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10 Dutch political parties


An empty debating chamber. Photo: JVL (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons

The Netherlands has an ever-expanding range of political parties in parliament thanks to the way dissidents happily split off after an inter-party row and form their own group. There are also various flavours of Christianity to chose from. Here’s a list of the 10 we think are here to stay – in alphabetical order.

The Christen Democratisch Appel (Christian Democratic Appeal) was officially formed in 1980 through the merger of three other ‘confessional’ parties. The CDA (or one of its predecessors) was part of every government between 1918 and 1994. The Bible is seen as a source of inspiration rather than a dictate. Politically, the CDA is viewed as middle of the road.

is the mildest of the three Dutch Christian parties and often described as left-wing because of its socio-economic policies. However, Biblical principles dictate party policy. The ChristenUnie is opposed to abortion and euthanasia and ties itself into knots over homosexuality, which it prefers to ignore.

The political party Democraten 66 was formed in 1966 with the aim of reforming the Dutch democratic system. Describing itself as a progressive, social liberal party, D66’s political fortunes have had their ups and downs. Current leader Alexander Pechtold has since revitalised the party’s fortunes, winning plaudits for his opposition to the rhetoric of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.

GroenLinks (Green Left) was officially formed in 1990 out of a grouping of four small, left-wing and green parties – the CPN, EVP, PPR and the PSP. The party’s core ideals revolve around environmental sustainability and social justice but it has a bit of leftie intellectual image and has never been part of the government.

The Partij van de Arbeid (Labour Party) was formed in 1946 and immediately became a part of the post World War II coalition government. The party is now led by nuclear scientist Diederik Samsom who took it into the coalition government with the right-wing VVD in 2012 – after which its support collapsed.

The Partij voor de Dieren (party for the animals) was founded in 2002 and claims to be the first mainstream political party in the world to animal rights first. Its leader Marianne Thieme is a Seventh Day Adventist and once caused upset by telling the Telegraaf newspaper Adam and Eve were vegetarians.

The Partij voor de Vrijheid (Freedom Party) was formed in 2007 by Geert Wilders, once an MP for the free market Liberals (VVD). Wilders – famed for his odd, peroxide blond hair – has for years been a staunch campaigner against the ‘Islamisation’ of the Netherlands and lives under armed guard because of his outspoken views. The party has only one member, Mr Wilders himself.

The Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij is the most orthodox of Holland’s fringe Christian parties and usually wins 2-3seats in the 150-member parliament. The party believes that the country should be governed ‘entirely on the basis of the ordinances of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures’ and does not think women should play an active role in politics. Seriously.

The Socialistische Partij, with its tomato logo, broke into national politics in 1994. Since then it has hovered around on the sidelines but support has surged under current leader Emile Roemer. The party is anti-Europe, anti-globalisation, and pro the working man – a bit like the PVV without the racism.

The Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (people’s party for freedom and democracy) is a tricky party to place outside the Dutch political sphere. Supporters of the free market as far as the economy is concerned, the party is traditionally liberal on social issues. But some party stalwarts are worried about the VVD’s recent shift to the right, including a tough stand on immigration.

10 things about tulips

red and white tulipsSpring is officially here and that means the tulip season is almost upon us. You’ll still need a little patience before the tulip fields are in full bloom, but here are some facts and figures about the Netherlands’ eponymous flower – which actually originated around the Mediterranean.

1 Dealing with cut tulips
Dutch grandmothers have many wise tips to make the most of cut tulips. For a start, they say you should leave the flowers wrapped up in paper and put them into a vase of water (at room temperature) overnight. This will keep them fresh for longer.

To stop the blooms drooping, push a pin through the stem just under the bloom. This is supposed to stop them growing – which many cut tulips do.

A good bunch of tulips will last for well over a week, but beware of those bargain bunches of 50 tulips for five euros… they may well be past their prime. Mind you, we are very fond of the wonderful shapes which tulip petals form once they’ve been in full bloom.

old dried tulip

2 Tulip varieties
All new tulip varieties have to be registered with the grandly named Koninklijke Algemeene Vereeniging voor Bloembollencultuur (KAVB). It has over 8,000 different kinds on its list. Among the most popular sorts are the Strong Gold, the Leen van Mark, the Debutante and the Viking.

3 The black tulip
A book by Alexandre Dumas about a competition to grow the elusive black flower. No one has yet succeeded but some have come close. On the market today are the Black Parrot, the Queen of the Night and the Ayaan Hirsi Ali, named after the Somali refugee turned Dutch MP and anti-Islam campaigner who now lives in the US. Operation Black Tulip was also the name given to the process of deporting German nationals who lived in the Netherlands after World War II.

