Leiden’s not-so-visible oddities: Mysterious stairways, stone tables and Gandalf

Leiden’s not-so-visible oddities: Mysterious stairways, stone tables and Gandalf

Leiden dates back all the way to the 9th century. Over the past 1,100 years, it’s steadily acquired its fair share of historical oddities and other curiosities that are unique or simply bizarre. Here’s a few that are often overlooked by visitors and locals alike. 1 A mysterious stairway Outside Leiden’s medieval Stadhuis, there’s a stairway that leads to a small platform. Together, they seem pretty pointless but they served an important purpose back in the day. The platform was once used by civic leaders to make important announcements to the public. These included everything from information about political dealings to the latest developments in criminal proceedings (stuff like which convict was going to get hanged next and when). A closer look at the stairway reveals two other interesting details. There are two rods that served as measuring sticks back when a unit of measurement called the Rhineland Foot was still being used. Okay, well, one of the ‘rods’ is merely an etching on the wall but you can read all about their history, and how Napoleon played a part in rendering them obsolete, in this article over at Atlas Obscura. Location: 90-92 Breestraat 2 One shop to rule them all Rene van Rossenberg is the proprietor of the Tolkienwinkel, a shop and museum devoted to the works of novelist J.R.R. Tolkien...and dozens upon dozens of pieces of merchandise inspired by the countless characters and conflicts of Middle Earth. He’s been running the place since 1986. Here you’ll find everything from Lord of the Rings alarm clocks to replicas of props from the films that would each make great gifts for the various elves, hobbits, wizards, and/or orcs in your life. You can even buy not one but several different versions of Gandalf’s smoking pipe. The adjacent museum opened in 2004. It contains Van Rossenberg’s private collection of 1,500 books by or about Tolkien along with some of the author's personal letters. There’s also a permanent exhibit about the trip Tolkien made to the Netherlands in 1958. Just a quick heads-up, though: the Tolkienwinkel is only open on Thursdays and Saturdays or by appointment. Location: Utrechtse Jaagpad 2  3 Where the Pilgrims set sail The American Pilgrims spent a decade and more in Leiden before they hightailed it to the New World. There are a few different historical sites featuring their history that you can visit around the city, but the one that not too many people know about is located in a quiet nook around the corner from the entrance to the Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken. This statue, called Pilgrim Fathers, marks the spot where the colonists began their journey to America. There’s also a large plaque that lists their names. However, this isn’t where the Mayflower set sail. Instead, the Pilgrims climbed aboard a river barge that took them to Delfshaven where a ship called the Speedwell was waiting to take them to Britain and onward. Location: Along the Vliet near the Vlietburg  4 A star is born It’s one of the most iconic corporate symbols on the planet, and it was ‘born’ at one of Leiden’s oldest pubs. Café De Vergulde Kruik (The Gilded Jar Café) opened for the first time back in 1881. Some time later, representatives from Heineken, perhaps after drinking one too many of their own products, became infatuated with a sign bearing a red star that was hanging over the pub’s front door. They paid the owner 35 guilders (roughly €350) for it. Or at least that’s one version of the tale. According to former proprietor Hans Seisveld, the star was actually drawn on a beer mat one evening in the 1920s while several of the brewery’s higher-ups were gathered around a large table in the back room. ‘Heineken has said that could be the story,’ current owner Paul Herman added. ‘No one will guarantee it and send a letter saying that’s absolutely what happened but no one is denying it either.’ The specifics may be lost to the ages. Meanwhile, the star has since served as the company’s logo and has helped it earn billions in revenue. The original sign, if it ever existed, has yet to make its way back home, but the pub still features plenty of vintage furniture and historical decor, including very rare silver beer taps. It’s a great spot to grab a pint, provided you don’t mind the occasional Dutch drinking song. The clientele often enjoy demonstrating their vocal prowess. 5 Is that a bowling alley? There’s a seemingly uninteresting brick building near the city’s historic De Valk windmill that has no windows or doors that face the street. If you didn’t know any better, you might assume that it serves as a storage shed for the cafe around the corner. Nope! It actually belongs to Sociëteit Amicitia, one of the country’s oldest gentlemen’s clubs. The game they play date back to at least the 17th century and is similar to bowling but much more difficult. Players roll their ball down a thin, elevated platform in order to hit the pins, a skill that definitely requires plenty of practice to develop. Needless to say, you’d need to become a member in order to try it yourself, but the club typically opens the building to the public on Monumentendag every September. Location: 2e Binnenvestgracht 6 But is it art? A long walkway leads to the front entrance of the Museum Volkenkunde. Along the way, you can gaze at small, and rather strange, displays made out of iron. Some of them are, shall we say, not safe for work. They feature everything from dildos and dog poop to coffee percolators and random bicycle parts. The point of it all? They’re commonplace objects that can be found all across the Netherlands that the curators deemed representative of everyday life in this country. During the spring months, the cherry blossom trees that fill the nearby courtyard are also in full splendour. They can be found near an equally photogenic totem pole. Location: Steenstraat 1 7 A retirement home for religious relics The basement of the Hartebrugkerk, a large church on the Haarlemmerstraat, is home to the the Greccio Museum of Devotional Items. The aforementioned items range from crucifixes that once hung on the walls of private homes to old cathedral statues and hand-embroidered vestments donated by Franciscan monks. All in all, the museum serves as a sort of retirement home for these objects. The staff also put several nativity scenes on display during the holiday season. Location: Lange Mare 79 8 Very fishy Leiden is home to one of the country’s oldest outdoor markets, which still takes place every Wednesday and Friday along the Nieuwe Rijn in the centre of the city. It’s a treasure trove of locally-produced foods and other products, but it’s also home to a simple, stone table that’s part of its historic Vismarkt. The table serves as a tribute to the countless fishmongers who have diligently worked at the market over the centuries. It’s also a common hangout for the city’s pigeon and seagull population. You can find it beside a much more picturesque fountain lined with two sculptures of sea creatures that spit water out of their nostrils.  More >

