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Nine weird things to do in the Netherlands

Nine weird things to do in the Netherlands

And you thought the Netherlands was just about tulips, windmills and clogs. Don't you believe it. There are some very strange places to check out indeed. Visit the mummies of Wiewerd Wiewerd is a tiny hamlet built on terps - raised mounds - in deepest Friesland. The story goes that in 1765, carpenters working in the church found a crypt with 11 coffins containing bodies that had become mummified. They are thought to have been members of an obscure Christian sect called the Labadists who lived nearby. Four bodies and several mummified birds are in the crypt today - the missing bodies are thought to have been stolen by medical students at long gone Franeker university. To visit ring a bell on the church and someone from the village will come and open the door to let you in. Get weighed to see if you are a witch The village of Oudewater near Utrecht features on most lists of the Netherlands' prettiest villages but we consider it to be seriously strange. Forget the cobbled streets and canals - if you go to the town's weigh house, they will find out if you are witch. This is not because the good folk of Oudewater were determined to stamp out witchcraft but because, so the legend goes, they were exceedingly honest. Hundreds of people made their way to Oudewater in an effort to prove their innocence and no-one was ever found to be light enough to be a witch. You can still get a certificate to prove it. Visit 22 bits of Belgium, completely surrounded by the Netherlands Baarle Nassau is a town of some 6,000 people in Noord Brabant which contains rather large chunks of Belgium. In fact there are 22 little bits of Belgium in the locality, the smallest of which is named H22 and measures just 2,632 square metres. The complicated border is due to a lot of complicated medieval treaties, agreements, land-swaps and sales between local lords. The border marked out clearly on the streets so you know if you are in Belgium (Baarle-Hertog) or in the Netherlands (Baarle-Nassau). Walk round an island that does not exist The island of Schokland, which used to have several villages, was finally abandoned in 1859 on the orders of the government which was fed up of rescuing its population from floods. All the buildings were destroyed so that the Schokkers, as the locals were known, could not move back. Then in the 1940s, the Zuiderzee sea around the island was reclaimed and Schokland became part of what is now the Noordoostpolder. Follow the round Schokland walk and imagine how bleak it must have been to live on this swampy rise in the middle of the sea, especially in a storm. Go underground in Limburg The St Pietersburg caves in Limburg are not caves at all but mines - the result of 2,000 years of digging for marl - the mud stone used in building and agriculture. The digging, which began with the Romans, led to the creation of a labyrinth of 20,000 tunnels and passageways, many of which are covered in graffiti dating back centuries.The caves are also home to what the local tourist board says is the 'largest and oldest underground Christmas market in Europe'. We cannot imagine there are any others.... Spend time in a village devoted to prisons In the depths of darkest Drenthe is the prison village of Veenhuizen which was developed in the early 19th century as a place where anti-social families, the jobless and the poor of Amsterdam were sent to be reformed. In the late 19th century the complex was turned into a penal colony, which it remains to this day. One poorhouse remains and has been turned into a rather good museum and two of the prisons still hold prisoners - you can visit the outside in a minibus. The houses in Veenhuizen which were lived in by the warders (and still are) have names like 'rest is rust' and 'labour enobles'. Check out human and animal deformities Not for the fainthearted - the Vrolik Museum in the heart of the AMC medical centre in Amsterdam Zuidoost is devoted to pathological specimens - from jars containing club feet or Siamese twins to framed pieces of skin covered in tattoos. Go as low as you can It is somewhat disconcerting to stand next to a lorry park not far from Rotterdam and imagine that you are nearly seven metres beneath the sea. The Zuidplas polder near Rotterdam is 6.76 below sea level, making it the lowest point in the Netherlands. Until 1995, the Lage Land polder had been considered as low as you can go in the Netherlands but it lost its title when government officials decreed that Zuiderplas was a whopping great two centimetres lower. Have a drink in Sexbierum Okay, school boy humour we know, but Sexbierum must be one of the wackiest names for a Dutch village - perhaps even beating the charmingly named Muggenbeet (mosquito bite) in Overijssel. Unfortunately, the name of this Frisian village of under 2,000 souls does not derive from various vices but from a combination of the name of the pope Sixtus II and the Old Frisian word for house or barra. The village does have a rather fine mill, but its most recent appearance in the headlines came in March 2016 when some of its more youthful residents were given three months probation for tying a dead porpoise to the back of a car and riding around with it until the creature fell apart.  More >


Amsterdam gears up for the European athletics championships

Amsterdam gears up for the European athletics championships

Thousands of athletes from all over Europe are descending on Amsterdam this week for the European athletics championships which kick off on Wednesday. Representing 50 different countries, 1,500 sportsmen and women will be completing in 23 different disciplines over five days, ending in a half marathon through the city on Sunday. The first edition of the European athletics championships was held in Torino, Italy in 1934 and now, 82 years later, the 23rd edition is taking place for the first time in the Netherlands, with Amsterdam as host. Most of the events will take place at the Olympic Stadium, built for the 1928 Olympics and since refurbished to meet modern standards. But the qualification rounds for the javelin and discus are taking place on the Museumplein in the heart of the city, where the half marathon and the mass start 10k fun run on Sunday July 10 will also take place. Innovation It was on the Museumplein way back in in October 1886 that provided the backdrop to the first official athletics event in the Netherlands. At the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam that innovative streak shone through again when women were allowed to compete for the first time. This year's innovation comes in the form of the International Para-Athletics Challenge (IPAC), which will be held in conjunction with the European championships for the first time. '‘It’s a wonderful thing for athletes to be able to compete in a fantastic event like this in their own country,' says Ellen van Lange, the 1992, 800 metres Olympic champion. 'Never before have so many Dutch athletes and potential medal winners competed in a European championship. Dutch athletes have been performing well internationally and that is all the more reason to turn this event into an unforgettable celebration.' Van Langen's win was the first gold medal for a Dutch athlete in a running event since Fanny Blankers-Koen’s Olympic triumphs of 1948.Today the Netherlands has several gold medal potentials, including Dafne Schippers and Sifan Hassan. Dutch athletes to watch The total Dutch squad is made up of 54 athletes, 26 men and 28 women. 1 Dafne Schippers is hot favourite for the 100m title and is not defending her 200m title which she won in Zurich two years ago. Since having made the decision to switch from the heptathlon last June, at the World Championships in Beijing, Schippers has won the 200m world title and taken silver in the 100m. 2 Sifan Hassan may very well do the Netherlands proud in the 1,500m race. Born in Ethiopia, Hassan became  both a Dutch citizen and a Dutch champion in 2013, winning a gold in the under 23 category at the 2013 Cross Country Championship. Hassan hasn’t looked back since and is also in with a chance in the 800m race. 3  Thijmen Kupers may also be in with a chance in the 800m. He finished third in European Indoor championships last year. 4 Susan Kuijken or Maureen Koster could bag a medal in the 5,000m while in the men's 5,000m Dennis Licht and Khalid Chouloud could make the winners’ podium. 5 The combined events (decathlon for men, heptathlon for women) could have a surprise in store in the shape of Eelco Sintnicolaas who was silver medalist at the Barcelona games in 2010. Nadine Broersen is also a medal hopeful. 6 Curaçao born Churandy Thomas Martina has competed in three Olympic Games and in 2011 decided to represent the Netherlands. A year later he won the 200m European title and in 2012 he achieved an honourable fifth place at the Olympics. 7 Parathlete Marlou van Rhijn is a former swimmer, but nowadays focuses on the 100m and 200m. She had her finest moment during the Paralympic Games in London in 2012, where she won silver in the 100m, followed by gold in the 200m.  More >


From crime scenes to sailing: 11 great things to do in July

From crime scenes to sailing: 11 great things to do in July

From crime scene photographs and circuses and from jazz to athletics, here's our pick of the best things to do in July. Check out the crime scene pictures This is the first exhibition to show how photography has been used as visual evidence. From Alphonse Bertillon’s metrical photographs, used in early 20th century murder cases, right through to the reconstruction of drone attacks in Pakistan in 2012, Crime Scenes presents eleven case studies illustrating the use of photography as legal evidence over the past century. Police photographs, records of mass graves, aerial photographs and satellite images: all have been used to identify the perpetrators or victims of crime. Netherlands Photo Museum, Rotterdam until August 21. www.nederlandsfotomuseum.nl Go to the theatre at the cinema Simon Godwin directs the highly expressive Paapa Essiedu (photo) in the title role in this largely black ensemble production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The focus here is less on politics than on the predicament of a prince who finds himself an outcast in his own land. Pathé cinemas, Amsterdam, and The Hague, July 14. www.pathe.nl Set sail The Kaag Week offers races for one, two and three-man boats in classes ranging from Falcon and Rainbow to Laser and Solo. The main attraction is the team events pitting Holland against Friesland in the Rainbow. The whole fleet of participating boats sails into harbour on the evening of July 14. Harboud, Warmond. July 14 to 17. www.kwvdekaag.nl Enjoy the thrill of the circus Canada’s Cirque Éloize returns to Amsterdam to reprise the show iD, a fizzing spectacle which mixes circus and urban dance to electric effect. A Chinese pole act has shades of West Side Story, contortion gets an extra edge when it meets break-dancing and a trampowall sequence is exhilarating. There’s even inline skating and trial bike tricks. Theater Carré, Amsterdam, July 27 to August 7. www.carre.nl Enjoy sculpture in Leiden The theme for this year’s outdoor exhibition of sculpture by young artists in Leiden is Life Sciences, as the city endeavours to provide a higher profile for its Bio Science Park. The artists taking part, who include Maaike Knibbe (photo is of her No Problem), Ruben Jager and Lorenzo Quintanilla, all made visits to the Bio Science Park for inspiration before creating the sculpture on display. Hooglandse Kerkgracht, Leiden until August 7. www.beeldeninleiden.com Visit the World Press Photo show This year’s winning World Press Photo is the Australian photographer Warren Richardson’s image of a baby being handed through the barbed wire along the border between Hungary and Serbia. It takes pride of place in the exhibition of other winners in various categories such as images of migrants wrapped in foil against the cold as they approach the Italian coast in a tiny boat, a married couple who get chemotherapy together hugging, a wrestling tournament in Sierra Leone and a young IS fighter being treated for burns in a Syrian hospital. Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam until July 10. www.worldpressphoto.org Experience Notion Motion An opportunity to experience Notion Motion, the huge installation by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. Inspired by the laws of nature, particularly the reflection of light on water, the installation is made up of three different light projections that explore the interaction between light and water. The impressive installation contains 20,562 litres of water and is made of 800 duckboard elements. It was Eliasson who had visitors lying on the floor of the Turbine Room at Tate Modern in London when his Weather Project was exhibited in 2003. Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam until September 18. www.boijmans.nl Admire the Rembrandt couple Earlier this year, two Rembrandt portraits of a newly wed couple were bought jointly by the Netherlands and France. Portrait of Marten Soolmans was acquired by the Dutch state for the Rijksmuseum; Portrait of Oopjen Coppit by the French republic for the Musée du Louvre. Both paintings are on display in Amsterdam for three months, prior to being restored at the Rijksmuseum. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, July 2 until October 2. www.rijksmuseum.nl Enjoy the finest jazz, blues and salsa One of the world’s foremost jazz festivals also features music ranging from blues to salsa with a line-up of international singers and instrumentalists. One of this year’s highlights is saxophonist Kamasi Washington who plays numbers from his triple album The Epic with the strings from the Metropole Orchestra and a choir. Others appearing during the festival are guitarist Pat Metheny (photo) with bass player Ron Carter, Anthony Hamilton, Joe Bonamassa and Cécile McLorin Salvant, the jazz vocalist who won a Grammy in February for best vocal album. Ahoy, Rotterdam, July 8, 9 and 10. www.northseajazz.com Watch the cream of European athletics Just one month before the Olympic Games in Rio, 1300 of the best European athletes from 50 countries compete for medals in 44 disciplines. Among those taking part is Dutch golden girl Dafne Schippers, who is hot favourite to win the 100m and Sifan Hassan, who has her sights set on 1,500m gold. Olympic Stadium, Amsterdam, July 6 to 10. www.amsterdam2016.org Appreciate the rebel in Neil Young Legendary rocker Neil Young brings his Rebel Content tour to the Netherlands. With him is the band Promise of the Real, which includes Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas and Micah. The programme includes classic hits, lesser known songs and numbers from the recent album, The Monsanto Years. Ziggo Dome, Amsterdam, July 9. www.ziggodome.nl  More >


