more tranquil. Laafland is a quaint village a bit off the beaten path filled with cheerful robotic characters going about their daily lives. Most days, it’s a great place to get away from the crowds and enjoy a picnic or just a quick break while other guests pass by on the village’s snail-powered monorail. There’s also the Efteling Museum, which offers glimpses at everything from engineering sketches to retired animatronic characters. A few of the latter are somewhat unusual though.   More >