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


10 of the best: DutchNews.nl readers photograph the Netherlands

10 of the best: DutchNews.nl readers photograph the Netherlands

To celebrate DutchNews.nl's 10th anniversary, we asked our Facebook page friends to submit their favourite photos which they think best sum up the Netherlands. Yes, all the cliches were there, but so was Albert Einstein. Here are the five winners and the five runners-up. This photo had so many votes on Facebook, we suspect a little help from family and friends. But it was also a winner with the DutchNews.nl team. This reminds us of walks on a chilly winter's day. We know clogs are out of fashion among all but Volendam fishmongers and farmers, but we wonder if these were ever actually worn? You can't get more Dutch than skaters passing windmills in the snow. Fingers crossed we have a winter like this again soon. This has definitely been through some sort of filter but we like it. We love the idea of Albert Einstein as an Albert Heijn worker, complete with carrier bag. But could some bright spark please enlighten us... E=ah2? It wouldn't be a Dutch photo competition without tulips. Or bikes for that matter? And we could not miss out on an Amsterdam canal view either. You can't get more Dutch than a proud lad with football and Netherlands strip. We'd just like to know if this would-be Dutch international actually went on to play for Oranje. Thanks to everyone who sent in their photographs. We really appreciate it. And to celebrate, we've been inspired to launch an Instagram account. And keep those photographs coming to molly@dutchnews.nl  More >


10 surprises Dutch homes have for new arrivals

10 surprises Dutch homes have for new arrivals

Moving to a new country always comes with a handful of new experiences and the Netherlands is no exception. Trying unusual foods, learning some of the language, and getting to grips with cultural nuances all await the newcomer. However, that’s not where the differences end. Even your new home will have a few surprises. Gardens or hallways full of bikes It is no secret that the Netherlands is a bike nation. Just glance outside, and you will be treated to scenes of people on bikes, transporting everything from small dogs to several children. And at the end of the day, those bikes have to go somewhere–and quite often that destination will be the communal garden or downstairs hallway. Hello shower, goodbye bathtub If you are used to relaxing after a long day at the office in a hot bath, perhaps with a good book, you might need to find another relaxation activity. While it isn't impossible to find a bathtub in the Netherlands, they aren't that often found in the average Dutch home. The matching window accessories If you want to fit in when you move to the Netherlands, then forget about first introducing yourself to your neighbours, and instead head straight to your local shops. You are on the hunt for two matching plants, two matching lanterns, or two silver statues of Buddha. Once home, place your newly acquired treasures in your front room window and rest assured that you have begun the process of Dutch integration. The open curtains And while you are at the window, don't worry about closing the curtains. The Dutch are known for keeping their curtains open on their large windows allowing those passing by to have a good look in. Some say this shows the Dutch have nothing to hide, others think they might just be showing off their newest purchases. Killer stairs A perfect introduction to Dutch living comes in the form of the extremely steep stairs that greet you when you open the door. While these near-vertical climbs may have served a purpose in the past when canal houses were taxed on their width–building a tall and skinny house meant fewer taxes and steeper stairs–they might very well have you ascending and descending on all fours. The toilet - part one While Dutch toilets won't have you hovering over a hole in the ground, older style ones do still provide an element of surprise with something lovingly referred to as the inspection shelf. These types of toilets collect what you have just left behind on a small platform or shelf ready for your review. Sometimes the best advice really is 'never look back'. The toilet - part two Dutch toilets aren't only distinctive in their design; they are also usually located in a separate room all on their own. This room is almost always 'cosy' (i.e. tiny) in size, so mind your knees when it comes to sitting down. While you are there have a look around for the calendar that is often hanging on the wall dutifully complete with the birthday dates of family and friends. And last but not least, if there is a sink (you might have noticed it when manoeuvring around it), don't be surprised if it only spouts cold water. Tiny fridge/freezers If you thought the room where the Dutch toilet is located was small, wait until you see the fridge/freezer. If you are used to a full sized side-by-side fridge/freezer, take that image and split it in half vertically. If you are lucky, this is the size you can now expect. If you are a little less lucky, cut that size further in half horizontally. Gas stoves If open flames make you a little nervous, then brace yourself when it comes to the Dutch kitchen. While not all stoves in the Netherlands are gas ones – with that satisfying 'whoosh' when you light the gas – a decent number of them are. Small balconies While having some form of balcony is almost a guarantee in the Netherlands, any dreams you might have of large BBQ parties will need to be put on hold. Dutch balconies, while ample in quantity, tend to be lacking in the space department, giving new meaning to the phrase 'three’s a crowd'. If small appliances, steep stairs, and over revealing toilets have you ready to press the emergency button, don’t worry, there is another option. ServicedApartments.nl offers homes away from home for short and long term rentals. And while we can’t change the country’s housing, we can ensure your stay will be a comfortable one.  More >


Six Dutch tours to keep your parents busy when they visit

Six Dutch tours to keep your parents busy when they visit

Your in-laws have arrived. They are staying for over a week. They've recovered from the jet lag, you've taken them to the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum and checked out the Girl With The Pearl Earring. Now what? Molly Quell has six suggestions for tours for the seasoned traveller. It's autumn, so you can't head out for a tour of the tulip fields. So why not then combine those other Dutch cliches of biking and beer on the Bikes and Bites Tour. The craft beer scene has exploded in Amsterdam lately so there’s plenty to try besides Heineken. Offered by the Amsterdam Craft Beer company, the trip takes you to a brewery and you can try some Dutch snacks along the way. You do need to be a competent city cyclist for this. Food to go Should bites not be sufficient, you can go on a gastronomic tour of Amsterdam. Eating Europe offers a Food and Canal Tour of the Jordaan that serves up a dozen Dutch specialities. (Yes, there are that many tasty things in the Dutch culinary lexicon.) The trip takes in the history of the neighbourhood and food traditions in the Netherlands as well as a boat tour of the canals. Sometimes you want to spend more time on a boat and more time eating. If this sounds like your thing, take the train to Rotterdam and check out De Pannenkoekenboot Tour. It is exactly what the name suggests: a two-and-a-half-hour long tour with views of Rotterdam's harbour and skyline and all the pancakes you can eat. There’s also an ice cream buffet. There’s no food on the Black Heritage Tour, but there is plenty of history. This three- hour canal tour takes you along Amsterdam’s main canals and includes a stop-off at a museum. It covers an often undiscussed aspect of history, that of the slave trade in the Netherlands and its colonies, which touches on everything from the Anne Frank House to the Hermitage museum. Red lights and windmills The Red Light District can be a difficult subject but one with a fascinating history, which you can learn all about on the Amsterdam Red Light District Walking Tour. The one-and-a-half-hour tour takes you on a guided walk through the Red Light District where you visit a peep show and the world’s first condom shop. The tour group also offers a tour with the Fokkens, 74-year-old twin sisters who worked in the Red Light District for 30 years. While the Red Light District is certainly quintessentially Dutch, so are windmills and cheese, which you will see and get on the Countryside, Windmills and Cheese Tour. It’s hard to get more Dutch than touring the polders, dykes and, of course, a working windmill. The tour finishes with a picnic, including a local cheese tasting. It's a six-hour tour in a minibus, so not cheap, but it will keep the rellies away from mass-market excursions. If you've got more time or live near Limburg, why not go underground in Maastricht? The Guided Tour of the North Caves will take you into the heart of the Sint-Pietersberg hill to explore the marlstone mines - a labyrinth of over 20,000 tunnels dating back centuries. For a few more euros you can explore the St Pieter Fort as well and learn a lot about sneaky defences and cannons as well.  More >