11 of the prettiest Dutch villages which aren’t too over-run by coach parties

11 of the prettiest Dutch villages which aren’t too over-run by coach parties

Cobbled streets, waterways, tiny thatched cottages covered with roses, secret gardens and wooden bridges - Dutch villages can be a delight. So this is a totally subjective compilation of places we think worth checking out - and which (we hope) won't be totally full of coach loads of tourists. Appingedam Appingedam first evolved on the banks of the Delf river in around 1200. With open access to the sea, it was somewhat prosperous and second only in importance in the region to Groningen. It enjoyed a resurgence as an industrial centre in the late 19th century and was home to the Appingedammer Bronsmotorenfabriek, which made ships motors until 2004. Appingedam's most famous attraction is the hanging kitchens above the Damsterdiep. Bourtange The leafy star-shaped fortified village of Bourtange in Groningen province has pretty houses, a charming central square and several museums and fortifications to poke around in. Totally renovated in the 1960s, Bourtange was built way back in 1593 to control the only road between Germany and the city of Groningen. It is now a big draw to German tourists from just over the border - so avoid public holidays. Bronkhorst Bronkhorst, in Gelderland, is technically a city but only has around 170 inhabitants. It used to be a lordship and its earliest known lord - Gijsbert - was first mentioned in 1140. Bronkhorst is just a stroll from the banks of the river Ijssel and has a nice little museum devoted to Charles Dickens which was set up by local fanatics. If you make a day trip of it, there are lots of castles to gawp at in nearby Vorden. De Rijp Less than an hour north of Amsterdam, De Rijp is a village of cottages with some grander buildings in between. You can rent a little electric boat and tour the waterways of the Beemster polder and there are some nice walks across the fields, if you really want to go off the beaten track. Information at the tourist office in the town hall. Popular with Dutch day trippers, there are lots of nice places for lunch. Doesburg Granted city rights in 1237, Doesburg has a strategic position along the Oude IJssel and Gelderse IJssel rivers, which helped boost its prosperity. Top attractions include the Doesburgse mustard factory and weighhouse (de Waag). The town also has a museum dedicated to the work of René Lalique with some 250 items of jewellery and glass and a cafe devoted to Elvis Presley. Durgerdam The dyke village of Durgerdam to the north east of Amsterdam dates from the 15th century and has a splendid view over the Buiten IJ - even though Amsterdam is encroaching on its skyline.  Of the 100 or so wooden houses, 73 are listed buildings. There is nothing much to do apart from walk or cycle along the waterfront, watch birds and admire. The sunsets can be particularly fine. If you are a cyclist, a trip taking in Uitdam, Ransdorp and Zuiderwoude as well is highly recommended. There are also buses, of course. Elburg Elburg is one of the Netherlands oldest settlements and was completely rebuilt in the 14th century, giving it the square street pattern it has today. The town's museum is housed in the imposing 15th century Agnieten convent. Opposite is a little house built into the old town walls - the muurhuisje - which is open to the public. Eext Eext, in Drenthe, is a charming village of thatched farmhouses and wide open spaces, with a few fine places to eat, a couple of hotels and a tiny museum. It is also home to a couple of hunebedden or megalithic burial chambers. Hotel Rikus is very reasonably priced, grows its own veg, serves massive breakfasts and organises bikes or walking tours for those that want them. Hindeloopen Hindeloopen is a little port town in Frisland, and one of the province's 11 cities. The Hindeloopen painting style – flowers and curly cues on a white, green, red or blue background – is the town’s main claim to fame. The people of Hindeloopen couldn’t get enough of it and covered absolutely every piece of furniture in it. The Hindeloopen Museum has lots of examples and more Hindeloopen history – including skating – besides. Thorn The village of Thorn in Limburg dates back to the 11th century and was home to an important convent for ladies of the nobility around that time. The white houses date back to the village's occupation by the French in 1794. They, so the story goes, introduced a tax on windows. The good folk of Thorn were said to be so poor that they bricked up their windows and whitewashed their homes to disguise the fact. Thorn has a small museum and a nice selection of cafes. Grand cafe Het Stift has a wide selection of local beers. Veere Veere in Zeeland is a gem of a village with some splendid medieval buildings and an enormous church (1348) that Napoleon’s soldiers used as a military hospital. Veere’s wealth stems from its position as a major port in the wool trade with Scotland back in the 15th century. The Schotse Huizen museum on the waterfront is well worth a visit. Our favourite place to stay is the Auberge De Campveerse Toren - built into part of the town walls. Veere can get very busy in the summer so we recommend a winter weekend away. Please note that Giethorn, the thatched cottage idyll where the locals get around by boat (ha ha), is such a massive tourist trap that we think it is worse than Venice and only worth visiting on a cold misty morning in November when no one else is around.  More >


It’s Father’s day, and this Dutch professor is exploring the real role of Dutch dads

It’s Father’s day, and this Dutch professor is exploring the real role of Dutch dads

Go to any park in the Netherlands on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and you are sure to find a good sprinkling of dads and their offspring, enjoying what has become known as a papadag. But despite the apparent popularity of daddy day, just one in four new Dutch fathers takes the unpaid paternity leave they are entitled to by law.  In April, Renske Keizer (32), made headlines when she was named the world's first professor of fatherhood or, to be more formal, she was appointed a professor of child development at the University of Amsterdam’s social and behavioural sciences department. Keizer's research focuses on the role fathers play in the early development of their children and how policy towards all parents can be improved. ‘As a professor of fatherhood, I aim to provide insights into the questions of whether, why, and in what ways, fathers influence their children’s development.’ Keizer told DutchNews.nl. Who gets the kids dressed? Earlier research by Keizer highlighted the 'old fashioned' division of roles in Dutch families. Compared with other Western countries the Dutch are very traditional, with mother working part-time and father as the breadwinner. And research last year by the national statistics office CBS showed that even in households where both parents work the same hours, mothers are much more likely than fathers to get their children dressed, put them to bed and stay home when the kids are sick. However, there are signs these entrenched attitudes are changing. New CBS figures show that 66% of young Dutch men plan to reduce their working hours when they become fathers - currently only 15% of dads do so. They may change their minds when confronted with the financial reality. Dutch fathers are only entitled to two days of paid leave, a sharp contrast to their counterparts in Belgium, who enjoy 19 weeks, or Germany, where nine weeks paid leave is the norm. Money is key Keizer suggests specific elements need to be incorporated into legislation on paternity leave if it is to be effective. These include making sure the leave is non-transferable and that there is adequate financial compensation. Time is also key. After all, she points out, paternity leave in Norway has taken nearly 30 years to become normal. Even with a strong financial incentive 'we still have to realise that it will most likely take one generation for the effects to become really visible in society’ Keizer says. Some fathers are actively campaigning for change. Peter Tromp, chairman of the Vader Kennis Centrum (VKC) in Utrecht, says he is pleased that the importance of a father’s role in child rearing and child development is finally becoming more widely understood. In 2005, Tromp was among the first Fathers for Justice activists in the Netherlands who, armed with their superhero costumes and headline catching protests, tried to raise public awareness of imbalance in the legal and social attitudes to fathers as parents. Rising divorce rates In the Netherlands, more women have entered the workplace and divorce rates have risen steadily since the 1960s. Currently, best estimates suggest 70,000 children a year are directly affected by divorce and the VKC estimates that around 40% of those children lose contact with their father by the end of the first year. ‘There’s been an enormous breakthrough in awareness around shared parenting,’ says Tromp. ‘The fathers we help often don’t know what rights their children or they themselves have.’ So, what is being done with all this new understanding? There is, for example, mounting pressure in the Netherlands for better paid paternity leave and the government has committed itself to a three-day increase. Tromp also points to the Council of Europe resolution on equality, shared parental responsibility and the role of fathers which passed unanimously last October. Unmarried fathers In the Netherlands itself, the liberal democratic party D66 is campaigning to change the paternity laws so that unmarried fathers automatically gain parental responsibility when they formally acknowledge a child and register it with the council. If adopted, the law would also apply to families with same sex couples and is intended to bring Dutch law up to date and better reflect modern societal attitudes to family structure; half of first born Dutch children are now born outside a formal marriage or registered partnership. Meanwhile, the VKC recently launched a new hallmark scheme for ‘father-friendly’ businesses in the Netherlands. ‘It’s like the Michelin guide for father-friendly companies’ says Tromp. ‘We seek to support every group of fathers; working fathers, migrant fathers, native Dutch fathers, young fathers, teenage fathers, divorced fathers, all of them and their children’. The VKC is holding its annual Fatherhood Symposium in October and Renske Keizer will be one of the keynote speakers.  More >


What Van Gogh’s Starry Night looks like – the wrong way round

What Van Gogh’s Starry Night looks like – the wrong way round

For centuries, people have been intrigued by the Mona Lisa’s smile, but Brazilian artist Vik Muniz was more interested in her back. Muniz has just opened a show at the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague revealing a side of the world’s most famous paintings that the public rarely sees: the back of the canvas. By Senay Boztas Talking his way into leading international museums, Vik Muniz photographed and then reproduced the flip side of paintings including the Mona Lisa (otherwise known as Leonardo da Vinci’s La Gioconda), Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night (above) and Pablo Picasso’s Woman Ironing. Verso is his first ever museum exhibition of this 15-year project, and also has five works based on the Mauritshuis’s collection, including Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Johannes Vermeer’s View of Delft. Talking to DutchNews.nl on the phone from his next stop in Paris, he explained that in a digital world, seeing paintings as actual, physical objects is even more important – and the things he learned were surprising. 'As images, they have the ability to transcend their physical state. They can be broadcast, exist in different scales and formats, be electronic, and be anywhere,' he explains. 'The back of the painting reflects the artist’s studio, it has traces of how the painting was made, and it is something that is always changing. The front of the painting stays the same.' Labels and stickers In the exhibition space of the Mauritshuis, 15 works sit casually against the wall, only their backs visible, and with no immediate signs of what they are. But when you look more closely, you see a label here, a sticker there, a title there…and realise that this could be the back of an image you know very well. Muniz was first interested in the backs of paintings when he saw an installation by architect Lina Bo Bardi hung on glass easels in the Museu de Arte de São Paulo on a school trip. Instead of looking at the front, he was fascinated by the spiders’ webs and sense of medieval machinery on the back. So when he by chance saw Picasso’s Woman Ironing facing the wall at the Guggenheim Museum 40 years later, he persuaded the director to let him photograph it. This began a series of photographs which, with the help of his framer Barry Frier and specialist Tony Pinotti, he has made into an ancient-looking collection of physical models. Upside down ‘I think the most surprising thing is that they are very naïve: the back of the Mona Lisa, for instance, has an arrow and “this side up,”’ he laughs. ‘As if somebody’s going to hang La Gioconda upside down. ‘In the back of the wood of A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat there’s an enormous amount of graffiti. People actually made marks with their names and the names of their loved ones, in a similar way you do in trees. ‘They punch holes in the back of these century-old stretchers as if they were doing it on a wall. There’s a polarisation of value there. The front is really precious and really expensive, and the back is like, you know, whatever – it’s just hardware.’ Creating these models – mostly owned by the artist – is actually a very expensive hobby. The material for relining Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp had to be hand-made by a woman in New York who collects old looms, as it is no longer available. For the ‘Mona Lisa’, Muniz had to buy a whole tree. Discoveries The exhibition also contains a second room showing the time-consuming processes involved in ageing materials and recreating stamps and marks, plus a video of Muniz explaining his work. There’s also an audio-visual guide to show viewers the fronts of these famous works, and explain what the artist discovered. Emilie Gordenker, Mauritshuis director and curator of the exhibition, said she hoped it would be the first in a series encouraging modern artists to engage with its collection of Golden Age paintings. ‘The reaction has been really positive so far,’ she says. ‘I’m looking for new ways to reconsider our old collection and this is a very good way to do it.’ It’s almost too tempting to turn a painting round, but not really advisable as it would set off an alarm. In any case, Muniz confesses what’s on the front: ‘The back gives you clear evidence you are dealing with something that’s centuries old and the front is brand new wood and canvas. It’s funny!’ The exhibition continues at the Mauritshuis until 4 September.  More >