4 A major industry
The amount of land dedicated to growing bulbs in the Netherlands has soared by almost 75% in the last 35 years. Most bulbs are grown in the sandy soils of Noord-Holland but Drenthe, Flevoland and Overijssel are doing their best to catch up. The tulip is still the most popular bulb by far: almost half of the bulb fields bring forth tulips. The Netherlands exports some two million bulbs a year and has almost 400 growers.

Cultivation of tulips in greenhouse perspective

5 What you see is not what you get
Few of the riotous blooms you see in the Netherlands in spring are going to end up in a vase on your sideboard. They are being grown for the bulbs. Once the flowers are in full bloom, the heads are stripped off and discarded. The bulbs themselves are harvested by big machines later in the year. Then they are washed and the dried roots and bulblets are removed by hand, a process known as bollen pellen. The bulbs are then graded according to size. Big bulbs are sold and smaller ones kept to plant next year. It takes two to three years for a bulblet to become big enough to sell.

This video is a bit long (thank you Tractorspotter) but does show just how highly mechanised and unromantic the process really is.

Most of the cut tulips which you buy in shops have been grown in greenhouses. They are first planted in sand boxes and stored in a refrigerated room. Then they are moved into greenhouses to speed up the blooming process. This means growers can ensure a supply of tulips over several months.

6 An emergency foodstuff
During the last bitter winter of World War II when people in the Netherlands were starving, tulip bulbs became a source of sustenance. The war had stopped trade and there were plenty of bulbs to be had. The papers published recipes for potato, cabbage and tulip bulb stew. The bulbs, minus their green flower bud, took about as long to cook as potatoes and their taste is not dissimilar (apparently).

7 A stock exchange boom
In the 17th century, Haarlem became the centre of tulpomania, or tulip madness. Bulbs like the Semper Augustus could fetch prices of 10,000 guilders, which was what you would have to fork out for a house on one of the canals. The speculative bubble burst and instead of bulb-shaped gold ingots, tulips became tulips once more.

8 A craze
The craze for tulips – the wackier the flame patterns the better – was satirised by the artists of the time. Jan Breughel II, for instance, painted an allegory on Tulipomania which features monkeys as bulb traders going about their business.

satire on tulipmania

To the right, one of the speculator monkeys is hauled up in front of the magistrates while another pees on his stock of Semper Augustus, presumably already made worthless by the crash. The painting is on show at the Frans Halsmuseum in Haarlem.

9 A tribute
When French artist Claude Monet visited the Netherlands in 1886 he loved the tulip fields around The Hague so much he painted them five times. He sold all five paintings to Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s art dealer brother.

Tulip fields near Leiden by Monet

Vincent van Gogh, as we know, preferred sunflowers. He did have a reddish-brown tulip named after him last year by the Keukenhof when his work was that year’s theme.

Other famous folk who have had tulips named after them include Mickey Mouse, Rambo, Armani, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Abba

10 Tulip events
The Keukenhof, which opened for the 2016 season last week, came into being in 1950 when local bulb growers and exporters decided they wanted a showcase for their varieties. The park proved to be an instant hit. Now in its 67th year, the Keukenhof is a major tourist attraction and attracted a record 1,175,000 visitors last year. Every year the Keukenhof displays are centred around a specific theme. This year it’s the Golden Age.

Museum De Zwarte Tulp is in Lisse where much of the bulb action takes place and is housed in an old bollenschuur, the sheds where tulip bulbs were processed and stored. Amsterdam has a tulip museum next to a cheese museum and we think both are simply an excuse to sell stuff to tourists.

From 20–24 April, it’s Corsoweek in the Bollenstreek – the area south of Haarlem where bulb growing is concentrated. The floral procession between Noordwijk and Haarlem takes place on April 23.

Throughout April, Amsterdam has its own tulip festival.

If you can’t get enough of tulips, Haarlem’s Frans Hals museum (with all the great paintings), local brewery Jopenkerk and the Keukenhof are working together on a Tulpomania tour, which runs until May 16.

The naked Dutch: 10 classic images

The Dutch have always had a reputation for sexual frankness and nudity. Here are 10 classic examples from art and (popular) culture. No, we don’t have photos for all of them and yes, they are nearly all female.

1 Naked bike ride

Photo: Berry Stokvis /HH

Photo: Berry Stokvis/HH

Reclaiming the streets by cycling naked started in Spain where, indeed, cyclists are fair game. In the Netherlands things are much better for cyclists but in order to keep it that way, or possibly because feeling the wind through all their hair appealed to them, the Dutch have latched on to the naked cycling movement. Some 150 people participated in the last edition. You can find out here when the 2016 naked bike ride kicks off.

2 That PSP poster

‘PSP Ontwapenend’(PSP Disarming) it said on the (in)famous Pacifistisch Socialistische Partij (now GroenLinks) election poster of 1970. On it was the naked body of actress Saskia Holleman communing with nature, or at least a cow. Holleman, who had made the photos for a magazine, hadn’t counted on being on a poster on every wall in the Netherlands and was only asked for her permission when stacks of the things had already been printed. And then the PSP were miffed when they had to pay her a measly 1,250 guilders! Holleman went on to become a lawyer.

