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


From big wheels to big hats: 12 great things to do in April

From big wheels to big hats: 12 great things to do in April

So much to do, so little time... Hanneke Sanou has a list of some of the best things to do in April. View Rotterdam from a giant ferris wheel Europe's largest mobile ferris wheel is in Rotterdam until April 9, so you've still got a few days to appreciate the view. The ferris wheel is 55 metres high with 42 gondolas and can take 800 people an hour. Tickets cost €6 for an adult and €4 for children. Website See museum highlights All that glitters in this year’s Museum Week (April 3 to April 9) is gold, well, not literally. The week highlights the finest objects from over 400 museums around the country and will be encouraging visitors to seek them out with a display of life size gilded representations of three celebrated objects in different cities around the Netherlands.  Check out the website for the treasures chosen by each museum. Savour delicious still lifes At the Mauritshuis until June 25 Slow food - The Still Lifes of the Golden Age. A smorgasboard of 22 masterpieces illustrating the development of the art of the still life in the Netherlands and Flanders are featured, from the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), the National Gallery of Art (Washington) and the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), as well as every work by Clara Peeters held by the Museo Nacional del Prado (Madrid). Website See migration through art The Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art in Amsterdam is running a series of exhibitions about migration, starting with the multimedia installations of Indian artist Nalini Malani.  Malani is ‘the Marlene Dumas of India’, whose works on refugees and female oppression have lost none of their relevancy. Website Look at Mondriaan in bulbs The theme of the 68th edition of the Keukenhof is Dutch design. A bulb mosaic and a garden dedicated to Mondriaan's characteristic coloured squares will be among the offerings as will, of course, the usual riot of multi-coloured spring flowering bulbs. There are seven million of them but the Keukenhof is open until May 21 so you will have plenty of time to see them all. For a complete programme of events and activities go to the Keukenhof website. Sneak a peek at Bea's hats Always the same hairdo, lots of different hats, that’s the headwear history of Dutch queen mother Beatrix. She's held on to all her hats and now 111 of them are on show at the Loo royal palace. ‘The British queen has a big crown with diamonds and gold, the Dutch queen wore her hat like a crown,’ the museum’s curator said. Chapeaux! is on until August 27. Website  Admire some superior creepy crawlies From March 24 the Rijksmuseum Prentenkabinet is showing two works by the intrepid and pioneering entomologist and artist Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717) who travelled to Suriname to make delicate drawings and watercolours of the local creepy crawlies. German-born Merian made her home in Amsterdam where she died exactly 300 years ago. Website Meet a press photographer World Press Photo is organising a three day festival in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam from April 20 to April 22 where photo journalists and editors from all corners of the world talk about the stories behind the images. Guests include Iranian photographer and film maker Amak Mahmoodian, docucumentary photographer Daniella Zalcman and Time's Instagram Photographer of the Year Ruddy Roye. Website Get arty The Orange Tea theatre presents Art, the highly acclaimed play by French playwright Yasmina Reza about the friendship between three people which is thrown into doubt when one of them buys a blank canvas. Is it art or pretentious rubbish? The Amsterdam-based company is staging the play on March 28 and 29 at the Toon theatre, Amsterdam West. Tickets cost €15 and can be bought here. Spend a tiny fortune on King’s Day Clear your diaries for April 27 because it’s high time to add to/offload your collection of old tat. Yes, King’s day is coming. Remember early birds catch the worms and that anything above fifty cents is daylight robbery. Start practicing your haggling skills and enjoy. Bring a tent There are plenty of Easter pop festivals this month. Check out Anouk and Dutch stalwart Doe Maar at Paaspop along with dozens of other popgroups in Schijndel March 14, 15 and 16. Website Go deaf in Zandvoort It's the traditional start of the racing season in Zandvoort on March 15 and16 so why not enjoy the great outdoors and breathe in some petrol fumes. There will be truck racing and Porsches! Website   More >


Game for a laugh? The best Dutch game cafes and shops

Game for a laugh? The best Dutch game cafes and shops

Board and card games have made a big comeback in recent years largely due to the increasing complexity and maturity of newer titles. Indeed, they’ve become so popular that there are shops and cafes devoted to them. Brandon Hartley picks some of the best. Whether you love battling goofy monsters in Munchkin, losing your faith in humanity while playing Cards Against Humanity or having it restored while curing diseases in Pandemic, there’s plenty of places in the country where you can get your game on. Here’s just a few of them. Friends & Foes - Amsterdam At this game shop and cafe you can get a good cup of joe and a slice of pie while you try to figure out which one of your colleagues is a blood-crazed monster in Ultimate Werewolf. They purchase their beans from Spot On Coffee Roasters, also located in Amsterdam’s De Pijp district, and take gaming as seriously as they do their lattes. While Friends & Foes stocks plenty of titles and has a cabinet packed full of games that can be played on site, they put up their gesloten sign a bit early most days of the week. However, they do currently stay open until at least 22:00 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Friends & Foes also host tournaments and evenings devoted to popular games including Magic and Star Wars: Destiny. De Gravin - Leiden Two expats named Matt Donnelley and Bogdan Pancu took over a moribund brown bar in Leiden’s historic city centre and spent much of 2016 converting it into a cafe devoted entirely to gaming. De Gravin officially opened its doors to the public last November. Visitors can enjoy slices of pie or hearty cinnamon rolls when they’re not exploring the depths of a fully stocked cabinet overflowing with games including Exploding Kittens, King of Tokyo and new spins on old classics like The Game of Thrones edition of Monopoly. The cafe hosts tournaments for both board games and video games like the Halo series. The stout of heart can also try out De Gravin’s simple but bold signature cocktail: The Fireball. Purperen Draak - Groningen A feisty purple dragon serves as the mascot for this shop in Groningen. Along with an assortment of board, card and role-playing games, they host regular events for fans of Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh and other titles several times a week. The Purperen Draak also sells tons of supplies for miniature wargames including Bolt Action, Warmachine, Hordes and Flames of War. Speldorado - Delft Located in the centre of Delft, this large shop sells popular titles like Dixit and Machi Koro in addition to puzzles, educational playsets and old-fashioned toys. Speldorado opened as a toy shop in 1976 but gradually began adding more and more game to its shelves in the early ‘90s. It now offers a large selection and plans to host tournaments in the future. De Koperen Pion - The Hague This shop in Den Haag sells lots of games geared towards older players like Codenames, Small World and Carcassonne. It also specialises in ones that are more appropriate for children between the ages of 3 and 12 in addition to puzzles and gaming supplies like dice and game pawns. The staff also host regular game nights with Thanatos, a local gaming association. Subcultures - Utrecht Proprietor Tijn Rams and his crew at this multi-faceted shop in Utrecht take gaming to another level. They stock hundreds of titles but they also host game nights and workshops that are perfect if you’re looking to host an unconventional company outing, family day or even a bachelor party. Participants can learn how to play some of the most popular board and card games out there or design their own. Subcultures also sells armour, weapons and other props for ‘larpers’ (people who participate in live action role-playing games). The shop even has its own escape room called ‘The Queen.’ It was inspired by the works of Roald Dahl, the writer of classic children's novels including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Players attempt to flee a lab run by a mysterious chemist named Beatrice Taylor. The Boardroom and the Spellenhuis - Haarlem The Spellenhuis is a game shop that’s been going strong in Haarlem for over a decade and it’s about to expand its operations. It will soon launch a gaming cafe called The Boardroom two doors down from its current location on the Kruisweg. 'We’re hoping to have it open in mid April,' says co-owner Douwe Geurts said. 'We are planning to have a drinks menu and host events for Magic and Pokemon players.' They’ll also offer an extensive library of over 100 games for visitors to play. You can follow their progress via The Boardroom’s Facebook page. The Gamekeeper - Amsterdam You can find hundreds of games at this shop located in the heart of Amsterdam’s 9 Straatjes. The Gamekeeper opened its doors in the mid ‘90s and it currently stocks everything from classic games like Risk and Scrabble to newer ones like Ticket to Ride. Those in search of a good, ol’ fashioned chess set (or a fancier one with a mahogany board) can also get one here as well as supplies for darts, backgammon and other games that have stood the test of time. Fans of The Settlers of Catan can also track down plenty of expansion sets for the series on their shelves. Games Workshop: Warhammer - Rotterdam All things Warhammer can be found at this shop on the Van Oldenbarneveltplaats. It’s just one of the many in the Netherlands devoted exclusively to products designed by the UK based gaming company, specialising in the colossal tabletop series Warhammer and its various offshoots. Fans can purchase figures and other supplies to help them customise their sets. They also sell additional games based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. You can learn more about the Rotterdam location and its game nights via their Facebook page.  More >