From allotments to zoos: The Atlas of Amsterdam is packed with weird facts

From allotments to zoos: The Atlas of Amsterdam is packed with weird facts

Discover Amsterdam from the comfort of your armchair with the Atlas of Amsterdam - a new book which contains hundreds of maps, graphs and photographs that bring the city to life. Curious about how many bikes are in the city or the main reasons for murder? Or perhaps you're interested in the city's international make-up or the fact the number of cannabis-selling coffee shops has halved to 176 in 20 years? Here's a selection of random facts There are 6,000 allotments in Amsterdam and its surrounding areas, and 3,000 people are on the waiting list for a space to grow their own veg. There are 3,800 cafes, bars and restaurants in Amsterdam, most of which are in the centre and Zuid. The Vondelpark was created for the Amsterdam elite who lived in the nearby mansions. Today the park is used by 10 million people every year. There are 145 football pitches in and around the city - yet Amsterdam only has one professional football team. Ajax players earn around €400,000 a year on average, excluding bonuses. Not much when you consider a player at FC Barcelona might pick up a cool €5.5m. Prostitutes used to mainly ply their trade in the De Pijp district in Zuid. Today’s main prostitution zone, De Wallen, only started to turn red in the 1960s. Amsterdam is home to 83 choirs, 50 orchestras and 39 theatre companies which benefit from some sort of official subsidy. The Royal palace on the Dam was first built as a town hall on 13,659 wooden piles. Amsterdam has the most national heritage sites in the Netherlands: 7,500 The oldest building still in existence is the Oude Kerk (1306) and the oldest home is at Warmoesstraat 90. It dates from 1485. There are 2,823 houseboats on the waters of Amsterdam and the city has 417,096 homes Around 70 of the city's shops have been open for more than a century. The oldest is the W H van der Meulen pharmacy on the Geldersekade, where pharmacists have prepared potions and pills since 1696. Every day 1,259 trams cross the Leidseplein. Every day 15 people die in Amsterdam and 30 people are born. For more information about the Atlas visit the Noordhoff Uitgevers website. Or buy a copy directly from the ABC.   More >


The work of Helmut Newton takes over Amsterdam’s Foam gallery

The work of Helmut Newton takes over Amsterdam’s Foam gallery

A major exhibition of the work of photographer Helmut Newton (1920-2004) takes over the entire building of photography museum Foam on Amsterdam’s Keizersgracht from June 17. Helmut Newton: A Retrospective features over 200 photographs, ranging from early prints seldom on display to monumental photographs. Most of them are vintage prints from the collection of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin. There is also the opportunity to see Helmut by June, the film made by Newton’s wife June in 1995. Newton is famous for introducing eroticism to fashion photography and his output is considered one of the most iconic of the last quarter of the 20th century. To fill in the life of this colourful character, here are ten facts you might like to know. 1. Helmut Newton was born Helmut Neustädter on October 31 1920 in Berlin into a liberal, affluent and Jewish family. His father, Max, owned a button factory. Berlin in the 1920s was at the centre of the hedonistic and decadent Weimar Republic, described in books such as I Am A Camera by Christopher Isherwood, later turned into the musical Cabaret. 2. The young Helmut was a dreadful student, but showed an early interest in the two things which would come to define his life: photography and women. He was given his first camera by his father at the age of 12, and, by all acounts, it was around this time he began to show an appreciation for the way bathing suits clung to young girls’ bodies. 3. His parents fled Germany in November 1938 after his father lost control of his factory under the oppressive restrictions placed on Jews by the Nuremburg laws. Helmut was granted a passport after turning 18 that October and sailed for Singapore where he found work as a photographer, first for a local newspaper and then as a portrait photographer. 4. He was interned by the British authorities in Singapore and sent to an internment camp in Australia in September 1940. Freed from the camp two years later, he enlisted with the Australian Army, serving as a truck driver. When war ended in 1945 he changed his name to Newton. He married the Australian actress June Browne in 1948. 5. Newton set up a studio in 1946 in the fashionable Flinders Lane in Melbourne and worked on fashion and theatre photography in the affluent post-war years. In 1955 he secured a commission to illustrate fashions in a special Australian supplement for Vogue magazine, published in January 1956. This led to a 12-month contract with British Vogue and he moved to London in February 1957. 6. But it was his move to Paris in 1961 that saw his career blossom, helped no doubt by his habit of arriving for his first major assignments in a white Porsche. His images began appearing in magazines such as French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, where he rebelled against the subservient women found in these staid fashion magazines.  His photos showed strong, dangerous and dominant women, and shook up the whole idea of fashion photography. 7. Over the following years, Newton established a style marked by erotic, stylised scenes, often with sado-masochistic and fetishistic subtexts. It comes as no surprise that he also spent 30 years shooting pictorials for Playboy. In the 1970s, Newton turned away from fashion photography and towards personal projects. 8. He was the self-proclaimed ‘bad boy of photography’, turning gender on its head, with the women in his work in charge of their sexuality and men, if visible at all, subservient to his goddesses. Despite this, he was called a misogynist and an exploiter of women, labels he did little to discourage as they enhanced his reputation as The King of Kink. 9. In 1999 a record breaking book was published which became the mother of all coffee table books. Entitled SUMO, it was a limited edition print run of 10,000 copies, each signed and numbered by Helmut Newton. It came with its own little table designed by Philippe Starck and it cost €15,000. The contents, edited by June Browne, featured 400 of Newton’s photographs, measured 50x70cm, weighed 30 kg and contained 464 pages. 10. By the end of his life, Newton was seen as the epitome of fame and glamour. Having spent most of his life wandering the world, he settled in Monte Carlo and Los Angeles in later life. He died after crashing into the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard in 2004, aged 83. His ashes are buried in Berlin. The exhibition continues until September 4.  More >


Dutch summer festival overload 2016 – 15 of the best

Dutch summer festival overload 2016 – 15 of the best

Regardless of whether your idea of a good time is listening to pulse pounding beats alongside 50,000 people or savouring an evocative couplet, there’s something for everyone at the Netherlands’ wide array of festivals (and other events) this summer. Here’s fifteen of the best. By Brandon Hartley Rotterdam International Poetry Festival – 7 - 11 June Poets from around the world will gather in Rotterdam for the 47th edition of this festival but this time around the organisers will be shaking things up by adding comic strips to the mix. Yes, you read that right. This year the fest will feature traditional performances, lectures and debates by poets in addition to events that focus on the genre’s crossovers into the worlds of film, music, art, and the funny pages as well. The 2016 programme also includes appearances by the Costa Rican poet Luis Chaves and Ireland’s Sinéad Morrissey in addition to plenty of others. PinkPop – 10 - 12 June This colossal music festival has been going strong since 1970 and has become one of the biggest on the planet. Millions of people have attended PinkPop over the decades and the 2016 edition is sure to add another 60,000 or so to the tally. This year’s PinkPop will feature acts including Paul McCartney, Ramstein, Lionel Richie, James Bay, Imelda May, Douwe Bob and, provided their perpetually shirtless frontman Anthony Kiedis recovers from a recent bout of health trouble, The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Oerol – 10 - 19 June The shores of Terschelling are quite literally invaded by a cavalcade of entertainers during Oerol. The island’s forests, beaches, dikes and even a barn or two serve as performance spaces over the course of the unconventional ten-day festival. In addition to musical and theatrical shows, attendees can enjoy dazzling acrobatics, interactive installations, modern dance recitals and much more. Best Kept Secret – 17 - 18 June While the name of this popular festival is a pretty big misnomer, it still remains fairly low key, at least in comparison to the bombast you’ll find over at the Netherlands’ other summertime music events. Best Kept Secret is devoted entirely to musical acts and features everything from well-established rock bands to newer outfits just cutting their teeth in the industry. It also takes place in the lush surroundings of an event site near the Beekse Bergen Safari Park. At the fourth edition of the ‘medium-sized’ fest you can enjoy performances by Wilco, Beck, Beach House, Editors, Air, Band of Horses and Jamie XX while taking in views of the picturesque Victoriameer Lake. Down the Rabbit Hole – 24 - 26 June You’re unlikely to encounter any mad hatters or unpunctual bunnies at Down the Rabbit Hole but you may wind up on a psychedelic journey worthy of the classic children’s novel that continues to serve as its muse. A swirling cacophony of DJs, artists, designers and filmmakers flock to the three day festival, which is held at the De Groene Heuvels recreational park outside of Beuningen and often features lots of crazy light displays. Some of the bigger acts that will be appearing this year include The National, PJ Harvey, Mac DeMarco and Matisyahu. Delfsail – 20 June - 3 July If you missed the 2015 edition of SAIL, this nautical event in Delfzijl will help you pass the time until it returns to Amsterdam in 2020. 600,000 people are expected to show up for the festival, which is only held every six or seven years. Along with tours of some of the largest sailing ships in the world, visitors can also enjoy a street parade, a fun fair, and performances by sea shanty choirs. De Parade – 23 June - 28 August You never know quite what you’re going to get at this unusual festival, which is held in parks located in Rotterdam, Den Haag, Utrecht and Amsterdam throughout the summer months. De Parade is one part fringe festival and one part sideshow carnival with a batch of food stands thrown into the mix. This year’s edition will feature over 100 theatrical, dance, mime, musical, and impossible to describe performances by artists from all over the Netherlands and beyond. North Sea Jazz Festival – 8 - 10 July The first North Sea Jazz Festival took place in 1976 and it’s come a long way since then. While you can still find plenty of great jazz bands at the event, in recent years it’s broken format to include an array of more diverse acts that have included the late/great Prince and the blues rock band Alabama Shakes. This year’s lineup will include Gregory Porter, Gal Costa, The Roots, Pharrell Williams and Earth, Wind & Fire. International Four Day Marches – 19 - 22 July Now celebrating its 100th year, this unique walking event (the largest of its kind in the world) began as a way to help Dutch soldiers stay in shape during peacetime. As strange as it might sound, the marches have become so popular that registration for participants has already closed. The organiser set the 2016 cap at 50,000 people and they hit that mark back in April. That doesn’t mean you can’t head down to Nijmegen to cheer them on from the sidelines and/or ponder why so many people are eager to spend a few summer days just walking around. Rotterdam Summer Carnival – 26 - 30 July Around 900,000 people will once again shimmy and shake their way through the streets of Rotterdam during this humongous annual fiesta. Along with performances by over sixty acts from around the world on outdoor stages located in the Hofplein, Schouwburgplein and Eendrachtsplein, the incredibly popular street parade is slated to return. A fierce wind storm led to its cancellation in 2015. This year’s edition will feature (if the weather behaves itself) over 30 floats and 2,500 dancers. Ironman Maastricht – 31 July Are you tough enough to handle this intense test of physical endurance? If so, you can join amateur and professional athletes from around Europe for the second edition of this challenging triathlon. Those brave and bold enough to partake will endure a 3.8 km swim in the Meuse river and a 180 km bike race followed by a 42.2 km marathon. Haarlem Culinair – 4 - 7 August Some of the best chefs, cooks, bakers and sauciers from around North Holland will appear at this outdoor culinary fest in Haarlem’s Grote Markt. Foodies can enjoy delectable dishes from area cafes like Dijkers and De Jopenkerk in addition to special markets devoted to artisanal beers and the slow food movement. International Fireworks Festival – 12 and 13 and 19 and 20 August This explosive fest takes place on the beach at Scheveningen every summer and it’s celebrating its 37th anniversary this August. If the annual firework hootenanny that occurs on New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands is something that you consider ‘small time', you’re likely to get a kick out of the massive displays that will be in full bloom at the fest, which is the largest of its kind in the country. Along with the eight professional fireworks shows that will take place over its two consecutive weekends, attendees can also enjoy live music and dance performances. Lowlands – 19 - 21 August Every August, this festival draws over 50,000 attendees to the event site at the Walibi Holland amusement park in Biddinghuizen. Most of them are there to enjoy sets by some of the world’s most famous musical performers but Lowlands also hosts plenty of events focused on stand-up comedy, theatre, visual arts and film as well. This year the biggest of its ten stages will be occupied by Disclosure, LCD Soundsystem, The Eagles of Death Metal, Chvrches, and more acts that have yet to be announced. Mysteryland – 27 - 28 August This beloved electronic music festival has grown to include editions in the United States and Chili. The 2016 event for the Netherlands will once again invade the Floriade event site in Haarlemmermeer for a full weekend of sonic beats and dazzling sets by some of the world’s best DJs. The programme, which has yet to be fully announced, already includes Afrojack, Diplo, Martin Garrix, and Seth Troxler.  More >