A documentary is somebody’s truth: IDFA founder Ally Derks takes stock

A documentary is somebody’s truth: IDFA founder Ally Derks takes stock

With the 29th edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam about to kick off, Paris Carr talks to founder Ally Derks. Striking a pose against her office window, where she enjoys sitting to sneak a cigarette and just watch the world go by, Ally Derks (1958) – founder of the world’s largest and most influential documentary festival; International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), is having her photograph taken. One of the most important figures in the Dutch film industry, her office is humbly decorated compared to the ornate Frederiksplein it looks out upon, just metres away from Amsterdam’s prestigious canals. The combination of grandeur and modesty is not only evident within IDFA’s physical headquarters, but the festival’s ethos and founder herself. Labeled by Indie Wire as the ‘high priestess of documentary,’ Derks built IDFA from 2,000 tickets sales in its first 1988 edition, to an expected 250,000 in its 29th year due to kick off later this month. Institution Far more than only a festival, IDFA has become an institution for international documentary and a central pillar of arts and culture within the Netherlands. Its products range from IDFAcademy, DocLab (exploring the boundaries of what documentary is) to Docs For Sale – a market forum facilitating selling and co-financing opportunities between commissioning editors and fresh talent. Whilst activities get more advanced every year, there is a constant trademark of every IDFA edition: the determination that it’s just as important to have the illuminati of the international film world pound the streets of the Dutch capital for 12 days, as it is upcoming filmmakers from all backgrounds, particularly non western countries. 'We want to be truly international… I have never been interested in putting on a festival for the happy fielders, the privileged few, especially from this country. No way, we are all humans on this planet,' says Derks. Having announced her planned departure from IDFA on its 30th birthday next year, the 58 year-old self-confessed ‘dinosaur of documentary’ is certainly in her natural habitat behind a camera. Being in front of the lens however, appears a more uncomfortable experience. Selfies 'I really hate having my picture taken,'she says before she smiles genuinely into the camera. 'And the whole ‘selfie’ thing blows my mind. I’ve taken a couple [of selfies] for my husband, but why anyone would enjoy taking them all the time I don’t know.' Given her apparent unease at being a muse, Derks' relaxed and cooperative response to fulfill a photography request from an unknown interviewer is surprising and generous. With a budget of more than €5m, surely IDFA 2016’s camera shy director could have saved herself this ordeal by palming me off with a stock press photograph? 'Well yes, I do have my press photo taken every year but to be honest by the time they’ve finished with it, I can hardly recognise myself,' she says. 'When you’re operating in the realm of documentary and talking about reality, I think it’s important to be real yourself, exclaims Ally after the final shot is taken.' Challenging elitism It’s this down to earth directness, openness to being vulnerable and attempt to challenge the perpetuation of elitism in whatever small way possible, that epitomises not only Derks and ‘her’ IDFA, but arguably the egalitarian roots of Dutch society itself. The combination means IDFA’s Netherlands born founder is willing to discuss anything from why the Dutch are lacking in fiction film, to her shameless appetite for ‘takeaway TV’ such as MasterChef Australia and Expeditie Robinson. So why are the Dutch so closely associated with documentary? 'It’s part of our genes,' she says.  'The documentary genre belongs to our Dutch culture. We don’t have great fiction filmmakers, really we don’t have them, maybe one or two but it’s nothing compared to our documentary makers like Heddy Honigmann, Ester Gould, Joris Ivens, Herman van der Horst and Hans Keller. The reason IDFA shows a lot of Dutch documentaries is because they’re there. At International Film Festival Rotterdam, they don’t show Dutch films because they are not there. Not good fiction anyway.' So how does she define documentary? 'We discuss the directions and trends in documentary every year and that’s why a festival is important as it enables the definition to be put under scrutiny and evolve,' says Derks. "‘It’s so heavily scripted, it’s only 30 seconds long and was filmed on a mobile phone, it’s only made for a computer", are these all still documentaries?’ Creative reality 'You don’t have space to talk about these issues or question documentary on TV or in the cinema, but you do at a festival. After discussing it for more than 30 years, I maintain it’s a creative way of looking at reality, that doesn’t mean it’s the truth, but it’s somebody’s truth.' As a political tool, documentary is a great place to start discussion and debate, she says. 'Anything is better than starting a war... The genre is not only about form it’s about content. There has always been a need for documentary but it hasn’t always been there. When I started in 1988, documentary was almost non- existent in the mainstream: there were practically none on television and you could forget about seeing one in the cinema. 'Something happened in the early 90s however, and suddenly everything changed. Almost out of no-where appeared thematically constructed channels like National Geographic, National History and CNN - and they all needed content. Documentary is a great way of getting cheap content.' 'When I started IDFA, many people had absolutely no clue what a documentary was – they couldn’t even spell the word. Our first few audiences were elitist to be honest, but I never wanted to make a festival for only the intellectuals that worked in television in Hilversum. James Bond 'After teaming up with Hans Beerekamp (journalist at NRC Handelsblad) to get IDFA off the ground, I wrote to Amsterdam city council and the foreign affairs ministry in the Hague saying look we want to do this but not in art film houses, as then we’d only be catering for a certain type. I wanted the documentaries to be shown in commercial venues alongside blockbusters like James Bond, and they were. 'We don’t like criticism of course but we’re open to it and try our best to take it on board,' says Derks, who is acutely aware of the struggle not to be elitist. 'I remember when Central Park (1991) by Frederick Wiseman came out, we were like ok we have to invite all the people who work in the local Amsterdam parks to see this film because it’s completely unique, I mean it’s a beautifully special film. 'But then I realised they don’t speak English. And then I thought shit, I don’t want this, I don’t want to be an intellectual festival for only people who understand English. But then if you want to be international how do you afford to subtitle all the films? We’re still battling with the problem that all the films are in English and not in Dutch. OJ Simpson Ally’s penultimate IDFA will be running from the 16th-27th November this year, screening 300 documentaries ranging from a 30 second installation to a nine hour film on the trial of OJ Simpson. Rather than showing signs of slowing down, Derks has a refreshingly rock ‘n roll attitude to the importance of always pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. 'Of course staying would have been more safe and steady, but when the opportunity came up [Ally has been invited to join the prestigious German Robert Bosch Foundation] my mind started racing in terms of all the things I could do,' she says. 'And boy do I love a challenge. Plus saying goodbye to IDFA on its 30th birthday to leave for Berlin is a kind of chic exit and way to pass the IDFA baton on to the next generation.' As Derks gets ready to embark upon her German themed adventure, she seems to have sparked some kind of domino effect within the international film world. Since announcing her departure so has Nick Fraser- BBC’s Storyville, Mette Hoffmann Meyer - Danish television and Claire Aguilar - Sheffield Doc/Fest. Whilst humorously suggesting they could start a whole new team together, Ally also has these words of wisdom for the next generation of filmmakers all around the world: 'Know where your weak spots are and don’t surround yourself with yes people. That won’t get you anywhere.' IFDA takes place from November 16 to 27 at locations across the city.  More >


Dutch seaside resort hosts new exhibition of Picasso sculptures

Dutch seaside resort hosts new exhibition of Picasso sculptures

Pablo Picasso’s move into the world of ceramics and sculptures is detailed in a new collection of his work on show at the Museum Beelden aan Zee, Scheveningen. By Moira Holden Picasso had reached the height of his fame in the mid 1940s, but he was still striving for innovative ways to progress as an artist. He moved to the south coast of France to begin a new professional phase and the stunning results of it are now on display at the Dutch coastal museum of Sculptures by the Sea. The Malaga-born painter’s foray into the world of sculpture and ceramics began with a chance meeting on the beach with the owners of a pottery factory in the village of Vallauris, near Antibes, on the Mediterranean coast. This friendship with Suzanne Douly and Georges Raine was to prove crucial to a new development in his work. ‘In his life, he was always looking for new directions and new ways of doing things,’ says Lyke Burger, guide at the Museum Beelden aan Zee. ‘Every time there was a great change in his life it was seen in his work.’ Ceramics The pottery factory owners offered Picasso a workshop and it was here that he embarked on the next stage of his life and his career. He was already 65 by this time and lived here with Francoise Gilot – their son, Claude, was born in 1947, and daughter, Paloma, two years later. Picasso was drawn to the pinky-red clay of the region. ‘It became a new inspiration,’ says Burger.  ‘Ceramics interested him and he was attracted by the great simplicity of the clay.’ He had complained about the transience of paint, so the durability of ceramics appealed to him. At first, he chose the conventional shape of a vase as a starting point and imposed ‘flat’ images around the vase. He was a fan of bull-fighting, so many of his designs included bulls, picadors and bull fighters. Several of the artworks on show today at the museum are a homage to his enthusiasm for the pastime. Other themes include women, animals and birds. When he was at work, a small, injured owl flew into his workshop; the little bird was nursed back to health by Picasso, became a pet and featured heavily in his work. Waste and sculpture Today’s display has been gathered from both private and museum collections in Europe. Many art experts feel Picasso’s legacy of sculptures and ceramics have been overlooked in comparison to his paintings. ‘Picasso was one of the first people to think of gathering objects and to use unusual materials and waste in his artwork,’ says Burger. The most striking sculpture in the museum is La Chevre (The Goat) and is evidence of his newfound idea of utilising objets trouves. The 1950 sculpture is based on Esmeralda, a goat owned by Picasso. He uses bronze and many other inventive materials to create the astonishing likeness of the creature. The udders are made from milk cans, the structure of the back includes a palm leaf and a wicker basket is also used in the construction. He was not afraid to replace the traditional sculpting materials of stone and wood with tin, iron and found objects. Picasso’s new artistic venture spilled over into his private life when he met Jacqueline Roque at the pottery - Francoise soon left with the children. Picasso married the woman who was 40 years younger than him and she stayed with him until his death in 1973 at the age of 91. The Netherlands Many of the exhibits in the museum are being shown in the Netherlands for the first time. Picasso was no stranger to the region and had previously stayed in North Holland in June and July of 1905. His friendship with the Dutch racing driver and journalist Tom Schilperoort brought Picasso to Schoorl. He used this base to visit the towns of Alkmaar and Hoorn and observed the cheese markets, the windmills, the farmhouses and the people living in the villages. One of his most famous paintings, Les Trois Hollandaises, was produced during this time. He also used the time to hone sketches of his work carried out earlier in Paris. Last week saw the 125th anniversary of the great painter’s birth. The huge interest in his work displayed at Scheveningen is a testament to his continuing appeal today. Picasso by the Sea: ceramics and sculptures, Museum Beelden aan Zee, until 5 March 2017. www.beeldenaanzee.nl  More >


