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


The Next Web: technology’s effect on all of us takes centre stage

The Next Web: technology’s effect on all of us takes centre stage

A lot can happen in a year. In 2016 The Next Web almost doubled in size and in 2017 it was bigger still. More interesting though was that the size and scope of technology’s effect on us - not just our businesses but the way we live our lives, in fact our very notions of reality - was up for discussion too. Esther O’Toole took a look. 'They failed to take into account...man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions,' Aldous Huxley When Aldous Huxley wrote his classic dystopian novel, Brave New World, he suggested that the comfort of a technologically enhanced life, and the distractions it provides us, may pose a risk to individual freedoms. Weird, you'd think, to hear that quoted at the start of a massive tech conference. But James Williams is a philosophy PHD at Oxford. He kickstarted day one with a thoughtful break down of how distracting our current tech has become and his ideas on how to avoid that distraction becoming all consuming. 'I think something profound is happening to attention in the modern age,' Williams told his audience at the opening the Entrepreneurship & Talent events on Thursday morning. 'It's more than a distraction or addiction and how we respond to this change could be one of the biggest moral questions of our age.' Time well spent Williams is the founder of the Time Well Spent campaign which is focused on how users can gain a voice in the design of technologies we have all come to rely on. Talking to DutchNews.nl, he outlined what he describes as The Attention Economy, in which users pay for services with time and attention and how this has become a form of labour to maintain our interaction with services and communications that should be serving us, not the other way round. Though he was clear to point out that it is not malice aforethought by the tech designers, Williams believes that self discipline on the part of the user is not sufficient to stop app alerts and the internet sucking up all our time. Rather we need to find means to collectively 'assert and defend our freedom of attention'. So, Time Well Spent is in part an awareness raising campaign, part exploration and research, and part attention labour union. It seeks to provide a positive, assertive way of combating a problem that currently seems an inescapable part of using consumer technology. 'The Netherlands has a real openness and appreciation of the challenges,' Williams concluded. 'If the world could follow the Dutch way of thinking, I think that would be a really good thing.' Talk to the users It was testimony to the thoughtful programming of this year's event that Williams was booked. More so that he was not the only voice raising these concerns. Similar themes came up in the key-note by Kathryn Myronuk, a founding member of renowned Silicon Valley institute, Singularity University. SU was founded by some of the biggest players in tech to help support startups focused on real global challenges. They now have a base in Eindhoven too. Myronuk pointed out the need for technologists to get out of their own silo. You can engage your user or potential audience directly now, ask them what they think, need and want; as SU students did in a project tackling sexual abuse in schools in Liberia, she said. With a simple online survey, even students with a 2G internet connection were able to send real time feedback and within an hour the researchers were able to chart the widespread nature of the problem they were looking at. Critical thinking 'The difference today is that as these new technologies become usable...as the dilemmas that they might have become visible we can say, hey, let's do what Liberia does,' she says.  'Let's ask every teenager involved what they think of this issue. Let's decide that the 21st Century attitude is that since we can ask everybody involved, at least for that initial discussion, let´s assume that we need to do that.' This was the stuff that was worth bearing the long queues of opening day for. And provided the kind of critical thinking and inspiration some visitors were after. ´We´re looking for design related topics. Like the design thinking workshop. Maybe we'll meet some new people, and you always bump into some familiar faces,' says visitor Thalia Keren, an interaction designer from Rotterdam based Unitid. 'Yes, we want to inspire ourselves and hear new things,' agreed her colleague Myrthe Geldof. Reality hacking And that inspiration was on hand. Echoing Williams on Friday morning was Galit Ariel, author, AR specialist and self-proclaimed Digital Hippie. She told DutchNews.nl: 'I believe that we shifted away from forming technology that serves human needs, to technologies that trigger compulsive behaviours – attempting to ‘train’ to adapt to machine thinking.' Her ideas on how to improve on this situation were very much in line with Williams', 'designing to user needs rather than market gaps; designing with the core aim of creating a long-term value for user, industry and technology.' Ariel was talking on one stage about the risks of literal 'reality hacking' (as technologies such as AR and VR advance). Meanwhile speakers elsewhere were still focused solely on revenue creation and driving growth. The two side by side seems to point towards a new shift in thinking among technologists and researchers, away from the passion and success of those creating the tools of our futures, to the real needs of the beneficiaries of their inventiveness. But isn’t that why people come to The Next Web? Sure, they have continued to build on the festival vibe, great evening events and resources. But, to hear from a wide range of experts and mavericks, and get a grasp on where things are going next; that´s what makes TNW more than just a jazzed up business conference. The ethics of those creating consumer technologies have never been more important. And we as users need to feel empowered to engage with the creators of our digital world, so it is made in our image.  More >


DutchNews podcast – The Moonlighting Monarch Edition – Week 20

In this week's podcast we debate the likely shape of the next government after the coalition talks broke down, find out about  look at why Amsterdam wants to let Muslim police officers wear headscarves, fight over who gets the tickets to see the pandas and jibe Molly for knowing nothing about football. Top Story King Willem-Alexander confesses to being a secret KLM pilot News Amsterdam police consider including headscarves in uniform Policeman chases own tail in pursuit of decoy bike Ede is the happiest place in the Netherlands, Rotterdam the most miserable Feyenoord win first title in 18 years Rush of demand for tickets to see pandas Discussion: Where now for the Dutch coalition talks? Schippers calls a pause for self-reflection Formation dilemmas: D66 not keen on coalition with ChristenUnie Dutch MPs debate coalition formation as process begins all over again Party leaders to meet to discuss next steps after Dutch coalition talks flop Talks on forming a new Dutch government collapse over immigration Analysis: GroenLinks lacked the muscle to force a radical change of course  More >


Analysis: GroenLinks lacked the muscle to force a radical change of course

The three issues that the parties were unable to agree on were the same areas where Jesse Klaver was most keen to make his mark – but the Greens could still have a say in the outcome, says Gordon Darroch The announcement on Monday evening that talks to form a new Dutch government had broken down came as a shock, but no great surprise. There had been indications towards the end of last week that the four parties – the Liberals (VVD), Christian Democrats (CDA), progressive liberals D66 and left-wing green party GroenLinks – were starting to grow tired of each other's company. The first major breach came from the CDA, whose more progressive wing lamented that leader Sybrand Buma had parked the bus squarely in front of GroenLinks's energy reforms. Party veteran Herman Wijffels went so far as to compare his leader unfavourably with Donald Trump on the issue of climate change. Then came a poll at the weekend by Maurice de Hond which revealed growing scepticism among the VVD's membership at the prospect of teaming up with Jesse Klaver's gang. In both cases the momentum came from the grassroots rather than the leadership: the CDA's voter base is heavily weighted towards rural conservatives with little appetite for higher road taxes or ambitious renewable energy projects. But as Edith Schippers admitted in her brief press conference on Monday evening, the talks foundered not on the environmental question or income redistribution, but on the issue that produced the most heated exchanges of a muted election campaign: immigration. Practicalities The differences between Jesse Klaver on the left and VVD leader Mark Rutte on the right proved to be intractable, to say nothing of the CDA. Rutte's objections are largely practical – accommodating large numbers of refugees is too logistically challenging, too expensive and too socially disruptive in his view, hence his willingness to outsource the problem to tyrants presumptive such as Turkey's Erdogan. But Buma's position has arguably become even more entrenched since he absorbed populist anxieties about Islam encroaching on Dutch cultural values. D66 leader Alexander Pechtold must have thought he could broker a compromise, but the gap between his partners on the right and GroenLinks proved a bridge too far. Given that the three issues Schippers cited were the same ones that Klaver named at the outset as his party's main priorities, it is not hard to work out where the fault lines lay. Ultimately GroenLinks's 14 seats did not give him the necessary leverage to put the kind of radical stamp on the cabinet that his voters expected. In that context it is significant that both Schippers and the four leaders were at pains to point out that the decision to pull the plug was taken collectively and amicably. It leaves the door open for GroenLinks to return to the table, either as a coalition partner or the support act to a minority administration, if the 'core trio' of VVD, CDA and D66 are unable to find a suitable replacement.  More >