Shored-up homes are a common sight in earthquake-hit Groningen

Shored-up homes are a common sight in earthquake-hit Groningen

Tens of thousands of homes in Groningen province have had to be shored up because of damage caused by earthquakes stemming from gas extraction. Graham Dockery went to the northern province to meet home owners and activists. Cans of spray paint rattle in the back of John Lanting’s van as we drive over roads pockmarked with cracks and fissures. ‘I’m a bit of a bad boy around here,’ he says with a childlike grin. Climbing over fences, obstructing work traffic, graffiti tagging multi-million euro machinery, and slashing tyres are all in a day’s work for the 55-year-old activist. The target of Lanting’s hooliganism is the conglomeration of energy companies exploiting Europe’s largest natural gas field in the province of Groningen. Natural gas drilling in Groningen provides 70% of the Netherlands’ gas supply, but has caused thousands of earthquakes, escalating in intensity over the last few decades. Residents of the area are angry at the structural damage to their houses, lowered property values, and threat of further and more serious earthquakes. Lanting’s anti-drilling shenanigans have landed him in the back of a police car multiple times, and made him public enemy number 1 among gas drillers and their supporters in government. On a clear spring day, he picked me up at the station in Loppersum, one of the hardest-hit areas in the province, and took me on a tour of his battlefield. Striking gold In 1959, exploratory drilling discovered a gas field of 2.8 trillion cubic metres, the tenth-largest in the world. With the state’s blessing, Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschapij BV (NAM), a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon-Mobil, began extraction in 1963 and still oversees production today. Production began at a staggering 100bm3 per year in the first decade or so, but problems arose as the gas field emptied. Since 1986, the area around the field has been hit by over 1,000 earthquakes. Groningen doesn’t sit on any natural seismic fault lines. The quakes were induced by gas drilling. Fairy tales In 2012, a magnitude 3.6 quake hit the region, the strongest on record. However, initial warnings about the link between drilling and seismic activity were dismissed by NAM as ‘nonsense’ and ‘fairy tales.’ When independent geologist Peter van Gaag began studying the area in the early 1990s he found a deadly combination. The relatively shallow focus of the earthquakes combined with the presence of a unique type of soft clay in the area means that low magnitude quakes in Groningen do considerably more damage than their numbers on the Richter scale would suggest. His warnings fell on deaf ears. ‘We were a small company, and paid for the study out of our own pockets,’ Van Gaag told DutchNews.nl. 'We gave it to the commissioner at the time, and then two institutions were assigned to prove our report wrong. It didn’t make any sense. The reports that followed were very bad reports, scientifically.’ ‘Between 1994 and 2012, I only saw reports mitigating everything. There were a lot of institutions and they were always writing reports downplaying the intensities, magnitudes, etc. The minister always trusts the institutions.’ ‘It’s a vicious circle. The former deputy director of NAM, Rien Herber, is on the board of KNMI (Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institution), and the former boss of the seismological institute of KNMI, Hein Haak, is the vice president of the TCBB (Technical Commission for Earth Movement), still!’ Negligence John and I visit local farmer Jun Huizinga, who reported quakes to NAM thirty years ago. ‘They denied it was from gas,’ he says, shaking his head. Huizinga’s family have lived on the same farm in Loppersum since 1864. Just over a year ago, Huizinga was ordered to evacuate his property immediately, as the persistent earthquakes had made it structurally unsound. Despite repeated warnings from scientists and residents, the problem was ignored by the Dutch government for years. A report by the Dutch safety board last year found that a correlation between gas extraction and earthquakes was clear since 1993, but ‘risks to residents were not recognised’ until 2013. The board concluded that the economic affairs ministry, the mine inspectorate and NAM worked collectively to maximise production without ‘due care for citizen safety’. Huizinga’s farmhouse still stands, but he and his family now live in prefab container housing on the farm. This temporary accommodation is provided by NAM, who offer affected residents compensation depending on the severity of the damage. A non-disclosure agreement signed by Huizinga forbids him from discussing exactly how much of the financial burden the company is bearing. ‘Almost everyone has to pay part of the cost, and people don’t have that kind of money,’ he tells me. ‘They play with our lives here, and they only care about money.’ Carrots and sticks On other farms nearby, repairs are underway. We see cranes a kilometer or two across the flat grassland, and John drives over to investigate. When we get there, two barns have almost completely collapsed and the owner declines to speak to the press. ‘People are scared,’ John tells me. ‘They’re scared to speak out against NAM in case their compensation will disappear, and they’re scared to talk to the press.’ If the threat of removing compensation is NAM’s stick, then offering bonuses to homeowners is its carrot. In Loppersum and the surrounding villages, the roofs of many houses are decked out in brand new solar panels. Home owners who suffer more than €1,000 in damage can apply for €4,000 towards home upgrades like solar panels, insulation or new windows. Paying the price As we drive through several of these villages, the signs of damage are immediately visible. Buildings are propped up with wooden beams, repair crews are at work earthquake-proofing homes, and rows of houses are punctuated by vacant lots, bought by NAM and levelled. Directly opposite a vacant lot, now just rubble and quicksand, we stop for lunch at a local woman’s house. Every new quake cracks her walls and sinks her foundations further, but it’s easier to let the damage accumulate over several quakes before making a claim. ‘There’s so much paperwork involved, it’s really easier this way,’ she says. NAM often asks home owners to provide proof that the damage was directly caused by earthquakes, and when the company accepts liability, it determines the payout itself. The chance of ‘the big one’ hitting Loppersum is on everyone’s lips, and Peter van Gaag doesn’t dismiss the possibility. ‘I think there will be stronger earthquakes. I can’t say if that will be next month, next year or in five years. In some places, because of the clay, there will be much, much more damage. Some people, even Shell, think that a magnitude 4.5 or stronger earthquake may happen, and if it does houses will collapse.’ In the meantime, NAM intends to press ahead with the extraction of 27 billion cubic metres of gas from Groningen this year. NAM estimates that it could safely extract 33bm3 per year, but economic affairs minister Henk Kamp insists on the production cap, claiming the risk of earthquakes would be too large if production was increased. Reducing production will not do enough to prevent further quakes, according to Van Gaag. ‘[Reducing production] will not stop earthquakes, but if they totally stop drilling, the chance of strong earthquakes will drastically diminish.’ Indeed, everyone I speak to sees the idea of NAM stopping production as a laughable one. With the Groningen gas field earning one million euros per hour, there’s simply too much money at stake.  More >


From sailing ships to poetry; here’s 10 great things to do in June

From sailing ships to poetry; here’s 10 great things to do in June

From classical music by the sea to roaring motor bikes and from lovely photos of the Dutch royal family to poets reading their own work, here's our pick of the best things to do in June. Hear the slap of canvas in the sea breeze The Round Texel Race is the world’s largest catamaran race with around 500 single and double-handed catamarans taking part. There is also kite surfing and raceboard slalom competitions during the four-day event. Mandy Mulder and Coen de Koning are defending their titles from last year, ahead of competing at the Rio Olympics in August. De Koog, Texel, June 25. www.roundtexel.com Check out the very latest in the performing arts This annual cultural festival offers a broad scope of international performing arts, and features both established names and new talent. It continues to innovate, exploring new forms of theatre and new types of venue, such as staging performances in public spaces. Already scheduled for this edition are The Cure (photo) and The Corridor, two chamber operas created by Harrison Birtwistle and David Harsent, each of which riffs on death and the restoration of youth. They are performed by soprano Elizabeth Atherton and tenor Mark Padmore with the London Sinfonietta. There are also performances of Simon McBurney’s The Encounter by Complicite, Louis Andriessen’s Theatre of the World by the National Opera and Nelken by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch. Various locations, Amsterdam, June 4 to 26. www.hollandfestival.nl Join the circus that is the Parade De Parade consists of a large number of colourful tents which travel the four main cities throughout the summer. Most of the tents offer performances of music, theatre, dance, opera and mime, while others are restaurants or cafes. Whatever the weather, the circus-like atmosphere is a real treat. And with performances taking between three and forty minutes, it’s easy to fit in several each evening. Many are in Dutch, but there are a number of shows in English or without words. The line-up varies from city to city so check the website for who's on where. Museum Park, Rotterdam, June 23 to July 3; Westbroek Park, The Hague, July 8 to 17; Moreelse Park, Utrecht, July 22 to August 7; Martin Luther King Park, Amsterdam, August 12 to 28. www.deparade.nl Rock around the clock The annual outdoor pop festival presents a line-up of international artists on several stages. The first headliners to be announced were the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rammstein. Closing the event is Paul McCartney, who is making his first appearance at a Dutch festival. ‘I love a festival audience and we plan to close Pinkpop with a massive party,’ McCartney says on the Pinkpop website. Other confirmed acts include Lionel Richie, Skunk Anasie, James Bay, Years and Years and The Common Linnets. Landgraf, Heerlen, June 10, 11 and 12. www.ticketmaster.nl See Dutch royals as you've never seen them before A selection of the photos taken by Vincent Mentzel (1945), formerly in-house photographer of national newspaper NRC. Mentzel photographed the royal family for over thirty years at official functions and during state visits, but also during less formal occasions. The photos date from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s when access to the royal family was much looser than it is now. Mentzel took a walk with Prince Claus during a visit to Pakistan. In China he went shopping with Princess Juliana’s best friend. Such access is unthinkable these days. Paleis Het Loo, Apeldoorn until August 21. www.paleishetloo.nl Thrill to the roar of motor bikes The TT at Assen is the 7th race in the Grand Prix series for motor bikes. This is the first year the TT has been held on a Sunday, making a long weekend of two days of qualifications before the climactic showdown. The MotoGP with riders such as Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo is the highlight of the Dutch TT. But fans will also enjoy the battles of the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. Drenthe Circuit, Assen, June 24 to 26. www.ttcircuit.com Keep a handkerchief handy Journalist, writer and academic Ian Buruma talks about his new book, Their Promised Land: My Grandparents in Love and War. It is an account of a love sustained through the terror and separation of two world wars and the thousands of love letters sent in the darkest hours of the century. According to The New York Times Book Review, it is ‘a wholly understanding, moving account of what it meant to be Jewish and English in one of the most troubled times of the last century. Buruma’s voyage into the past is a warning as well as a celebration of lost lives.’ Check John Adams Institute website for location, June 29. www.john-adams.nl Listen to great poetry The annual festival of poetry features readings of noteworthy works by ground-breaking great masters and new and original poetic talents from around the world. Among those reading their poetry at this year’s festival are Raúl Zurita from Chile, who is considered the greatest living Latin American poet, the young Italian Laura Accerboni and Jeet Thayil from India. There are also films, music, interviews and masterclasses. Schouwburg, Rotterdam, June 7 to 11. www.poetryinternationalweb.net Watch a man lose everything Tchaikovsky composed Pique Dame during a period of turmoil in his life and the result is a compelling drama full of stirring music. Director Stefan Herheim brings an exciting visualisation to this story of gambling and love which stars Misha Didyk in the main role of Herman. The conductor is Mariss Jansons. Muziektheater, Amsterdam, June 9, 12 (matinee), 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30 and July 3. www.operaballet.nl Enjoy the classics by the sea The annual festival which makes classical music fun by keeping concerts short – none lasts more than one hour – and holding them in surprising venues moves from The Hague to the nearby coastal resort of Scheveningen. Among the highlights is a celebration of the festival’s 10th anniversary for which ten pianists will simultaneously play on five grand pianos Canto Ostinato by Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt. Also on the programme are the Hofstads Youth Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony, Antony Hermus conducting the Residentie Orchestra in a programme of well-known opera highlights, and performances of the musical Singin’ In The Rain. Kurhaus and other venues, Scheveningen, June 10 to 19. www.festivalclassique.nl  More >