Pikachu, wookies and Seven of Nine take over Utrecht’s convention centre

Pikachu, wookies and Seven of Nine take over Utrecht’s convention centre

Five Pikachus buying samurai swords, Luigi flirting with Harley Quinn in the queue for coffee and Darth Maul and a wookie listening to a lecture about how salamander DNA could make real life X-men. James Field spent this weekend at a comics convention in Utrecht. If you don’t recognise any of these names and this seems like a surreal episode from the Big Bang Theory, then you’re about to embark on a journey into the weird and wonderful world of cosplay. On the other hand, if this make perfect sense to you, then you either have a superhero outfit hanging in your closet, or you were at Dutch Comic Con this weekend. Comic Cons—huge conventions originally based around comic book, science fiction and fantasy culture—have become big business around the world. This is Dutch Comic Con’s third year. Almost 30,000 self-proclaimed geeks and fans of all ages converged on Utrecht, thousands coming in costume. Taking the lead from US events like San Diego Comic-Con this once niche sub-culture has spread all over the world, and wherever it goes cosplay - or costume play - goes with it. ‘People think it’s sort of fetish stuff,’ says Tapola, dressed in bright yellow body armour from head to toe. Like thousands of people at this year’s event she spent weeks preparing her costume. ‘I visit a lot of thrift stores; I do a lot by myself…I enjoy the whole process.’ Favourite fiction For the uninitiated, cosplay is a phenomenon which originated in Japan. It involves creating—or buying—a costume of your favourite fictional character and dressing up in it to attend events like Comic Con, or the even more niche elfia, which takes place toward the end of April in Utrecht. Tapola believes Cosplay is a sadly misunderstood sub-culture, its members  frequently being mistaken for kinky fetishists. But Tapola believes it has a lot to offer. This is her second Comic Con and this year she also made costumes for her two kids. They all came as characters from the Disney movie Big Hero 6, ‘I think cosplay is about differentiation, diversity. This is what I love about my children, they don't prejudge people if they see two men or two girls kissing. It doesn’t matter if someone has blue hair or yellow, in cosplay you accept.’ Among the sea of Marvel superheroes and videogame characters you find many who echo these sentiments. ‘I told my family what I did five years ago, they were like aaargh it's weird! and then now, because it’s gotten so big, they think it's really cool and they wanna come,’ says Lauren, a six-year cosplay veteran. This year she’s come as ‘Captain America’ with her best friend Stine as ‘The Winter Soldier’. As more and more people attend these events, cosplaying has become not just a way for geek culture fanatics to express themselves but a well-honed art. Lauren is a minor cosplay celebrity online, since a recent post on her tumblr blog went viral on social media, ‘it was like ‘hey I’m a girl captain America’ and I guess they liked the posing,' she laughs. Traffic jams The continually growing awareness of cosplay is everything to do with the success of events like Dutch Comic Con. ‘There were traffic jams in Utrecht yesterday, that was because of us’ said Thijs van Tienan one of the event co-ordinators of Dutch Comic Con, with more than a hit of satisfaction. This success has also enabled the event to draw more sponsors, special guests and contributors. This year's stands represented different cosplay societies, selling comics and geek culture merchandise from t-shirts and posters to swords and wands. Visitors could attend lectures ranging from writing work shops to genetic mutation. There was a section for makeup tutorials, a 3D printing zone and even a pop-up tattoo parlour. An entire hall was dedicated to different console demos and competitive gaming. Of course it wouldn’t be a comic con without the obligatory celebrity appearances, and Dutch Comic Con’s increased revenue has allowed them to attract a diverse roster of actors, authors and artists. Some notable names include Lennie James of The Walking Dead fame, and Alexander Ludwig from the Hunger Games series. To the dedicated geeks and participants in events like Dutch Comic Con, the inclusiveness of the cosplay sub-culture that has built up around the events is one of its defining features, but its growing popularity is not universally welcomed. ‘When a new zeitgeist comes around everybody wants to join the bandwagon. I’m seeing a lot of models coming in as cosplayers. They’re doing the attractive photo shoots, but everybody can see through it,’ says Sam, another seasoned cosplayer who this year has gone for a ‘genderbend’ Storm from X-men. Playing with gender roles is another thing cosplay is known for. He agrees that in essence the culture is about being free to be yourself, but suggests some are perhaps not in it for the pure joy. ‘The real cosplayers are hooked on being more creative or having fun, rather than people who are just coming here to look good,’ he says. Infiltration by models However, this welcoming and accepting community has suffered slightly more worrying threats to its harmony than infiltrating models. The last few years has seen some controversies in the cosplay and comic con communities to do with sexual harassment. Part of the fun for many cosplayers is dressing up in costumes that outside these select judgement free environments, would be at best considered somewhat strange and at worst wildly inappropriate. Outfits often leave little to the imagination and that has led to the unwanted attention of people interested in more than a photo with a scantily-clad woodland elf. ‘Luckily we’ve never had any problems here, we have rules of behaviour’, says event co-ordinators Thijs. ‘It’s a very tight community, so if anyone tried anything they would be in trouble.’ Jeroen and Maaika, a couple whose romance began in a Star Trek chatroom, attended this year’s event together. Maaika—dressed as Star Trek character ‘Seven of Nine’ in a spandex body suit—was pleasantly surprised by the reception to her costume, ‘I expected that because it’s sexy cosplay people would be trying to touch me, but it's not at all the case, people are really good and respectful,' she says. Despite all the zombies and aliens stalking the halls of Utrecht’s Jaarbeurs Convention centre, perhaps the only real oddity of the weekend was the rambling half-hour monologue of guest star Dirk Benedict—known to those old enough as The A-Team’s Lieutenant Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck. He delivered what appeared to be a completely unprepared speech from the convention’s main stage. Nevertheless, even this bizarre performance provided one of the most enjoyable moments of the weekend - the wonderfully satisfying sight of a six foot Gandalf stroking his long grey beard in puzzlement, trying his upmost to decipher the incoherent stories of the A-team’s ‘Faceman’.  More >


Sparking your interest: boosting female start-up entrepreneurs

Sparking your interest: boosting female start-up entrepreneurs

In a city as entrepreneurial as Amsterdam some may find it unusual that a community focused on female entrepreneurs would be needed, let alone that it would be growing and thriving year on year. Amsterdam offers many opportunities for entrepreneurs, a culture which allows for flexible working and a creative vibe which encourages innovation irrespective of gender. Isn’t that enough? Look a little closer though, and you will find a different story, because if women make up 52 % of the total European population then doesn’t it seem incongruous that only 34.4 % of the women in the European Union are self-employed or that they represent a mere 30 % of EU start-up entrepreneurs? In a female dominant society, why is entrepreneurship still considered a male vocation? It shouldn’t be, but it is. Research shows that: Women and men demonstrate different motivations when choosing entrepreneurial careers. Women choose different business formations when starting in business Women show different attitudes in comparison to men towards self-employment. Women and men demonstrate different personality characteristics in their approach to entrepreneurship. Instead of valuing the differences in these approaches, these are the precise reasons why women are still underrepresented as entrepreneurs in Europe. Demonstrably, even when women actively choose to pursue entrepreneurship, it is still a harder path for them to navigate than for men. Studies show us that women still face difficulty in: reconciling business and family concerns and obligations. accessing finance and information for their business ventures. accessing networks for business purposes. finding funds and support from government agencies. starting-up their enterprises and for financing their activities Spark Women was born in acknowledgement of these challenges and out of a conviction that continuing to operate in isolation was not the way that European female entrepreneurs would overcome them. When you start from a position of disadvantage, success requires more than hoping for change and a 'just keep swimming' attitude. It requires collaboration, it requires a movement. Which is precisely what Spark has become. Call to action Now in it’s third year of operation Spark is a call to action for female entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. It offers peer-to-peer support, learning and community to help business owners throughout the country and beyond navigate past the limitations which have traditionally held female entrepreneurs back. What sets Spark apart, we believe, is the continuous focus on learning and development in everything we do. With her background in higher educational programming, Spark founder Hannah Huber ensures that every Spark event from borrels to the annual conference rests on the pillars of Spark, to connect, to inspire and to thrive. It would be easy to see Spark as exclusionary, after all, how many male entrepreneur conferences do you see around town? The Spark team find that a superficial response to a demonstrable problem. Entrepreneurial network In fact, now that Spark is firmly woven into the fabric of the city’s entrepreneurial network, we find it more important than ever to invite men to be part of the conversation and to be part of the solution as we tackle the issues which have traditionally hampered the progress of female entrepreneurs. Over the coming year, Spark will be actively engaging men and women in progressing the tenets of female entrepreneurship across Amsterdam so that we can start to turn the tide, by demonstrating what is possible and leading the way. As Hannah says, 'My hopes for the future of Spark and the Spark community are that it grows into the central hub for female entrepreneurs in the Netherlands and beyond. I want everyone to associate Spark with high quality speakers and groundbreaking sessions that really help attendees make more of their businesses. 'I want them to experience an atmosphere that simply cannot be found at any other conference. We want Spark to be recognized as exclusive when it comes to quality but inclusive when it comes to community which means inviting men who also want to see a more diverse, balanced playing field, to be part of the conversation too.' Spark 2017 will be at WeWork Metropool on the 27th of March and De Balie on the 28th of March. Our outstanding female led speaker line up will be addressing this year’s theme of Passion, Purpose and Profitability head on as they demonstrate the skills you need to shake of limitations and grow a business you love without sacrificing the profit it deserves. Tickets are available from: www.sparkwomen.eu  More >


From a hedgehog with a sweet tooth to a rapist duck: 10 dead animals

From a hedgehog with a sweet tooth to a rapist duck: 10 dead animals

The Natuurhistorisch Museum  in Rotterdam is home to an extraordinary collection called ‘Dead animals with a story’. The stories of how the animals came to their sticky ends are told, very entertainingly, by curator Kees Moeliker who, as the following selection shows, has a particularly good nose for sniffing out a carcass. The domino sparrow Just when the organisers of an attempt to break the world domino toppling record had painstakingly placed four million tiles in the right place, a sparrow (Passer domesticus) decided to knock down some 23,000 to help them on their way. The sparrow, which was soon dubbed the Dominomus, was shot dead for its pains and became world famous. The parliamentary mouse Moeliker, reading about a plague of mice in Dutch parliamentary complex, started a quest for a dead mouse with a background in politics which, he said, would be just the thing for his collection. No-one would help him. Then, a package arrived. In it was a dead mouse still in the trap that killed it. ‘Here’s your parliamentary mouse’, the anonymous donor had written. The crash gull When the news came that a pilot had mended the window of his air ambulance helicopter with duct tape after a run in with a Croicocephalus ridibundus, or black-headed gull, so he could continue saving people, Moeliker's thoughts naturally turned to the gull. After some detective work at the site of the accident the shattered bird was found.  Every bone in its body was broken but its skull and beak were unharmed. Could the helicopter have hit the gull instead of the gull flying headlong into the helicopter? A cold case if ever there was one. The necrophiliac homosexual rapist duck One day, when Moeliker was sitting in his office thinking about dead animals, he  heard a tremendous bang. A drake mallard (Anas Platyrhynchos) had crashed into his window with tremendous speed and was dead on impact. Next to the corpse was another mallard which started have sex with the dead bird for over an hour. An astounded and intrigued Moeliker took pictures (!) and found papers referring to a. homosexuality among ducks, b. necrophilia among ducks and c. rape among ducks. But this was the first time one duck combined all three. He is not in the collection though. It was the duck that died. (Perhaps) the last crab louse In 2007 Moeliker, worried the crab louse, or Phthirus pubis, would be extinct before he could secure one for his collection, decided to ask those who still sport pubic hair to have a good rummage and send him one. In fact, he was offered several, anonymously of course, so unfortunately the former habitat and story of these particular dead animals remain unknown. No picture is available of a dead crab louse. It does not photograph well. The McFlurry hedgehog People love McFlurry ice cream (indeed Moeliker says he’s a fan) but unfortunately so do hedgehogs. Carelessly discarded beakers are left where hedgehogs with a sweet tooth can get at them. In an effort to get at the last bit of sweetness the hedgehogs get their spines caught behind a plastic ring and can’t get out. The result is death by starvation. Moeliker has a dead hedgehog in his collection (with the killer beaker on its head) but the good news is that McFlurry ice cream beakers now come with smaller plastic rings. The Frühstück bat To give the collection that prestigious international flavour, Moeliker has been very happy to include the German breakfast bat (Pipistrellis pipistrellis). In 2012 its perfectly mummified remains were found in a packet of ‘wholemeal Mini Zimties’ breakfast cereals where they must have given the drowsy consumer quite a shock. How had it got there? The authorities which whisked the Zimties away for further investigation found bat poo as well, which suggested the bat had got into the packet when it had been opened, and left, by the owner. Obviously the bat didn’t thrive on the stuff, wholemeal or not. The fish that got stuck Put together A Fish called Wanda, lots of beer and an aquarium and a trip to the hospital to dislodge an armoured catfish (Corydoras aeneus) can’t be far off. The 28 year-old (!) fish swallower did not know the catfish puts up its spines when caught in awkward situations like these but soon found out. The doctors couldn’t save him - the fish that is. The man, who ended up with a very sore throat, shamefacedly agreed to give Moeliker the fish on condition he remain anonymous. The Cern Stone marten Last but by no means least is the collection’s latest addition: the Cern stone marten. In 2016 the Cern particle accelerator near Geneva shuddered to a halt, causing the scientists present to scratch their heads. A stone marten had caused a short circuit in an above-ground distribution centre and had, in the process, been electrocuted himself. Moeliker tried to get the animal for his collection but it had been destroyed as per the rules. When it happened again he did get his hands on the animal and gave it pride of place. Extra time: Treijtel’s gull This is one we think Moeliker would probably kill for. On November 15, 1970 Eddie Treijtel, goalkeeper at Feyenoord, was trying to keep Sparta at bay and gave the ball a tremendous wallop, hitting a gull in the process. Treijtel had a very successful career as a goalie but is very much remembered for the gull incident. Both Sparta and Feyenoord claim to have the gull in their museums. Moeliker thinks it is with Sparta as the Feyenoord gull is of a species that only frequents the Kuip football stadium and its surroundings in spring.  More >