Would you volunteer with refugees? These 14 Dutch people did

Would you volunteer with refugees? These 14 Dutch people did

What is a typical volunteer? This is what international photographer Marcus Valance and his partner writer Daan Posthouwer asked themselves after spending most of 2016 volunteering in Greece and Lebanon during the refugee crisis. The project 'Portraits of Dutch Volunteers' grew out of a desire to find out more about what makes a volunteer tick and to show that 'volunteers aren't all hippies wearing homespun socks’, says Marcus. They chose their subjects randomly from a large cross-section of willing and eager volunteers, travelling all over the country to meet them and talk about their experiences. ‘Portraits of Dutch Volunteers’ shows how diverse this group really is. 'This project has a strong message - that there is no such thing as a typical volunteer,' says Daan. 'The motivations for volunteering are as diverse as the people themselves. These people, who have put their lives on hold to help others during the refugee-crisis, deserve to be honoured for what they do.' Ansje (62) and Asgar (50) from Noord-Holland Ansje: 'I felt very sad and powerless about the refugees and wanted to do something specific instead of only donating. So when there was a chance to go and help in March 2016 on Lesbos I took it. After that I returned twice to Kara Tepe on Lesbos and asked my Iranian boyfriend to come with me because he would be of great help as he speaks Farsi.' Nus (57) from Noord-Brabant 'In May 2015 my wife and I revisited Lesbos for the first time in 25 years... We saw for ourselves what the newspapers were writing about: rows upon rows of frightened yet relieved people; jaded yet still with strength; sad, but happy at the same time; hungry and thirsty people; old people, small children, entire families... When I was there in September that year I was asked by my university to participate in a fundraising for refugees so I could give meaning and shape to my gnawing discomfort ... for me that was a reason to bring the theme of "refugees" into my educational institution. I believe it is important to let the world know that helping people in need – in any way, not necessarily by being a volunteer on a Greek island- is an obligation for all of us regardless of age, sex, religion, political orientation, occupation, cultural background, social status, wealth or any other division one can make. Daan (36) from Utrecht 'In late 2015 I read the stories and I saw the pictures of friends who worked on Lesbos as volunteers. At that time, thousands of refugees were arriving each day. The need was very great and it was all very chaotic. The volunteers who took care of the refugees in any way they could, for example by handing out food and clean clothes. As a mother of two children aged 8 and 10 I made the choice to help and a week later I was on Lesbos. It's because I am a mother that I wanted to help out. I believe that when you're raising kids you need to show them a good example. I want to show them that there is always a way to help others in times of need; it does not matter where a person comes from. What if we ever need such help? Now my children understand why I did it and it's taught them a great lesson.' Esther (39) from Noord-Holland 'Ever since I was a child I wished that people would look at the world with an open heart and an open mind. Helping other people as a volunteer gave me the feeling that I was doing the right thing; reaching out and holding children and adults from all over the world who had left everything and lost so much.' Flip (48) from Noord-Holland 'Working with refugees is inspiring because it shows the resilience and perseverance of people and it gives you a wider outlook on the world. As an asylum lawyer I give people the opportunity to get their lives back on track. It gives my work meaning if over time they manage to find their feet.' Ly (37) from Noord-Holland 'I am one of the many boat refugees who fled Vietnam in the late 70s. I was a nine months old. Floating on the sea for days, we were picked up by a Dutch cargo ship eventually ending up in the Netherlands. With the help of many others, my family and I have built a new life here. Now, 36 years later, with the number of Syrian refugees drastically increasing I decided to go to Lesbos to help as these people deserved the same help as I did 36 years ago.' Jan Willem (19) from Zuid-Holland 'I started the work because I followed the news, and couldn't sit down and just watch all the horror. First I signed up with the Red Cross helping refugees in the emergency shelters. After that, I felt I could do more so I decided to go to Greece and then I really couldn’t stop helping.' Puck (25) from Noord-Brabant 'I went to help on Lesbos because I could not bear to see these people making this terrible journey, especially the children and especially because it was not their choice. And I believe if you take care of people after such a traumatic experience then you help them get back to some kind of normality. Also, the smiles you get from the children you take care of even after such a scary boat trip is truly priceless.' Jade (18), Peter (44), Nicole (48) & Storm (12) from Zeeland Nicole: 'It began when I saw pictures of the boats in Greece and the refugees drowning in the sea. I was not able to help over there but when I saw the situation in Dunkirk, so close to my home, I realised that I was able to help. After my first visit Peter was so proud he decided to come with me and soon after that, the kids came with us too.' Hendrik (22) from Noord-Brabant 'About a year ago I got a message from a volunteer who desperately needed help at Idomeni. So three days later I jumped on an airplane… I wanted to do something for the most vulnerable groups in the camp: children, pregnant women and the sick. Every morning I drove to the supermarket, bought bananas and then distributed them in the camp from tent to tent. Soon this was picked up by media and volunteers and the project got bigger. I started with 200 bananas and eventually there were 4,000 to 5,000 bananas distributed by 25 volunteers every day. This is how Team Bananas started. We still exist but we are now helping out in other parts of Greece and in Turkey as well.'  More >


Video: Dutch tv documentary claims Trump has ties to Russia mobsters

Video: Dutch tv documentary claims Trump has ties to Russia mobsters

Dutch television current affairs show Zembla is claiming that US president Donald Trump has extensive connections to Russian oligarchs and even to convicted gangsters. The 45-minute documentary looks at Trumps alleged relationship with Russian mobster Felix Slater and agreements he has with rich Russians. 'The Russians are alleged to be in possession of sensitive information about Trump. And that exposes Trump to blackmail,' the programme makers say.  'Fake news, tweets Trump: “I have nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing!” Trump swears he has no ties with the Russians. But is that actually the case?' the programme asks.   More >


Dutch News Podcast – The Crashing Boars Edition – Week 19

Dutch News Podcast – The Crashing Boars Edition – Week 19

In this week's podcast we catch up with the latest news from the coalition talks, Dutch success in the Europa League and Eurovision Song Contest, and hear about some runaway pigs in Gelderland. Unfortunately technical gremlins have deprived us of the discussion section of the programme, but normal service will hopefully be resumed next week. Top story Still no government in sight after 58 days News Schiphol tries to cut waiting times Criminals cutting off electronic tags ProRail issues warning about train track selfies Wild boars rampage through campsite (Telegraaf) Video from De Telegraaf Sport Feyenoord miss chance to clinch Eredivisie title Ajax reach final of Europa League Advocaat unveiled as national team manager in heated press conference    More >


Stop wasting food: six initiatives to change the way we eat

Stop wasting food: six initiatives to change the way we eat

In the Netherlands, we throw away €2.5bn worth of edible food a year - but it doesn’t have to be this way. Deborah Nicholls-Lee reports on six initiatives which were set up to reduce our food waste. The United Nations has pledged to reduce our planet’s food waste by 50% by 2030  and each country must play its part. Here in the Netherlands, we discard over a third of our food output yet 2.5 million people live below the poverty line and struggle to feed themselves. The following schemes are challenging this paradox, helping the Netherlands to meet its food waste goals and rethink the way it uses food. NoFoodWasted  Who doesn’t love those 35% off stickers? NoFoodWasted have developed a free app that alerts you when items on your shopping list are marked down in your local supermarket. The app currently has around 40,000 users and scooped this year’s NRC award for the most impactful Start Up. Founded by August de Vocht in December 2014, NoFoodWasted was inspired by a conversation with a clerk in a supermarket about a cut-price chicken. At the time, he was frustrated about this missed opportunity for a barbecue: 'What if I had known this before? Then I could have bought the chicken and saved it from being thrown away,' he told DutchNews.nl. 'I always bought products close to their best before date and I could not understand why no supermarket was doing any marketing on it.' But the app is not just about the shopper. It helps the entire supply chain: 'If a consumer buys more economically, buys what he needs, then a supermarket can order less…and there’s less waste, then the farmer can only produce what we need. The aim is to reduce food waste in the whole sector; to turn around a supply-driven market to a demand-driven market.' Almost 200 supermarkets across the Netherlands have signed up for the app, which will soon also be available in Belgium, Germany and the UK. De Verspillingsfabriek The Verspillingsfabriek - or ‘Waste Factory’ - produces sauces, soups and stews made from leftovers from farmers and supermarkets, including over-ripe or misshapen vegetables and goods that are about to go out of date. The smartly-packaged products are then sold in stores under the brand Barstensvol (fit to burst) or sold back to the suppliers to sell under their own label. With its motto of ‘Wij staan voor de rest’ (We stand up for the leftovers), the Verspillingsfabriek take the metaphor further, recognising the value of those that are often marginalised in the job market. Working alongside associations like START Foundation and WSD, they employ the vulnerable: early school-leavers, the elderly, and people with a disability, who together make up around 70% of their workforce. Instock Rescued food can also make a quality dining experience according to Instock, a nonprofit restaurant chain founded by four Albert Heijn employees who saw how much food was thrown away and together sought a solution.  With the financial support of Albert Heijn, they opened their first restaurant in 2014, serving dishes made from rescued food. Today, Instock has restaurants in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, as well as a vintage fire engine which has been converted into a food truck which you can hire for your event. Instock serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu changes constantly, depending on what the haul of the day has been, and is largely reliant on what is reaching its best before date at the 80 participating Albert Heijn stores. They estimate that they have already rescued around 250,000 kilos of food. Instock works in association with a local brewery to produce Pieper Bier made from reject potatoes. They have also created a recipe book and run regular masterclasses where people can learn how to prepare tasty dishes from leftover food. Buurtbuik Modelled on the Portuguese Re-food movement, Buurtbuik is an Amsterdam-based initiative seeking a financially and environmentally sustainable solution to the dual problem of food waste and hunger, while bringing communities closer together. Run by volunteers, the organisation collects excess food from restaurants, supermarkets and growers and invites local residents to come and cook food together with the spoils. The participants can then either take the prepared dishes home or dine together with their neighbours – all completely free of charge. Kromkommer Looks aren’t everything at Kromkommer. The Rotterdam-based company, whose name is a clever wordplay of ‘crooked’ and ‘cucumber’, uses the wonky, knobbly vegetables that the supermarkets reject, to cook up delicious soups.  'What we want to do is change the perception,' explains director Chantal Engelen. 'This is how vegetables are. They can be strange or crooked or whatever, but it’s all about taste and flavour.' The project began when Chantal and her co-founders noticed how much waste there was with the growers, at the very first stage of the supply chain, and set out to change that. Kromkommer launched in 2014 and its products are now stocked in around 175 stores across the Netherlands, including Marqt and WAAR. 'The goal is to get vegetables actually on the shelf and not in our soup,' says Chantal, who hopes to sell the funny-looking vegetables under the Kromkommer brand name in the next couple of years. Recognising the imperfect as 'something positive and high in value' is crucial to changing our food habits, she says. ResQ Club ResQ Club is a clever app which finds meals at restaurants that would otherwise go to waste and sells them as take-outs – and occasionally eat-ins - for around half the price. It began with a pilot in Helsinki in February 2016, and launched in Amsterdam the following summer. Its 10,000 users in the Netherlands have all subscribed for free, as have the 70 catering establishments which register on a ‘no cure, no pay’ basis. David Kloosterboer, who manages the Dutch branch, has had very positive feedback from participating businesses: 'Every chef and every restaurant hates throwing food away. They’re just really happy that there’s a tool available now so that they don’t have to throw away food any more but they can still sell it. And also that they’re contributing to a more sustainable food chain.' As well as improving the restaurants’ sustainable branding, the app helps them find new customers. For consumers, it’s an affordable way to try out new places in their local area while reducing food waste. 'For restaurants and consumers, it’s a win-win situation,' says David. The service will soon be available in Groningen and hopes to expand to Rotterdam and Utrecht. ResQ also operates in Estonia, Germany and Sweden. What else is being done to cut food waste? Email editor@dutchnews.nl or use the comment section below to share your stories.  More >