Podcast: The Everyone's a Muppet Edition

DutchNews podcast – The Everyone’s a Muppet Edition – Week 8 A blockbuster edition of the podcast this week as the Dutch government sends in Stef Blok to wrestle with a muppet named Brexit and try to beat Venezuela's aid blockade by going through Curacao. We also hear how Ajax took pride from a home defeat, Amsterdam's mayor raised the stop sign to red light tourism and a Dutch entrepreneur's flour bomb blew up in his face. In our discussion we review the court decision that could allow dozens of people to prove once and for all that they were secretly fathered by a sperm clinic owner. Ophef of the week: Blok's big blue Brexit muppet sparks backlash Top story Dutch government to use Curacao as 'relief hub' to break Venezuela's aid blockade (NRC, Dutch) News Amsterdam's mayor says red light district should not be a tourist attraction Brexit has brought 42 firms and 2000 jobs to the Netherlands School pupils to continue environment protests after meeting Rutte Dutchman loses patent on Ethiopian flour after bid to sue bakery...  More >

The Dutch mock weddings which are sincere

Marry for a day? Dutch mock weddings which are surprisingly sincere At Wed and Walk, marriage isn’t for life, it’s for just one day. Deborah Nicholls-Lee finds out why romantics are flocking to Amsterdam to take part in a mock wedding. Toon and Tetty exchange rings under an arch festooned with roses and ribbons and crowned with two white doves. The birds, flowers and wedding are fake, but the sentiments are all real. Despite having presided over around 6000 mock weddings, Jona Rens (39), whose business Wed and Walk ‘marries’ people for just one day in the Netherlands’ only fake wedding chapel, still often finds herself in tears. She’s not the only one. ‘Nine out of ten men start crying,’ she tells me. ‘They just break down – it’s beautiful to see.’ Kitsch Jona is on the train, but I’m sat on the red carpet (her ‘aisle’) in the middle of her shop in Amsterdam’s Pijp district, whispering into my phone. Around me is a cornucopia of kitsch: plastic cakes, love-heart sweets, and trays of thrift-store rings. Frilly...  More >

Indian designer bridges east and west

Indian designer bridges east and west to go Dutch A fashion designer in India is reaching out to the international community in the Netherlands in a bid to break into Europe. Dutch women may not be renowned for their passion for high fashion, and their casual approach to both work and formal wear is one of the first things which new arrivals often notice. But Indian designer Amit Sachdeva hopes his cross-over designs will help change all that. Amit uses simple cuts and classic drapes for his designs, which, his supporters say, are bound to appeal to the native Dutch as well as internationals and expats. ‘My approach to fashion is a melding of western notions of cut, construction and finish, but using Indian detailing and craftsmanship,’ Amit says. ‘My way of designing is very meditative. I like to take my own sweet time to finish or start a design. I can’t design under any time pressure. I am a perfectionist and pay attention to minutest details.’ Many in the Netherlands’ growing Indian community have heard of...  More >

The best of the Rembrandt shows nationwide

2019 is the year of Rembrandt: here’s where to catch his works The life and works of Rembrandt van Rijn are being celebrated across the country this year to mark the 350th anniversary of his death. Deborah Nicholls-Lee has a round-up of the main events. 2019 marks 350 years since Rembrandt van Rijn’s death and the Dutch tourist board has leapt at the chance to extol one of the country’s best-loved artists and wax lyrical about the Golden Age, when Amsterdam was the wealthiest city in Europe. Amsterdam The Rijksmuseum Rembrandt spent most of his life in Amsterdam and painted his most iconic pieces there. The city’s Rijksmuseum is home to the largest collection of Rembrandts in the world. Currently courting huge press attention is the exhibition All the Rembrandts (15 February – 10 June) – a giant celebration of all Rembrandt’s styles and periods, comprising 22 paintings, 60 drawings and over 300 prints. Alongside world-famous works such as The Night Watch and The Jewish Bride, the public will get a rare view of fragile...  More >