From careers to childcare, the Amsterdam IamExpat Fair has it covered

From careers to childcare, the Amsterdam IamExpat Fair has it covered

The IamExpat Fair - Amsterdam, 2017, takes place on Saturday, March 25 at Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek. The IamExpat Fair is designed to support internationals in the Netherlands, and connect them with local businesses and service providers. This landmark event is an exciting opportunity for internationals to find everything they need in one location, on one day. From companies and services in careers, housing, education and expat services, to family, health and leisure - the IamExpat Fair has it covered! Running from 10am to 5pm in the Zuiveringshal West at Westergasfabriek, this free single-day event will host stands from dozens of companies and organisations. Free workshops and presentations will be happening throughout the day at Het Ketelhuis, the Westergastheater and the Werkkamer. Visitors to the IamExpat Fair can: Get assistance to find the right rental property or understand the mortgage process Learn how to advance their career through professional development Discover businesses with a focus on expats’ needs Benefit from many special offers only available on the day of the Fair Meet with recruiters and companies that are hiring Attend workshops and presentations to learn about different aspects of life and work in the Netherlands Connect with local health and lifestyle organisations Network with like-minded locals and expats from around the world Bring the whole family and drop the little ones off at the Kids’ Area, a free supervised play space for children aged zero to four years, operated by Hestia Early Learning Centre Since its launch in 2015, the IamExpat Fair has hosted more than 160 companies, run more than 60 workshops and welcomed more than 6.500 visitors from 130 nationalities. Don’t miss the expat event of 2017. Book your free ticket now!  More >


On election day, 12 reasons to be cheerful about life in the Netherlands

If you listen too much to the politicians, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Netherlands is on the verge of collapse. Integration has failed, refugees are running riot, pensioners are impoverished and everyone supports Geert Wilders. Nonsense! The economy is on the up, crime is down and 80% of people don't vote for the PVV. Politicians may be waxing lyrical about the way the Netherlands used to be, but nostalgia for the 1950s is largely misplaced. Women were stuck at home, it was perfectly legal to discriminate against gay people, we were less well educated and even though there were far fewer cars, we were more likely to die in a traffic accident. So as 12 million people in the Netherlands cast their votes for the next government, here's a list of 12 reasons for optimism. 1 Women are working more and earning more Seven in 10 women now have a job. They might only work part-time but hey, it was not until 1956 that a law requiring married women to have their husband's permission to work was actually torn up. And until 1957, married women were banned from working for the civil service. There is still a pay gap but it is closing, and young women in their 20s now earn between 5% and 15% more than their male colleagues. 2 We're more polite We're being nice to each other. Despite the politicians' rants about the decline in those mysterious Dutch normen en waarden, just 14% of shoppers say they are treated rudely by staff, compared with 23% in 2008. 3 We are better educated In 1950, fewer than 10,000 people graduated from university or college. Last academic year 95,000 graduates joined the workforce. 4 The Dutch are among the happiest people in the world Dutch children are so happy, people write books about them. Teenagers are pretty content too - last year, research showed nine out of 10 are happy with their lives.   And the adults are pretty positive as well. 5 Gay people have more rights Although same sex sexually activity in the Netherlands has been legal since 1811, it was not until 1973 that homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness and 1993 before discrimination on grounds of sexuality was made illegal. Gay marriage followed in 2001, as did same sex adoption, but it took a further 13 years before it became illegal for registrars to refuse to marry gay couples. 6 Immigrants are doing better The Netherlands has always been home to a mixture of different tribes and religions and most people are pretty relaxed about it. Today, second generation immigrants and refugee children are doing better at school, they are more likely to have jobs and they are making inroads into higher education. The mayor of Rotterdam, the chairman of the lower house of parliament and one of the judges on the Voice of Holland all have Moroccan roots. And what could be more Dutch than that? 7 No deforestation here In 1952, there were 260,000 hectares of woods in the Netherlands - but that has now soared to 360,000 hectares. At the same time, the otter and the wolf are back, and we've so many deer and wild boar we have to shoot them 8 We've got a lot of world champions Draughts, darts, speed skating, women's 200 metres sprint, gymnastics, sustainable coffee, solar cars, low fat cheese.... 9 The crime rate is down We can dispute the actual figures, but however you calculate it, the crime rate has been falling steadily for years. In 2016, there were around two murders a week in the Netherlands, in a population of 17 million. 10 There is less terrorism We don't want to tempt fate, but it is worth pointing out that in the 1970s and 1980s, some 30 people were killed in 70 terrorist attacks in the Netherlands. The last attack, apart from the murder of Theo van Gogh, was the killing of two Australians by the IRA in Roermond in 1990. 11  Less church and foster care abuse In the 1950s, hundreds of children faced physical and sexual abuse in institutional care and via the Catholic church in particular. Today there are more checks on carers and the victims from all those years ago are finally getting recognition and compensation. 12 We're much better protected against the sea Over 1,800 people died in the great floods of 1953, when the dykes in the south of the country broke. The tragedy led to the development of the Delta Works flood prevention scheme, a massive complex of dykes and sluice gates along much of the southern coastline. And today, Dutch experts are involved in water defence projects all over the world. And by the way, we might think that the entire country is low lying, but in fact only 26% of the land mass is below sea level. So even with global warming, we can just nip up to Groningen to keep our feet dry.  More >


The annual tax return: seven ways of cutting your Dutch tax bill

The annual tax return: seven ways of cutting your Dutch tax bill

It's that time of year again... the deadline for filing your annual tax return (May 1) is fast approaching. But don't be fooled by the Dutch tax office advertising slogan -  ‘we can’t make it nicer, but we can make it easier’. Anyone with anything but the standard situation will know that ‘easy’ is not the best word to describe the stress of filling in a Dutch tax return. Take heart, however, from the fact that as a foreign resident, you are more likely to be paying too much tax rather than not enough. But before you seek specialist help or decide to give it a go yourself, check out these seven basic tax breaks which might apply to you. 1 Personal deductions Have you had high medical bills not covered by insurance, or are you a generous giver to charity? There are all sorts of personal expenses which you can deduct from tax. It makes sense to cluster them into one year as much as possible so that you meet the threshold for the tax break. Items which can be entirely or partially deducted include: Charitable donations Study expenses Healthcare costs (if not covered by insurance) Alimony payments Life annuity payments If you are married or have a registered partnership you can submit your tax returns jointly. This allows you to allocate deductions to the partner with the highest income. 2 Non working spouse deduction If your partner does not work, you may be entitled to an extra tax break. The tax credit of approximately €1,000 applies if the working partner has earned at least €20,000 and you have been in the Netherlands for at least six months. 3 The 30% ruling The 30% ruling basically means 30% of your salary is tax free for a maximum of eight years. In general to qualify you must have been living abroad – at least 150 kilometres from the Dutch border - when you were recruited. Your salary must also be more than €3,100 per month. You may need expert advice to find out if you qualify and to make sure your tax return is correctly filled in. 4 Double taxation deduction  As a resident of the Netherlands, you need to declare foreign assets and bank accounts in your Dutch tax return. If you own property in another country, you can usually avoid paying tax on it through the double taxation deduction. It might be worth talking to an expert to find out if you qualify. If the 30%-ruling applies to you, you can opt for partial non-domestic taxation. In that case, you don’t need to declare your (foreign and NL/domestic) assets apart from any property you may own in the Netherlands. 5 Mortgage interest tax relief If you buy a house in the Netherlands the mortgage interest is tax deductible if the property is your primary residence. The tax break is being gradually reduced but the Dutch system is still considered to be one of the most generous in the world and it does make a big difference to your monthly repayments. If you leave the Netherlands again you can rent the house out, keep it for your own use or sell it. If you sell the property, please note: there is no capital gains tax in the Netherlands. 6 Listed building maintenance The maintenance on listed buildings – rijksmonumenten in Dutch – is tax deductible up to 80%. This means that if you own a listed building the maintenance costs can be offset against tax. This deduction will be scrapped next year so if you own a Rijksmonument or intend to buy one, it would be wise to have any maintenance done before the end of 2017. 7 Sole trader deductions – the tax break for freelancers If you are a freelancer or self-employed, there are several tax breaks open to you. Two of them only apply if you spend more than 1,225 hours a year on business-related activities: An annual self-employed tax break of € 7,280 A new business deduction of € 2,123. This may be used three times in the first five years of the business Besides these tax breaks there is also a small business exemption which makes 14% of the profit tax free Do keep in mind that registering as self employed may not be wise if your income is low. It is often more sensible to count minor earnings as additional income rather than waste precious tax free amounts which will be more beneficial once your income has gone up. If you live in rental property and work at home, you may be able to deduct part of the rent from tax because you use it as an office. The deadline for filing your tax return is May 1. But don't despair if you have left it too late. If you need an extension to the deadline or expert help, contact the team at J C Suurmond for sound advice.  More >


Normen en waarden – everyone talks about them, but what are they?