Have you got what it takes? The hunt for international talent is on

Have you got what it takes? The hunt for international talent is on

The war for talent is on in the Netherlands and international companies are hunting for highly-skilled, well-travelled employees.  Like many expats, Phil Mander came to the Netherlands for a fantastic job opportunity and stayed for the quality of life ‘I moved to Amsterdam from London six years ago and haven't looked back. In that time, I've bought an apartment here, started a family and began working freelance. Amsterdam has one of the best tech scenes in Europe and as a web developer it's a great place to work,’ says  Mander, a tech specialist at Versatile.nl. In its most recent Index of Globalisation the KOF Swiss Economic Institute places the Netherlands right at the top; the most globalised country in the world. It makes sense of course. Holland’s key location within Europe has given The Netherlands a rich history of international trading. Combine this with a winning attitude to inclusion and multiculturalism; its topping UNICEF’s recent report into child happiness; and a culture that values work-life balance, then it’s easy to see why the Netherlands makes an attractive destination for people from all over the world to come and settle. Globalised workforce And, of course, globalised countries need a globalised workforce. The European Commission, in its last look at labour needs, was only too aware of the challenges to economic sustainability from changing demographics across the union. Increased life spans have kept the ‘baby-boomer’ generation working for longer but now they are reaching retirement en masse. Youth unemployment, the increasing trend towards technological automation and international student mobility are all combining to create a very different workplace and workforce. Some specialisations, such as healthcare, I.T. (especially in fields like Artificial Intelligence and Big Data), and engineering are in dire need of fresh blood. So much so that other European neighbours have taken radical steps to attract new talent: a few years ago the German unemployment office opened a branch in Madrid hoping to help fill their need for some 30,000 engineers over the next 10 years. So, the many international companies that have either sprung from Dutch entrepreneurial talent, or who have chosen to make the Netherlands their European base, are constantly on the lookout for new, highly skilled, well travelled employees. Those who boast good educational credentials, have insights into the cultures of partner countries or who speak multiple languages are in with an excellent chance. They’re also looking for innovative ways to attract and keep the best talent they can find. Explosion of services In Dutch business centres such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and now Eindhoven with its ‘Brainport’ region, there has been an explosion of services and events geared specifically towards expats. Think expat oriented real estate agents, companies that help you make the move from one country to the other, and events focused on internationals like the Expatica ‘i am not a tourist’ Job Fair for Internationals. All of them are seeking to make the daunting concept of immigration look attractive and manageable. ‘I came to The Netherlands for love not work, but soon started working as a freelancer. Big events like the “i am not a tourist” Expat Fairs were a really useful way to make lots of contacts in one go and find out about groups that I hadn’t considered looking up,' says freelance writer Sarah Edwards. The success of Expatica’s ‘i am not a tourist’ Expat Fairs in the past led them to set up a separate event dedicated specifically to the job hunting part of immigrating to the Netherlands. A Job Fair may not seem like an innovation in recruitment but with digital enhancements it seeks to make the process of matching up the best talent and the best vacancies as easy as possible; for both those looking for work and those looking to hire. ‘It’s still really important to be able to look people in the eye, to shake their hand,’ said Tom Bey, one of the organisers of the event. ‘But we’ve also added tools to make the networking and matchmaking as effortless as possible. Candidates can upload their CV and create a web based personal profile page specific to the event; then share this with those recruiting simply by having their badge scanned. Companies can seek real candidates for real positions.’ Big companies Such an event allows big companies like Booking.com, Atlassian, Murata and Mercedes Benz to meet multiple prospects in a single day. Job hunters can apply to a wide variety of companies and recruiters in one fell swoop, making for an efficient and more interesting way to find that ‘golden opportunity’ or build a useful network of contacts. It’s a ‘buyer’s market’ for highly skilled workers. Expatica are expanding these events rapidly. The Job Fair for Internationals will take place at the World Trade Centre, Amsterdam on Sat 20th May, and will be followed swiftly by the' I am not a tourist' Expat Fair in Eindhoven on 11th June and then the annual Expat Fair at the Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam, on 8th October. All of them will be information laden, with presentations and exhibitors geared to helping new arrivals find what they need in terms of education, family care and help with health or housing. Of the 17 million inhabitants of the Netherlands right now, nearly a quarter come from outside the country and recent polls have shown that four out of five workers in the Netherlands are happy with their job. Plus, there’s 13 of the top 200 universities in the world, good attitudes to gender parity, and English is the go-to second language. The pull factors for international workers are clear: the lowlands offers brilliant opportunities for those looking for a taste of the high life. For more information and tickets for the Job Fair for Internationals go to: http://www.jobfairforinternationals.nl/  More >


Sorghvliet park in The Hague is a peaceful place for those in the know

Sorghvliet park in The Hague is a peaceful place for those in the know

Tucked away behind an imposing wall on the route from The Hague to Scheveningen is a little-known park with an eventful history. Moira Holden has been to visit. A sea-like carpet of bluebells stretches deep into the woodland in Sorghvliet Park as spring coaxes out the wildflowers. Secluded by a high wall as the traffic thunders up the road towards the seaside, this peaceful Dutch scene replaces the sound of the cars with a relaxing, calm mood. Sorghvliet translates into ‘free of cares’ and it is easy to see why this leafy oasis has become a place for quiet solitude. It isn’t a busy park, but it’s definitely a special spot for those in the know. At this time of the year, the floor of the parkland becomes a platform for the season’s wood anemones and lily of the valley, but it’s the breath-taking swathes of bluebells that dominate the lie of the parkland. Today, the towering trees and the wildflowers don’t give a hint of the major role played by the park in the history of the state of the Netherlands. Origins Jacob Cats, the Dutch politician and prominent poet who had a background in law, is the person responsible for the origins of Sorghvliet. He came to live in The Hague in the seventeenth century and recognised the potential of the bare dunes of the landscape because he had experience of reclaiming land. At the age of 65, he set about making the area a home for himself and turned a small farmstead into a mansion – Catshuis. ‘By this time, his wife had died and his two daughters had left home and had their own families,’ says Mien Huisman-Berkhout, a guide for the IVN (Institute for Nature and Sustainability). ‘But his grandchildren would come here to play, fish and skate, and get lost in the maze.’ Cats, known affectionately by the Dutch as ‘Father Cats’, built a formal garden and enjoyed its tranquillity – frequently he would sit on a ridge surrounded by the bluebells to compose poetry and moral tales for the Emblem books. ‘He was considered a very wise man, and Dutch people would often put his books next to the Bible on their shelves,’ said Mien. ‘His wish was to give the land to the following generations, but after the death of his second daughter the estate was sold.’ New owners Cats lived at the park until his death at the age of 82 in 1660. The Bentinck family took ownership - they delighted in their surroundings and were keen to show off the beauty of the garden, so it soon became well-known in the Netherlands. The first member of the family, Hans Willem Bentinck, turned the park into a French landscape in 1675. But just one generation later, his son Willem, changed the landscape to an English design. In the 19th century, Sorghvliet was bought by King Willem II after he had lost his lands following the separation from Belgium. He commissioned plans for an opulent palace, but he lacked the funds to make the plans into a reality, and following his death much of his land was sold to pay off the high levels of debt he had accumulated. At one point, the orchards and kitchen gardens guaranteed that the estate was as self-sufficient as possible and owners would swap bulbs and seeds with other estates to bring in new flora alongside the beech, oak, lime, elm and horse chestnut trees. Later, as the city began to undergo more building development a wall was built in1920 to protect the park’s seclusion and to keep out the noise. Second World War The occupation by the Germans during the Second World War brought a massive change to the peaceful surroundings. They used the site as a place to train spies and to release V2 rockets on London. Eagle-eyed visitors can spot where the ground still slopes at certain points – this is where the mobile launchers were operated and left their mark. ‘A thundering noise could be heard as the rockets took off on their way to London,’ says Mien. ‘Sometimes the Germans got it wrong and the noise would stop – that’s when we knew the rockets were going to land on The Hague instead.’ The old, imposing trees in Sorghvliet are a legacy of the occupation. Elsewhere around the city, the trees were cut down because the people of the The Hague needed wood for their heating during the war years. Residence of renown Straight after the war, the Americans took over the park, but did little with it. The estate has never been owned by the council of The Hague and is now in the hands of the Dutch state. Inside the park, the Catshuis is visible through a security fence. It may look rather nondescript in the sense that it isn’t a large, impressive building, but it has been one of the official residences for Dutch prime ministers since 1963. Some prime ministers have lived here or used it as a pied-a-terre, but it has principally become a high-powered location to receive high-profile visitors. Barack Obama attended a G7 summit leaders’ conference in the Catshuis in March 2014, alongside Angela Merkel, François Hollande and David Cameron. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was a guest here when he visited the Netherlands for the first time. Despite the closeted VIP presence and the ghosts of its history, the park’s main function has come full circle and is enjoyed again solely for its beauty. Jacob Cats would definitely approve. An annual pass costs €7.15 and is available from The Hague tourist office.  More >