Seven-year legal battle over ‘inburgering’ comes to a head in court

Seven-year legal battle over ‘inburgering’ comes to a head in court

This Friday, lawyer Jeremy Bierbach will be in court in Utrecht to hear the verdict in his seven year battle against a key component of the compulsory Dutch integration programme, or inburgering. If he wins, it could help fuel a significant change in how the controversial programme is administered. By Brandon Hartley Years ago, an American known as ‘P’ and a New Zealander known as ‘S’ were shocked when they received letters from their local councils informing them that they were required to take exams to prove they were properly integrated into Dutch society. Both had permanent residency permits and assumed they were exempt from the programme. Uncertain of how to handle the situation, they went to a forum on a popular website for expats in search of answers. There the duo, whose full names remain secret due to Dutch legal stipulations, encountered a group of people just as confused as them and grappling with their own inburgering obligations. That’s when attorney Jeremy Bierbach spotted their posts and decided to investigate their claims further. ‘P said that she just got permanent residency and asked "doesn’t that protect me?"' Bierbach told DutchNews.nl. ‘So I looked up the relevant EU law. It’s Directive 2003/109 and it says that you have to treat people with this status equally to citizens of the host member state in X, Y and Z ways. That’s when I realised that there was a case to be made here.’ Pittsburgh native Bierbach had recently received a master’s degree in constitutional and administrative law from the University of Amsterdam and had begun working towards a career as a lawyer. Scared ‘P came to me because she was scared,’ Bierbach said. ‘She told me she was afraid she would be deported and that her resident permit would be taken away. Legally, that’s not true.’ P had been married to a native Dutch citizen since 2001 and was living in Breda. S, whose case Bierbach took on later, had moved to the Netherlands to live in Amstelveen and work for a Dutch company. After reviewing their situations, Bierbach decided to take on their cases. ‘The spirit of the directive means that you have to treat long-term residents the same as Dutch citizens,’ Bierbach said. ‘You can’t force Dutch citizens to inburger. The government has tried in the past, believe me. The original editing of the inburgering plan made it compulsory for Dutch citizens of foreign origin to pass the exams. You can’t do that though; it’s a violation of equal treatment. One of the core values of citizenship is equality. You have to treat all of your citizens equally.’ Objections With this argument as the basis for legal action, Bierbach began what would become a lengthy voyage through the Dutch and European legal systems. He began by filing an administrative objection with Breda and Amstelveen councils. Bierbach submitted the objections, which would give the councils a chance to reconsider before starting legal action, in each city. In the years that followed, they faced numerous hurdles, setbacks and the glacial pace of the appeals process. Amsterdam's district court devoted a considerable amount of time to S’s appeal but ultimately rejected it, ruling that it was without merit. Breda's district court, meanwhile, tossed out P’s case after only a minimal amount of consideration. Undaunted, Bierbach was able to merge both of his clients’ cases into one and take it to the Centrale Raad van Beroep, the highest court of appeal in the Netherlands for administrative and social security claims. Because his clients had based their case on the dictates of an EU law, the judges there decided they couldn’t reach a decision without input from another authority. They turned to the EU's Court of Justice for its input. Europe ‘The Centrale Raad van Beroep decided that it was a very important question that they couldn’t answer on their own because EU law really isn’t clear on to what extent you have to treat someone equally,’ Bierbach explains. ‘The European court is there to explain and interpret EU law to courts in member states. So the Centrale Raad van Beroep went to them with questions about to what extent we have to treat people with permanent residency status equally to Dutch citizens and to find out if they can be fined for not taking the exams.’ In June of 2015, nearly seven years after Bierbach first met with P and S, the European court decided, in principle, that it was permissible for the Dutch government to impose fines on long-term residents like them for failing to pass integration exams. However, it also suggested that the Dutch government’s methods of enforcing the exam is a violation of Directive 2003/109. The court said the fines may be unreasonably expensive and that the programme doesn’t take personal circumstances of individuals into account. Broad decision What could this mean for residents in the same boat as P and S? That remains up in the air. On May 27, the Centrale Raad van Beroep will issue a final decision on the case in the light of the EU court's ruling, and taking P's and S's personal circumstances into account. ‘This is the final round for the case involving P and S,’ Bierbach said. ‘I don’t dare to predict what the decision will be.’ Hundreds of other people are waiting for the verdict with interest and the implications will be far-reaching. ‘I’m sure this is something the court is aware of,’ Bierbach added. ‘They don’t want to be overloaded with a zillion other cases. They want to make a broad decision that satisfies people.’ Since Bierbach decided to take on these cases back in 2008, S has, ironically, become an EU citizen through other means. She was born in Yugoslavia in a region that later became Croatia, which is now a member of the EU and then emigrated to New Zealand. While S currently lives and works in France, her case lives on back in the Netherlands. ‘She has the right to a judgement and to find out whether or not the decision the council made was wrong,' says Bierbach. 'And if they have to repay her legal costs.'  More >


This year’s Holland Festival is on the Edges of Europe

This year’s Holland Festival is on the Edges of Europe

Tickets are now on sale for the Netherlands’ biggest international theatre festival, featuring 45 productions, including 12 world premiers. Esther O’Toole takes a peek behind the curtain. ‘Urgent and political’ is how artistic director, Ruth MacKenzie, describes the 69th edition of the Holland Festival which opens in Amsterdam on June 4. Taking inspiration from the Netherlands’ leadership of the EU this year, the festival is entitled The Edges of Europe and it aims to be edgy in more ways than one. They are setting the bar high, kicking off with an epic production from Hamburg’s Thalia Theater and Estonian directorial duo Ene-Liis Semper and Tilt Ojasoo. This pair not only hail from the literal edges of Europe but are renowned for their audacious and highly political form of theatre; work that in the past has included setting themselves up as a populist political party. Modern Europe The film of that show, Ash and Money, can be seen at the festival alongside this year’s offering - Die Stunde Da Wir Nichts Voneinander Wussten. An updated version of Peter Handke’s original text, it includes dozens of actors, dancers and singers and promises a vivid and visceral look at modern Europe with all its diversity and tension. That's just the start. The rest of the line-up continues in this impressive vein. Top international artists, such as the Akram Khan Dance Ensemble, are returning with new work; the Dutch premiere of Until the Lions plays from June 23 and stars the man himself. Virtuoso conductor and composer Issam Rafea leads Damon Albarn and reunited members of the Syrian National Orchestra for Arabic Music at Carré, and Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal are back with Pina Bausch’ classic production, Nelken.   One must-see highlight for English natives will be Encounter, the new one-man show from the brilliant and enigmatic Simon McBurney, artistic director of the UK’s Theatre de Complicite. Don’t let language be a barrier though, there are plenty of opportunities to catch ‘language no problem’ shows and all Dutch indoor performances will be sur-titled. Premieres All in all the festival will be showing some 45 productions with 104 performances, including 12 world premieres and 41 Dutch premieres. ‘I believe artists can change the world,’ MacKenzie said, announcing the start of ticket sales. Laying out her vision for bringing provocative and innovative performance art to new audiences, she added: ‘We want to show work that helps us look at the world with fresh eyes.’ Unique Dutch Talent MacKenzie is fully supported in that vision by business director, Annet Lekkerkerker, who pointed to the daring nature of the programming as evidence that the creative team is not afraid of posing difficult questions to audiences, in their quest to ‘stimulate and push unique works of art’. To that end, in 2016 we will be treated to new digital commissions; a focus on the most outstanding Dutch groups, such as actors’ collective Wunderbaum and De Warme Winkel; and associate artist placements for Olga Neuwith and Kronos Quartet, whose work forms the heart of the music programme. MacKenzie and Lekkerkerker are also determined to reach as large and broad a public as possible. There will be a wide range of free workshops, meet the artist opportunities and outdoor performances. Museumplein will once again be a focal point for many of these and thanks to a partnership with the Stedelijk Museum you can also see the interactive installation Tomorrow is the Question there, from artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. €10 tickets Taking inspiration from the London Proms, the HF Proms will be open to everyone from just €10 per ticket and there will also be a large educational component running at the Hyperion Lyceum secondary school. Using Lucas de Man’s performance De Man door Europa as a leaping off point, students in their fourth year of high school will delve into European identity and what it really means for them. In 2015, the organisers also ran a successful Save the Bassoon campaign, which highlighted the undervalued instrument with workshops, competitions and special related events. This year, to mark its success, the festival will welcome 100 bassoonists of all abilities who will join each other at the Concertgebouw and take part in a new composition for bassoons by Merlijn Twaalfhoven. This year the focus will be on saving the horn. For tickets and more information go to www.hollandfestival.nl  More >