Normen en waarden - when the Dutch aren't arguing or worrying about them, they're telling everyone else to observe them. Everyone agrees they're important and they have become a key election theme, but nobody seems to be quite sure what distinguishes the normen from the waarden. Here's our attempt to lead you through the moral maze. Who started the discussion? It goes back to Christian Democrat prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende (CDA) who first put norms and values on the agenda in 2002. Balkenende was worried that society was becoming more brutish (hufterig) and said the government should encourage citizens to treat each other with respect. It may or may not have been related to the frequent mocking that Balkenende endured in the media. Various projects were set up to promote good citizenship, from combating racism to encouraging motorists to be more polite behind the wheel. Where are we now? Nowadays no self-respecting politician is without an opinion about normen en waarden. Prime minister Mark Rutte even published a pre-election open letter in the Dutch press on the importance of good manners, exhorting people to 'act normal' or bugger off. The government has brought in a new scheme obliging all new residents who have to go through the integration process to sign a contract promising to uphold Dutch norms and values. Those who refuse will get their first taste of the traditional Dutch enthusiasm for issuing fines. So what are these Dutch norms and values that everyone's talking about? Here's a non-exhaustive list. 1. Don't discriminate It's the first line of the Dutch constitution, though it has come under pressure in recent years from Geert Wilders with his crusade to close mosques, dismantle Islamic schools, ban headscarves and the Koran and abuse Photoshop. The Dutch state does its best to redress the balance by putting Wilders in the dock every couple of years. In 2016 Wilders was found guilty of ‘insulting a group’ and ‘inciting discrimination’ after leading his famous chant of ‘fewer Moroccans’, and promptly called the judges as mad as a sack of squirrels. Which brings us neatly to: 2. Speak your mind Yes, you can say judges are nuts and parliament is fake to your heart's content. It's only a problem if you use your freedom of speech to make discriminatory comments, insult a group within society, or incite hatred and violence. The exact definition of these offences is the subject of endless debate in the courts and in the newspaper columns. It is also against the law to say nasty things about the royals. Last year a man was jailed for 14 days for deliberately insulting the king by describing him on Facebook as a murderer, rapist and thief. The crime of ‘lèse-majesté’, or ‘offending the dignity of the monarch’, can earn you up to five years behind bars. 3. Men and women are equal Somewhat mysteriously, CDA leader Sybrand Buma said in an election debate that men and women in the Netherlands have been equal for over 1,000 years, thanks to our Jewish Christian traditions. Perhaps it is worth reminding Mr Buma that there is a party with three seats in parliament - the fundamentalist Protestant SGP - which believes women should not vote, work or wear trousers. Women still work less than men, earn less than men and do more housework than men. Men in the Netherlands  get less time off than women when they have kids, are less likely to go to university and tend to die younger. Real equality with a pinch of salt then. 4. Equal rights for gay people Gay or straight or anything in between, the Dutch are rightly famous for their enlightened views. However, although the Netherlands legalised gay marriage in 2001, there was massive opposition to the move in parliament, particularly from the religious parties and a large section of the VVD (who now consider gay rights to be perfectly all right and normal). More recently Geert Wilders has held up the progressive Dutch attitude to gay rights as one of the crown jewels of society that must be defended against Islamic infiltration. Everyone else has since jumped on that bandwagon - those Jewish Christian traditions again presumably. 5. Worship whoever you want Article 6 of the Dutch constitution clears the way for everyone worship whoever they like. Around half the population claim to be religious and attend services. Religious groups are also free to set up their own schools, which has led to problems in the past, particularly with the employment of gay teachers at orthodox Protestant schools. Since 2015, it has been illegal for schools to refuse to employ people on the grounds of their sexual preference. Gay rights beat religious freedom there then. 6. Show solidarity The participation contract which newcomers have to sign includes a lot of waffle about this. ‘In the Netherlands, we ask citizens to help each other and support each other if necessary’ - as if this is some particularly Dutch trait. ‘Together, citizens are responsible for society’ - whatever that means. Essentially this the government wagging its finger and admonishing you to be a good neighbour, particularly if you can help to bring down the cost of community care by taking a bowl of soup round to your elderly aunt once a week. It's all dressed up as a return to the days when people looked out for each other and threaded string through their letterboxes so they could break into each other's houses. Nobody can remember if this actually happened but it sounds so homely and gezellig when elderly people talk about it. 7. Participate This, is of course, the outgoing government's baby and was really launched by king Willem-Alexander when he made his very first speech from the throne in 2013. The aim, the king said, was to leave behind the ‘classic welfare state’ and switch towards a ‘participation society’ in which people take control of their own lives - which means more of the neighbourly soup and less government money. As the participation declaration states: 'In the Netherlands, we ask all citizens to contribute to a pleasant and safe society, for example, by working, going to school or doing voluntary work.' Even queen Maxima did her duty as a nit mother at her daughters' primary school. 8. Be normal Aside from the official norms and values which the government would have us all observe there are of course many other typical Dutch values which all contribute to the joy of being normal. They are probably best summed up by that delightful little motto 'Doe maar gewoon dan doe je gek genoeg' - be normal, because that is crazy enough. This entails not putting on airs and graces, otherwise you will be shot down for getting above your station, not earning too much and not talking about money. No discussion of normaal, however, would be complete without mention of Normaal, a band from the Achterhook region started in the 1970s as an antidote to the perceived snobbery of the west of the country. Singer and founder Bennie Jolink now advertises a Dutch bank. What could be more normal than that.   More >


The perfect PVV antidote: hummus, baba ganoush and couscous

The perfect PVV antidote: hummus, baba ganoush and couscous

Where would Amsterdam be without the cuisine of all those countries under fire from the current wave of anti-immigration politicians? Food writer Vicky Hampton picks her favourite restaurants run by North African and Middle Eastern immigrants - the perfect antidote to PVV populism. As a British immigrant (just about – I’ve applied for Dutch citizenship in this post-Brexit world), I don’t merit a vote in the upcoming general election in the Netherlands. But all the polls are pointing to one scary reality: yet more blonde-mopped craziness, this time in the form of Geert Wilders. Fearful of the 'Islamification' of the country, his solution is to stop Muslim immigrants – partly in the form of a Trump-style blanket ban on migrants from Islamic countries. As a food writer for over a decade in Amsterdam, I’m more than a little grateful for the Moroccan, Turkish, Lebanese, Syrian (the list goes on) restaurants that spice up the cuisine of the Dutch capital. The same is undoubtedly true of the food in many other cities and towns across the country. Back to a diet of stamppot and kaas broodjes? Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things, but where would we be without hummus, baba ganoush and couscous? And so, in a direct response to the PVV’s manifesto, I bring you seven of the best Middle Eastern and North African restaurants in Amsterdam – proudly run by Amsterdammers with immigrant backgrounds. They may or may not be Muslim – I doubt it would make much difference to Mr Wilders. Maydanoz – Turkish restaurant, de Pijp With stunningly decorated tiles adorning the walls, walking into Maydanoz is already like a little slice of the Eastern Mediterranean in Amsterdam. Their charcoal grill lends excellent flavour to all their grilled meat, and they’re liberal in their use of herbs and spices. (Maydanoz translates as parsley, so that figures.) You can also expect a wide variety of both cold and warm mezze dishes to share: I particularly liked their ispanak: braised spinach with pepper, tomatoes, pine nuts and raisins.  Website Orontes – Turkish restaurant, West and de Pijp With two locations in Amsterdam, Orontes on the Albert Cuypstraat and Orontes West on the Hugo de Grootplein pay homage to the Antakya region of Turkey. They import hard-to-find products from the area and cook them up into excellent dishes, including succulent lamb skewers, aromatic aubergine dishes, and mixed grills cooked over charcoal. Nesip Can’s wine selection is wonderful, too. Website Beyrouth – Lebanese restaurant, Oud-West Its name a riff on the Lebanese capital, Beyrouth has been a favourite Amsterdam restaurant for as long as I can remember (owner Kamal Estephan opened it in 1990 when I was just 10). The range of mezza here is huge – you can pick from separate dishes or order a selection of as many as 10 or 15 – so I usually fill up on those alone. Their tabbouleh is perfect: green and grassy with oodles of fresh herbs. Website Hummus House – Middle Eastern restaurant, Nieuwmarkt Just down the road from the Nieuwmarkt, Hummus House serves officially the best hummus in Amsterdam (according to me). The chickpea goodness I tried came with smoky aubergine and a boiled egg – it’s moreishly tasty. Their vine leaves are also meltingly soft, perfectly light, and delicately spiced. Plus, Hummus House even does deliveries. Website Ali Ocakbasi – Turkish restaurant, Rembrandtplein With a gorgeously decorated interior and excellent service, Ali Ocakbasi is a classy establishment for a night out. Their selection of starters is brought around in a giant basket from which to make your choice. My favourite is the çiğ köfte: finely minced raw beef with bulgur wheat and chilli, hand moulded into sort of knobbly cylinders. Eat them wrapped in lettuce leaves with a squeeze of lemon. Delicious. Website Mana Mana – Lebanese and Israeli restaurant, de Pijp Serving mostly vegetarian dishes, Mana Mana is a hit among food lovers and animal lovers alike. Its cosy, split-level restaurant is a good spot to enjoy not just the food but also good wine and cocktails. Don’t miss their cauliflower with tahini and grapefruit (it’s become something of a signature dish), as well as their legendary hummus. Website CousCous Club – Moroccan restaurant, de Pijp Admittedly, chef Wouter Apituley does not appear to have an immigrant bone in his Dutch body. However, he was inspired in his couscous craft by Chez Omar in Paris, so perhaps that counts. He serves just three dishes at the Couscous Club: couscous with vegetables and lentil sauce; couscous with merguez sausages; or 'royal' couscous with one merguez sausage, one lamb kebab and beef stew. The hearty, one-pot dishes cost between €9 and €15 (good for those on a budget) and Wouter will even mix you up a tasty mojito if you ask nicely. Website Vicky Hampton blogs about the capital's eateries on Amsterdamfoodie.nl. Please feel free to email editor@dutchnews.nl with your favourite Middle Eastern and North African restaurants for a future compilation.  More >