3 Rembrandt

Rembrandt's Seated Female Nude: The Art Institute of Chicago

Rembrandt’s Seated Female Nude: The Art Institute of Chicago

A much earlier shock to the system of Dutch society was Rembrandt’s depiction of the female nude, now celebrated in an exhibition at the Rembrandthuis. Far from idealised, they caused a bit of a stir. As 17th century poet Andries Pels wrote: ‘When he painted a nude woman, as sometimes occurred, No Greek Venus did he choose, oh no, upon my word. His model was a laundress from a hut or a turf treader; his error he explained away as following Dame Nature, and all else as idle decoration. Drooping breasts, Misshapen hands, marks left on flesh all pinched and pressed by laced-up corsets, garter bands that legs constrain. It all must be depicted or risk nature’s high disdain.’

4 Hoepla

Photo: A Vente (Beeld en Geluidwiki - Gallery: Hoepla

Photo: A Vente (Beeld en Geluidwiki – Gallery: Hoepla

Nudity made its debut on Dutch television in 1967 when the VPRO broadcast a series called Hoepla, which focused on groovy alternative items like interviews with pop stars and other far-out stuff. Episode 2 featured 21 year-old artist Phil Bloom reading Christian newspaper Trouw completely naked. That certainly did create a lot of hoopla: questions were even asked in parliament. VPRO members left in droves and the series was discontinued.

5 Naked protest
Naked bodies, or partly naked bodies, can also be a form of protest; think of action group Femen. In the Netherlands, seventies feminist group Dolle Mina (Mina was Wilhelmina Drucker, a 19th century politician and feminist. Her nickname was Iron Mina) famously bared their midriffs to reveal the slogan Baas in eigen Buik, or Boss in our own Belly, defending women’s right to decide to have an abortion.

6 Emmanuelle

Silvia Kristel in 1973. Photo: National Archive via Wikimedia Commons

Silvia Kristel in 1973. Photo: National Archive via Wikimedia Commons

Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel (1952-2012) shot to fame when she took the lead role in soft porn flic Emmanuelle. Controversial – it features masturbation and a cigarette-smoking vagina – and hugely popular, the film became a classic. Kristel went on to make many other films and later became a successful painter (of nudes, among other things).

7 Sjaantje

Isaac Israëls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Isaac Israëls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It was declared the most beautiful nude painting ever by visitors to the Rijksmuseum in 2009: Reclining Nude, or Sjaantje van Ingen reading a book in the buff, by Isaac Israels (1865-1934). The painting shows the type of girl the Dutch would characterise as ‘Hollands glorie’, i.e. blonde, buxom and beautiful. Sjaantje was possibly Israels’ mistress. Israels, and his friend and contemporary George Breitner, were called the ‘Amsterdam impressionists’, always trying to capture the moment, much like a photographer would. Painting nudes was back in fashion by that time but was still seen as slightly pervy.

8 Rutger and Monique

A still from Paul Verhoeven's Turkse Fruit

A still from Paul Verhoeven’s Turkse Fruit

Turks Fruit, or Turkish Delight is a book by famously carnal Jan Wolkers. It is the story of Olga (Monique van de Ven) and Eric (Rutger Hauer) whose love story ends tragically with Olga’s death due to a brain tumour. Paul Verhoeven’s equally carnal film of the book (1973) features a lot of jolly sex between Eric and Olga. One of the many iconic moments in the film – it had so many it was included in the Canon of Dutch Cinema – features a naked Monique taking a flying leap onto a prostrate Rutger. The film was well-received and became the most successful Dutch film ever.

9 Patricia
Time will wither even the most youthful and nubile but some are able to hold off old age better than others, or, failing that, have access to some excellent photoshop. In 2009 Playboy featured singer Patricia Paay, then 60 years old, its oldest Bunny to date. Here she is, baring all (about the photo shoots).

10 Bosch

Part of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, which is not in Den Bosch this year

Part of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, which is not in Den Bosch this year

It’s the year of Jeroen Bosch in case you hadn’t noticed, and that is why from now on we plan to include him in each and every list, no matter what the subject. Not that it’s very difficult in this case because his most famous painting, The Garden of Earthly Delights (around 1500), in the stroppy Prado museum and not in Den Bosch, is teeming with naked bodies. The middle bit of the triptych is dedicated to all sorts of playful naked activity. You can have a closer look here. Recently, Bosch’s innocuous little nude figures fell foul of the Facebook censors who also banned lots of other nudity in art.

10 Dutch actors you should not miss

Dutch actors are everywhere: on tv, in films, on stage, in advertisements. Some remain in the Netherlands or bordering countries, others spread their wings further afield. Here is our selection of some of the best.