Get arty; take a guided tour round Amsterdam Art Weekend

Get arty; take a guided tour round Amsterdam Art Weekend

The Amsterdam Art Weekend is being staged for the fifth time in November, focusing on top notch contemporary art for the duration of four days. Over a hundred programmes are organised at some fifty renowned galleries and other locations around the city. Featuring exhibitions, performances, film showings, lectures and tours, the weekend gives you the opportunity to discover the latest developments in contemporary art. On Friday 25 November 2016 you can join  fellow art lovers for an exclusive tour around some of the city's leading galleries, organised by the Amsterdam Salon. Amsterdam Salon aims to build a vibrant community of professional internationals living in the Amsterdam region by introducing them to the very best that cultural Amsterdam has to offer. Unique events Whether you're working at an Amsterdam based company, you're a start-up entrepreneur or a graduate living in Amsterdam, Amsterdam Salon events are intended to bring together internationals at unique, inspiring events. The Amsterdam Art Weekend tour is followed by drinks and plenty of snacks at the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam so plenty of time for networking and no need for dinner plans! Have a look HERE for an overview of all the galleries that are participating in the Amsterdam Art Weekend. Interested? Apply for Amsterdam Salon membership at www.amsterdamsalon.org Date: Friday 25 November 2016 Time: 17:30 hrs - 21:00 hrs Location: Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam. We will walk to the Jordaan together. (after ticket purchase we will send you details about our meeting point at the Stadsschouwburg) Drinks & snacks: 20:00 hrs - 21:00 hrs at the Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam   More >


Hands off the Dutch electoral system

Hands off the Dutch electoral system

There should be strictly no tinkering with the Dutch electoral system, says Patrick van Schie, a historian and director of the VVD think tank Teldersstichting. As the election date draws nearer, claims that the Netherlands has too many political parties are growing increasingly loud. At the moment 16 parties are represented in parliament. Of these, five are splinter groups, formed by MPs leaving the party they were elected to serve. In 2012, 11 parties won seats in parliament, and this is not a historical record by any means. Of course it is too early to predict how many parties will be represented in parliament come 2017. If  the aforementioned 11 parties were to return, possibly joined by DENK and VNL, the total would still fall short of the 17 parties that were represented in 1918. And in those days there were only 100 seats in parliament, not 150 as there are now. What exactly is it people are objecting to with every election? When they talk about health insurers they complain that having only four big players is limiting consumer’s choice. We need more insurers, not fewer, they say. So why would politics be any different? Because, some politicians claim, the country is in danger of becoming ungovernable. First past the post But the politician most likely to have experienced the disadvantages of this so-called ungovernability is, himselve, dismissive of the complaints. Prime minister Mark Rutte says that all ministers have to do is seek majorities in parliament and stop moaning about a surplus of parties. Reducing the number of parties would only be possible by means of a number of heavy-handed measures. You could, for example, impose an voting threshold, so that only parties which won a certain percentage of the vote would be represented. An election threshold of 10% would – if the latest polls are to be believed - put Labour, the SP, and possibly GroenLinks and D66 in the danger zone. It is, of course, lovely to dream of a parliament without any left-wing parties but it would be a far from honest reflection of society. The most effective way of weeding out a number of parliamentary parties would be to introduce a constituency system. Britain only has a handful of parties apart from the Conservative Party and Labour. As a bizarre consequence of the constituency system one party (the Scottish SNP) which gained in 4.7% of the national vote in 2015 ended up with 56 seats while another  (UKIP) gained 12.6% of the vote and ended up with one. It’s a system that is far from fair. Newcomers In the United States it is practically impossible for a third party to get into Congress. The field is dominated by the Republicans and the Democrats which not only results in stagnation but in the formation of politically widely divergent coalitions within the parties themselves. Recent events in both the United States and great Britain have uncovered another danger. What if one of the two big parties ends up being dominated by a reckless, extremist politician? It happened to the Republicans with Donald Trump and to Labour  in Britain with Jeremy Corbyn. Either a completely unsuitable leader will, unfettered by a coalition partner, get into power, or, as seems more likely, form an opposition that no-on will take seriously. One party That means that one party effectively becomes the ‘natural’ government party: the Democrats in the US and the Conservatives in Britain. That may be very nice for the party in question but power needs opposition. Voters must have a real opportunity to opt for an alternative. Dutch parliamentary democracy may have its faults but we should count ourselves lucky to have a system that offers newcomers a way into parliament. It makes parliament into what it should be: representative of most of the population. We shouldn’t allow big parties to get away with election thresholds, constituencies or other tricks to oust their smaller competitors. Voters must have choice. And the Dutch electoral system of proportional representation is giving them just that. So hands off! The views expressed in this article are Patrick van Schie's own. This article was published earlier by Trouw  More >