Forget hygge, here’s 11 essential steps to Dutch gezelligheid

Forget hygge, here’s 11 essential steps to Dutch gezelligheid

You can hardly move at the moment for books and articles singing the praises of hygge – the Danish art of getting snug and cosy at home. But we think the Dutch version – gezelligheid – is unfairly overlooked, easier on your pocket and less of a nightmare to pronounce. Like hygge (or so we've been told), it's a blend of simple pleasures: cosiness, togetherness, conviviality, jolliness, contentedness. Here's our 11-step guide to the essentials of chilling out, Dutch style. 1 Firstly, make sure your home has the right look and feel. That means sitting in semi-darkness with a lot of flickering little candles in glass holders. It's impossible to read and you can barely see each other but it’s gezellig. The Dutch have a verb for it too: ‘schemeren’, or sitting contentedly in the twilight. 2 Use lekker and diminutives. The Dutch often use the word lekker to intensify a pleasurable experience: lekker een bakkie doen (have a coffee)’, or lekker shoppen. It makes it all much gezelliger somehow. It’s on a par with the diminutives the Dutch are so fond of: een buitje (rain shower), het zonnetje (the sun), een toastje met brie (a cracker with brie) etc. 3 Have an open kitchen. Other nationalities are no stranger to this concept and the Dutch have embraced it in their droves. The point is that the person doing the cooking shouldn't miss out on the gezelligheid while preparing those lekkere toastjes - however much he or she may want to. 4  No house is gezellig without flowers and the Dutch are great flower givers. If you go round someone's house for a gezellig evening in make sure you bring a bloemetje, or a bunch of flowers and a bottle which, of course, will also heighten the gezelligheid (although if you are a non-drinker don’t be surprised if you're told not to be so ongezellig). Go on, have een wijntje met een toastje! 5 Leaving the children’s toys all over the floor creates a ‘gezellige rotzooi’. The truth is that the children will not put their toys away without bribes and the parents are too exhausted. Unsuspecting foreign guest, mind how you go, especially at candle lighting time. 6 The Dutch have a saying: Gezelligheid kent geen tijd, or If you are having a good time it doesn’t matter how late it gets. Some old Dutch ladies have an embroidered version of this saying hanging on the wall of their living room, usually next to the three ducks in flight. This may also explain why the hulking young Dutch men we quizzed while researching this article said that tea and a koekje with oma is the pinnacle of gezelligheid. 7 Others say Sinterklaasavond is the height of gezelligheid because friends and family gather round the table on December 5th, brought together by the traditions that go with the saint’s day: slagging each other off in poems and giving each other presents that involve sticking your arm up to your elbow into a load of peanut butter. There’s singing, there’s hot chocolate, there's handmade decorations: what could be gezelliger? 8 Some people say gezelli instead of gezellig and it drives other people mad. Let’s go for a walk. Oh yes, gezelli! A vrijmibo? Gezelli. Basically, suggesting doing anything in a group can be gezelli, or gezellig. 9 Going to the cinema, where people basically sit and watch a film without interacting, was deemed such a convivial outing in the fifties and sixties that the cinema industry came up with the slogan Samen naar de film… ja, gezellig. 10 The unsalted cashew nuts from supermarket Jumbo come with a 100% gezelligheidsgarantie, or a guarantee that your party will be huge hit if you serve them. TV journalist Teun van de Keuken tried them but experienced exactly 0% gezelligheid. When he complained the Jumbo spokesperson told him the slogan ‘didn’t mean anything’. How ongezellig of Jumbo. 11 You may have noticed that we have only described the concept of gezelligheid. That is because it is one of those words that is almost impossible to translate. But however you define it is an important part of Dutch life and one that must be kept intact at all times. This is so important that it is not unusual to have your hostess at a party whisper: ‘No religion, no politics – laten we het gezellig houden...’  More >


Nyenrode moves full-time MBA programme to heart of Amsterdam

Nyenrode moves full-time MBA programme to heart of Amsterdam

Nyenrode Business Universiteit is moving its full-time MBA programme into the heart of Amsterdam to to better integrate students with the European business community. From September, the university’s flagship programme will be located at De Vijf Keijzers on the Keizersgracht. The relocation is part of a wider initiative to further immerse the programme within the European business landscape. Nyenrode already connects students with the Dutch labour market through activities such as 'Meet the CEO' sessions, careers events held through the school’s career & personal development centre. In 2016 Nyenrode launched its European immersion modules within the full-time MBA, through which students can visit companies operating in a variety of sectors in key European capitals including Brussels, Copenhagen, Dublin, Milan and Paris. Moving closer to opportunities in the Netherlands Increased interest from the school’s international students to become better connected with the European business environment during their studies, has also been instrumental in the programme’s recent developments. Dennis Vink, who heads the full-time MBA pgramme, moving to Amsterdam was a natural step. 'Company visits connect our students with business executives of top tier companies and institutions, providing a great opportunity for them to expand their network, learn about the latest developments in international business, and enables them to explore employment possibilities,' he says. 'Our strong links to the business world play a big role in providing employment possibilities to our students. Currently, 82% of them find a job within three months of graduating. Living and studying in Amsterdam will bring our students even closer to such opportunities.' Applications for Nyenrode’s full-time MBA September 2017 intake are currently open, and will close on August 1st. Discover more about the programme during the following events: Open Evening: March 2 International Business Game: March 30th – April 1  More >


The net broadcaster helping refugees connect in the Netherlands

The net broadcaster helping refugees connect in the Netherlands

In a modern office complex in Hilversum, all sleek elevators and glass walkways, are four journalists who know the value of free speech. Deborah Nicholls-Lee went to meet Arash, Basel, Besan and Kowfurow - refugees who were denied the right to speak their mind in their home countries. It is a far cry from fleeing your homeland to working in the heart of the Dutch media landscape, but Arash, Basel, Besan and Kowfurow have been lucky. In November 2016 they were selected to be part of an expanding editorial team at Net in Nederland (NiN)  a new website that uses subtitled Dutch television to help refugees improve their Dutch and to integrate into their new lives in the Netherlands. Kowfurow Ali (31), a Somalian who came to the Netherlands in 2009, explains how their work at NiN office mirrors its mission: ‘It is a learning process for us as well, as we are learning about the Dutch samenleving in depth [and] we’re learning the Dutch language because we speak, read and write in Dutch every day. It gives us a lot of skills that we will use for our future.’ The team's composition also reflects the refugee demographic in the Netherlands, he says: ‘The diversity that we have here we also want to represent on the website. We have different perspectives and that comes across on the site.’ Motivation Besan Zarzar (27), one of the site’s Arabic editors, is a Palestinian who fled from Syria, where she worked as a radio presenter. She has seen how the NiN team benefits the website's users: ‘Because we have been a newcomer, we know exactly which things we need to talk about.’ Kowfurow agrees: ‘They can see people who have been through the same struggle and it gives them motivation. If that person did that, I can do it too. It is an inspiration for them.’ The team has already built quite a following on social media among other newcomers who are eager to get help. ‘We have regular customers,’ says Arash Sametipour (40) from Iran, before explaining that the team receives many personal messages from refugees in asylum centres with questions or translations that need to be done. The team collapses into giggles as they tell me about the rising popularity of Besan – their unwitting poster girl – who has a lot of people asking about her. She laughs it off, happy to brighten a refugee’s difficult first months in the country. Smoothing the path into Dutch life Net in Nederland, created in April 2016 in association with the Dutch public broadcaster NPO, is a kind of ‘Netflix for Newcomers’, says Kowfurow. It’s a cherry-picked choice of recent television with the needs and interests of the immigrant in mind. There are topical items, such as the Dutch election, and vlogs on subjects like the OV Chipkaart or the healthcare system. The NOS news broadcast on weekdays comes with a choice of Dutch, English or Arabic subtitles. ‘After two, three years sometimes you get stagnated in the asylum centre,’ he explains, ‘and when you’re given permission to stay sometimes you don’t know what to do with the papers. But if you’re already informed how to look for education, get a job, then you can easily integrate.’ Besan adds: ‘I really wanted to learn more about the Dutch but I didn’t know how to do it. If I had known about Net in Nederland when I was in the AZC [asylum centre], I would definitely have logged in and tried to search there for information.’ Central to Net in Nederland’s mission is improving people’s language skills. Basel Aal Bennoud (38), from Damascus, who has been here two years, believes that basic Dutch is essential for refugees. ‘There are a lot of people who are facing real obstacles in their daily life. They cannot explain if they are sick.’ There is a chorus of agreement in the group. Arash says he realised early on: ‘If I want to develop myself, I need to learn Dutch.’ 'People tell what they need to tell' Arash appreciates the open and honest culture in the Netherlands, which allows him to work without censorship. ‘People are straightforward here. They tell what they need to tell. In some other cultures, including my own country, people are not allowed to.’ He left Iran when a disputed election in 2009 led to mass arrests and the closure of many news outlets, creating an impossibly toxic environment for journalists. He found out about Net in Nederland on these very pages: ‘I check DutchNews.nl every day. I noticed that you had written an article about Net in Nederland. I was very excited to find that this kind of platform had begun.’ At NiN, Arash can gain training and earn money while he completes his Masters in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Utrecht. Kowfurow, a student at the Radio Nederland Training Centre, found the job through onfile, an association for refugee journalists. He fled to Europe when his work in Somalia became life-threatening. ‘It was extra dangerous for people who work in the field. When the danger became quite concrete, I had to leave.’ He moves the subject on quickly and the convivial atmosphere around the table is restored. The cream from the complimentary tompoezen cakes is all over my fingers and I can’t switch off my recording device. I let it play on and the last few minutes are mostly laughter. It tells the story of people who are quite at home and want to help others feel the same. Net in Nederland is an initiative of Dutch broadcasters AVRO TROS, BNN VARA, KRO-NCRV, VPRO, EO, MAX and HUMAN, and is supported by NTR and the NPO. Line up (left-right): Kowfurow, Pamela (English Editor), Jasmijn (Dutch editor), Arash, Besan and Basel.  More >