The one who died in the rain
Rutger Hauer (1944), arguably the Netherlands’ most famous international film star, leapt to fame in the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner where he improvised the now classic tears in rain soliloquy. But the blond, blue-eyed hunk was already a major star in his own country having appeared as the swashbuckling Floris in the 1969 tv series of the same name, and in the 1973 romantic film Turkish Delight. Series and film were directed by Paul Verhoeven who also cast Hauer in major roles in Soldier of Orange (1977) and Spetters (1980).

Rutger Hauer's a delight

Rutger Hauer’s a delight

The move to Hollywood came in 1981 with the role of a cold-bloodied terrorist in Sylvester Stallone’s Nighthawk. And then came Blade Runner, since when he has appeared in a wide range of roles in mainly low-budget films, including The Hitcher, and tv series such as Escape from Sobibor for which he won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor. Most recently he was to be found in season six of HBO’s True Blood.

The one who does good and evil
Peter Blok (1960) is one of a distinguished generation of Dutch actors now in their late fifties and early sixties who showed that a stage actor could still be taken seriously when he broadened out his work to film and tv. Blok, who is equally effective in comedy and drama, is primarily a theatre actor with some extraordinary performances to his credit in classics such as Medea and Hedda Gabler and in new plays such as the black comedy Cloaca, written by his ex-wife Maria Goos and also performed in English with a different cast at the Old Vic Theatre in London in 2004. Most recently Blok’s versatility was on show on Dutch tv, when he played the vile and murderous property developer Jack van Zon in two seasons of the gangster drama Penoza, and the vague and confused doctor Robert Finkelstein in the mildly surreal comedy Volgens Robert (according to Robert) and the sequel Volgens Jacqueline.

The perfumed one
Michiel Huisman (1981) may not be one of the greatest of Dutch actors, but he has the distinction of being the only one to feature in a Chanel commercial. The commercial for Chanel No 5, directed by Baz Luhrmann in October 2014, starred Huisman and top model Gisele Bünchen and was regularly on tv throughout 2015. As was Huisman, who took a popular Dutch route into acting by appearing in the tv soap Goede Tijden, Slechte Tijden (good times, bad times) and then spent several years appearing in other tv series and films.

Sunny Kahera Photography on Instagram

Sunny Kahera Photography on Instagram

His first foray into an international career came with a supporting role in an episode of the British tv police series Dalziel and Pascoe and in two made for tv dramas: The Young Victoria and Margot in which he played Rudolf Nureyev. He then joined the main cast of HBO’s Treme, landed a recurring role on Nashville and in 2014 became a series regular on Game of Thrones. On the big screen, he was recently seen as the love interest in the turgid fantasy romance The Age of Adaline.

The one who paints
Jeroen Krabbé (1944) may have dined out for years on anecdotes about working with Barbra Streisand in the film The Prince of Tides and with Joan Collins in the tv mini-series Dynasty: The Reunion (both 1991), but he has a heavyweight Hollywood filmography. He originally made his mark in Paul Verhoeven’s Dutch films Soldier of Orange (1977), Spetters (1980) and The Fourth Man (1983), before appearing with Whoopi Goldberg in the comedy Jumpin’ Jack Flash. But international stardom came with a string of villainous roles in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including that of the Bond villain in The Living Daylights.

Jeroen Krabbe (far right) in The Living Daylights. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer

Jeroen Krabbe (far right) in The Living Daylights. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer

He made his first foray into directing in 1998 with Left Luggage, a film about orthodox Jews in 1970s Antwerp starring Isabella Rossellini and Maximilian Schell which was entered for the 48th Berlin International Film Festival. Krabbé has since directed other films, including the adaptation of the Harry Mulisch novel The Discovery of Heaven. He still occasionally acts – he appeared in an episode of the tv series Midsomer Murders in 2008 – but most of his time is devoted to painting. In 2015, he made the well-received six-part tv series Krabbé Zoekt Van Gogh.
The one with stage fright
Another of the generation of actors who made film and tv acting acceptable is Gijs Scholten van Aschat (1959). He decided on an acting career as a teenager and put on shows with his brother and sister in the attic of his parents’ house. He studied at the stage school in Maastricht where he met Pierre Bokma and Peter Blok (see elsewhere in this section) and has been a member of several Dutch theatre companies, the most recent being Toneelgroep Amsterdam. It’s a strange job for a man who spent several years fighting stage fright and needed help to overcome the condition. Scholten van Aschat won the Louis D’Or in 1993 for his role in Decadence, and a Golden Calf in 1998 for the tv series Oud Geld (old money).


The one who’s a poet
It’s highly possible that Ramsey Nasr (1974) is the only actor in the world who has also been his country’s poet laureate. He filled that role in the Netherlands between 2009 and 2013. He grew up in Rotterdam, the son of a Dutch mother and Palestinian father. He attended theatre school before joining the Zuidelijk Toneel theatre group. He was only there for a short time, however, deciding to change tack and become a poet.