The Next Web: technology takes centre stage in Amsterdam

The Next Web: technology takes centre stage in Amsterdam

What started out as a couple of tech entrepreneurs trying to promote their new startup to a gathering of some 220 interested people, has metamorphosed into one of the biggest and most important technology events in the world. Esther O’Toole sat down with Wytze de Haan, the managing director of events for The Next Web, to talk about this year’s offering. Wytze de Haan went to The Hague's Hotel School hospitality industry college; he was no ‘techie’ or ‘geek’ by nature. But then in 2011 he met serial entrepreneurs Patrick de Laive and Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, the founders of The Next Web, and pivoted, as they like to say in Start-up Land. For the last ten years The Next Web has had a conference in Amsterdam and this is its original home: ‘Amsterdam has everything, all the shareholders, creativity and working parts to make it a hub of innovation,' says De Haan. 'There’s great access to resources and with tech giants like Google and Uber having their European headquarters here it makes it the best tech ecosystem in Europe. It’s nice to contribute to that environment.’ Last year over 3,500 people attended the conference. This year is set to be bigger and better than ever, with the goal of attracting an estimated 20,000 people over the course of two days. Some 75% of tickets have already been sold. It is testament to the growing interest and relevance of tech in our lives that what started out as 220 people is now growing at an exponential rate as it enters its 11th year. Festival On May 26 and 27 TNW will be taking over the Westerpark in Amsterdam. This year they’re going all out for a festival atmosphere with the rolling kitchens on site, demos, places to play, a resident DJ and workshops; alongside the speakers, pitching and fast money opportunities that you may expect at a conference focussed on entrepreneurship. ‘I don’t see myself as an event manager. It’s a unique place to work, a safe environment in which to innovate. Every year we try to reinvent it a little.’ says De Haan. 2016 has extra importance due to The Netherlands leadership of the EU. Both politicians like Neelie Kroes and prominent tech champions like TNW founder Veldhuijzen Van Zanten himself have, in recent months, championed Amsterdam as the potential Silicon Valley of Europe. The event also coincides with the final two days of the StartupFest - a nationwide start-up event held as part of the Dutch presidency of the EU. There will definitely be a strong Dutch presence at this year's TNW with keynote speakers such as Pieter Van Der Does, CEO and Co-founder of payment service Adyen, taking the stage alongside the CEO’s and co-founders of global giants like Basecamp, Reddit, Vimeo, Vine and Werner Vogels the Dutch born, CTO of Amazon. ‘Each year the tech itself offers so many opportunities to do new things’ de Haan added. ‘This year we have projections that move with the people of stage!’ As with other major tech events like TechCrunch Disrupt and SXSW, there will be a Hack Battle. ‘People realise now that you can build a viable company in 48 hours whereas it used to take you years of testing and prototyping,’ De Haan says. Laymen For the laymen amongst us there is also a lot of emphasis on the imaginative, creative and the content side of digital life. Keynote speakers also include prosumer icons like Gary Vaynerchuk and YouTube Superstar Casey Neistat. It’s these kinds of names that will open the event up to a younger and broader audience than you might find at a traditional conference. As our lives become more digitally dependent there will of course be new challenges and, according to de Haan, these too will be up for discussion: ‘With the emergence of the Internet of Things, cars, watches, fridges, bikes, you name it - everything is going to be connected. Finding ways to disconnect that will be the biggest challenge.’ For more information and tickets  More >


Forty years on, Amsterdam’s EYE film venue celebrates punk

Forty years on, Amsterdam’s EYE film venue celebrates punk

It’s 40 years ago that punk first burst upon the public imagination and left its indelible mark on pop culture. The music, artists and, most of all, the attitude are celebrated later this month in a special programme of events at the EYE cinema in Amsterdam. Esther O’Toole finds out more. Lead programmer Ronald Simons freely admits that he didn’t know much about punk until a few months ago when, together with fellow programmer Anna Abrahams, they set out to devise FURY! Punk Culture for the EYE. ‘To begin with we asked ourselves is there a punk film movement?’ said Simons. ‘Our starting point was not the music but the films.’ They soon discovered that, like anything prefaced with ‘hippie’ in the years prior to punk, there were various movements within the movement and many different interpretations of the term. ‘Even today it’s difficult to say what punk is and the EYE doesn’t want to try and define it for audiences, but we will be asking every guest what it means to them’. Shared Values That being said, shared values resound through the movies Simons and Abrahams uncovered: anti-establishment, hands-on, do-it-yourself, ideas that hold just as much relevance today as they ever did. The Filth & the Fury, The Great Rock ’n Roll Swindle, Jubilee, Sid and Nancy, Patti Smith: Dream of Life and Blank Generation are among the film line-up. Don Letts (the iconic British DJ and film maker, who first started playing punk and reggae at London’s The Roxy in the mid-70s and later moved on to films) will be performing live on opening night, May 26, before a special showing of his much lauded movie Punk Attitude (2005). ‘It was a very DIY way of film making,’ says Simons. ‘Not using any money from funds but running it all on donations - super independent. In the background always the inner city’s urban decay. Very documentary style. There was no money for lighting but they were trying to show reality anyway.’ The punk experience Of course the music remains essential. During the three weeks of the programme Zaal 2 will be transformed into a punk podium, complete with bar, where films will be projected alongside live performances by bands and spoken word artists. The programme includes legendary Amsterdam punk band The Ex and punk poetess Diane Ozon. For a real insight into contemporary punk bands, the EYE called on Ivo ‘Trash’ who runs the music programming at Het Patronaat music venue in Haarlem to put together the line-up. There will even be a tiny punk museum put together by collector Bert Broodje and a punk walk through the city on Sunday June 12. Simons is hoping to attract a diverse crowd with younger, contemporary punk fans and makers coming for the music and art, and perhaps those who were there in the heyday for the films and discussions. Speakers include professor Dick Hebdige, Amos Poe and Frank Wiering who will touch on the parallels and contrasts between punk in different countries. One example of this is the anti-royalist sentiments expressed in the Sex Pistols iconic album God Save the Queen (1977) and Amsterdam squatters protests around the 1980 coronation of Queen Beatrix. All just rebels and rioters? The main thinking behind the programme is to show a wider perspective than the rebels and the rioters. ‘I always thought it had a very negative vibe but having researched it I found it was far more positive than that. It’s a way of living; it’s producing many works of art. I want people to come to the EYE and make up their own mind,’ Simons says. ‘You either feel Punk or you don’t,’ Simons concludes. ‘They say it’s not in the hair, it’s in the heart.’ Fury! Punk Culture is on at the EYE from Thursday May 26 to Wednesday June 15. More information  More >


‘With euthanasia, you can say goodbye and it can be a loving memory’

Chronic depression, tired of life, dementia… an Amsterdam conference discusses controversial reasons for euthanasia as Dutch cases rise 75% in five years, writes Senay Boztas The woman had a three year old daughter, and was just 34 years old. But after years of suffering with a personality disorder, PTSD and chronic depression, she didn't want to live any more. Because she was in the Netherlands, this woman did not commit suicide. Instead, she said goodbye to her loved ones and prepared a memorial for her daughter to open when she was older. Her euthanasia was administered by psychiatrist Paulan Stärcke at the End-of-Life clinic in The Hague. ‘I interviewed her parents the year after her death,’ says Stärcke. ‘They expressed gratitude that her life could end this way and not in a violent one. The contact between the father and [child’s] grandparents was repaired in the process of the euthanasia. They were sure, and I was as well, that her mother would die by suicide if I didn’t help her die.’ Beautiful Stärcke, speaking at the Euthanasia 2016 conference in Amsterdam on Thursday, intends to show delegates a video of this, and an interview with the son of an 84-year-old woman, who chose euthanasia due to chronic depression. ‘He felt the way his mother died, funny to say it, was rather beautiful,’ Stärcke says. ‘She was in the midst of her family. Her husband was in the throes of dementia and was very angry at first, but held her hand.’ Euthanasia is a controversial topic, not just in the Netherlands but also abroad. Canada is currently divided by a proposed assisted dying law. Reports of Dutch cases spark outrage in the UK, where it is a crime to help someone die, but one Briton a month travels to the Swiss Dignitas clinic for euthanasia. Cancer Although the vast majority of cases in the Netherlands are for cancer victims, those granted euthanasia for mental health problems has risen from just two in 2010 to 56 people last year – alongside a 75% rise in total euthanasia requests in this period, to 5,516 last year. Euthanasia represents 4% of the 140,000 annual deaths. Earlier this week, Britain’s Daily Mail exploded at the publication of details on one Dutch sex abuse victim granted euthanasia in her 20s, suffering conditions including chronic depression, self-harming, and ‘therapy resistant’ anorexia. It quoted Labour MP Robert Flello calling the case ‘horrendous’, and adding: ‘it almost sends the message that if you are the victim of abuse, and as a result you get a mental illness, you are punished by being killed.’ There are Dutch academics who are worried about growing numbers of euthanasia for mental health issues (1% of cases) and with dementia (2%): earlier this year, government guidelines said a ‘living will’ can represent the wishes of someone with advanced dementia even if they can no longer make these clear. Unbearable suffering But Dr Erwin Kompanje, assistant professor of clinical ethics at Erasmus MC University Medical Centre, believes ‘unbearable suffering can no longer be measured in a patient with dementia’ and in a psychiatric patient it is ‘difficult to judge [if] everything has been tried in a therapeutic sense’. Dutch euthanasia law, introduced in 2002, only allows doctors to administer euthanasia, and only under strict conditions. These include a doctor being satisfied someone is voluntarily requesting a well-considered euthanasia, feels ‘unbearable suffering’ with no hope of relief, and consults at least one other physician (who does not need to agree). Children from 12-18 are covered by the law, and every case is assessed post-euthanasia by the RTE regional review commission. This body can refer those that didn’t meet ‘due care’ criteria to the public prosecutor and health inspectors. Suicide Recognition for psychiatric reasons for euthanasia has grown, campaigners say, after the award-winning 2014 documentary (in Dutch) by Elena Lindemans, ‘Mothers don’t jump from buildings’. The wrenching film, scheduled at the conference, tells the story of her mother who jumped from a block of flats in 2002 because she was unable to persuade doctors to help her die. ‘There is more understanding in the Netherlands through this film,’ says Jeannette Croonen, co-founder of the campaigning Euthanasia in Psychiatry foundation. Her daughter, Monique, suffocated by tying a bag over her head in 2008, after being refused euthanasia for psychiatric reasons. ‘You feel powerless,’ she says. ‘You see your child in enormous suffering and you can’t help them. I know someone whose son had euthanasia three years ago, and her experience is very different. It grieves me every time I think of the manner of [Monique’s] death. So I keep doing this to stop other people having the same experience.’ Stärcke believes psychiatrists are ‘too hesitant’ about agreeing to requests from mental health patients and euthanasia is widely misunderstood abroad. It is not execution, she says: ‘It is an execution of the wish of a patient. You can prepare for euthanasia, you can say goodbye and it can be a loving memory, not only hurt. Suicide is only hurt.’   More >