In ‘Holland’s most right-wing town,’ nothing is black and white

In ‘Holland’s most right-wing town,’ nothing is black and white

Nestled alongside a picturesque seafront just a few kilometers outside Amsterdam, Volendam draws tourists with its hammed-up depiction of the Netherlands of old; all fishing boats, clogs and cheese shops. But there’s a new kind of gawker in town: the foreign journalist hungry for some homegrown Dutch xenophobia, as Graham Dockery reports. Volendam has become known to the foreign press as a bastion of conservatism in an otherwise liberal country. Far-right populist Geert Wilders may have won 17% of the popular vote in the last election, but in Volendam one in two people voted for his party, the PVV. With a general election approaching and Wilders topping polls, the eyes of the foreign press are naturally focused on the Netherlands. Following Brexit and the election of Trump, the wave of nationalism sweeping the western world could potentially break here next. Smear Campaigns Wim Keizer is angry at his town’s portrayal in the media. ‘They smear us!’ he exclaims. ‘We’re friendly people, and foreigners have been coming here for 200 years, but because we say no to the EU and no to immigration, we’re smeared as racists.’ 82-years-old, Keizer is a retired local politician who now manages a museum in Volendam. Taking a break from preparing an upcoming exhibition, he holds court as a steady stream of locals drop by for a chat and coffee. Keizer reckons that many of these visitors will vote PVV on March 15. Over his years in politics, Keizer has seen the town’s eel-fishing industry decimated by EU regulations, while the political leanings of hard-done-by Volendamers swung to the right. ‘Here people don’t march on the street. They protest in the voting booth,’ he says. ‘They’re angry at the establishment and Wilders is the only politician who listens to the people.’ Shades of grey Walking south along the seafront, cafes and souvenir shops give way to warehouses and shipyards. In one of these yards, a crew of volunteers are busy restoring an old fishing boat to its former glory. Among the men, opinions on Wilders are mixed. ‘Is Geert Wilders the devil or our savior? Probably somewhere in between’ says Dirk Appel (61) with a laugh. Appel doesn’t support Wilders’ anti-EU rhetoric, but agrees with his hardline stance on immigration. ‘He’s been saying for 20 years that there’s too many Muslims coming to the Netherlands and Europe, and I think he’s right.’ Recently, Wilders’ anti-Islamic speech earned him a court appearance, where he was convicted of inciting discrimination against Moroccans. However, Appel’s stern demeanour breaks when he talks of Mohammed, a Syrian refugee who volunteers with the restoration crew. ‘I don’t think he’s even from Syria,’ he says with a chuckle, ‘But he comes here to work every Wednesday, and I have no problem with that.’ Hard Working Freek Sloot (57) ducks under an upturned boat to roll a cigarette, taking shelter from the freezing rain. He laughs when Wilders’ name is mentioned. ‘He’s not my friend,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘Some people here want to close off the borders and keep everything to themselves. I think the world is for everybody.’ Nearby, Theo Van Geffen (46) works with an angle grinder, a shower of sparks bouncing off his jacket. After losing his job several months ago, Van Geffen now volunteers in the shipyard and teaches Dutch to refugees in Amsterdam. ‘I doubt him,’ he says of Wilders. ‘I’m not satisfied with his ideas but Volendam has this issue [PVV support] because people here are hard workers. They expect the same from others and this isn’t always the case.’ All the men in the yard are proud of their town’s hardworking, blue-collar reputation. Some see refugees as getting an easy ticket in the Netherlands, and some see Brussels bureaucracy as holding back their ability to work efficiently. But none see the PVV as offering a clear-cut solution, nor do they see the political landscape in Volendam as an isolated anomaly. ‘This town is well known,’ says Van Geffen, ‘but there are towns and villages like this all over Holland.’ Integration Wilmie Doornbos (60) has worked with refugees in Volendam and the surrounding countryside since the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s. Then, like now, some locals were suspicious of the new arrivals in town. ‘Volendam was always a closed village,’ she says. ‘Everyone who comes from outside is a stranger. But if you try to make contact with them, and you’re persistent, you can have a good relationship with the locals. It’s no different for refugees.’ Doornbos has a lot on her plate. While the amount of refugees coming to Volendam has fallen this year, her organization - Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland - always needs more volunteers. Together with Naira (36), an Armenian refugee, she prints out training material for new volunteers as she speaks. Doornbos is idealistic. ‘I have a problem with the PVV because they divide us. We need to live together and accept each other’s differences, globally and locally,’ she says. However, she acknowledges that integration takes effort from both sides. She has encountered problems as some refugees struggle to adapt to Dutch values, particularly regarding the role of women in society. But she has also seen some reward for her work. She has watched refugees settle into life and work in Volendam, becoming neighbours, friends, and colleagues of the locals. “They get contact with the neighbours, the children play on the football team, and they get to know each other,” she says with pride. Election uncertainty Just as opinions on Wilders in Volendam are mixed, so too are predictions for next month’s election. ‘People are afraid that they’re losing what they know, and Wilders is feeding that fear,’ Doornbos says. ‘A lot of people think the PVV will win, but if they see what’s going on in America, I don’t know if they will.’ Back on the docks, sail maker Frans Keizer (58) sees Dutch voters taking the election of Trump as an inspiration rather than a warning. ‘Wilders talks a lot but doesn’t do very much,’ Keizer says, rolling his eyes. ‘But there’s a lot of fear here, and there’s a lot of hidden voters. People won’t say they’ll vote for him, but they will.’ Dutch voters go to the polls on March 15. For more information, read DutchNews’ election coverage here.  More >


We’ve gotta get outta this place: some of the best Dutch escape rooms

We’ve gotta get outta this place: some of the best Dutch escape rooms

Escape rooms have been popping up all over the Netherlands over the past few years. Brandon Hartley checks out the best of these adventure games that involve solving puzzles to get out of everything from old bank vaults to former prisons. The clock on a screen mounted on the wall said we had two minutes left. I ran over to the staircase while a flustered colleague shouted out some instructions. 'STEP ON THE FIRST STAIR, THEN JUMP ON THE THIRD ONE DOWN, THEN GO BACK UP TO THE SECOND ONE….NO, WAIT….WAIT! UHHH…..' She and our two fellow thrill seekers were trying to piece together a series of clues that would prevent us from getting zapped into an alternative dimension but it was too late. I did my best to bounce on the mechanical stairs in the correct order but we were out of time. Our collective goose had been cooked. Some escape rooms contain plotlines inspired by Hollywood films or involve famous figures from the history books. They accommodate as few as two players while others necessitate a small army of stout-hearted individuals. Many also require reservations days, if not weeks, in advance. Here’s just a few of the best ones you can try out here in the Netherlands...if you dare! Sherlocked - Amsterdam Perhaps the best known series of escape rooms in the Netherlands, Sherlocked has been featured on the talk show De Wereld Draait Door. It offers not one but three different adventures. In ‘The Vault,’ the players adopt the roles of thieves determined to steal a mysterious object from a series of antique bank vaults. ‘The Architect’ takes place inside the catacombs of the old Beurs van Berlage building on the Damrak and focuses on a series of strange events involving the acclaimed architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage. ‘The Port Game,’ which can be played by as many as 42 players, centres around a troubled inventor grappling with an experiment involving artificial intelligence. Available to play in both English and Dutch Claustrophobia - Amsterdam These two escape rooms can be found on the Foeliestraat in Amsterdam and they’re more geared towards families. In ‘Wake Up!’, the players attempt to navigate the nightmare of a young girl named Mathilda and help her escape from it. Classic gaming enthusiasts might also enjoy ‘Arcade Invasion,’ which allows them to take on an army of invaders determined to destroy a world inspired by ‘80s and ‘90s arcade games. Available to play in both English and Dutch Prison Escape - Breda If you’re a fan of films and TV shows where a ragtag group of misfits or falsely accused heroes bust out of a maximum security prison, then this one’s for you...provided you’re over the age of 18 and can handle an incredibly intense experience. In total, 25 designers were involved in the making of this jumbo-sized escape room. The average game features over 80 actors portraying prison guards and others and it takes place in Breda’s Koepelgevangenis (an old prison completed in 1886). You’ll need to round up over 140 of your closest friends if you want to play it on a specific day though. Otherwise, you can buy a ticket and fight your way to freedom alongside dozens of strangers during their periodic event days. Only available in Dutch (yes, despite the trailer being presented in English) The Dentist and the Freakshow - Delft Are you fainthearted? Do you hate going to the dentist? Have you been totally creeped out by all those recent reports concerning scary clowns running amok? Well, then maybe you should move on to the next item on the list. The company that hosts these escape rooms have an equally creepy one located in Zoetermeer (with another on the way). Players in ‘The Dentist’ begin their pulse-pounding quest in an old-fashioned waiting room. On the other side of a door they can hear the piercing sounds of a drill followed by bloodcurdling screams. Wanna know what happens next? Well, then book a reservation. The Freakshow (also located in Delft) takes place in a circus where nothing is quite what it seems. The Dentist is offered in both English and Dutch while the Freakshow is Dutch only Escaping - Utrecht and Almere Not one, not two, but *five* escape rooms are offered by this company with locations in both Utrecht and Almere. You can contend with a ghostly bellhop and other ghoulies in Almere’s ‘Room 22.’ Go in search of a valuable artifact snatched by a corrupt church in Utrecht’s ‘The Stolen Ceres.’ The secret agent Malik would appreciate your help with deactivating a time bomb in Utrecht’s ‘Project Venona’ and you can probably figure out the premise of ‘Let’s Rob the Bank!’ on your own and play it in both cities. Lastly, there’s ‘Patiënt X’ in Utrecht that involves a revolutionary new drug with some nasty side effects. All rooms are offered in Dutch but English speakers join in as well Escaperoom Leiden - Leiden The locals say that something strange has been happening lately in the centuries-old Kruithuisje located along the Jan van Houtkade in Leiden. Could it have something to do with the master painter Rembrandt and his experiments with the supernatural? Maaaaaaybe. So says the storyline for this escape room that’s actually located in an old guard tower that once helped defend the city. Available to play in both English and Dutch Operation Exit - Den Haag A daring nobleman, an enchanting tsaria, a secret affair and precious treasure are all entwined in this escape room’s historically-inspired backstory, which combines a bit of fact with a whole lot of fiction. Players have just 60 minutes to explore Baron van Hagesteijn’s mansion and see if they can find a priceless jewel that once belonged to Alexandra Feodorovna. Available to play in both English and Dutch  More >


Sign a pink hat love letter to the Netherlands if you live here!

Sign a pink hat love letter to the Netherlands if you live here!

They marched in the Women’s March on January 21, 2017 against hate and for inclusion. Now Carrie Ballard and Hugo Skoppek are spearheading an open letter to the Netherlands. Dear the Netherlands, We are all people who live in the Netherlands. We are normal people; your neighbours. Some of us are foreigners, and some of us are Dutch. We all care about the Netherlands. The United States woke up to the election of Donald J. Trump only a few weeks ago. Many people were shocked. His campaign appealed to Americans who have been left behind by the modern economy, feel cheated out of their right to a good future, the white middle class whose views were not understood or addressed, and who feel they are looked down on by a supposed élite. Are they racist? No, but they witness minorities getting ahead of them and when the people are of a different color or religion it is easy to direct anger and fear at them. A better future? The supporters of the current US president thought that voting anti-status quo and exclusion (the 'Muslim ban') would make the future better for them. In reality they are getting laws that they did not vote for that is shifting the character of the country. We ask the people of the Netherlands to do better than the USA did in the election this year. In the Netherlands, there are peaceful demonstrations of thousands of ordinary people, many women and children, against Trump and against hate here in the Netherlands. People of goodwill want change too, but not at the expense of going backward in social progress and having more and more stress and division in the society. Fear and prejudice will do nothing but harm to all of us. We believe the Netherlands can find other, better solutions to the differences between those who live here and those who are coming, solutions in line with Dutch values of openness and respect, of fairness, of doe normaal and respectful behavior. Acceptance We can live together if we accept some things about each other. Dutch culture has norms and values, like all cultures. If we live here, we must respect them in our daily behavior. And for The Other? Can we benefit from the things other cultures can contribute? Culture, work, food, music, learning, piety? We want to reach out to each other. We want to make peace with The Other and within our own thoughts. We would like to join together to do our part to keep the Netherlands, our home, a country of inclusion, solidarity, values, fairness for all people of goodwill. Please join us. It may be that we like somebody who is bad for us or that we hate somebody who is good for us, but let us not forget to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us focus on the things that make the Dutch so proud to be Dutch and foreigners so admiring about this country. Say 'No' to hate and division, and 'Yes' to democracy that works well, a clean and safe environment, a fair economy, respect for citizens, and a good future for our children. Thank you. Carrie Ballard is an American writer who lives in The Hague. Hugo Skoppek is a German national and sustainability expert. To sign the letter, which will be sent to Dutch newspapers, email lovelettertoNL@gmail.com   More >