WOZ, KK, VVE – the language of buying a house in the Netherlands

WOZ, KK, VVE – the language of buying a house in the Netherlands

Mortgage interest rates are at a record low in the Netherlands so it could be the perfect time to buy a home of your own. Here’s a list of 10 key terms which every prospective home owner should understand before they start hunting for their dream dwelling. 1 KK or VON The letters KK in housing adverts stand for ‘kosten koper’ (buyer’s costs). This means that all the costs involved in buying a house –  transferring ownership in the land registry, notarial costs for drawing up the contract and the 2% property transfer tax – are to be paid by the buyer. Together with the cost of your estate agent and mortgage broker, this adds around 6% to the price of a house, some of which is tax deductible. ‘VON’ (Vrij op Naam)  means that part of the costs involved are paid for by the seller. This relates to the transfer tax. 2 Overdrachtsbelasting ‘Overdrachtsbelasting’ or property transfer tax, amounts to 2% of the price of your new home. The cost is included in the KK. 3 Notaris The ‘notaris’ – notary – is a civil lawyer specialised in family and private law. The notary will execute the deed of mortgage and the deed of ownership (as well as wills, prenuptial agreements and that sort of thing). In the Amsterdam area, a notary is also responsible for drawing up the preliminary sales contract for the property. 4 WOZ The ‘Wet Waardering Onroerende Zaken’ is the official value of your property, determined by your local authority. The WOZ value is adjusted once a year and is used to calculate the amount of local council taxes you have to pay, as well as the ‘deemed rental income’ (eigenwoningforfait) 5 Eigenwoningforfait The ‘eigenwoningforfait’ (deemed rental income) is an extra tax on home owners and is based on the property’s official local authority valuation (WOZ). In 2016, home owners pay 0.75% of the WOZ value of their homes in extra tax, as long as the WOZ value is not more than €1,050,000 For properties worth over € 1,050,000 it gets a bit more complicated. The tax was introduced years ago as an income equalizer because home owners were considered to be better off than tenants who pay rent. The actual effect of the eigenwoningforfait is to all but wipe out any benefits from the Netherlands’ very generous mortgage tax relief system. 6 NHG The Nationale Hypotheekgarantie or national mortgage guarantee was introduced in 1995 to encourage home ownership and will cover homes valued up to €245.000 from January 2017. The guarantee means that if people default on a NHG mortgage, a special home ownership fund (WEW) will pay off the debt. Almost 50% of homes bought under the guarantee limit are financed by NHG. 7 NVM The Nederlandse Vereniging van Makelaars is the biggest Dutch estate agents’ association, claiming over 4,000 affiliated brokers. It operates the Funda.nl property search website and provides endless statistics on the state of the property market. Members of the NVM have to have proper qualifications. Every year it throws out members who refused to take compulsory refresher training courses. 8 Verkoopmakelaar and aankoopmakelaar The ‘verkoopmakelaar’ (selling agent) is the real estate agent representing the people selling the property who will do his or her best to maximise the price. The ‘aankoopmakelaar’ (buying agent) is the one acting on the buyer’s behalf. Before you start, you need to make an agreement with your estate agent about what they will do for you and how much it will cost. The fee is known as the ‘courtage’. 9 Erfpacht or eigen grond If you see ‘eigen grond’ in the advert for your dream home, it means you will actually own the land the property is built on. If not, you will be liable for ‘erfpacht’, or ground rent, which you will pay to the owner of the land. In many cases this will be the local council, but it could also be a private person or company. The amount you pay, known as ‘canon’ can be charged annually. It could also been paid for in advance. Erfpacht, particularly when a private landowner is involved, can be a complicating factor in getting a mortgage. 10 VVE If you buy a property in an apartment block, under Dutch law you will have to become a member of the VVE or ‘Vereniging van Eigenaren’. The VVE (owners’ association) ensures the property is well maintained and insured and deals with communal expenses. You have to pay a monthly fee to the VVE, so make sure your estate agent checks out the organisation’s finances beforehand. If the VVE has no cash reserves but the property is in dire need of maintenance, you could find yourself with a hefty additional bill. For more on buying a house in the Netherlands, in a language you can understand, contact Expat Mortgages.  More >


Green fingers in the city: urban farming in Amsterdam

Green fingers in the city: urban farming in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a crowded city. In between the canal houses and bike racks you may have spotted the occasional flowerbed or tomato pot. But agriculture in the city is thriving and as local gardens bring in their harvests, Molly Quell looks into the state of urban farming. One especially hot July day, 13 students from as far as Singapore trampled through a garden in Amsterdam Noord. As it was summer holiday, the university students missed the usual gardeners, a group of nine and 10-year-olds from a nearby primary school. The students were participating in a month-long graduate course called The Urban Food Experience offered by the University of Amsterdam. As part of the course they were touring Voedseltuin IJplein, one of the many community gardens in the city. In fact Amsterdam has 188 registered city gardens, ranging from small community herb gardens to a football pitch full of pigs. Allotments The idea of farming small plots of land isn’t new to the Netherlands. The country distributed its first allotment gardens to working-class families in 1838, so people could grow their own vegetables. Over 6,000 such units in Amsterdam are now used primarily for recreation, but there are still a lot of keen veg growers about. And not all city veg growers are pensioners either. School gardens are a common part of primary school life in Amsterdam. Parents will tell stories of fobbing off baskets of courgettes onto their neighbours because they did not know what to do with them all. The city has 13 official school gardens registered, but many other schools work together with community gardens to give their pupils a sense of the soil. Local schools aren’t alone in seeing the value of teaching their students about agriculture. Lynn Shore, who manages a herb garden in the west of the city, also teaches at the British School of Amsterdam. 'Sometimes I find that it helps to get through to pupils if they have spent some time in the nature, just playing in the dirt,' she says. Local restaurants While school pupils work on the IJplein gardens, the entire space is overseen by a group of volunteers. One-third of the harvest from this particular community garden is given to the volunteers who take care of the space, another third is donated to a food bank and the final third is given to a restaurant which, in turn, offers large discounts to local residents who are economically disadvantaged. The garden produces a wide range of produce, from carrots to kale. It even has fruit trees and bees. More than producing food, the purpose of many of these gardens is to bring together members of the community. 'It’s great to be in the city but still be able to get your fingers into the earth,' said one of the group’s volunteers. Food security Courses like The Urban Food Experience have become popular in recent years. According to Jan-Eelco Jansma, a researcher in urban-rural relations at Wageningen University, consumers started to become more and more interested in where their food came from 10 years ago. Farmers, meanwhile, began to realise that selling their produce locally reduced transportation costs and was thus more economically attractive. As concerns grew about climate change and food security, more and more residents in Amsterdam began to grow their own food. Regardless of interest, Jansma’s research shows that a city like Amsterdam could only ever grow around 10% of the food it needs. 'But today Amsterdam is much closer to 0% than 10%,' he says, so there’s ample room for expansion. And this is just what the city is trying to encourage. Amsterdam already offers an urban garden subsidy of up to €5,000 and is planning to bring in a second one specifically targeted at community gardens. Subsidies The IJplein project relies on both subsidies from the city, grants from foundations and private sponsorship. It was started with an initial grant from Shell. Shore’s herb garden relies mostly on small subsidy support. 'We have had some money from the city, but mostly for community and neighbourhood activities,' says Shore. Meanwhile, the Food Village project aims to be financially viable through sales of its produce. The concept has been put together by Creative Labs and is housed on the grounds of a former refugee centre in Amsterdam North. The pigs themselves were crowdfunded, with each backer getting their return in pork chops and bacon. The Village is more than a garden, with cooking spaces, exhibition areas and a restaurant. From herb gardens to football pitches of pigs, that empty lot on the corner of your neighbourhood could be filled with a lot more than stray rubbish and weeds. More on urban farming How local can you get? Fish farming on a The Hague office block rooftop  More >


Nine diabolically Dutch ways to celebrate Halloween

Nine diabolically Dutch ways to celebrate Halloween

Though still not nearly as popular as Koningsdag, Halloween has been steadily gaining devotees in the Lowlands in recent decades. Brandon Hartley has put together a creepy collection of local events where you can celebrate the most spooktacular time of the year. Halloween Fright Nights Biddinghuizen, until October 30 The Walibi World theme park is once against hosting this colossal Halloween extravaganza. Do you dare experience its horrific events, activities and performances? Those who are not faint of heart or weak of stomach can try their luck in the haunted Jefferson Manor, or a blood-soaked clinic lorded over by the mysterious and malevolent Dr. Adams. The park’s other ‘scare zones’ are devoted to pesky pirates, mischievous monsters, yucky yokels and vexing video game characters. You can also dig into the Halloween Buffet or even spend a night in one of Walibi World’s cottages. Amsterdam Halloween Festival Until October 31 This annual Halloween blowout has been going strong for over a decade. The 2016 edition will feature makeup workshops and family-friendly activities at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! throughout the month of October. Mr Horror’s Halloween Horror Show, an all night movie marathon, is also set to return to the Tuschinski movie theatre on October 29. The festival’s infamous annual costume party is taking over the Hotel Arena the same night and will feature a sci-fi theme. Expect an ‘intergalactic lineup’ of 35 artists and DJs in addition to a small army of cosplayers and Halloween diehards in costumes that must cost more than an average month’s rent in the nation’s capital. Amsterdamned Film Festival October 26 - October 28 Several films from the worlds of horror, fantasy and beyond will be screened at this event hosted in the Filmtheater Kriterion. Along with a restored version of David Bowie’s 1976 cult classic The Man Who Fell to Earth, the line-up also features 2016’s The Windmill, in which a group of international tourists encounter a Dutch miller who prefers to grind bones instead of grain. The real draw, though, is a 28th anniversary screening of Amsterdamned on October 26 that will include an appearance by director Dick Maas and members of the cast. Halloween in Concert  Nijmegen and Arnhem, October 27-28 Conductor Daniel Raiskin and the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra will take their audiences on a journey through some of history’s most hair-raising symphonies. They’ll be tangling with Saint-Saëns’ ‘Danse Macabre’, Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ and more during these two performances. Haunted Castle  Lisse, October 28-29 The historic Keukenhof Castle in Lisse, between Amsterdam and Leiden, serves as a majestic neighbour to the iconic garden during the spring months. Every October, though, it’s invaded by a cavalcade of werewolves, psycho killers, vampires and no less than a dozen zombies. They might be a bit scary but they’re a lively bunch. You can join them as they celebrate Halloween at this event that features activities, performances and walk-through haunted houses populated by everything from ghosts to evil dolls. If you’ve ever wanted to eat a cupcake with a severed ear made out of marzipan on top, you’ll probably find one in the castle’s creepily cool annual market. Zombiewalk Rotterdam, October 29 If covering yourself in fake blood and festering wounds is your idea of a good time, you might want to head to this gathering of the undead. Dozens of zombies will once again stagger through the streets of Rotterdam as they tour the city, take in the sights and (hopefully) avoid biting any innocent bystanders. Admission is free but those who would like to look like one of the creepy crawlers from The Walking Dead can show up early to have their makeup put on by a professional team of artists for an additional fee. Halloween Hairball Amsterdam, October 29 If you're not in costume, you won't get in to this all-night, adults-only Halloween fiesta, which is heading for Paradiso’s Tolhuistuin this year. Those who get into the right spirit can look forward to burlesque performances, horrific sideshows and dancing ‘go go ghouls’. Zombie rockers Sir Bald Diddley and His Ripcurls will perform followed by sets featuring DJs Ir VenderMummy and Deadly Daan Modern. Director's Cut: Goeie Mie Recomposed Leiden, October 31 Leiden’s very own Maria ‘Goie Mie’ Swanenburg was one of the Netherlands’ most notorious serial killers. By the time her reign of terror ended in 1883, she had managed to murder no less 27 innocent souls. Some say the real number of her victims could be well over 90. A movie devoted to her life and crimes will screen on Halloween night at the Vrijplaats in Leiden as part of the city’s annual international film festival. Director Henny Hartevelt will also be on hand to discuss it after the screening. Halloween in Houtwijk The Hague, October 31 The custom of knocking on doors and collecting armfuls of candy is still a rarity in the Netherlands, but this suburb of The Hague goes all out for the holiday. Its family-friendly celebration features elaborately decorated houses and trick-or-treating for children and their parents. Now celebrating its fifth All Hallows’ Eve, the event is a collaboration between local businesses and residents.  More >