Ramsey Nasr. Photo: Keke Keukelaar via De Nieuwe Liefde

Ramsey Nasr. Photo: Keke Keukelaar via De Nieuwe Liefde

Following his stint as poet laureate, he returned to acting and was invited to join Toneelgroep Amsterdam by Ivo van Hove. Under Van Hove’s direction, Nasr has proved himself one of the Netherlands’ top actors in roles in the classics such as The Fountainhead for which he won the prestigious Louis d’Or in 2015. He won a wider audience with the role of an unstable man desperately trying to win back his wife in the two seasons of the Dutch tv series Overspel (adultery). He continues to write poetry and essays.

The one who never settles
Pierre Bokma (1955) is another of the generation now in their late fifties or early sixties who laid the foundations for the arrival of a host of talented actors in the following decades. After four years at theatre school, Bokma began his career as a serious stage and film actor, twice winning the prestigious Louis D’Or theatre prize and four Golden Calf awards for his work in film and television. Over the past couple of decades he has revealed a talent for comedy, showing a previously unexpected lightness of touch and sense of comedic timing. Currently back in serious mode under the direction of Johan Simons at the Belgian theatre company NTGent, he is also known for his peripatetic life style – he does not own a home and has four children by three women.

The one with the medal
Jacob Derwig (1969) is an extremely versatile theatre and film actor who studied at theatre school before embarking on a career which has seen him play a sensitive homosexual in the film Zus & Zo for which he won a Golden Calf, and a murderous gangster in season three of the recent television series Penoza. His stage work includes most of the classics and he won the Louis D’Or in 2011 for his role as Pavel Protassov in Children of the Sun. Three years earlier he was handed the Paul Steenbergen medal by Pierre Bokma. The medal was established by The Hague council in 1982 to honour the actor Paul Steenbergen who could keep it as long as he liked and then pass it on to a younger actor he admired.
The one who swore at an awards ceremony
The Dutch-Moroccan actor Nasrdin Dchar (1978) won the Golden Calf in 2011 for his role in the film Rabat. Overcome with emotion, he made an outstanding acceptance speech (available on YouTube) during which he told the audience: ‘I’m Dutch, I’m a Muslim and I’ve got a fucking Golden Calf.’

Photo:  Janey van Ierland Wikiportrait

Photo: Janey van Ierland Wikiportrait

Turned down for theatre school, he studied economics before going on stage with various theatre companies beginning in 2002. He has appeared with the Ro Theater, made two solo shows, one of which is about his Moroccan mother, and has been seen in tv series such as Charlie and films including Süskind, Tirza and Tussen 10 and 12.

The one making a dynasty of two
Reinout Scholten van Aschat (1989) is one of the ten gifted young actors who was selected as Shooting Star for the 66th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2016. He was picked following his lead role in the film Nooit Meer Slapen (Beyond Sleep) and the jury experts said: ‘In a riveting performance, he walks the delicate line between lucidity and madness’. Previous Shooting Stars include Daniel Craig, Alicia Vikander and Halina Reijn. The son of Gijs Scholten van Aschat (see above) began his career in 2005 with a recurring role in the tv series Gooische vrouwen. He then moved on to other tv roles and films ranging from The Heineken Kidnapping, for which he won a Golden Calf in 2012, to Borgman. He is now a member of the Nationale Toneel, appearing in such classics as As You Like It.



Six facts about David Bowie in the Netherlands

Bowie Groningen

Photo: Duffy Archive and David Bowie Archive via Groninger Museum

What can we say about the great man? The Dutch media have been full of stories. Here’s our favourite facts about Bowie in the Netherlands.

Bowie’s Dutch hits
Bowie’s biggest Dutch hits, according to RTL newsLet’s Dance was the only of his five Dutch chart toppers that was not a collaboration.

1 Dancing in the streets – duet with Mick Jagger (1985)
2 Space Oddity (1969)
3 Tonight – duet with Tina Turner
4 This is not America – duet with Pat Metheny
5 Let’s Dance (1983)
6 Sound and Vision (1977)
7 Under pressure – together with Queen (1986)
8 Absolute Beginners (1986)
9 Heroes (1977)
10 China Girl (1983)

Sweeping the floor
Some time around 1990, Bowie ended up sweeping the floor of the Café Heuvel on Amsterdam’s Prinsengracht after being caught out by a card trick.

Owner Pierre Heuvel told local broadcaster At5 that his dad was good at card tricks and bet Bowie, who’d come info a late night beer, that he could make the card of his choice appear on the ceiling.

Bowie lost the bet and ended up sweeping the floor around 1am.

Recording Rebel Rebel
Bowie recorded his 1974 hit Rebel Rebel in the Dutch village of Nederhorst den Berg and stayed there for around a month. Studio technician Jan-Willem Ludolph, who was 22 at the time, told broadcaster Nos Bowie wanted to work without disturbance which is why he ended up in the village, which is just north of Hilversum.