Election interview: The Netherlands was always this safe, prosperous bubble

Election interview: The Netherlands was always this safe, prosperous bubble

Former British parliamentary researcher Ben Coates says the recent economic upheaval has created an opportunity for politicians such as Geert Wilders to exploit the uncertainties surrounding globalisation and portray it as a threat. By Gordon Darroch It was a happy accident that first brought Ben Coates to the Netherlands. Stranded at Schiphol airport one day, he called up a Dutch girl he'd met on his travels and went round for dinner. By the end of that year he'd turned his back on his career as a parliamentary researcher in London and moved in with his new partner in Rotterdam. Now married, living in the harbour city and describing himself as a 'recovering Tory', Coates has been keeping a keen eye on this year's election even from his temporary base 7,000 miles away in Nairobi. Coates took an autodidactic approach to the concept of inburgering: he wrote a book, entitled Why The Dutch Are Different, that got under the skin of the Dutch psyche and unpicked the standard caricature of sophisticated, free-thinking liberals gliding over canal bridges on their bicycles. Political culture At the heart of it is the question of why the Netherlands is so alien to most British people despite being one of the UK's nearest neighbours. It's a similar story in Dutch politics, says Coates, where the multi-party system and the history of coalition governments has produced a very different political culture. 'In the UK politics is a bloodsport,' he says. 'It's one party trying to hammer the hell out of the other and see who survives to cross the line. In the Netherlands it's much more collegial and respectful. People debate ideas quite carefully and then put aside their differences to form a coalition. Geert Wilders has upended that a little bit, but I still think that compared to when I worked in politics in London it's much more civil and gentle.' Coates also thinks the Dutch system has allowed the Netherlands to avoid the dramatic upheavals that countries like the UK experience when they change government. 'You don't get a Dutch Margaret Thatcher who comes along and shake things up, because they're always constrained by their coalition partners,' he says. 'That's maybe very good in lots of ways and very stable and moderate, but it also creates space for people to come with really crazy radical ideas. In a system where politics is fairly boring a lot of the time, it means that someone like Pim Fortuyn can make a big impact by doing things that in another country wouldn't be considered so bold or daring.' Wilders That brings us neatly to the man who, so far, has set the tone for the election coverage both at home and abroad. Coates argues that Geert Wilders's impact comes from his ability to blend right-wing, populist nationalism with the values that make the Dutch distinct. 'He's quite careful to frame his arguments in a way that appeals to people in the Dutch context. For example he says Islamic immigration is a problem because it oppresses women's rights and affects the ability of people to dance at Gay Pride. I don't think that's an argument you would see Donald Trump or Nigel Farage making.' The proportional representation system has also helped Wilders find a niche in the Dutch political landscape, Coates says. 'It makes it possible for someone like Wilders to win a seat in parliament and stay there without having a significant base of support in one place. He doesn't have to have a constituency.' Changing society But more significant than the system is the sense that the Netherlands is changing, and at a faster pace than Dutch voters are used to. 'One of the reasons I wrote my book is that I had the feeling that the Netherlands has reached a turning point in its history,' says Coates. 'For quite a long time, it was like an island from the rest of history. You had coal miners rioting in the UK and terrorists in Germany, but the Netherlands was always this safe, prosperous little bubble, and I think in the last 10 years that's changed a lot. Suddenly it's entered this more bumpy period where the economy's been on a downturn and the political system's in upheaval and populists are on the rise.' That change, says Coates, has created an opportunity for politicians such as Wilders to exploit the uncertainties surrounding globalisation and portray it as a threat. 'A lot of it is about fear and about scaremongering, and not so much talking about the reality of what's happening now but the fear of what will happen in the future. 'If you look at Rotterdam, for example, where I live, it's probably thrived more than anywhere else on globalisation and international trade. Yet I have all these friends who work in the harbour as crane drivers and so on, and they're the ones who really support Wilders, even when it's their jobs that will be lost. 'They see automation coming and crane drivers being replaced by robots and automated trucks, and Shanghai taking over as the biggest port in the world. When people are economically stressed and nervous about their future you can play on those fears.' Decline of the left The rise of populist parties has gone hand in hand with the decline of the traditional left. A sizeable chunk of Wilders's support comes from communities which the Labour party (PvdA) held in a stranglehold on for two generations, but have now crossed over to either the PVV, the Socialists (SP) or, in the case of older voters, 50Plus. Coates sees this as a reflection of a pan-European trend. 'The centre-left is not having a great time in many countries – look at the French Socialists or the UK Labour Party. The SDP in Germany seem to be rallying slightly, but across Europe the left isn't doing so well. It looks like they'll do badly in this election, and then the question is whether they can quickly bounce out of that and find a dynamic new leader who can rejuvenate the party, or whether they're going to retreat to the base and get a Jeremy Corbyn who makes a bad situation worse.' A big part of the problem, says Coates, is that the established parties have become detached from their voters. 'There's a persistent problem in many countries where politics has become increasingly professionalised,' he says. 'A majority of professional politicians are young, white, mostly men, but also women, from fairly good backgrounds who studied at good universities, who work as an adviser or researcher in parliament, like I did, and then become a member of parliament themselves and end up running the country. That has its benefits, but I can understand why if you're a crane driver in Rotterdam you feel that's something utterly alien to your experience. 'You see that playing out very obviously in the US. Hillary Clinton is a very impressive lady, but if you're an out-of-work steel worker in Pittsburgh you won't think that a millionaire former senator and former First Lady who's been a professional politician for 35 years is very appealing. I think a big part of the challenge is to find leaders in the major parties who can present their arguments in a way that appeals to people who are turned off by mainstream professionalised politics.' Reconnect Coates is not optimistic about the Dutch system's ability to produce the type of politician who can reconnect with an indifferent electorate. 'I find Ahmed Aboutaleb quite impressive,' he says. 'Whether a Muslim, Moroccan-born politician can combat Wilders is something you could write a whole thesis about, but in principal that's the type of person you need. Someone from a slightly unorthodox background who can make the argument, based on personal experience, that isolationism isn't good or immigration isn't bad, and articulate it in a way that appeals to people who don't automatically agree with them.' While the system is almost certain to deny Wilders a shot at power, Coates says at some point the mainstream parties will have to address the reasons for his appeal. 'I think Wilders will make a pretty strong showing, roughly in line with what the polls show at the moment [note: this interview was conducted in mid-February, when the PVV was projected to win around 30 seats] or maybe slightly less,' he says. 'But then I think we'll have a Le Pen-type situation where the other parties form a coalition in a way that makes it impossible for him to get into power. That just feeds into his argument that he's someone who millions of people support but who is consistently ignored by the political elite and shut out of government, so I don't know how sustainable it is to keep on ignoring this populism and dismissing it as racism or xenophobia.' Ben Coates writes about politics and more on his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.  More >


New Rijksmuseum exhibition focuses on Dutch relationship with South Africa

The Netherlands’ 'disturbing and striking' colonial history in South Africa is the centre of an new exhibition covering 400 years of the Dutch South African relationship at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Julia Corbett has been finding out more. 'The arrival of the Dutch changed South Africa once and for all,' says Martine Gosselink, head of the Rijksmuseum's history department and the exhibition's producer. 'The population’s composition and the introduction of slavery by the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) result from the ties with our country. But this also applies to the language, Afrikaans, the legal system, the protestant church, the introduction of Islam, the typical façades and the Dutch names on the map.' The exhibition Good hope. South Africa and the Netherlands from 1600 focuses on images and artefacts linked to the fraught history between the Netherlands and South Africa throughout their 400 years relationship. The items on display include documentation of the first exchanges between Cape of Good Hope residents and Dutch settlers up to the anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s and beyond. Museum visitors travel through the centuries in 10 exhibition rooms, with portraits, paintings, scripts, clothes and household items showcasing the influence the Dutch had on everyday South African life. Interactive The exhibition includes an interactive archive of the work of Dutch soldier and iconic 18th century explorer Robert Jacob Gordon, who traced the landscape and native animals of South Africa in the 1700s. Curator Duncan Bull, who has worked at the Rijksmuseum for over 15 years and grew up Cape Town said: 'It is very exciting now to know people will be able to go online and see his drawings from hundreds of years ago. 'He gave us so much information, he took two weather reports every day for 20 years. He was also a geologist and his work is so accurate. He was absolutely dedicated and really represented the extraordinary curiosity during the 18th century.' It was a difficult task to illustrate an aspect of the Dutch colonial history described by Dutch writer Adrian van Dis as 'both painful and striking, but more especially disturbing and recognisable'. The increasing complexity of the Dutch and South African relationship becomes clearer as the exhibition looks into both the Boer War in the early 20th century and the introduction of segregation through apartheid. A room depicting the signs used during the unjust and violent apartheid system presented the 'daily humiliation of an openly racist society' and acknowledges the difficult job the museum had in showing and representing the stories of different members of the segregated society. South African Johan de Villiers has been living in the Netherlands for nine years and is one of a group of people providing visitors a personal insight into the country’s history through guided tours. 'These really strike me because these were images I saw growing up,' says De Villiers in a room of posters and photographs of Nelson Mandela used during the protests to end apartheid. 'I was born in 1960... I grew up seeing many of these displayed images in my life, despite them being banned in South Africa under apartheid.' The segregation of a complete society is exhibited in sculptures, photos and posters as well as the fierce anti-apartheid campaigns in the Netherlands carried out by groups such as RaRa who became household names with the Netherlands during the latter half of the 20th century. 'The relationship with South Africa also changed the Netherlands,' says Martine Gosselink 'The Boer Wars around 1900, countless 'Transvaal districts' in Dutch cities and the violent anti-apartheid struggle of the 1980s symbolise a continuously tempestuous relationship. This exhibition gives an impression of the culture and the influence shared between the two countries.'  More >