Employers who can’t find staff need to up their pay rates

Employers who can’t find staff need to up their pay rates   Employers who can't attract staff need to stop advertising and start paying, says economist Mathijs Bouman. I'm sorry employers of the Netherlands but you are still not getting the message. At every congress and event in the land you tell me how important it is to conquer new markets, embrace new technologies and, especially, how essential it is to put the customer first. Customer service, that’s what it’s all about for growing companies. But customers are not your problem when it comes to growth. In fact, customers who find someone at the other end of a phone line at your company can count themselves lucky. With so many unfilled positions you are hardly going to free up staff to answer the telephone. According to new figures from the UWV jobs agency 46% of jobs are difficult to fill. Construction and industry in particular are having a hard time finding staff. One in 10 employers is expecting quality of work to fall because of lack of personnel. Staff shortages...  More >

Dutch destinations: Deventer

Dutch destinations: Deventer is an under-rated gem Best known for its annual Dickens festival during the winter holiday season, Deventer is a picturesque city located east of Apeldoorn with a rich literary history. Here you’ll find gorgeous architecture, great cafes, and a very old kettle with a blood-soaked past. Deventer’s history goes all the way back to the Dark Ages, and it’s one of the country’s oldest communities. Historians theorise that it was likely founded by the English missionary Lebuinus in the mid 8th century. He constructed a wooden church in the area that was later destroyed by the Saxons. Over a hundred years later, the fledgling village known as Deventer was hit by another major setback. This time, it was burnt to the ground by rampaging Vikings. It was quickly rebuilt, this time with a protective wall that was steadily improved during the centuries that followed. The city served as one of Europe’s most important centres for publishing in the 15th century after Richard Paffraet brought a printing...  More >

Podcast: The Whistling Dixit Edition

DutchNews Podcast – The Whistling Dixit Edition – Week 6 There's an end of days feel to the podcast as we review a week in which schoolchildren took a collective day off to demand urgent action on global warming, just days after MPs agreed to talk about it for a bit longer. We also look at how Geert Wilders became Islam's number one recruiting sergeant, why a no-deal Brexit could trigger medicine shortages in the Netherlands, a setback for British expats and Dutch shoemakers, and perhaps the most alarming news of all – is Dick Lawyer really about to pull out of football management? Top Story Ministers doubt whether carbon tax will cut emissions News British residents fail in bid to force EU court ruling on their nationality after Brexit Former MP Joram van Klaveren becomes second Wilders-to-Islam convert Compensation for unemployed people who used toxic paint in job scheme Van Haren loses latest stage of legal battle over red soled shoes Sport Dick Advocaat rules out taking over at Feyenoord because of 'negative...  More >

The main changes on your January pay slip

Tax cuts and premium rises: the main changes on your pay slip With the first month of 2019 now over, you will have received your first pay packet of the year. Financial advisor José de Boer knows what you should be looking out for. Dutch pay slips are complicated affairs - a sheet of acronyms and percentages that take a great amount of knowledge and concentration to unravel. Research by payroll processing company Raet has shown that 35% of people think their pay slip is too complicated for them to be able to check and a further 18% say they have no idea what is taken off their gross salary to start with. So here is a quick guide to the main changes this year. Netto loon (take home pay) According to calculations by the social affairs ministry, most people will have more take home pay this month, even if they do not enjoy a January pay rise. The increase will be between 1% and 2.4% of take home pay, so roughly Loonbelasting (income tax) The boost in take home pay is mainly down to changes to the income tax system, which will have moved...  More >

'There is a non-hierarchic mentality here'

‘There’s a non-hierarchic, “say what’s in your heart” mentality here’ Groningen-based Israeli Guy Weizman (45) moved to the Netherlands with his partner some 20 years ago to work with celebrated choreographer Itzik Galili. Today he is the artistic and general director of theatre company Noord Nederlands Toneel and dance company Club Guy & Roni; parent to a teenage son; and an enthusiast for Dutch art, literature, philosophy and oliebollen. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was invited to come and work here when I was dancing, myself. It’s not so unusual for dancers to travel around because dance is pretty much an international language. Before I came to the Netherlands, I lived in Berlin and Barcelona and Brussels. When I was in Brussels, this guy that I worked with before asked me if I wanted to join a project in Amsterdam with him. That’s how I ended up in Amsterdam for two years; and then the whole group moved up to Groningen and I moved with it – and I’ve stayed ever since! How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat,...  More >

Impotent ministers, MPs and voters

Impotent ministers, impotent MPs and impotent voters: Wynia’s week In the Netherlands governments govern as if elections and even new cabinets are just by the by. It’s diversity and sustainability galore and anyone who dares criticise Brussels is a populist. Where can a voter find refuge these days? asks Syp Wynia. Who wouldn’t want to be a minister? A nice, chauffeur-driven car, a ministry at your beck and call and a weekly outing to the Trêveszaal, the most beautiful place for a parliamentary get-together ever. But does a minister have any say at all? Take the current cabinet. Most ministers came into view seven months after the government accord. They were supposed to carry out an agreement in which they had no say whatsoever. Only prime minister Mark Rutte (VVD), agriculture minister Carola Schouten (ChristenUnie) and social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees (D66) were actually present when the accord was written – with Schouten and Koolmees taking a back seat. And how about CDA’s Hugo de Jonge? He may be deputy prime minister...  More >