‘I never saw him take drugs,’ Ludolph says. ‘But if he felt like a fabulous steak at 11pm we’d jump into the car and drive to the Amstel Hotel. We became friends, but that is what working in a studio does to you.’

Port of Amsterdam
The flip side of Bowie’s 1973 release Sorrow was Jacque Brel’s Port of Amsterdam – which Amsterdam city council was quick to highlight on Monday.

Bowie in Groningen
The Groninger Museum is currently hosting the first international retrospective of the Bowie’s extraordinary career. First seen in London, the exhibition includes over 300 objects including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, photography, set designs, album artwork and rare performance. It runs until March 13.

Bowie on an NS train
Dutch train operator NS is running a special Bowie carriage on some services between Zwolle and Groningen. The journey includes a ‘fictional virtual reality train trip through his world’ and is hosted by NS staff in Alladin Sane make-up. Bizarre.


The Netherlands most influential cultural icons

The good old NRC has drawn up its first ever list of the 100 most influential Dutch people in international culture.

Does the list have any value apart from a little self congratulatory appeal? Koolhaas himself has his doubts. ‘I think it is pointless to group people according to nationality at a time when Europe is becoming something new. In an ideological sense, I feel European.’

His prize is a double page advertising spread in the NRC, to be donated to the charity of his choice. Interesting to see what he comes up with.

10 key facts about clogs

Nothing says ‘the Netherlands’ or rather ‘Holland’ more clunkily than clogs. But this iconic form of Dutch footwear is – literally – enduring.

1 Clogs, or wooden shoes = the Netherlands. Why the Dutch should be identified as wearers of wooden footwear par excellence is unclear but there it is. Some form of clog was and is worn by people all over the globe and many are jolly nice too, like the elegant Cantabrian albarcas and the edgy Danish traesko.

A traditional pair of Dutch clogs... for tourists

A traditional pair of Dutch clogs… for tourists

2 The classic Dutch clog covers most of the foot and is usually made of poplar or willow wood. Its sturdiness has earned it a CE certificate which means they are actually EU certified safety shoes. So good for cows stepping on your toes but not so good for making a quick exit from a hay loft via, say, a ladder.

3 The traditional clog had either a black base, for work on clay soil, or a yellowish base for work on sandy ground. In this way the clogs wouldn’t appear very dirty. The decoration on top is said to give the clog the appearance of a shoe, a commodity few farmers could afford.

4 In Belgium clogs are called ‘holleblokken’, or hollow blocks, and if you look at this old news item from 1925 you will understand why.

5 There is, of course, a clog museum in the Netherlands. It has some 2,200 pairs of wooden footwear from all over the world, including a pair of clog skates made by Eite Wijkstra. His son Berend finished the Elfsteden skating marathon on a pair in 1954.

skates as clogs

6 After World War there were some 3,900 clog makers in the Netherlands, now only a handful remain. One of the biggest clog manufacturers in the world is Nijhuis in Beltrum  which started in 1938. It manufactures some 300,000 pairs of clogs a year which are exported all over the world. Part of the clog making process takes place in… China. Clog wearing is in decline which is why Nijhuis is promoting the sustainability and the orthopaedic- and ventilative- properties of the clog.

7 Clog wearing is not as easy as you think. It involves bending the toes to keep the thing in place, a strenuous process which may be painful to start with but which will get easier with time. Farmers could even dance in them, the so-called ‘klompendans’.

clog dance

If your toes can’t handle the strain you can always opt for clog slippers as beloved by tourists. Fashionistas will love a pair of Viktor&Rolf’s high heeled clogs.

8 The oldest clog ever found to date is said to from 1230 and was made from elder wood. It was found during excavation work on the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam. The biggest clog ever made from a single piece of wood can be found in Enter, in the province of Overijssel. It is 403 cm long, 171 cm wide and 169 cm high.

biggest clog

9 The Dutch language not surprisingly has a fair number of expressions featuring a klomp or klompen. Dat kun je op je klompen aanvoelen ( you can feel that wearing clogs) i.e. something very obvious indeed. Or Nou breekt mijn klomp (this breaks my clog) i.e. well, I never!

10 Clog making by hand is still held in great esteem. There is even a European Wooden Shoes Foundation dedicated to keeping the craft alive by means of clog days and festivals and courses in clog making.

Eight typical Dutch things – according to the ABC bookstore

Our good friends at the ABC bookstore in Amsterdam and The Hague have come up with a very jolly postcard series featuring typical Dutch things… We particularly like tOOlpa.

typical Dutch things

But we did have to point out to them that, alas, the cheese slicer was actually invented by a Norwegian.