Master class: museums open doors to Dutch language learners

Master class: museums open doors to Dutch language learners

Groups learning Dutch as a second language have been crossing the entrances of a range of museums after the Stad en Taal (city and language) initiative was launched to teach Dutch culture in an accessible way. Julia Corbett joined a tour at the Rijksmuseum. The daunting task of speaking Dutch has just become a lot easier thanks to the Rijksmuseum’s new initiative, which immerses learners into the language and culture of the Netherlands during intimate Dutch speaking tours. Under the title Stad en Taal, six museums in Amsterdam together with the city council are providing the educational programme after research showed that a museum setting was the perfect location for boosting language learning. The researchers found that after learning more about the country’s history in an interactive way, people also began to feel more at home. Friendships Among our group taking the Stad en Taal guided tour were people from Russia, China and Syria. Although many had never been to a museum of this size before, our tour guide Tjyying Liu quickly captured everyone’s imagination and encouraged the group to speak up and describe their responses to the art – entirely in Dutch of course. Starting out as 20 nervous newcomers to Dutch, Tiyying’s passion coupled with the inspiring scenery from the Netherlands ‘Golden Age’, meant that by the end we were chatting in Dutch and even attempting our own art criticism. Guides leading the Rijksmuseum’s ‘Proef de Gouden Eeuw op z’n mooist’ (‘Taste the Golden Age at its Best’) tour adapt the level of Dutch to the students to bring history to life for those learning the language. The Rijksmuseum tour takes people on a one-hour whistle stop tour of the Dutch Golden Age, from Rembrandt to Vermeer. Teachers ‘We've spent months trying out the tour and invited Dutch teachers to help us shape the students’ experience,' says Sander Daams, from the education department at the Rijksmuseum. ‘There were already tours for tourists and children, but this is a special group of people to reach out to. ‘We have picked out certain themes such as trade, furniture, interiors, and food and drink from the Golden Age because it is much easier to link their learning in that way.' Russian student Dasha has been taking lessons at the Sagènn Educatie language school and said: ‘It's brilliant. We are able to see this museum and others while practising the language... I like the fact that we are encouraged to talk and are not just told about the art.’ Culture project Ten years in the making, the Stad en Taal project was created to encourage students to take their learning out of the classroom to boost their confidence and interest in the Netherlands' cultural past. Dutch teacher Anne-Marie de Ben from language school Sagènn Educatie, who brought her students on the tour, said: ‘It is crucial that students take the things they learn in school outside the class room and use them. This will help them pick up more of the language and eventually learn to love it.’  More >


May the fiets be with you: a bikepacking trip in Noord Holland

May the fiets be with you: a bikepacking trip in Noord Holland

Bikepacking is a new cycling trend. It's basically lightweight touring/camping on a mountain bike or racing bike using the latest generation of bags which don't need carriers or racks.  Mike Cooper went on a bikepacking trip through Noord Holland and Friesland The great whites were following me. There were eight of them. They were big. I wasn't nervous, I was enjoying their company. One thing about long-distance solo bikepacking: alone is the default. Great white egrets, herons more common to the Ukraine than to the Netherlands, are welcome company along the endless Houtribdijk, heading north out of Lelystad into an icy headwind towards Enkhuizen and fietsknooppunt 12. It was day two and I was fast running out of fuel. Three day tour My brief journey in early spring took three days and two nights. North from Haarlem to Den Oever, over the Afsluitdijk, south around the Frisian coast from Zurich to Lelystad, over the Houtribdijk, around the coast to Hoorn and across back to Haarlem: all using the ingenious Dutch fietsknooppunten system to navigate. Known variously in translation as 'cycle junctions' and 'bike nodes', those little white signs with a bike logo, arrows and green numbers in a circle can get you virtually anywhere if you have a bike, a map, a vague sense of direction, and are okay with the feeling of being totally lost most of the time. Sure, there's an app called fietsknoop but I found it difficult to use on the road due to the sun (no, really). But there's also the Netherlands' strongest bike map. This ruggedised chart is marketed as De sterkste fietskaart van Nederland and published by Buijten & Shipperheijn. It was my Brienne of Tarth: my truest and hardiest companion. It has many (but not all) of the bike nodes marked. Wild ponies and wisent bison Thanks to a sudden rare burst of decent weather in early April I packed up and set off northwards. Campsites in NL are mostly closed up until April, so the timing was opportune for some hardy overnighting. The journey began in the Kennemerduinen National Park. This undulating duned nature reserve is mostly populated with grey-haired couples aged around 60 riding electric bicycles two abreast. If you are fortunate to visit the park at a time when these creatures have not emerged, then one can also see pristine dune-scapes, wisent bison, wild ponies, Scottish highland cattle and a decent amount of bird-life. The coastal air is particularly crisp here. Follow your nodes The cyclepaths through the dunes are all well-marked with nodes. The trick is to remember the next four numbers: the ones you need in the coming half hour or so. There appears no rhyme or reason to the order (which no doubt does exist) as your route will cut through a multitude of node sequences. I found myself repeating mantras: '12, 47, 48, 5,' and so on. Having map or app on hand at all times is an essential part of node navigating. From the dunes of the west coast I headed east and inland through the suburban sprawl of Noord Holland. From Alkmaar to Middenmeer the real estate was relentless. At times this gets full-on Truman Show creepy (neighbours simultaneously pressure-hosing their driveways next to each other, grinning wildly) but once through the village of Winkel, things get rural again. Lost again, Frik! When going long-distance on a bicycle have food, snacks, ample sugary drink at the ready, especially when the weather is chilly. Your body uses energy first to heat you up, and then to power you along. And if you ever cycle across the Afsluitdijk eat well in advance. During the traverse you are basically cycling behind a dyke, alongside a motorway in the sea. All the vehicles except for you are swooshing along at around 130 kph. 'The great thing about cycling in the Netherlands is that it's mostly all flat,' is certainly true. But this also means you have to pedal all the time. All. The. Time. And no more so than on the Afsluitdijk. Bubble-wrap mattress The dijk is a 32-km-long straight line. On sunny days, the cycle path in the distance disappears into silver pools of fata morgana. You pedal on and on, yet appear to get nowhere. Then you realise you have no energy left and find yourself grabbing for muesli bars and other confectionary, desperate as you are to keep the legs grinding along. On a bad day, with a headwind, it could take you two hours to traverse this engineering miracle and symbol of Dutch Soul. Be warned. On finally reaching the other side, I rushed to Routiers Restaurant Zurich (who kindly allowed me to park my bike inside their entrance hall, next to the Fietsers Welkom sign) and gobbled down an 3-fried-egg and bacon uitsmijter, apple tart and coffee. Thence, energized, a further 24 kilometers south to Camping Hinderloopen, the first night under canvas. First conclusion after climbing into the tent: bubble-wrap may be compact, but it's rubbish as an insulator against freezing ground. Second, after 167 kilometres in a day and a couple of beers it doesn't matter: you sleep. I had been in the saddle for almost seven hours and burnt some 2,500 calories. The solar-powered light/powerbank by WakaWaka had been soaking rays all day and it was time to feed the phone. Mine was the only tent at the campsite. Ommelebommelestein The following morning at first light skylarks began to sing high above the encampment. I packed up my gear and headed to the campsite mini-mart where the coffee was hot. By contrast, Friesland (Freezeland) was cold that day. Frigid sea mist permeated the air and I got going as quickly as possible: once the legs creak back into action the body soon generates some heat. Stavoren, Laaksum, Oudemirdum, Nieuw Amerika, Lemmer: the Frisian place names have an exotic ring. None more so than Urk. Formerly an island dating back from the 10th century, Urk has an insular reputation: 'there are strangers, and there are Urkers' the local saying goes. The strangers are brought into the world by storks but Urkers come from Ommelebommelestein, a rock in the IJsselmeer. I did not stop there. I continued south to the Ketelbrug and there I saw the body of a dead man. Red-letter day A water police boat with a hoist had just lifted the dead man out of the water, which pured from the stretcher-like canvass harness. His feet dangled lugubriously. I continued on my way, being ushered to do so by the police team. I reflected in silence. Later I read that the man had been missing for some weeks, his car abandoned, a suspected suicide. Sometimes you lose your fietsknooppunten completely. This being the Netherlands, you can then simply refer to the normal, utilitarian cycle path signage. These signposts with red lettering on a white background provide more direct, less scenic directions and are a perfect fallback option when you lose your nodes. I followed the red-lettered signs to Lelystad and soon picked up the nodes again and headed from 34 to 12: the second insane dyke: the aforementioned Houtribdijk which is just under 30 kilometers long and marks the border between the IJsselmeer to the north, and the Markermeer to the south. Here you cycle closer to the water than on the Afsluitdijk which makes it far more scenic but also more exposed to the weather. Wind and sun today. While the uncommon great white egrets (whose pristine feathers were used as ornaments by knights of yore) were a pleasant surprise, more common courting couples of great crested grebes and gadwall and distant brown-sailed boats also distracted the eyes pleasingly from the hard work being put in by the legs. De Hulk Upon reaching Enkhuizen I had had enough for the day. The dyke had sapped all energy reserves and I pitched my tent at the municipal campsite at the northern edge of this old harbour town once more important than Amsterdam. After another huge uitsmijter and a sun-soaked beer, I bedded down and, due to the semi-public nature of the campsite, took the wheels off the bike and put frame and wheels in the foretent. Bright sunlight and the 'pok' of a tennis ball hitting my tent woke me up. The ball had been thrown by a dog-owner not yet used to the campsite being used. She was very apologetic. I set off and almost immediately suffered my first and only puncture of the trip. A spare inner tube means no messing about with roadside repair kits, and once the new tube is installed, one brief, near magical whiff from a CO2 cartridge pump and the new tyre is instantly inflated. The coastal route from Enkhuizen to Hoorn was certainly the prettiest scenery on the tour. From up on this meandering, historic dyke you see the Markermeer to the left, and marshy waterways punctuated by smallholdings to the right. After Hoorn it is time to head inland again. But first pass by De Hulk: just because of the name. Straight lines in the sun (even the clouds are lining up today), and the final stretch of Dutch countryside from De Hulk to De Rijp is warm and inviting. I try to set a fast pace. I am now very tired and will be happy to get home. When you get over-tired that's when you really get lost, and this route went very pear-shaped between West Knollendam and the ferry to Spaarndam. Extra time, kilometers and energy were all spent trying to work out where the frik I was. This time neither knooppunt nor red-letter signs were helping. I resorted to analogue compass and headed due south, regardless. Somehow I then ended up where I needed to be: amid a group of French tourists on e-bikes crossing the North Sea Canal on the gratis ferry. From there it was a short jaunt back to Haarlem. You really don't have to grind hundreds of kilometers to enjoy a cycling trip in the Netherlands using fietsknooppunten. Any short trip out of your comfort zone will be enhanced by following the green signs. Download the app, pack a boterham and pedal off. May the fiets be with you.  More >