Former refugee boats now sail on calmer waters in Amsterdam

Former refugee boats now sail on calmer waters in Amsterdam

A cruise around Amsterdam's canals is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. Graham Dockery took a different sort of tour of the city's waterways, on a boat which had carried asylum seekers to Sicily. ‘My name is Sami and I came here from Eritrea,’ our tour guide tells us. ‘Before I made it here, I spent a year in a Libyan jail for nothing, just for being a refugee.’ Sami himself is not here, but his story is one of many told to us by our guide Stacyian, as we sail through Amsterdam on a boat that used to carry desperate migrants across the Mediterranean to a new life in Europe. As we cruise along the city’s idyllic canals, Stacyian tells the story of Amsterdam through the eyes of its immigrants and outsiders. With over 180 nationalities living here, there are plenty of stories to tell. The boat we sail on is a small fishing craft which was picked up by the Italian coast guard south of Sicily with 76 migrants on board. The Dutch authorities declared it to be unfit to carry more than fourteen passengers. Service ‘When the Dutch inspectors first saw it, they took one look and said no,’ said Sahand, an Iranian-born actor and Stacyian’s fellow tour guide. Eventually the six-metre long boat was deemed fit for service, but could not operate along the same routes used by Amsterdam’s established canal tour companies. Sahand doesn’t mind though. ‘The beauty of this project is that while Amsterdam is so shiny, we dive into some issues that aren’t so clean. Most tour companies talk about the Golden Age of the Netherlands and point out the old buildings. We talk about the immigrants who built them.’ Ownership Our nameless boat is one of two used by non-profit tour company Lampedusa in Amsterdam. Lampedusa also organises tours on a larger vessel, the Meneer Vrijdag. Both were sourced from Italy by the company’s director, Teun Castelein. The boats had been impounded on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a tiny rock 205km south of Sicily and just over 100km east of Tunisia. Castelein was given the boats, but faced some issues with paperwork. ‘We don’t know who the owners are,’ he told DutchNews.nl. ‘The Italians needed the proper documentation, but the smugglers aren’t going to come forward and say "hey, this is my boat!"’ The smaller vessel was found with no captain. A diving mask was on board, which led the Italians to suspect that whoever was in charge put on scuba gear and bailed before the coast guard intercepted the craft. A risky invitation The journey from North Africa to Italy has claimed countless lives. In just one case last year, a boat carrying migrants sank near Lampedusa, killing an estimated 800 passengers. In the first four months of 2015, about 1,600 migrants died on the Libya-Lampedusa crossing, prompting the Wall Street Journal to call the passage ‘the deadliest migrant route in the world’. Previously, the Italian authorities had set up a search and rescue programme called Mare Nostrum (Our Sea in Latin). The programme saved an estimated 130,000 lives before it was shut down in late 2014. Critics claimed planned search and rescue operations create ‘unintended pull factor[s]', encouraging more migrants to attempt the dangerous sea crossing and thereby leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths’ Peaceful Waters Our afternoon journey through Amsterdam is decidedly less risky. The sky is clear, the water is calm and spring blossom blows from the streets into the water. ‘There’s a sort of contrast there,’ said Castelein. ‘These boats are a symbol of tragedy, but when you see them they’re quite romantic. Beyond the obvious statement they make, it’s really relaxed.’ Even with fourteen people on board, the boat feels a little cramped. The 76 migrants who set out for Italy on the craft had to endure three days packed together on the open sea. Storytelling On board, Stacyian holds the passengers’ attention with stories of the city’s immigrant past and present. She talks about neighbourhoods built by Italian immigrants, the plight of the city’s Jews during World War 2, and the acceptance that the gay community found in Amsterdam. Stacyian is a trained actor, and her performance draws attention from curious onlookers relaxing on the canal banks. Although born to Jamaican immigrants, she considers herself Dutch through and through. ‘Some of the stories are completely true to life, while some are exaggerated,’ she told DutchNews.nl. ‘They’re so much fun to rehearse though, and they’re written so well that you can really feel the soul of each character.’ Lampedusa’s guides are all trained by a theatre production company. Teun Castelein sees the tours as part sightseeing, and part performance. ‘People see these nice hippy-looking boats and want to join us,’ he said. ‘Then we tell them the story behind it.’ Sailing Onward After the two-hour tour, we pull up at a dock on the bank of the river IJ. For Stacyian, Sahand, Teun and the crew, it’s their boat’s first successful voyage. For our captain though, it’s no big deal. Abdul is a Syrian sailor more used to commanding giant container ships than tiny canal boats. After leaving Syria three years ago, he had to apply for a licence to drive a tour boat in Amsterdam. ‘After he got his diploma, they told him that he should be teaching the class,’ said Sahad. ‘This project gives refugees the opportunity to work,’ Castelein explains after the tour. ‘If it becomes a success, then Abdul has a job. That’s what I like.’ ‘My goal is to keep employing newcomers, and take people on a journey through the canals and talk about immigration.’ Find out more about the Lampedusa cruises  More >


Dutch designer Aziz Bekkaoui pops up in Nieuw-West

Dutch designer Aziz Bekkaoui pops up in Nieuw-West

You might think renowned Dutch-Moroccan designer Aziz Bekkaoui would be more at home in Amsterdam's luxury shopping district around the PC Hooftstraat than an old school in Amsterdam's much maligned 1970s overspill. Natasha Cloutier paid him a visit to find out why he's opted for Nieuw-West. This January, Aziz quietly opened a pop-up store and a gallery in Lola Luid, a former school transformed into a pop-up mall, which features a café, shops and galleries of local artists, as well as a 350-seat theatre from the 1950s. While the prize-winning designer's gallery is on the ground floor, he can be found a few days a week hanging out in the basement where the school used to have its canteen: Aziz sells designer clothes and fabric at bargain basement prices in an actual basement. Imported vintage His pop-up store features many collections made for opera, dance, television, film, videos and fashion shows. There is men’s and women’s clothing with nods to different decades, imported vintage from New York City, and lots of his own creations. You can also buy leftover fabric from many of his flamboyant opera costumes and exhibitions, as well as hats, belts and shoes. 'Many aspiring designers, professionals, students and fashion fans come here and grab stuff and create things with me. Many of them were told by their parents that they needed a "serious career" like becoming a lawyer or a doctor, and so they come here to draw and play with fabrics,' he says. Aziz tells the story of a local girl who came to him once with a book full of fantastic sketches. She had a serious job, but showed Aziz drawings she usually kept to herself. It bothers him that someone with talent was raised to believe art is not a proper career choice. Craft As a successful designer and former admissions panel member of the Art Academy of Arnhem where he graduated, hearing about talented people being dissuaded from becoming a designer helps explain Aziz’s strong desire to connect with anyone interested in his craft. 'I don’t dictate fashion,' he says. 'Fashion needs to be accessible and have a social component.' Connecting with people is also something he finds easy to do in Nieuw-West. Lads kicking a football outside in the old schoolyard often peer into the windows of his shop, which seems fitting. Aziz is also known as an exhibition artist, which is why he opened a gallery. In one of his 2011 projects, ‘Milk as a Metaphor’, Aziz used the incredibly efficient collection and distribution of milk back when there weren’t any fridges to explain how Dutch design came about. 'Dutch design is clinical, unpretentious, very efficient, practical and looks great. Dairy farmers in particular have had a major influence on our time, from politics and design to society,' he says. Mecca Back in 2009, Aziz attracted venom with ‘The Mecca of Calvin’, an exhibition that celebrated the 500th anniversary of Calvinism in Dordrecht. 'I once read that the Mecca of gambling was Las Vegas, so I turned Dordrecht into the Mecca of Calvinism and linked Calvinistic characteristics found in many forms in ancient times, centuries before the birth of Christ, which also include Islam,' he says. 'Some people were offended because they chose to ignore their own history.' Aziz, who moved to the Netherlands at the age of six, had Bible and Koran lessons as a child, the latter with the father of Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb. He is well-versed in both, probably better than many of his critics. With an established studio and shop in the Jordaan and a fashion brand known throughout the European fashion world if not beyond, Aziz specifically chose Nieuw-West as a location to showcase all the extra fabric and costumes he accumulated over the past 20 years. Gentrification However, bad press continues to overshadow the many new developments from housing to art that happen there. Local Ukrainian entrepreneur Anna Stolyarova of the Street Art Museum observed that 'when you pick up a map of Amsterdam, Nieuw-West isn’t even on it - they cut it out'. 'Most critics haven't been to Nieuw-West recently,' explains Jeroen Mirck of political party D66. 'Gentrification is really transforming this neighbourhood and young entrepreneurs are anticipating these new consumer groups.' If Nieuw-West can attract the likes of Aziz, maybe it’s time to explore this lesser known, up and coming part of Amsterdam and stop dismissing it out of habit. Visit Aziz and Lola Luid in Nieuw-West before it gets too popular. It wouldn’t be the first time this happened in Amsterdam. Lola Luid (Piet Mondriaanstraat 140) is open Tuesday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00, and Aziz will be there until July 2016.  More >


A suitcase full of secrets found in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter after 70 years

A suitcase full of secrets found in Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter after 70 years