10 very old Dutch things

Being built on a swamp, where wood was the building material of the day, not much remains of the prehistoric Netherlands. Even the Romans avoided much of the country because of the risk of wet feet. But here is a list of 10 old Dutch things

1  Oldest signs of life

The oldest signs of human life in the swampy lowlands were left by a humanoid called Homo heidelbergensis who decided the perfect place to roam was what is now the middle bit of the Netherlands. There they left flints and tools that may be 300,000 years old but could possibly be double that number. The tools, sharpened stones, were probably used to scrape hides.

2 Oldest burial

Trijntje oldest grave

The oldest burial place found so far is in Hardinxveld-Giessendam, where the complete skeleton of a woman was discovered. Trijntje, so dubbed because she was found during building work on the Betuwe train (trein) line, is thought to be between 7,000 and 7,500 years old. She was 158 cm tall, and between 40 and 60 at the time of her death. How she died could not be ascertained.

3 Oldest road

The oldest roads which can be identified were part of the Roman Limes, the border defences which marked the edges of the Roman empire which roughly ran from Katwijk and then followed the Rhine. The roads were not thought to have been paved, but packed with gravel and clay.

4 Oldest town


The oldest town in the Netherlands as afar as official town privileges are concerned is Stavoren (1058) in Friesland but Nijmegen is probably the oldest town of some importance today. In 1980 a roman victory column dating from 17 AD was stumbled upon, celebrating the emperor Tiberius’ successful campaigns in the Lower Rhine. Nijmegen was known as Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum  in Roman times.

5 Oldest house

oldest house

The oldest Dutch house still standing is in Deventer. It has a bit of wall dating from 900. The rest of the house was built in 1130, including its city gate (which is the oldest city gate in the Netherlands.)

6 Oldest Dutch

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic anda thu, wat unbidan nu? It means, or was thought to mean ‘All the birds are making their nest except you and I, What are we waiting for?’ and it has long been considered the oldest example of the Dutch language. The text was found on a manuscript copied in Winchester Abbey and is thought to be a little doodle to try out a new pen by a monk in his native West Flemish.


In 2012 Belgian professor Luc de Grauwe made a very convincing case for the sentence to be in Old English. According to the professor this translates into the much less romantic and frankly incomprehensible: ‘All the birds have now built their nests except you and I, now what do you expect?’ The official oldest Dutch bit is Maltho thi afrio lito, or ‘I tell you I release you’ which dates from 510 and was the standard phrase to free a serf.

7 Oldest reclaimed land

Reclaiming land has been a Dutch pursuit since the 14th century but the first polder of any significance is the Beemster (1607 – 1612). It even made the World Heritage list. Brilliant engineer Jan Adriaanszoon Leeghwater (literally empty (of) water) used 47 windmills to drain an area of almost 73 m2 km. The Beemster was turned into extremely fertile agricultural land and generated much wealth for the canny investors of the time.

8 Oldest church

Oldest church Oosterbeek

The oldest church in the Netherlands still functioning as a church is the Oude Kerk in Oosterbeek (Gelderland) which is pre-Romanesque and dates from the 10th century. In 1944 the church was the backdrop to heavy fighting between the Germans and the Allies during Operation Market Garden. It remains a place of pilgrimage for many veterans today.

9 Oldest university

Leiden University is the oldest university in the Netherlands. It was founded on February 7, 1575. Apparently William of Orange offered the city a choice: an exemption of tax for ten years or a university. It would have been interesting to know how close the vote actually was. Apart from such 19th century Dutch luminaries as statesman Johan Thorbecke, father of the Dutch constitution, an impressive 13 Nobel prize winners worked at the university. Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Niels Bohr also visited.

10 Oldest company


The oldest Dutch company still in business is Hotel De Draak in Bergen op Zoom. It was listed as an inn as early as 1406 and is a hotel still. It has had its share of mishaps, most recently a devastating fire in 2013, but it has since reopened. One of the most remarkable people to (dis)grace the guest list must be the Spanish Duke of Alba who stayed the night in 1567, a year before the start of the 80 Years War’, or the Dutch revolt against Spain.

12 iconic Dutch houses

Forget Amsterdam canal mansions, the thatched villas of Laren and the boring high-rises springing up all over the country. Here’s a list of 12 iconic 20th century Dutch homes, based on the views of the experts at website

1 The Cube House (Piet Blom 1984, Rotterdam)

Cubic houses in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
Blom’s cube house perched seemingly precariously on one of its point on a pole is really a very sophisticated tree house. His idea was to build to build ‘a forest of trees’ and turn it into a small, largely self-contained community amid the urban sprawl. There’s a cube house for you to visit to find out if it gives you that tree house feeling.

2 T Het Schip (Michel de Klerk, 1921)

Het Schip is Amsterdamse School at its jolliest and most heart-lifting. Beautifully decorated, with all sorts of unexpected flourishes and unfunctional curlicues which present-day social housing is sadly lacking. Now home to a museum.