Europe’s first calling card to Australia heads back down under

Europe’s first calling card to Australia heads back down under

Exactly 400 years ago this month the Dutch merchant sailor Dirk Hartog and the crew of the Eenderacht were blown off course on a voyage to Java and came unexpectedly upon ‘various islands, which were however, found uninhabited’. Hartog had stumbled on the Great Southern Land now known as Australia. He was the second European to land in Australia, 10 years after his countryman Willem Janszoon, and the first to leave behind an artifact, a pewter plate tied to a post. The Hartog plate is inscribed with the date, 25 October 1616, when the Eendracht made landfall. Hartog spent three days making charts of the previously unexplored western coast of Australia before sailing on to Batavia, arriving five months behind schedule. The tiny island in Shark Bay where he first landed, around 800 kilometres north of Perth is named Dirk Hartog Island. Between 1947 and 1971 some 160,000 Dutch nationals emigrated to Australia. Today around 300,000 Australians claim Dutch roots and a string of events has been taking place to commemorate Hartog's visit. The celebrations will culminate in an official four-day visit by king Willem-Alexander and queen Maxima at the end of the month. Among the royal couple's luggage will be a special case containing the Hartog plate, which is now owned by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which is going on temporary display at the Australian Maritime Museum. Restoration The delicate plate has been subjected to a painstaking conservation process under the careful eye of Rijksmuseum metals conservationist Tamar Davidowitz to ensure it survives the long journey. Davidowitz will personally escort the artifact as it travels to Australia in a purpose-built case. ‘I have developed an affection for it and I have become very protective of it,’ she says. Remarkably, Hartog's plate was largely intact when it was discovered 80 years later, half-buried in sand, by another Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh. De Vlamingh took the artifact home and left another plate in its place. The land mass was not claimed as a colony until British captain James Cook landed in 1770, some 160 years after Hartog. To this day Australia is still a member of the British Empire and as such has queen Elizabeth II as its head of state instead of Willem-Alexander and Maxima, notes John Mann, an Australian national who lives in the Netherlands. ‘As the Australians would say “Bugger, we could have been speaking Dutch” and the Netherlands would have had a great addition to its colonies.’  More >