Election interview: There are no ‘A’ and ‘B’ classes of Dutch people

Election interview: There are no ‘A’ and ‘B’ classes of Dutch people

You can travel a long way in Europe before you find a politician who is upbeat about the future of the European Union at the moment. But not all is doom and gloom, as D66 MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma tells Gordon Darroch. Eurosceptics have been buoyed by both the Brexit vote in the UK and the election of Donald Trump, who has predicted that other member states will follow Britain out of the EU. The day after Trump took office, far-right leaders across the continent, including Geert Wilders, held a 'counter-summit' in which they called for European nations to adopt Trump's protectionist 'America First' stance and close their borders to migrants. Yet Sjoerd Sjoerdsma is far from solemn about the EU's prospects. The foreign affairs spokesman for the centrist-liberal D66 party believes the need for co-operation between European nations has become even more urgent in the age of Trump. 'The Americans have always been an important ally and that's not going to change any time soon,' he says. 'But I think that as president, Trump is sadly pursuing a course that goes against the interests and values of the Netherlands and the European Union. 'That means the EU needs to be able to manage its own affairs. We need to have a European defence structure rather than rely on American security. We can't wait for the Americans to do something about the climate, we need to do it ourselves. I think Trump is a great opportunity for the European Union to put itself forward as a world leader, and we just need to get on with it.' Nationalist parties Next month's Dutch election will be seen as the first test of whether nationalist parties in Europe will benefit from the Trump effect and the fall-out from Brexit. As the party of progressive pan-Europeanism, D66's performance will be seen as an indicator of voters' confidence in the EU. 'It is a tipping point in the history of the EU,' says Sjoerdsma. 'On the one hand there are lots of countries in Europe, such as Germany, but also here in the Netherlands, where nationalist parties with anti-Islamic agendas are on the rise. 'These are forces that would happily break up the European Union, incidentally with the support of [Vladimir] Putin, certainly in the case of the [French] Front National. So we're facing huge challenges, both on our external borders and within. It's also a chance for the EU to show that we are equal to the challenges we face in areas like security and trade. If we do that we will emerge from this crisis stronger.' But the 35-year-old former diplomat does not restrict his criticism to the extreme right, arguing that the moderate right has made a bogeyman of Brussels. 'Of course the European Union needs to become far more democratic and we need to stop all the nonsense like the merry-go-round between Brussels and Strasbourg,' he says. 'But there are Dutch politicians, particularly in the VVD camp, who have always behaved as if everything good comes from The Hague and everything bad comes from Brussels. If you keep on telling people that the EU is no good and makes strange decisions, it shouldn't surprise you when support for the European Union crumbles.' Turkey deal A case in point, says Sjoerdsma, is the deal that the EU agreed with Turkey last summer, during the Dutch presidency, to accommodate refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean. It included a string of sweeteners for the Turkish government, such as a promise of accelerated entry to the EU and visa-free travel in Europe for Turkish citizens. A few months later Recep Tayyin Erdogan's government instigated a clear-out of the judiciary, the armed forces and the teaching profession in revenge for the failed coup in July, stepped up its intimidation of the domestic media and has mooted reintroducing capital punishment. Sjoerdsma says the deal should have come with much stricter conditions attached, otherwise 'you create the impression that you're prepared to bargain with your values for the sake of short-term self-interest, and the risk with that is that there are numerous other countries that are prepared to drive the EU apart if they see us being soft on our own interests and our own values.' Brexit A similar approach should be taken in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, Sjoerdsma says. Brexit poses a dilemma for countries such as the Netherlands, which has strong historical and trade ties with its neighbour across the North Sea. D66's election manifesto calls for the uncertainty over Britain's relationship with the EU to be resolved as soon as possible, not least for the thousands of Dutch citizens living in the UK who fear losing their jobs and their right to remain in their adopted homeland. But, cautions Sjoerdsma: 'We don't want the UK to gain unfair influence or advantages relative to its contribution to the EU. The European Union isn't a self-service canteen where you can pick and choose from the freedoms without taking the responsibilities that come with them.' Sjoerdsma also says the EU should try to accommodate Scotland and Northern Ireland, which voted against Brexit, if they decide they would rather stay in Europe than the UK. 'It's their own decision and we shouldn't meddle, but at the same time it's very important that their inhabitants aren't punished for a decision that others have taken for them. Scotland voted with a large majority for Remain, so if there comes a time when they say, “we think the European Union is so important that we want to reject Brexit and avoid the consequences,” the European Union shouldn't dismiss that out of hand.' Nexit As for whether the Netherlands could be the next country to quit the European Union, Sjoerdsma is adamant. 'D66 will never, ever accept a Nexit or a referendum on Nexit. As for parties that say “less EU”, I agree with them on all the senseless interfering, but those parties – and this goes for the CDA, the VVD and the PvdA – should be honest and admit that they have all voted in parliament to transfer huge powers to the EU on questions such as asylum, because they all know that we have to deal with things like accommodating refugees together. We can't do it by ourselves. We saw that last year.' In the opinion polls, D66 has hovered around the 10% to 11% mark for around the last year, which would give it around 15 seats in Parliament. The party, led by Alexander Pechtold, has been one of the most forthright critics of Geert Wilders's anti-immigration PVV and, like most of its peers, has ruled out going into coalition with Wilders. That would seem to leave Rutte as the only realistic contender to be prime minister, but Sjoerdsma denies that this gives the current incumbent too much power. 'It's the exact opposite. The VVD has put D66 in a powerful position, because Rutte has stated so explicitly that he won't govern with the PVV. That means he can only govern with us. He can't avoid it.' D66's stance on Europe is mirrored by an internationalist approach to domestic affairs. The party advocates more English-language teaching at secondary school and university level to attract international students and high-skilled workers, and would invest heavily in education and innovation. Dual nationality 'Our wealth comes not from mineral resources or selling products, but first and foremost from our expertise and the fact that we can attract lots of people to come here because they know they can earn money from their expertise,' says Sjoerdsma. He says the current government's restrictions on naturalisation, such as extending the qualifying period for foreign residents to obtain a Dutch passport, have had a 'deterrent effect'. D66, along with Labour, want to reform the law on nationality to permit dual passports. This would also benefit Dutch nationals living and working in other countries, some of whom have been unpleasantly surprised to find they have 'lost' their Dutch nationality by taking citizenship in their host nation. The debate at home on immigration has created a warped impression of nationality, says Sjoerdsma: 'Dutch people of foreign origin increasingly feel less at home and less attached to the Netherlands, and that's because of the political debate which is dominated by right-wing parties such as the PVV and the VVD, who presume that anybody with dual nationality is suspicious. 'I think that's ridiculous. There are no 'A' and 'B' classes of Dutch people. We want to make it easy for Dutch people living abroad to take on another nationality and people living here in the Netherlands who have another passport to hold onto it. That's not strange, it's enriching.' Sjoerdsma is equally bullish about the prospect of a Wilders victory in the election. 'I don't believe it will happen,' he says, even though the anti-immigration PVV has been leading opinion polls for over a year. Support for Wilders Sjoerdsma points out that Wilders's support has tended to fall away during recent election campaigns. Two years ago D66 edged out the PVV in the race to run The Hague's municipal council, on a night when the party also eclipsed Labour in its historic stronghold of Amsterdam. 'D66 became the largest party with a campaign based on tolerance in the international city of peace and justice,' he says. 'I'm convinced that if politicians show that we can tackle the issues and we're there for people whose voices have not been heard for a long time, the Netherlands can return to the leading position it used to have as an international bridge builder. 'In the past we were pioneers in the battle against the sea and we did it again with gay rights: we were the first country where same-sex couples could marry. We can reclaim our leading position in all kinds of fields. Look at Ben Feringa, the Nobel prize winner. Who says the Netherlands can't be a forerunner in driving back cancer from being a deadly disease to a chronic disease? Who says we can't be in the front row when it comes to startups or internet innovation? I have a lot of confidence in that.' Sjoerdsma believes the Dutch elections will show that Europe has withstood the shockwaves of Trump and Brexit: 'I'm conviced that we can turn the tide here in the Netherlands, that we won't wake up on the morning of March 16 with a hangover, as many Americans did after Trump and many British people did after Brexit, and that the morning of March 16 can be a bright new dawn.' DutchNews.nl asked several political parties for a pre-election interview. D66 was the only party to respond positively.  More >


With Valentine’s Day approaching, here’s some tips for amorous Amsterdam

With Valentine’s Day approaching, here’s some tips for amorous Amsterdam

When Amsterdam’s canal bridges light up at night and the frost sparkles on the branches of the trees, it’s like a film set for lovers. Valentine’s Day, on the 14 February, is the perfect excuse to explore all things romantic in the city. Deborah Nicholls-Lee has 14 ideas to get you started. Dinner with a view Hop on the ferry at Central Station and take a trip across the IJ to the imposing A’DAM Tower. Ride the elevator to the revolving Moon restaurant on the 19th floor and enjoy fine dining and panoramic views while Amsterdam rotates around you. For old-fashioned elegance and candle-lit dining Belhamel in the Jordaan is hard to beat. Its art nouveau furnishings add a soupçon of Parisian romance while the splendid double canal view showcases the very best of Amsterdam. View the city from the water on a luxury canal cruise. Jewel Cruises’ attractive antique river boat is more intimate than the long tour boats and there’s no tannoyed commentary to disturb your à la carte meal. If the expansive views of the IJ at Restaurant Stork don’t elicit romance, then make sure you sample the aphrodisiac oysters on the menu of this shellfish specialist. Side by side The 1920s interior of the tiny Uitkijk cinema , with its table lamps and plush red seats, creates a cosy and romantic environment for watching a film. If you want to cuddle up at the back of the cinema, the love seats at the art deco Tuschinski cinema are perfect. Your ticket includes table service and a choice of snacks and drinks. Hand in Hand The Jaap Eden ice rink is open until March 26 so there’s still time to take your lover by the hand and glide across the ice like you’re in the movies. Afterwards, you can enjoy a hot drink or a meal at Café Jaap. For dancing à deux, head over to the Kompaszaal on the KNSM island for one of their Salsa, Tango or Swing nights. If you’re feeling really romantic, you can even get married there as it’s an official trouwlocatie. Drinks Let the conversation and fine wine flow by booking High Wine at the Dylan Hotel. This tasting of four wines, paired with beautifully-presented canapés, makes for a special evening. For cocktails in chic surroundings, sneak off to Door 74, an exclusive speak-easy behind a hidden entrance. Access is by same-day telephone reservation only. Music, the food of love The Concertgebouw is holding a special concert on February 14 entitled Valentine Classics at the Movies. This eclectic programme of hum-along classics from Bernstein, Gershwin, Tchaikovsky and others is sure to warm the heart. The North Sea Jazz Club at the Westergasfabriek is celebrating Valentine’s Day with a three-course dinner accompanied by sultry jazz from singer Sazz Leonore. And relax… At the chic Zuiver spa in Amsterdam-Zuid, the second person comes free in a special offer running until February 26. Swim, sauna, and relax in the whirlpools or get steamy in the hamman. At the Wellness Garden, the Fashion Hotel’s fitness and health club, you can book treatments  and massages that can be enjoyed in pairs. Follow up with a stroll round the Rembrandtpark and then dinner on the Amstelveenseweg.  More >