3 De Papaverhof (Jan Wils, 1921, The Hague)

Another stylish social housing project (although this one was meant for the middle classes ‘who might soon not be able to afford a maid.’). This one is inspired by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright who influenced the Dutch Stijl movement. Jan Wils successfully incorporated the key elements airiness, light and unity in this project.

4 The Jan de Jong house (Jan de Jong, 1962-67, Schaijk)

Jan de Jong huis
Jan de Jong is a representative of the so-called ‘Bossche School’: a starkly classical style with a strict emphasis on proportion much used in the Dutch church architecture of the time. ‘DISPONERE MOLEM CONDECET SAPIENTEM ET ORDINARE STRUCTOREM SPATIA CORPORI TECTUM MENTI PARARE STRATUM’ was De Jong’s dictum which is cut into one of the stone lintels of the house. It means roughly that a home needs to be a roof over your head but also a place conducive to contemplation. (accessible to the public on Nationale Monumentendag Sept 12 &13)

5 Jachthuis Sint Hubertus (H.P. Berlage, 1920, Hoge Veluwe)

Built by Dutch master architect Berlage, the country residence of the wealthy Kröller-Müller family shows all the hallmarks of his style. Berlage not only designed the red brick house with its distinctive tower, he got involved in everything else as well, from gardens to cutlery. His only gripe was that the lady of the house kept interfering thus spoiling his vision. When she wanted to add a conservatory he abandoned the project in exasperation. We can see why she wanted more light in. It’s mad-looking from outside but inside the rooms are pokey and dark.

6 The Dijkstra house (Ben Merkelbach and Charles Karsten, 1934, Groet)

Dijkstra huis
The Dijkstra house is an example of a side shoot of the Stijl called het Nieuwe Bouwen (the new way of building) which, more than the parent plant, emphasised functionality. Here is the antithesis of the Amsterdamse School: geometric, white plastered façades and strictly no frilly nonsense. The house is a holiday rental (personally we think the kitchen is on the small side but then who wouldn’t want to cook in an icon?).

7 The Rietveld-Schröder house (Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schröder, 1924, Utrecht)

This was named after Nieuwe Bouwen pioneer Gerrit Rietveld and client Truus Schröder. Schröder, an interior designer, had very particular ideas about the house she wanted for her and her three children: panels to change the function and size of the rooms, shutters instead of curtains and many other ingenious (furniture) features which Schröder and Rietveld must have had a lot of fun designing.

8 The Van Zessen house (Cornelis van Eesteren and Theo van Doesburg, 1923, Alblasserdam)

huis van zessen
Artist and poet Van Doesburg, one of the founding fathers of the influential Stijl art and architectural movement and architect Van Eesteren joined artistic forces to design the Van Zessen house built in Van Eesteren’s home town of Alblasserdam. Van Doesburg is responsible for the daring colour scheme of the outside of the house.

9 Van Eesteren museum apartment (Cornelis van Eesteren, 1952, Amsterdam)

Van eesteren museum house
Nieuwe Bouwen adept Van Eesteren is the architect of Amsterdam’s Stadsuitbreidingsplan, or expansion plan, conceived in 1934 and executed after the war. There’s a Van Eesteren museum which houses exhibitions on several of the ‘garden cities’ built by Van Eesteren to alleviate the terrible lack of houses, such as Osdorp, Slotervaart and Overtoomse Veld. To visit the ‘outside’ museum you can sign up for an architectural walk past Van Eesteren buildings, or visit the iconic fifties style apartment in Slotermeer.

10 The Kiefhoek house museum (J.J.P. Oud, 1930, Rotterdam)

Kiefhoek house
Nieuwe Bouwen architect Oud was called in to provide social housing for the working classes in Rotterdam. It had to be cheap, efficient and practical. The upstairs had no bathroom or indeed a tap. The homes were later demolished and then rebuilt with better materials and all the modern amenities in place. The Kiefhoek house museum dates from 1930 and is still in its old state.

11 The Sonneveld house museum (Brinkman en van der Vlugt, 1933, Rotterdam)

Also in Rotterdam but in a slightly different price bracket is the Sonneveld house, built for the well-to do Rotterdam Sonneveld family. Sonneveld Sr was a director at the Van Nelle tobacco factory, travelled widely and an admirer of American architecture. Proponents of the clean Nieuwe Bouwen style, the architects worked with another modernist, the famous furniture designer W.H. Gispen. The house has been restored to its former glory and is now home to an extensive collection of art from the Thirties.

12 The Van Schijndel house ( Mart van Schijndel, 1992-93, Utrecht)

Architect Mart van Schijndel lives in the house he designed for himself, and very nice it is too. The treatment of light and space, and the sculptural qualities of the building have given the Van Schijndel house iconic status even though it is a youngster on our list. Visits are by appointment only.

We’ve tried to make sure all these photos are from open sources. If we’ve nicked yours, please let us know and we’ll apologise profusely.