Dutch justice? Falling crime rates and prison closures

Dutch justice? Falling crime rates and prison closures

The closure of five prisons in as many years against the background of a falling crime rate, is the kind of news many governments would give their eye teeth for. But not everyone in the Netherlands is happy, as Gordon Darroch reports. The Dutch cabinet has faced awkward questions since justice minister Ard van der Steur told parliament in March that the rapid decline of the prison population has left around one-third of cells empty. Unions accused him of breaking a promise made by his predecessor, Fred Teeven, that no more jails would shut before the election in March 2017. And opposition politicians claimed that the decline had more to do with the police lacking the means to track down criminals than any real fall in the crime rate. The impact could have been even more dramatic if the government had adopted the recommendations of a prison service report published in July, which concluded that eight jails and three youth detention centres will be surplus to requirements by the year 2021. No more closures But under pressure from the opposition and the FNV union, deputy justice minister Klaas Dijkhoff pledged that no more prisons would close before the election. That gives a temporary reprieve to around 3,000 prison service staff whose jobs were on the line, but a new government may take a different view next year. The official figures indicate that recorded crime has been falling for around a decade. Between 2014 and 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, recorded crime was down by nearly 5%, according to national statistics office CBS. In total, recorded crime has shrunk by 25% over the past eight years. Many of the offences that cause public concern fell even faster: violent theft and burglary fell by 7.3%, sexual offences were down by 8.1%, drug offences by 9.1% and public order offences by a third. Over the decade the sustained trend has seen all crimes fall by 28.6%. Sex offences and violent theft or burglary were both reduced by more then 40% and rape fell by 52.3%, although the number increased by 1.3% in 2015. Reasons Experts argue about the reasons for the fall in crime, but agree that one factor is the ageing population: young men are responsible for a high proportion of offences, so when their share of the population goes down, so does the crime rate. Better preventive measures such as stronger locking mechanisms and CCTV surveillance are credited for deterring car thieves, muggers and burglars. René van Swaaningen, professor of criminology at Erasmus School of Law in Rotterdam, says many teenagers spend less time on the streets and more time at home on their computers, which partly explains the steep fall in public order offences. 'They're probably getting involved in other types of crime online, but we don't know enough about that yet,' he observes. Europe-wide Crime figures has been falling in nearly all western nations this century, but the decline in the Dutch prison population has been spectacular. In 2006 the Netherlands had the second highest number of inmates in Europe with 125 prisoners per 100,000 population. Only the UK, with 145, had a larger share. But by last year the Dutch were down to Scandinavian levels, with 69 out of every 100,000 citizens behind bars. In fact, the occupancy rate had fallen so far that last year the government agreed to take in prisoners from Norway and Belgium, where there is a shortage of prison capacity. The Norwegian government is paying €25.5 million to rent cells for 240 inmates at Veenhuizen prison in Drenthe and the deal has been credited with saving 240 jobs. Van Swaaningen argues that part of the reason for the surplus is that the government built too many prisons around the turn of the millennium, in response to a surge in the number of inmates. That was largely the result of specific measures such as screening every passenger flying into Schiphol on known drug trafficking routes which led to the cells filling up with drugs couriers. 'The anomaly is not the level of today, but 10 years ago when we had far too many people in prison,' says Van Swaaningen. 'We built far too much capacity in the 1990s, just as it was becoming clear that crime was levelling off.' Police station closures Opposition politicians say the statistics only show a fall in the level of recorded crime and the government's wide-ranging police reforms, which has seen police stations close or shorten their hours, has made it harder for victims to report incidents. 'People are discouraged from reporting crime; they're sent away and told to come back to the police station the next day or on Monday morning,' says Christian Democrat justice spokeswoman Madeleine van Toorenburg. Geert Priem, chairman of the ANPV police union, says the effect has been to weaken public confidence. 'People don't bother reporting crime because they think the police won't do anything, or they can't because there's no police station nearby. Police officers don't like the fact that they can't investigate incidents. They get into the job because they want to put criminals behind bars.' Despite fewer crimes being recorded and evidence gathering becoming more sophisticated, the number of crimes being solved has hovered at around 25% for the last decade and dropped below 23% in 2015. Detection rates 'We have one of the lowest detection rates in Europe,' says Van Toorenburg. 'A lot of crime is moving online and the police have no idea how to deal with it. If the police were better resourced and the clean-up rate improved we'd need all those empty cells.' Van Toorenburg is also critical of failures to enforce sentences handed down by the courts. In the week that Dijkhoff announced that the prisons would stay open, justice ministry figures revealed that around 12,000 convicted prisoners had not completed their sentences. A special police unit set up to trace those with four months or more to serve had found just one in six of the criminals on its hit list. Many of them 'disappeared' after being sentenced in their absence and not replying to the letter instructing them to report to prison; some fled abroad to countries which have no extradition arrangements with the Netherlands. 'We release suspects too quickly from pre-trial detention and then when they're given prison sentences we can't find them,' says Van Toorenburg. Cost cutting Nine Kooiman, the Socialist Party's justice spokeswoman, blames the government's cost-cutting drive for damaging the police's capacity to fight crime. 'We have seen severe cuts in the police service and as a result fewer crimes are being solved,' she says. 'That's a big problem. The prosecution service and the courts also don't have sufficient capacity, so that far fewer cases come to court and lead to prison sentences.' Van Swaaningen maintains that the downward trend in crime is real. 'The police have been busy with internal issues for the last few years and the reorganisation has taken up a lot of time,' he says. 'But if you look at other sources such as victim of crime surveys, all the evidence indicates that crime is going down,' he says. Another reason for the emptying prisons is that in the last few decades the courts have favoured alternatives to prison, such as community sentences and electronic tagging. 'There is a consensus among practitioners in the justice system that sending people to prison has little effect,' he says. The autonomy of the Dutch justice system has allowed the courts and prosecutors to resist political pressure to impose more frequent and longer jail sentences. This has been reinforced by a culture of scepticism towards incarceration that was fostered by the leading criminologists of the 1970s and 1980s such as Herman Thomas Bianchi. Bianchi, who taught at the VU University in Amsterdam, believed locking criminals away in prison was a 'counter-productive waste of money' and said the focus of justice should be reconciling the victim and the offender, rather than the state laying down the law. 'The current generation of judges and justice officials were at university in the 1990s, when the prevailing consensus was that prison doesn't work,' says Van Swaaningen. 'The effect is that they have a very low confidence in the effectiveness of stricter sentences.' Shorter sentences Van der Steur told parliament in March that shorter sentences are one reason why there are fewer prisoners. The trend is visible right across the spectrum of offending. Last month a report by the National Reporter for Human Trafficking and Sexual Violence Against Children found that 43% of convicted child abusers were given non-custodial sentences if the court found that no physical force was used. Just one in five of all offenders was jailed for longer than a year. 'You can hardly explain that to people,' says Geert Priem. 'We have this attitude that we should help people who are sick in the head and that's all very humane, but I think society needs protecting too.' Kooiman says rehabilitation, which she sees as one of the strengths of the Dutch penal system, has also been weakened by budget cuts. 'There are more shared cells, prisoners are locked up for longer and the evening activity programmes have been scrapped,' she says. 'What that actually means is that you lose sight of how people are doing when they're in their cells, which is dangerous not just for the staff but also when they're released. We're seeing more people with mental health difficulties on the streets, many of whom have offences to their name or have spent time in prison, and that's a real concern.' Reintegration Van Toorenburg, a former prison director, also voices concern about the closure of open and semi-open prisons, whose main purpose is to help prisoners reintegrate into society as they reach the end of their terms. 'Prison should be for rehabilitation, making people reflect on their crimes, giving them a sense of routine and work,' she says. Both politicians argue that closing prisons is premature and the government should focus its efforts on improving detection rates and rehabilitation, so that prisoners are less likely to reoffend. 'It sounds great to be closing prisons because crime is going down, but when we look at the reasons for it I have a lot of concerns, particularly when it comes to reintegration,' says Kooiman. The government says prison closures are inevitable because it costs too much to keep empty cells open. Official forecasts predict that the downward trend in crime will continue, though how far the fall reflects an actual drop in criminal behaviour remains a hotly contested issue. 'If you take away the speed cameras it doesn't mean everyone suddenly starts observing the limit,' says Priem. Van Swaaningen says the trend is in line with other countries in north-west Europe. Moreover, while politicians are under pressure from voters to take a strong line on law and order, in practice their influence on the justice system is minimal, he says. 'It's similar to the refugee crisis. The politicians in The Hague took a particular line because it appealed to voters, but the mayors and local officials said: these people are on our streets, we need to do something for them.'   More >


Exhibition highlights the handbags that graced the shoulders of royalty

Exhibition highlights the handbags that graced the shoulders of royalty

What do Queen Maxima, Grace Kelly and Dries van Noten have in common? They all feature in a royal-themed exhibition in Amsterdam, writes Julia Corbett. The Museum of Bags and Purses, located in a canal house on Herengracht, has a reputation as one of the world's finest fashion museums. Its experts have spent a year putting together a display of royal handbags that celebrates the style of some of Europe's most iconic kings, queens and princesses. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands has selected three bags from the collection of one of her predecessor, queen Juliana, to include in the collection. Also on display are six bags selected by Britain's queen Elizabeth II. Hollywood style icon Grace Kelly, who later became princess Grace of Monaco, is represented too with the famous Kelly bag designed by Hermes. The exhibition will run until February 26 and looks at how Europe's royals influenced handbag styles down the centuries. The travel collection of the empress Elisabeth of Austria, better known as Empress Sisi, shows how 19th-century royalty was accustomed to travelling in style. The exhibition is split into four distinct parts - travel, fashion, etiquette and the Dutch royal family  - and a selection of bags owned by an iconic figure accompanies each stage. Curator Leonie Sterenborg said :'We are so happy to have so many bags in this collection. It has taken a year to put together and has been a huge project. The bags represent the history, protocols and styles of royalty. ‘We started with the Dutch royal family because that was very important to us, and from there we worked outwards, sending out letters to many royal families throughout Europe and awaiting their responses. ‘The exhibition then became a natural process. Royal families still travel a lot, so we created the travel section and then what they wear has gone on to create iconic pictures and fashion moments so we dedicated space the that. ‘It is so interesting to look at how the bags were worn, what they were used for and what will they be carrying inside them.‘ Dutch fashion houses such as Jan Taminiau and Belgian designer Dries van Noton feature in the range of luxurious bags loaned by the Dutch royal family. The museum itself provides a spectacular setting for these royal accessories. It was started 20 years ago when antiques dealer Hendrikje Ivo and her husband Heinz turned her personal collection of historic bags and purses into what is now the largest bag museum in the world. Today the museum is curated by the couple's daughter, art historian Sigrid Ivo. Its collection, displayed over three floors, includes some 5,000 bags dating from the 15th century right up to the present day, giving visitors an insight into the changing fashion influences and production techniques through the ages. The museum is also currently home to the eight finalists of The Joke Veeze Award 2016 where upcoming fashion designers were set the challenge of designing a royal purse. From 40 entries the top eight are now open to a public vote and the winner will be announced at a ceremony in January. The exhibition of Royal Bags runs until 26 February at the Museum of Bags situated on the Herengracht in Amsterdam, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Amsterdam's Canal Belt. You can visit the museum's website here.  More >


Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei pledges ‘one voice’ for refugees

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei pledges ‘one voice’ for refugees