As the takeover battle for AkzoNobel heats up, just how ‘Dutch’ is it really

Dutch paint maker AkzoNobel is being hotly pursued by American peer PPG. The potential takeover has prompted economic affairs minister Henk Kamp to say it is  in the Netherlands’ interests to make sure Dutch multinationals continue to be led from the Netherlands.’ So just how Dutch is AkzoNobel? True, the company is headquartered in the Zuidas business district in Amterdam. True, its shares are traded on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. And AkzoNobel operates in more than 80 countries around the world. Its main operations are paints and coatings and specialty chemicals. AkzoNobel is truly a multinational. So how much money does it make in the Netherlands? In 2016, the group turned over €14.2bn. About one-third of this was generated in Europe, of which €1.4bn, or 10%, in the Netherlands. And what about its local workforce? AkzoNobel has a global payroll of 46,000, and 4,900 of them are in the Netherlands - so around 10% then. Share ownership in the Netherlands, however, falls below the 10% level and AkzoNobel itself putting Dutch share ownership at 8%. About two-thirds of its shares are in the hands of Anglo-American investors, headed by North Americans with 48% and the UK with 17%. In terms of ownership, them, AkzoNobel is already American. Origins So what about its roots? The AkzoNobel website states that the company's origins can be traced all the way back to a foundry established in the Swedish countryside by Paul Hossman - not a very Dutch start there then. Akzo itself was formed only in 1969 with the merger of Algemene Kunstzijde Unie (fibres) and Koninklijke Zout Organon (salt, pharmaceuticals). Akzo 'merged' with Sweden's chemicals and explosives group Nobel Industries in 1994, and almost at the same divested its pharmaceuticals arm Organon. In 1998, AkzoNobel cherry-picked British-based industrial coatings and synthetic fibres group Courtaulds. A bigger deal took place in 2007 when AkzoNobel acquired most of Britain's Imperial Chemical Industry - ICI. Thoroughly Dutch AkzoNobel claims that a takeover by/merger with PPG Industries would strip the Amsterdam firm - and the Dutch nation - of its heritage. End of an era Imagine then how ICI - and the British nation - felt in 2007 when it was acquired by AkzoNobel. London's Daily Telegraph described it: 'The curtain comes down today on one of the great eras of British industry. After 82 years, Imperial Chemical Industries - the erstwhile corporate titan will officially move into new ownership: Dutch rival AkzoNobel. 'Akzo's first tricky decision will be whether to retain ICI's famous brand or consign what has become an emblem of British history to the scrapheap. The decision, an Akzo spokesman said, 'will not be based on emotion but on what will be the best value for the company for the future,' the Daily Telegraph said. Sounds a bit like PPG Industries, which started life as Pittsburgh Plate Glass. If PPG gets its way with AkzoNobel it will have similar decisions to make.  More >


DutchNews podcast – The Fifty Shades of Orange Edition – Week 17

As the king turns 50 we look at the enduring popularity of the Dutch royal family. Meanwhile the other great orange institution – the national football team – finally finds a new coach, firefighters rescue a dog from a rabbit hole, Jeroen Dijsselbloem rescues himself from a Greek tragedy and a building in Amersfoort has a very modern facade. Top story TV interview marks king's 50th birthday Full interview on NOS website News Dick Advocaat expected to be appointed national football coach for third time Court to rule on whether 12-year-old boy should undergo cancer treatment Emojis used on building facade Firefighters free dog from rabbit hole Discussion Seven in 10 Dutch support royal family  More >


Celebrate freedom, Dick Bruna and beer: 10 great things to do in May

Celebrate freedom, Dick Bruna and beer: 10 great things to do in May

From celebrating freedom to celebrating beer - here's our round-up of some of the best things to do in the Netherlands this May. Celebrate freedom and harmony Liberation Day – May 5 – sees Bevrijdingsfestivals taking place across the country. National and international bands will be performing on stages from Amsterdam to Zwolle, under the banner ‘Geef vrijheid door’ ('Pass freedom on’). The festivals are free and there's a dedicated website where you can find out what’s happening near you. Check out the other side of Dick Bruna Dick Bruna, who died in February this year, was much more than the creator of Nijntje (aka Miffy). The famous rabbit has deliberately been left out of 2000x Dick Bruna, an exhibition of his other works, including his book covers for Dutch thriller series Havank. Until May 11, at the Atrium in The Hague. Website Give Scorsese the Eye The first major Martin Scorsese retrospective, which has been touring New York, Berlin, Melbourne and Paris comes to the Eye film museum in Amsterdam on May 25 (until September 3). Alongside screenings of his films, some 400 objects will be on show including never before seen documents, film fragments, personal possessions, storyboards and set designs. ‘Some of the objects you’re going to see were literally taken off walls and shelves in my home and my office, and editing room. A lot of these things are very, very personal,’ Scorsese commented. Website Bring a torch It's Museum Night in Leiden on May 19. All the city's participating museums will be open until 1am and have special programmes in place. Former politician Jan Terlouw and his daughter Sanne will be lecturing on 'Time' in the Museum Volkenkunde and Naturalis has organised a meet & greet with Charles Darwin who will be happy to hear your views and may even be persuaded to come to the after party. Website Take a boat to the theatre From May 22 to 24 the STET English Theatre in the Hague presents 'The Greatest Thing', a musical fairy tale for all ages by singer-songwriter Miss Walker and mime artist Silent Rocco from Berlin.  A boat ride to the Zuiderpark theatre will put you in the proper magical mood. Website Say cheers It's Dutch Beer Week from May 11 to May 21. Yes, it's actually a week spread out over ten days but who's counting after a couple of pints. There are two main events: the beer tasting festival in the Grote Kerk in The Hague on May 11, 12 and 13 where some 43 breweries will be presenting 150 beers. Factoring in recovery time the breweries open their doors to visitors on May 9, 20 and 21. Website Get crazy If you're crazy about Surrealism you will probably already have seen Crazy about Surrealism in Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam. For those who have missed out so far, it's on until May 28.  Dalí, Ernst, Miró, the gang's all here with little-seen works from four private collections. Website Celebrate spring Ten days of dance, theatre and more with Spring in Utrecht, from May 18 to May 27. Political issues and human relationships set to new choreographies and expressed in plays and art to give us hope - or at least cheer us up- in troubled times. Website Look at Bob Dylan De Fundatie in Zwolle presents Face Value, twelve portraits drawn in pastel by Bob Dylan. 'The portraits are as direct and unpolished as his music', the museum writes. The portraits have been on tour since 2013 and will be on show in Zwolle from May 24. Website Make the most of your last chances There's still time to catch the fascinating exhibition in the Rijksmuseum about the Dutch relationship with South Africa. Good Hope is on until May 21. Website   More >