The discovery of a suitcase filled with photographs and paintings and hidden in a cupboard in an Amsterdam flat was the beginning of a story stretching back to 1920s Berlin. Gordon Darroch unravels a mystery which plays out across the globe. Cities are shaped by their past: it courses through them like blood, unseen but vital. Charlaine Scholten's boyfriend told her about the suitcase in his attic shortly after they started dating last February. It was a hard brown leather case, weighing about 30 kilos, familiar from those black-and-white photographs where cases are piled high on the quayside behind families waiting to board passenger steamers for a new life across the ocean. When Charlaine sprung open the brass clasps, it began a year-long quest spanning three continents and 70 years of history. Her brother-in-law had found it while renovating an apartment building in Amsterdam's Beethovenstraat in 2009. 'It was in a meter cupboard, shoved behind an old chair and beneath a bundle of old clothing,' explained Charlaine, 26, who works at DeLaMar Theatre. 'It was clear from where it was placed that it wasn't meant to be found. It was a heavy old leather hardboard case, very heavy, and lined with a very fine material. When my brother-in-law opened it up everything inside was in perfect condition. 'His boss was just going to throw it away but he said "you can have it”, so he took it home and gave it to my boyfriend, and since then it's been sitting in his attic.' Six years had passed when Charlaine went up to the attic and the case was opened again. Inside she found a neat bundle of German newspapers, some postcards in German and, most intriguingly of all, a collection of photographs, sketches and oil paintings. Many of them were self-portraits of a raven-haired woman of arresting beauty, with firm cheekbones and piercing eyes. The postcards gave the artist's name as Emmy Porges and mentioned a relative called George Porges. The only other significant clue was the newspapers: copies of the Schweizer Illustrierter Zeitung, a weekly picture paper published in Zurich, with cover dates between 1933 and 1940. Charlaine grew up listening to her grandmother's stories of life under German occupation. 'She lived through the war in a village just outside Amsterdam,' she said. 'People who had been conscripted to go and work in Germany fled to the farms, or they came from Amsterdam looking for food and milk.' And now she had a wartime mystery of her own to uncover. She resolved to track down Emmy's family, return the case to them and and find out why it had been hidden in the Beethovenstraat. German enclave Porges is a Jewish name which in pre-war Europe was concentrated in Prague and Vienna, with offshoots across the German-speaking world. After 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, German Jews fled across the border to the Netherlands. The apartments on Beethovenstraat, built less than a dozen years earlier, quickly filled up with refugee families until it was virtually a German-speaking enclave. After the Germans invaded in May 1940, the area became a focal point of repression and violence: the tram stop on the Beethovenstraat was the departure point for 18,000 deported Jews, and a monument on the corner of the Apollolaan marks the spot where 29 resistance fighters were mown down by the firing squad in reprisal for the murder of an SS officer. It seemed as if Emmy Porges had fled Amsterdam in a hurry when the Germans arrived, bundling her most intimate personal possessions into the old suitcase and secreting it in the meter cupboard. Perhaps she hoped to return once the war was over, pick up her paintings and start over, but either died in the death camps or was unable to come back. That was the most obvious explanation, but as the real story emerged, it proved to be wrong in almost every detail. Last May Charlaine enlisted the help of her mother ('she's very good at archiving') to try to track down Emmy's surviving relatives. 'We tried Google but that didn't get us very far,' she said. 'Amsterdam has records of where everybody lived since 1900, but there were no Porgesses at numbers 48 or 50 on the Beethovenstraat. Then we widened our search to Hamburg, where we found a number of families called Porges who lived there in the 1930s, including an Alice Porges. And that led us to Haydee.' While Charlaine and her mother were tracing Emmy's relatives in pre-war Hamburg, over in Buenos Aires, Haydee Fabian, a 70-year-old retired biochemist, was joining the dots on her own family tree. She knew her family had fled Nazi Germany and been dispersed all over the Americas and New Zealand, and her research had put her in touch with a cousin, Frank Meier, living in Florida. Frank had been born in Hamburg in 1928: Alice Porges was his mother. She had six sisters, one of whom was Emmy. Sheer luck 'It was sheer luck that our paths crossed,' said Charlaine. 'If we hadn't been able to follow in Haydee's footsteps we probably wouldn't have found the family.' Nobody in the family knew the suitcase even existed, Haydee said. 'Charlaine contacted me through the GENI website, asking for help in finding living relatives of Emmy Porges, because they had found a very well-preserved suitcase with the belongings of Emmy and perhaps of her near family hidden behind a closet,' she said. 'I was astonished that something like this could happen so many years after the end of the war, and happy that Charlaine was trying to find a connection through the family tree.' Frank Meier, now 87, fled to Amsterdam with his parents in 1932, when he was three years old. The family found an apartment on Albrecht Dürerstraat, two streets from the Beethovenstraat. Most of the other sisters stayed in Germany and were deported to the camps. 'A lot of Jews in the 1930s didn't think Hitler would do anything really bad,' Frank said on the phone from Florida. 'Nobody thought it would turn out the way it did. We escaped, but my aunt Leni, her husband and their two children, Peter and Sonya, were all shipped to Auschwitz. Uncle Alfred survived and came to live near us in Canada, but his family were all dead.' Having escaped the Nazis once, Alice and her husband, Max, wasted no time when Germany invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. 'My mother had a better sense of things than my father,' Frank said. 'He believed the Germans wouldn't take Holland – he'd say, “What are they going to do in Holland: come and fetch the cheese?” 'She came home the day the Germans arrived and said, “We're getting out of here”. Someone drove us to IJmuiden and we boarded a boat to England that night. That was where I lived during the war.' Berlin Emmy Porges, however, neither fled across the Atlantic nor perished in the gas chambers. By the time the war broke out she was already dead. Alice only occasionally spoke of her sister, but Frank believed she had died some time in the mid-thirties while living in Berlin. 'I know very little about her except one of her beautiful paintings hung in our living room in Amsterdam,' he explained. 'Fortunately for her, she escaped the Holocaust and died before all the Jews were shipped to Auschwitz.' Alice Meier died in 1983 in Montreal, Canada. During the war the family were separated: Frank grew up in London with his mother, but his father, Max, and his brother, Wolfgang, were sent to Canada shortly after landing in Britain. 'The English thought we were 99% okay, but there was a doubt in their minds that there might be some spies among us,' said Frank. 'So they were all sent to Canada, including my brother who was 16. They were interned in a rural facility in Quebec province out in the wilderness. They were released in 1944 and my father ended up living in Montreal.' When the war ended in 1945, Alice and Frank boarded a Cunard liner for Canada, where they were reunited with Max and Wolfgang in Montreal. The past was a distant country, separated by the Atlantic ocean and the horror of the Holocaust. Max Meier set up an import business in Montreal, but died just nine years later of a heart attack, aged 57. Wolfgang changed his name to the less German Fred Richard Maitland, enlisted in the Canadian army and eventually moved to Chicago where he died in 1995, at the age of 72. The suitcase in Beethovenstraat was lost in the folds of memory; the family were too busy building their new lives, if they even knew it was there at all. It might just as well have been abandoned on the moon. Returning the suitcase Once Charlaine had found Emmy's relatives, the next challenge was to return the suitcase to them. 'We didn't think the items would survive if we tried to post them,' she said. Frank had a solution: his daughter, Vivien, had just retired as a stewardess with Continental Airlines. 'I used to fly into Amsterdam all the time; it was my favourite route,' she said on the phone from her home in Texas. 'We used to stay near the Beethovenstraat. All that time I never knew the suitcase was there, a few blocks away from where I was staying. That was the irony.' As a former Continental employee, Vivien could claim free flights with the airline's successor, United Airlines. 'So I thought, I'll go over to Amsterdam,' she said. 'I flew first class both ways; my best friend was on the flight serving me. After we booked into our hotel we just walked over to the place where the suitcase had been hidden.' Charlaine brought the suitcase to the hotel that same evening. 'That was when it hit me, the whole gravity of the thing,' said Vivien. 'We had been planning and organising it for months. One of my girlfriends said to me, this is like our Anne Frank moment. The idea of this beautiful, talented and independent woman leaving all this stuff behind. I looked across at my friend, and she looked up at the carpenter who had found it, and we were all crying.' Taking a suitcase made for the ocean-going age back through Schiphol airport wasn't a straightforward exercise, Vivien explained. 'It raised a few eyebrows at customs. We basically had to open it up and tell them the whole story, and then they let it through.' In March, a few weeks after returning to Texas, she drove over to her father's house with the case. How Emmy's paintings came to be hidden in a suitcase in Amsterdam was a mystery. As far as Frank knew his aunt had never been in Amsterdam, and most of the Swiss newspapers were published after the date she was thought to have died. 'It might have been one of her friends,' said Frank. 'Some parts of the story we may never find out. My mother never talked a lot about Emmy; we just had the painting that hung in our living room.' One piece of the jigsaw has emerged since Vivien returned with the case. Later in March, Haydee Fabian wrote to Frank with the details of Emmy's death, which she had obtained from the New Synagogue in Berlin. The records show that Emmy Porges died in Berlin on February 21, 1929, earlier than Frank believed, while Alice and her family were still living in Hamburg. The cause of death was given as heart failure. Emmy's body was taken by train to her native Hamburg, where she was buried in the city's vast Ohlsdorf Cemetery. Emmy's death certificate also yields some intriguing clues. The person who registered her death was Hans Robertson, one of the best known photographers of Weimar Germany, who won acclaim for his pioneering pictures of the city's dance scene. Her last address at Rocherstrasse 16 was in the beating heart of artistic life in 1920s Berlin, a street where lawyers and doctors rubbed shoulders with artists and musicians, with a strong Jewish contingent. It represented everything the Nazis despised and, like Amsterdam's Beethovenstraat, became the scene of vicious repression in the next decade. The author Erich Kästner bought the house at Roscherstrasse 16 a few months after Emmy's death and lived there until it was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1944. Hans Robertson, himself a Jew, was forced to flee to Copenhagen with his wife, a Danish dancer. Unanswered questions The question of who left the suitcase in the Beethovenstraat, and why, may never be answered. Someone was fond enough of Emmy to stash her paintings away in the back of a cupboard, with the intention of coming back for them some day. 'It's very difficult to say, but I think it was Alice's suitcase,' said Charlaine. 'If you look at what was inside, it's all family photos and mementos. Alice and Max lived two streets away, so perhaps they hid the suitcase before they fled.' But Frank is unconvinced: 'My mother never expressed any wish to go back to Europe after the war,' he said. However the suitcase came to be there, its discovery opened a window onto a period of history when darkness was spreading across Europe. Its cities were being strangled by tyranny, its people scattered across continents. And someone wanted to ensure Emmy Porges's artworks, her postcards and memories of a brighter time, outlasted the impending nightmare. Thanks to Charlaine Scholten's efforts, that promise has been made good. 'I'm so glad we did this,' she said. 'My grandmother lived through the war and took in people who were forced into hiding on her farm. She told us a lot of stories about those days. This felt like a way to do something in return.'  More >


10 great things to do in May

10 great things to do in May

From swinging over a 100-metre drop and celebrating spring with a festival to learning about Meissen porcelain and getting fit at the fair, here's our pick of the best things to do in May. Admire the winning press photos This year’s winning World Press Photo is the Australian photographer Warren Richardson’s image of a baby being handed through the barbed wire along the border between Hungary and Serbia. It takes pride of place in the exhibition of other winners in various categories, such as images of migrants wrapped in foil against the cold as they approach the Italian coast in a tiny boat, a hugging married couple who get their chemotherapy treatment together, a wrestling tournament in Sierra Leone and a young IS fighter being treated for burns in a Syrian hospital. Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam until July 10. www.worldpressphoto.org Learn about Meissen Ceramics expert Anne Haworth talks about the history of Meissen porcelain, also known as the ‘white gold’ of Saxony. The first high-quality porcelain to be manufactured outside the Orient, it appeared in 1710 when Augustus the Strong and Johan Friedrich Böttger overcame financial and technical problems to create this new type of porcelain. Later craftsmen made superb tableware, models of animals and delightful small scale figures. Decorative and Fine Arts Society, The Hague, May 10. www.dfas.nl Brave Europe's highest set of swings The landmark 22-storey tower, former home of Shell, on the banks of the river IJ, just across from Central Station reopens on May 14 as A´dam Toren - Amsterdam Dance And Music. It boasts the city´s first 360-degree observation deck, complete with a set of swings right on the edge of a 100-metre drop. It also has a revolving restaurant, clubs, bars, cafes, office space and a 110-room hotel, Sir Adam, run by the people behind luxury boutique hotel Sir Albert, also in Amsterdam. Its quirks include clubs on both the top and bottom floors and the two-floor ´Loft´ with seven-metre-high windows, a bar and DJ booth, which could well be the coolest hotel suite in the city. Amsterdam, from May 14. www.adamtoren.nl Experience the new The international performing arts festival SPRING Utrecht provides 10 days of new dance performances, theatre productions and installations. It opens with 6: The Square by the German-Dutch choreographer Nicole Beutler. It is the second part of her Bauhaus trilogy and brings together dance, fashion, visual art and electronic music in a plea for freedom. The festival also includes masterclasses and workshops. Stadsschouwburg and other venues, Utrecht, May 19 to 28. www.springutrecht.nl Cheer on young talent The programme Ballet Bubbles features 12 young talents from the junior company of the National Ballet who dance extracts from the classical repertoire and works by legendary company choreographers. There are also two brand new pieces: one by Ernst Meisner, the other by Charlotte Edmonds of the London Royal Ballet. Stadsschouwburg, Amsterdam, May 12; Stadsschouwburg, Groningen, May 17; Schouwburg, Tilburg, May 22 (matinee); Parktheater, Eindhoven, May 25; Korzo Theater, The Hague, May 28. www.operaballet.nl Mix it up with the mutants The X-Men are back following their highly successful 2014 outing Days Of Future Past, which brilliantly combined the original characters with their younger selves, creating the best film in the series so far. The sixth entry in the mutant saga, X-Men: Apocalypse, also takes place in the past: 1983 to be exact, the year Apocalypse, an incredibly powerful mutant, awakens from enforced hibernation. Once again directed by Bryan Singer and with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as the young Xavier and Magneto, this promises to be the summer blockbuster. In cinemas on May 19. Feel the power The UFC Fight Night, a hugely popular event in America, arrives in the Netherlands for one night. It features the top mixed martial arts fighters slugging it out in several bouts in the specially built ring known as the Octagon. Ahoy, Rotterdam, May 8. www.ahoy.nl Celebrate opera Opera Days is the annual opera festival which takes in existing and new works. There are also activities such as a special walk along three operas in surprising locations around Rotterdam. The festival opens with the Slovenian vocal theatre company Carmina Slovenica, an all female choir. They perform Toxic Psalms which denounces acts of cruelty conducted for religious reasons. Schouwburg and other venues, Rotterdam, May 20 to 29. www.operadagenrotterdam.nl Listen to a video game The Netherlands Philharmonic plays the music composed by Nobuo Uematsu and Masashi Hamauzu for the video game series Final Fantasy which has been arranged into a symphony. It is being performed in the Netherlands for the first time. The conductor is Eckehard Stier and the soloist is pianist Katharina Treutler. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, May 7. www.orkest.nl Get fit FitExpo covers fitness, martial arts and a healthy and sporty life, with stands offering advice on everything from oils and cosmetics to wellness centres and fitness equipment. Also part of the fair are the Benelux body building championship and the Dutch karate championship. Ahoy, Rotterdam, May 20 to 22. www.ahoy.nl  More >