Ai Weiwei’s new exhibition at the Foam, Amsterdam, highlights his feelings of affinity with the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe.   By Moira Holden Ai Weiwei candidly admits he ‘never had a good memory’, so his enthusiasm for social media solves that problem. ‘I just push the button to record the moment,’ he said, during the opening of his exhibition, #SafePassage, in the Dutch capital. The artist (59) has visited many refugee camps around the Mediterranean since his passport was returned to him by the Chinese authorities, allowing him to travel abroad for the first time in four years. Since December last year, he has recorded the daily life of refugees in camps on the Greek island of Lesbos, Syria, Turkey, Italy, Israel and France. Social media His Instagram feed has functioned as a de facto real-time newswire and the printed images of the refugees’ faces chronicling their day-to-day life, their hope and despair are displayed in thousands of small iPhone photos mounted from floor to ceiling in the Foam. Ai labels the experience of the refugees as the ‘biggest, most shameful humanitarian crisis since World War II’ and says he views social media as ‘democratic spaces for freedom of speech’. ‘I take the photos and post to share with other people,’ he explains. ‘It is a sign of life – it is a form of life. For some people, it is like riding on a bicycle, or for somebody else it’s like taking exercise or having a conversation. For me, this is how I see the world.’ Alongside the photos, the creator of the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing has mounted exhibits to reflect the fragility of life. A marble tyre-shaped sculpture symbolises the lifebuoy rings for the thousands who have drowned. Ai also uses videos to emphasise the lives lost in the refugees’ desperate bid to escape. On the Boat sees Ai on an abandoned boat drifting in the middle of the ocean. Does he view himself as an artist or an activist? Immediately, he answers: ‘If I am being an artist, but not at the same time being an activist, then I am not the artist.’ Affinity Ai now lives in Berlin with his son (7) and identifies with the refugees’ sense of displacement. He won’t return to China because he fears further detention and won’t risk separation from his boy. ‘I don’t speak German,’ he says. ‘As long as you feel you cannot fully extend your feelings or emotions, or communicate freely with another person, then I think you are a refugee to some degree.’ His own experience of surveillance in his home country echoes the fear of the refugees under suspicion as borders now close to them. Ai’s criticisms of the Chinese government began in 2008 following the earthquake in Sichuan - he questioned the information released about casualties and spoke out about poorly constructed buildings which he claims had led to the deaths of many students. He was arrested at Beijing airport and secretly detained for 81 days in 2011 without any official charges being filed. When he was released, his passport was confiscated and he was put under constant surveillance. Photos in the exhibition convey the state’s scrutiny of his daily life as he is followed and observed by the secret police. His response was to set up a webcam to livestream his life, so he could attempt to reverse the invasion of his privacy and to gain some control. The webcam received 5.2 million hits before the authorities closed it down. He has no idea why his passport was returned to him, but rejected previous reports that he had written to a Chinese politician in a bid to get it back. ‘I will never ask a politician for freedom,’ he states, firmly. ‘This is against my principle.’ Goal His objective with the exhibition? ‘I want to show my position,’ he said. ‘I want to give one voice to these people.’ But he acknowledges there is little he can do to help the refugees he met in their quest for the ‘very essential values of human rights, or humanity, or basic human dignity’. He says: ‘That makes me feel very, very sad.’ Ai Weiwei, #Safe Passage, Foam, Amsterdam, runs until Wednesday December 7 2016. foam.org  More >


The IamExpat Fair comes to The Hague this November

The IamExpat Fair comes to The Hague this November

The IamExpat Fair in The Hague will take place on Saturday November 5, 2016, at the Grote Kerk. The IamExpat Fair is designed to support internationals in the Netherlands, and connect them with local businesses and service providers. This event is an exciting opportunity for internationals to find everything they need in one location, on one day. From companies and services in the areas of career, housing, education and expat services, to family, health and leisure - the IamExpat Fair has it covered! From 10am to 5pm this free single-day event will host stands from dozens of companies and organisations in the landmark Grote Kerk. Free workshops and presentations will also be running throughout the day. Visitors to the IamExpat Fair in The Hague can: - Get assistance with finding rental properties or understanding Dutch mortgages - Meet with recruiters and companies that are hiring - Attend workshops about living and working in the Netherlands - Learn about advancing your career through professional development - Benefit from many special offers - Find local health and lifestyle organisations - Connect with like-minded locals and expats from around the world Don’t miss the newest event on The Hague’s expat calendar! Book your free ticket now! The leading expat fair in the Netherlands The IamExpat Fair, launched in Amsterdam in 2015, has quickly evolved into the leading fair for internationals in the Netherlands. Since its launch, the IamExpat Fair has hosted more than 125 companies, run more than 40 workshops and welcomed more than 4.500 visitors. From November 2016, the IamExpat Fair takes place in two cities each year: Amsterdam and The Hague. Save the date and reserve your free ticket online!  More >


What happened here? Liberation Route Europe keeps World War II memories alive

What happened here? Liberation Route Europe keeps World War II memories alive

Think of war memorials and you think of somewhere to lay flowers and remember the dead. But with many war veterans no longer with us, it's becoming incumbent on us all to remember their sacrifices through shared stories. Many of these stories are literally just around the corner, as Simon Weedy discovers. Much of my love for history back in my school days can be attributed to our teacher. Mr McCauley was a magnificent narrator whose infectious zeal for the events of decades and centuries ago made everyone sit up and listen. His great passion was World War II and he loved telling us all about how Europe and the USA came together to defeat nazi Germany. Those 'stories' weren't a result of his vivid imagination however, but borne out from the accounts of those who had lived through the war and, of course, reflections on those who hadn't. I was captivated. Some 30 years later, I am recalling those stories as I stand beside an obscure monument on a street corner near my house in Breda. Since moving here from Britain two years ago, I've often thought what it must have been like to live in a city which, like the rest of the country, existed under forced occupation. And here's a clue. Night On the Ginneken is part of Liberation Route Europe (LRE), and is one of dozens of such remembrance sites scattered across Europe. It's something my children and I would cycle past every day on the way to school, but only recently did I decide to investigate how it came to be here. History I am standing at the location of the first battle for the liberation of Breda, part of the Allies’ drive across Western Europe, and part of the key battle for the nearby Belgian port city of Antwerp. On October 28th 1944, at this very junction, soldiers from the 1st Polish Armoured Division drove unsuspectingly into an ambush by a hidden German unit, which was armed with an anti-tank weapon. The Poles were forced to retreat, but responded with a heavy artillery bombardment, supported by British and Canadian troops. A long night ensued, resulting in many civilian casualties. Ginneken, then a village rather than the affluent suburb of Breda as it is today, was liberated by the Poles the following day. Standing here, as cyclists, pedestrians and motorists pass the spot, you are struck by the realisation that this isn’t just another history tale. This is history. It is where momentous things took place, and that’s something you can only feel when you’re here, and not reading it from a book. Allies advance Launched in June 2014, Liberation Route Europe links the main regions along the Allied Forces' advance from southern England, through Normandy, the Ardennes region, and the heart of The Netherlands, taking in Gelderland, North Brabant, Limburg, Zeeland and Overijssel. It continues through Germany before ending in the Polish city of Gdansk. As the name suggests, it focuses on the liberation of continental Europe and the consequences of the Second World War. Though it began as a Dutch project, LRE is now a truly pan-European operation, encompassing war museums and tourist organisations across Europe, and is even co-funded by the European Union (an expense surely even the Brexiteers wouldn't begrudge). Each site has a multimedia facility, so passers-by can hear a brief description in several languages of what happened on or near that spot. A few streets away lies another 'monument' that is hard to miss. General Maczekstraat – so named after the man who led the 1st Polish Armoured Division – is home to a German Panther tank presented to the citizens of Breda by the Poles. It is a truly magnificent relic. Younger generations Piotr Danczuk, 41, is a Pole living in Breda, and not surprisingly he is keen to keep alive the memory of how his countrymen fought for the city he now calls home. 'I have children growing up in this city and every time we go past this tank I remind them why it is there. They love to ask questions, and it is important that the younger generations learn from what happened in the past,' he says. 'There is a danger that too many people are starting to forget about the war years. My family lived through it but you can not say the same for many others.' And this is just Breda. Wherever you find yourself in The Netherlands you are never too far away from something of significance. It might be the site of the Battle of Woensdrecht at Ossendrecht where an order of friar monks provided citizens with refuge from the Germans. Stories The project recently launched the American Friends of the Liberation Route Europe, aimed at creating awareness about the USA's experience in Europe, and honouring those who travelled across the Atlantic to help liberate the The Netherlands and its neighbours. Victoria van Krieken, executive director of LRE, said: 'War is not only 'black and white', not only about victory and loss. We want to show the world that every country that was involved in the Second World War had, and has, its own stories to tell.' These are stories we should all aim to make sure our youngsters are aware of. My own children might never love history in the way that I do but hopefully they’ll grasp the significance of such events. In doing so, they will hopefully retain a deep sense of respect for those who gave everything to ensure future generations could live freely. Visit www.liberationroute.com  for details of where you can find remembrance sites across The Netherlands.   More >