12 key facts about Dutch king Willem-Alexander, as he turns 50

12 key facts about Dutch king Willem-Alexander, as he turns 50

King Willem-Alexander turns the ripe old age of 50 on April 27. To mark the occasion,  here are some random facts about the Dutch king. 1 Willem-Alexander was a 'completely normal Dutch boy', according to his primary school teacher. But unlike other completely normal Dutch boys he had to submit to much attention from the press. ‘Alle Nederlandse pers opgerot’ (all Dutch press buzz off), the nine year-old Willem-Alexander famously piped up at a gathering of journalists. The royals’ relationship with the press was always a little tetchy, which is why some suggested that Willem-Alexander’s little outburst may have been copied from things his parents might have said at home. 2 Willem-Alexander is crazy about sport, especially ones in which the Dutch excel, such as football and speed skating. That side of his character is nowhere better admired than on the stands of stadiums where the king, decked out in orange in spite of his unfortunate colouring, jumps up and down just like, well, like any of us. He is an honourable member of the Olympic Committee as well. 3 Still on the theme of sport, an 18 year-old Willem-Alexander rode out one of the toughest circuits in the Dutch skating calender, the Elfstedentocht in 1986. The Elfstentocht is a 200 kilometre skating race around the 11 cities of Friesland, and a rare happening in these days of global warming. Contestant W.A. van Buren turned out to be the prince who said he did it for a bet. 4 Undeterred by his royal status Willem-Alexander the student –  he showed himself to be ‘intelligent but not an intellectual’- became a bit of a lad. He drank a lot of beer, earning himself the nickname ‘Prins Pils’ and once drove his car into a canal in Leiden. He did manage to earn a degree in history. 5  Since 2012, the Dutch monarch has been cut out of the process to form a new government. However, WA has had some interesting jobs in the past. He was a member of the government advisory body SER , chairman of the Advisory Board on Water & Sanitation (UNSGAB) and had various fuctions within the Olympic Committee, all of which he had to give up when he became king in 2013. 6 Following in the family tradition, Willem-Alexander’s choice of spouse was controversial. His grandmother Juliana married a cad and a bounder  and so did  Juliana’s mother, queen Wilhelmina. Former queen Beatrix by contrast married a saint, albeit a German saint, the German nationality always being a little bit of a stumbling block for many Dutch. Willem-Alexander married Máxima, who is Argentine, on February 2, 2002. Unfortunately for her, Máxima’s father Jorge Zorreguieta served under dictator Jorge Videla and was banned from attending the wedding. 7 Although the monarchy is not a subject of much heated debate in the Netherlands, there is a Republican society which is quietly but determinedly promoting what it sees as a more democratic form of government. Whether it is thanks to the efforts of the Republicans is not clear but support for the monarchy as an institution has been declining, from 80% in 2008 to 65% in 2016. 8 Willem-Alexander does well in the popularity stakes and scored 7.3 in a 2016 poll, basically for being a nice person. Calling him a nice man is by far the safest way to go with the king. Call him anything else and you may well end up in prison or paying a fine. There is quite a long list of people who insulted a royal and paid the price. Anarchist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis was sentenced to six months in prison in 1887 for writing an article in which he called Willem III (Wilhelmina’s father) ‘idle’ and ‘king Gorilla’ (because of his boorish behaviour). Only last year a man was sentenced to 30 days in jail for calling the king a ‘murderer’, an ‘oppressor’ and a ‘thief’. 9 It is, however, perfectly fine to portray the king in chocolate. The maker of a seven kilo royal head is going to present the king with his chocolate likeness on King’s Day.   WA is also portrayed on a new ten euro commemorative coin featuring his head festooned with ribbons - apparently inspired by reliefs on the palace on Dam square - and a sailor knot to represent 'union'. And how could we forget the satirists at Lucky TV, with their Willy and Max show. 10 Willem-Alexander and his family will be celebrating King’s Day in Tilburg this year. What activities he will actively take part in remains to be seen but he will be dining with 150 guests who share their birthday with the king. After the celebration the palace on the Dam in Amsterdam remains open for 50 hours for a bit of gawping by the rest of us. 11 The king does not come cheap. The Dutch royal family is considered to be one of the most expensive in Europe, and costs the taxpayer some €40m a year, excluding security. Willem-Alexander does not have to pay tax on his salary of €880,000 and much of the royal family's money is in foundations, which do not pay tax either. The taxpayer also picks up the bill for security, rebuilding palaces and the former queen’s yacht De Groene Draeck - which bizarrely is paid from the defence ministry budget. 12 The biggest revolution Willem-Alexander has brought about so far is moving the Netherlands’ great national jumble sale, where millions of items move from one attic to another, from April 30 to April 27. The latter is WA’s birthday and the former the birthday of his grandmother, former queen Juliana. In between queen Beatrix very considerately didn’t change the date to an even chillier January 31. Daughter and crown princess Amalia celebrates her birthday on December 7, which is not only likely to be chilly but is far too close to Sinterklaas and Christmas as well. Have a good King’s Day everyone and wrap up warm.  More >


The richest men in the Netherlands – Charlene Heineken does not count

While it may be harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, the ranks of the rich in the Netherlands are swelling. Reflecting this, business magazine Quote doubled the length of its annual rich list in 2016 as part of its 20th birthday celebrations. The Quote list is complicated by several factors: many rich Dutch live elsewhere for tax reasons (or perhaps an unsated lust for skiing) – and then there is family wealth as opposed to individual riches. The best illustration of this is Charlene de Carvalho-Heineken, the only child of the late beer magnate Freddy Heineken. Charlene lives in London, is resident in Switzerland and has five children. Both she and her husband hold supervisory board posts with the brewing group. Charlene's 25% controlling share in Heineken is worth €11bn on the Quote list, an increase of 14% over the previous year. She is by far the richest Dutch person. The Heineken heiress comes in at 76th on the Forbes list of the world's billionaires and ranks seventh on the Sunday Times Rich List. Her annual dividend payment is in excess of €100m. Another anomaly on the Quote List is the House of Orange. Quote estimates the Dutch royal family's wealth at €900m (putting them eighth in the families group), but admits they could have as much as €20bn squirrelled away somewhere. Frits Goldschmeding And so we turn to more regular Dutch plutocrats. Topping the Quote 1000 list for 2017 is temps king Frits Goldschmeding. Poor Frits saw his capital shrink by 25.5% last year to €3.5bn last year as Brexit took a bite out of the value of his Randstad group. Goldschmeding founded the Uitzendbureau Amstelveen in 1960, and in 1964 renamed it Randstad. Randstad went public in 1990, and in 2008 it merged with the Dutch group Vedior. The company is now the world's second largest staffing agency. Dik Wessels Dik Wessels, who heads the country's second largest building group, VolkerWessels, comes in next, with €3.3bn, representing a 10% decline. However, the company's public flotation, announced last week, is expected to add an extra €800m to his family's wealth. Hans Melchers Hans Melchers, who founded his investments empire on chemicals, is at number 3 with €2.5bn, a whopping 25% increase over last year. His current plans are to build a few museums in his old stomping ground of the Achterhoek, the economically challenged part of Overijssel on the border with Germany. John de Mol Entertainment mogul John de Mol is worth €2.5bn, unchanged over 2015. He made a fortune with Big Brother, but has not fared so well with his outside investments. He has also been locked in a protracted struggle to take over Telegraaf Media Groep, where he currently owns 28.7% of the total shareholding. Wijnand Pon Also flat is fifth-ranked Wijnand Pon, Volkswagen importer, investor and Groningen's richest man, on €1.7bn. Marcel Boekhoorn Multifaceted investor Marcel Boekhoorn is ranked 6th with €1.6bn, down 23.1% against the previous year. Boekhoorn, whose interests include De Telegraaf newspaper, McGregor Fashion Group, Spyker cars and football club NEC Nijmegen, told Quote that 'a great deal of my activities are not visible to the outsider'. Does the tax office see it that way? Lesley Bamberger Lesley Bamberger (Quote says he has a toothpaste smile) is a property investor whose assets shot up by 15.4% last year to €1.5bn. Bamberger, ranked seventh, keeps himself busy with retail developments in the centre of Amsterdam. Karel van Eerd At number 8 Karel van Eerd is the highest-ranked of the many supermarket operators on the Quote List. His Jumbo supermarket chain had assets of €1.5bn in 2016, double that of the previous year as reorganisations and repositioning began to pay off. Jumbo acquired all 60 La Place restaurants from the bankrupt V&D department store chain and plans to stock them with Jumbo produce. Joop van den Ende Joop van den Ende, one-time partner of John de Mol, has moved into musicals which he claims have reached a higher level than before in the Netherlands. We'll see. He stands ninth on the Quote list with an unchanged fortune of €1.5bn.  Carel Nolet This being Holland, it's only right that a top 10 place is held by Carel Nolet. He is a 10th-generation distiller who has amassed €1.5bn. Much of the increase comes from sales of his Ketel One Vodka, an absolute topper (as we Dutch say) in the US. The Schiedam distillery also turns out gin. Quote's richest 1000 had total assets of €116.8bn at the end of last year, a 7.2% increase on 2015. The minimum asset level for inclusion was €25m and 18 were billionaires. By way of contrast, total capital owned by the names on the Quote 500 in 1997 was €34bn. In its illuminating and often amusing comments on its list, Quote notes that while a lot of people do not want to be on the list (or feel their wealth is overstated), many others are begging to be included. So when can we expect the Quote 2000?  More >


Queen Maxima opens show of porcelain not good enough for the emperor

Queen Maxima opens show of porcelain not good enough for the emperor

  Artefacts once considered not good enough for the gaze of the Chinese emperor have now finally been viewed by Dutch royalty. Moira Holden finds out more about a collection of porcelain which was never meant to be seen. Queen Maxima opened Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor, a painstaking restoration of broken china from the Far East, now on display at the Prinsenhof Museum. The porcelain was originally made and destroyed without being used by the emperor because it was considered not perfect enough for the ruler’s eyes. The emperors of China’s Ming dynasty demanded absolute precision when it came to porcelain. If there was merely a hint of imperfection in the china, it was deemed unsuitable to be presented to the imperial court and was broken up and buried. This 'waste' has now seen the light of day after lying hidden for many centuries in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen, the centre of the imperial pottery workshops. Fast forward hundreds of years and it is now being appreciated following its excavation and restoration even though it was never meant to be seen. Fragments of broken china have been made whole again following their discovery in the 1980s and are being exhibited for the first time outside of Asia. The stunning craftwork of these artefacts which were rejected is a clue to the high expectations of the emperors. Rejected One of the highlights of the collection is a dragon vase made and destroyed in the early part of the 15th century. ‘We know it was made specifically for the emperor because the dragon has five fingers,’ explains Suzanne Kluver, curator of decorative arts at the Prinsenhof. ‘If a dragon had three or four fingers, then that is a sign the vase would have been made for normal people. The blue ink on the vase needs to be clean and sharp, and the colour needs to be vibrant. The blue on this vase is a bit fuzzy, so that is why it would have been rejected.’ Other pieces of porcelain on show include products from 1368 up to 1644, ranging from ceremonial religious china used in temples, to wine cups, bowls and dishes for food. The recovered pieces of china also illustrate the popularity of keeping and breeding birds at the imperial court. Many bird-feeding dishes have been found during excavation. The birds were fed hemp and water in a bid to make them sing more beautifully. Crickets were also popular because of their chirping sounds and were used in fights against each other. Several cricket boxes were discovered from the time of emperor Xuande’s reign in the 15th century. Recovered Kilns were discovered at the pottery workshops at Jingdezhen in the 1980s when some buildings were knocked down. The excavation of this site yielded an archaeological treasure of deliberately broken fragments which were eventually made whole again. The area was rich in the necessary raw materials. Porcelain is made from a specific type of clay – kaolin or china clay – and it can be fired at a high temperature of 1100-1300 degrees C without losing its shape. The very fine particles fuse together to form porcelain after three days. After this process, the pieces would then be evaluated for the emperor. Those that passed the test would be sent on the 1350-km journey to Beijing, while those that didn’t would be immediately broken and buried. ‘The region has hills around it and is near the river because they needed wood to be brought there to fire the kilns,’ says archaeologist Steven Jongma. who carried out excavation work on the site. ‘Over the centuries, the potters’ waste was buried in the lowlands and the river would flood and cover them with clay, leaving layers of soil and broken pottery.’ Stratigraphy – the study of the layering of the soil – reveals the dates of the buried porcelain. The different pieces of china on show in the exhibition can be roughly dated by their position in the layers of soil. Link Delft and Jingdezhen share a link in the history of ceramics. The blue and white porcelain crafted in China was brought to the Netherlands by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. This is what inspired potters in Delft to imitate the Chinese designs and manufacture delftware, although it’s made with a different type of clay and produces a white glaze. Both cities still produce pottery today. ‘I find a lot of pottery here in Delft during excavations here on a pretty regular basis,’ said Drs Jongma, ‘so it was very exciting for me to help with the excavations in China as well. Finding the porcelain in the soil was a real adventure.’ Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor, runs until 9 July 2017. www.prinsenhof-delft.nl  More >


Can Dutch firms ban their staff from wearing headscarves?

Can Dutch firms ban their staff from wearing headscarves?

Does a recent European Court ruling mean Dutch companies can ban their employees from wearing headscarves? The answer is, to put it simply, both yes and no. Bans on wearing 'any political, philosophical or religious sign' are not discriminatory, the European Court of Justice said in its ruling last month. However, employers can only implement them as part of broader rules regarding employee appearance. The Court ruled on the case of Samira Achbita, a receptionist employed by G4S Security Company in Belgium, who began wearing a headscarf to work for religious reasons. She was subsequently fired after refusing to remove the headscarf after the company implemented a dress code which included a ban on wearing religious symbols in the work place. Achbita challenged her dismissal in a Belgian court. The Belgian court then referred the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ was asked whether banning a headscarf in the broader context of banning religious and political symbols violated the EU Equal Treatment Framework Directive. This directive is part of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015, which forbids discrimination in the workplace based on, among other things, race and religion. Highest EU court The Court of Justice is the highest court in the European Union. It is tasked with interpreting European law and ensuring that European law is applied across all member states. The Court, which sits in Luxembourg, is comprised of one judge from every EU-member country, 28 in total, though most cases are heard by a smaller panel of judges. The ECJ ruled jointly on G4S v Achbita  with another discrimination case, Bougnaoui v Micropole. In that case, a French woman, Asma Bougnaoui, had been sacked  after a customer complained that her headscarf was 'embarrassing'. She was asked by her company to remove her headscarf after the complaint and when she refused, she was fired. This does not mean, as it has been reported in some media outlets, that employers can ban their employees from wearing a headscarf. Instead, companies can ban headscarves only if the ban is part of a broader requirement to maintain a neutral workplace. Equal treatment That means a company may forbid employees from wearing items which indicate a particular religious, political or philosophical belief. The ban must apply universally across all employees. A company cannot, for example, require one employee to remove a headscarf while allowing another to wear a Christian cross. The ruling also only applies to customer-facing employees and did not address those employees who do not deal directly with customers. In addition, the employer must investigate whether or not it is possible for the position to be altered so that the person in question does not have to interact with customers. The ruling has garnered mixed reactions. Both Amnesty International and the Conference of European Rabbis expressed concern that the ruling opens up the door to discrimination while the British Humanist Association indicated it felt the ruling balanced everyone’s rights fairly. In the Netherlands, Dutch employers organisations welcomed the ruling, saying it gave more clarity about what company executives must do if there are problems with employees about dress. Dress codes Employers who wish to enforce a neutral workplace should evaluate their employee dress codes and ensure there is a fair balance between the burden on the employee and the office requirements. Employees should advise themselves of their rights. They should expect their employer to have clear requirements for the company dress code. Workplace rules can be complicated. The Legal Expat Desk is here to help. Employers and employees who have questions or concerns about this new ruling and how it may apply to them or to their company can contact us at legalexpatdesk.nl  More >