From space to sunshine: great things to do in October

From space to sunshine: great things to do in October

There's an autumn chill in the air and the leaves are starting to tumble, but that's no excuse to stay cooped up at home. Here's a round-up of some of the best ways to get out and about this October. Check out a royal handbag Amsterdam's quirky museum of bags and purses is staging a new exhibition of handbags that belonged to princesses and queens. Check out bags owned by Britain's Queen Elizabeth, Princess Grace of Monaco and, of course, the Dutch royals. Queen Maxima has selected three bags from the collection of former queen Juliana. Get spaced out On October 2, the European Space Agency is holding an open day at its headquarters in Noordwijk. Visitors will be able to wander round the sprawling facility at their own pace, meeting astronauts, scientists and mission designers while seeing special exhibits and actual space hardware. You need to register in advance to take part. Remember Marilyn Monroe The Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam is staging an exhibition of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia based on the collection of German Monroe aficionado Ted Stampfer. The items on show include a turtleneck sweater and black-and-white capri pants, dresses the star wore in several of her films, jewellery and even a little silver baby cup with her name engraved on it, as well as diaries and other papers. Dance into autumn The first weekend in October is the traditional home of the Dutch Dance Festival, featuring performances from up-and-coming choreographers as well as established dance companies at locations throughout Maastricht. The programme ranges from classical ballet to urban dance and avant-garde to modern dance. Visit a museum at night On October 29 it's The Hague's turn to open its museums into the wee small hours. In total 38 of the city's cultural institutions are taking part in Museum Night 2016. This year the theme is 'real fake'. The clocks go back that night as well, so you've even more reason to stay out and enjoy. Celebrate language Saturday October 1 is the second day of the popular Drongo language festival at the Jaarbeurs exhibition centre in Utrecht. The event is aimed at everyone who works in the language industry or who is interested in words. Take in some sunshine If your Dutch is up to it, why not catch legendary performer and tv personality Andre van Duin in a successful production of The Sunshine Boys at the snazzy De Lar Mar theatre in Amsterdam? Van Duin and Kees Hulst play two comics who attempt to reunite after years of not speaking to each other. This comedy production was awarded five stars by the NRC and AD. Have a good laugh The International Comedy Festival Rotterdam is now in its third year. This year's event, which runs from October 7 to 9, has a star-studded line-up including deadpan British comic Jimmy Carr, Brendon Burns (Australia/UK), and Gina Yashere (UK). Get close to the music lesson The British royal family owns one of the finest collections of Old Masters in the world, and 22 of them are featuring in a new exhibition at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. The show include works by Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Pieter de Hooch, Gabriël Metsu and Jan Steen. The highlight of the exhibition is ‘The Music Lesson’ by Johannes Vermeer. Timed tickets for the exhibition are now on sale. Get into Dutch design Every October Dutch Design Week  takes place in Eindhoven. What is billed as the biggest design event in Northern Europe features the work and ideas of more than 2,400 designers at 80 locations across the city. The event, which includes concerts, debates and award ceremonies, runs from October 22 until October 30.  More >


Get on with the job, and let us take care of the details

Get on with the job, and let us take care of the details

Congratulations! You’ve successfully secured that dream job in the Netherlands. Now you need to make sure you get the most out of the tax system. Tax breaks are a nice extra and if you know your rights the benefits can add up to a considerable sum. After all, there are few things the Dutch love more than a discount. Legislation The Dutch knowledge economy has prospered by attracting migrants with the right type of expertise, so it makes sense for the government to make it as appealing as possible for people like yourself to come and work here. To attract foreign specialists whose field of knowledge is scarce or unavailable in the Netherlands, the Dutch government introduced a special tax facility for expats known as the 30% ruling. Briefly put, this tax advantage means that you only pay income tax on 70% of your gross salary, so the remaining 30% is tax free. This tax benefit is applicable to expat employees working in the Netherlands as long as they meet certain requirements. The 30% ruling in detail If you’re coming to work in the Netherlands your earnings are dependent on your job group and salary grade, and possibly a collective labour agreement (cao). A special cao is in place for temporary and flexible workers. You can read all about that here. So who qualifies for the 30% ruling? You’re allowed to make use of the rule for a maximum period of eight years, provided you meet the income requirements set out by the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND). The 30% ruling makes it financially more attractive for employers to hire you as their employee, but of course you benefit too in the form of a lower tax bill. Payroll administration There are plenty of jobs in the Netherlands, but some companies are still hesitant to hire highly skilled migrants. A recent political audit has also called for a thorough check on the effectiveness and consequences of the 30% ruling. But regardless of any changes, umbrella services can take care of all your needs, from screening and advice on how to implement the 30% ruling in your payroll administration to payroll calculations and dealing with the Dutch tax authorities, as well as all the administrative burdens. If you want to arrange this quickly and conveniently the Dutch Umbrella Company can assist you in the entire process. Use the Dutch Income tax calculator to calculate your net pay and the Dutch Umbrella Company will get in touch with you as soon as possible.   More >


10 years of DutchNews.nl: stories from the Netherlands that made a splash

10 years of DutchNews.nl: stories from the Netherlands that made a splash

DutchNews.nl is celebrating 10 years of providing Dutch news in English. Since its launch in September 2006, the website has published 35,000 articles which have been read 76 million times by 13 million unique visitors from all over the world. So what have been the biggest stories and features over the years? ‘We have been surprised by the broad range of news stories which have made the top 10 of most-read items,’ says editor Robin Pascoe. ‘Classic Dutch subjects such as cannabis and euthanasia are included of course, but so are Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb’s outspoken views on Isis and sexual abuse within the Catholic church.’ Top news stories in 10 years More prisons to close as falling crime leaves cells empty Amsterdam will not ban tourists from cannabis cafes Dutch to scrap ban on insulting foreign heads of state Catholic church abuse: at least one youth castrated for ‘homosexuality’ Time is right to wipe out Isis, says Rotterdam’s Muslim mayor Doctors back euthanasia in severe dementia cases Ukraine air disaster leaves 295 dead, 154 are Dutch nationals Green light for driving instructors who accept sex for lessons More Dutch cities may join basic income experiment The moment a giraffe says goodbye to a dying zoo worker Top 10 features DutchNews.nl has only been publishing features for the past few years, so many of the stories will be familiar to regular readers. Following in Van Gogh’s footsteps, 10 places where he lived Suitcase full of secrets found in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter Bright sparks: 10 Dutch ideas we wish we had thought of first 10 things you should know about Dutch windmills 10 things you need to know about the end of World War II in the Netherlands Get off the beaten track. Here are 14 of the prettiest Dutch villages It’s nearly spring, and Amsterdam is ready to celebrate with 500,000 tulips Find out if you are a witch: eight weird things to do in the Netherlands Laura Dekker: stubborn,self-absorbed and a devil of a sailor 10 things you need to know about Easter in the Netherlands  More >


Bol.com’s English site is online but not yet ‘under the knee’

Bol.com’s English site is online but not yet ‘under the knee’

Since mid-June online hypermarket bol.com has been available in English to increase its appeal to non-Dutch speakers in the Netherlands and Belgium. The feature is in the beta phase and bol.com has been using automated translation software to translate the content from Dutch to English. So how is it working out so far? To carry out the translations, bol.com is working with Microsoft Translate. Because the translation is done automatically, the English doesn't always come out perfect. Bol.com admit to their customers in the drop-down information bar that they don't quite have the service ‘under the knee’. You can, of course, buy a dictionary from bol.com to look up the original Dutch phrase onder de knie, which mean's you've mastered something. Books, music, computers, washing machines, baby clothes, cat baskets, bikes... you name it, bol.com probably sells it. Since being founded in 1999 bol.com has become the biggest online store in the country. And after receiving a number of queries from the non-Dutch speaking community it started developing a translated version of its site. There are already over 200,000 people in the Netherlands who would rather shop in English than in Dutch. Most of these customers surf Dutch or Belgian webshops with the aid of Google Translate, albeit with mixed results. Easy to switch   You can switch to the English version of the site by clicking on the country flag in the top right-hand corner of the screen and selecting “translate into English”. Emails are not yet translated but contain a link that will take them directly to the relevant information in English on bol.com. Customers who have their browser configured in a language other than Dutch or English will automatically see a translated website. You can switch back to Dutch at any time using the flag. Customers can help to improve the translations using the feedback service on the translate bar, by saying if they understood the translation easily and whether it suited their the needs. Bol.com plans to continue improving its English machine translation step by step in order to ensure accurate English throughout the site. To be continued!  More >