From sex to smoothies: reforming Amsterdam’s red light district

From sex to smoothies: reforming Amsterdam’s red light district

The city of sleaze is cleaning itself up. Fed up with brothels, low-rent snack bars and sex shops, Amsterdam city council is busy trying to gentrify the red light district. But not everyone is happy, particularly police and the sex workers themselves, as Graham Dockery finds out. Is the city losing a central aspect of its identity? Or is this a long overdue clean up? Either way, the effects are already visible. Tourists walking through the district a couple of years ago would have seen far more red lights for a start. There are now just under 300 window brothels in the district, down from 486 in 2006. In alleys where working girls used to ply their trade, indie art galleries and barber shops now occupy the windows. The strip clubs and peep shows still operate, but they share the street with upscale boutiques and thrift stores. Diversity ‘I want some more diversity in this area,’ said Annabelle van Dijk. Annabelle works in Koko Coffee and Design, an achingly hip establishment that wouldn’t look out of place in Williamsburg or Shoreditch. ‘The red light district is a part of Amsterdam’s history, but shops like this keep things mixed,’ she said. All of this change is the result of the local government’s ongoing Project 1012 initiative. Named for the district’s postcode, Project 1012 aims to slash the number of red lights and coffee shops, and drive out the tackier and seedier businesses that the area is known for. Underway since 2007, the project’s stated goal is to ‘reduce crime and degeneration in the city centre…[and] make the area more attractive for residents, visitors, and other businesses.’ However, before the concept stores and cafes can open, the brothels have to be shut. Closing the shutters This has proven difficult. Some brothel owners have been bought out by the council, but others don’t want to sell. Brothel owner Willem Van Der Meulen, who at one point operated 13% of the district’s windows, refused to sell and found himself targeted by the law. The authorities claimed that Van Der Meulen – a former police officer and one time associate of notorious brothel kingpin ‘Fat Charlie’ Geerts – did not do enough to ensure that his employees were not victims of human trafficking, and tried to revoke his brothel license. ‘Van Der Meulen’s buildings are owned by Chang and Cirkel [two Amsterdam criminals], and those guys were a pain in the ass for the authorities for a long time,’ says Mariska Majoor. Majoor is a former prostitute and sex-worker’s rights activist. She sees the charges faced by Van Der Meulen as a flimsy excuse to further the 1012 agenda. ‘Taking away licenses is a cheap way for the authorities to get rid of someone they don’t want in the Red Light District,’ she says. Van der Meulen fought the charges and still operates window brothels in the red light district. Going underground While fighting human trafficking is an understandable goal of the city government, few people see closing window brothels as the solution. ‘Every idiot knows that pushing things underground only makes it easier for criminals to get their hands on,’ read a blog post from working prostitute Felicia Anna. Where prostitution is illegal, Felicia argues that ‘justice is at the hands of those who've got the most muscle. And I can tell you right now, the prostitutes aren't the ones with the most muscles.’ In the window brothels, working girls have access to an alarm button and the area is regularly patrolled by police. Working illegally, the girls don’t have this protection. ‘They try to sell the clearing of the brothels as a solution to do something [for] the women, and we all agree here that it’s not the right solution,’ says police officer Ron Beekmeijer. Beekmeijer is the former chief of the Amsterdam police vice squad, the unit tasked with policing the city’s sex trade. In the underground market, the safety and welfare of sex workers is even less sure than in the current window system, the sergeant says. Window closures were halted in 2015 after local residents and sex workers protested. But for many, the character of the area was already irreversibly changed. Gentrification in action In Amsterdam, the government owns all land and leases it to landlords. According to government statistics, the percentage of property values based on location is much lower in the red light district than in surrounding neighbourhoods. By virtue of location alone, property in the red light district is valued up to 10% lower than in neighbouring areas. Clearing out the seedy elements and gentrifying the area is therefore a lucrative project for the city. While there are some clear signs of a shift, young, drunk and mostly male tourists still make up the bulk of the weekend crowd in the district. ‘Everything has a sleazy vibe at night here,’ said Anna Kopitar, who works in a cannabis seed shop in the area. ‘Walking around as a young woman, everyone thinks you’re in the sex trade, and I’ve had drunken English tourists approach me like that. Very low vibes in this area.’ But Anna shrugs it off. ‘There’s a lot of lost, sad and frustrated people who come here, but I’m cool with it all. They come to see something they can’t see at home, and they’re shocked by it all.’ Smoothies Gabija Damalakaite works in a brightly-lit café on the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal, one of the red light district’s main thoroughfares. Open since last summer, the premises used to house a porn shop – the change a visible illustration of the project at work. The scuzzy porn cassettes have been replaced with brightly colored macaroons and lactose-free smoothies, but the clientele is mostly the same. ‘I have customers who ask ‘what kind of sex do you sell here’,’ said Gabija. ‘And I’m like, dude, I sell crepes and muffins!’ Gabija is happy however about the authorities’ crackdown on street dealers, which began last October. ‘There were always those guys whispering ‘cocaine, cocaine’ in your ear, and I don’t notice that anymore. It definitely makes the area better, and I feel safer.’ While public safety and crime reduction are goals that most people would agree with, opinion on the overall direction that the neighbourhood is going in is divided. Most critical of the gentrification of the area are longtime residents and well-known community figures like Mariska Majoor. ‘In 10 years all these alleys will look as decent and boring and hip as the rest of the city,’ she says with a sigh.  More >


Flower power: Nine ways to get your tulip fix this spring

Flower power: Nine ways to get your tulip fix this spring

While tulip bulbs may no longer be hard currency here, tulip mania continues to infect the Netherlands from late March to late April when the fields are in flower. Deborah Nicholls-Lee suggests nine ways to get your tulip fix this spring. Visit the bulb fields The greatest expanse of tulip cultivation in the country can be seen in the Noordoostpolder in Flevoland, which boasts a tulip route of 106 km. Spot the tulip mosaics proudly displayed by the villages as you pass through and visit the mammoth Mondrian painting, made from almost four hectares of flowers. The tulip festival runs from April 22 to May 7. For the single largest bulb field in the Netherlands, head up to the Kop van Noord-Holland. Visit Anna Paulowna during the Bloemendagen celebrations (April 29 - May 3) and see the whole village bedecked in flowers. Just up the road, the Bloeiend Zijpe, in ‘t Zand launches on April 7 a varied schedule of tulip-based activities, including photography and painting workshops, guided tours, and an art exhibition. Take a tram ride through the fields Board the vintage tram and enjoy the beauty of the bulb fields as you travel steam-powered between Hoorn and Medemblik. Beautiful views guaranteed and charming historical towns with a good choice of museums to enjoy – in both directions - once you reach your destination. Watch a flower parade The Bloemencorso is the most famous flower parade in the Netherlands. The floats, decorated with gigantic works of art made of flowers, are this year on the theme of Dutch Design and the De Stijl art movement, which is celebrating its centenary . The parade kicks off with an illuminated procession through Noordwijkerhout on the evening of April 21, passing through Noordwijk the following day, and then onto Haarlem on Sunday. Stroll around some historic gardens Most famous of all the tulip gardens is the giant Keukenhof. It’s a tick-list of all things Dutch: Row upon row of tulips, a windmill, canal bridges, and even clog-making. For children, there is a petting zoo, maze, and playground. Further up the coast in Limmen, is the Hortus Bulborum bulb garden. With its focus on species preservation, this is a key destination for serious botanists and horticulturists. Here you can find over 2000 different varieties of tulips, some of which can be traced back as far as the 16th century. Get an aerial view To see the incredible patchwork beauty of the tulip fields, the sky is the place to be. From Rotterdam The Hague airport, you can take an airborne tour of the western bulb fields in a small three-seated plane. The ticket price includes a stunning ride over the Dutch western coastline. To see the Noordoostpolder and the Mondriaan field, you can book a short helicopter trip for two from Creil, in Flevoland. Visit a museum The Museum de Zwarte Tulp in Lisse, near Leiden, is housed in a former bulb shed. There is an interactive exhibition on the history of tulip cultivation and a huge collection of artwork inspired by the famous flowers. The Amsterdam Tulip Museum is more of an excuse to sell bulbs than anything else. Explore Tulpenland For families, a trip to Fluwel’s Tulpenland is a fun way to celebrate the tulip season. The park is located in a forest in the heart of the north-west bulb district and is just a few minutes’ drive from the beach. The child-friendly exhibition takes you on a journey through time, beginning with the tulips’ homeland of the Himalayas. There is plenty to occupy all ages, including a go-kart track, train ride through the bulb fields, and maze made out of bulb boxes. Watch a flower auction To see behind the scenes of the tulip industry, you might like to visit a flower auction. Royal Flora Holland, which sells over 12 billion plants a year, welcome guests at their auction halls in Aalsmeer and in Eelde. See the bidders in action and learn about the trade. Guided and unguided tours are available. Go tulip picking If gazing at tulips is not enough and you need to get your hands on them, visit a pluktuin, where you can pick armfuls of colourful blooms to take home. The tulips in Annemieke’s Pluktuin in Hillegom (between Amsterdam and Leiden), are ready for picking by mid-March. Once you have gathered enough flowers, you can hire a kayak (from mid April) and drift through the multi-coloured fields. The Tulpenpluktuin in Marknesse, Flevoland, reopens on April 14 and offers 5000m2 of tulip fields with a lookout tower in the middle to take in the magnificent view. Further west, the Floratuin in Julianadorp, near Den Helder, opens for tulip picking at the end of March. You can book a guided tour of the gardens in English, French or German. If you are feeling creative, take part in a flower-arranging class or perch your easel amongst the rows of tulips and paint the vivid landscape around you. 10 things about tulips: from a billion bulb exports to Rambo Deborah Nicholls-Lee is a writer and proofreader and the content manager for Amsterdam Mamas.  More >