The First Air Balloon

This simple statue could be a tulip, or a vase, but it commemorates something more significant, the first hot air balloon flight in the Netherlands. The flight was made in 1785 by Jean-Pierre Blanchard, and it departed from the gardens behind the Noordeinde Palace, now known as the “Paleistuin” or Palace gardens.

The sculpture was created by two artists, M. van den Burgh and P. Donk in 1959 and unveiled in 1960.

That flight did not end well. The balloon was made of varnished silk which could easily be punctured and when the balloon landed 25 kilometers away in Zevenhuizen Blanchard was attacked by farmers with pitchforks. It’s a comical scene to our modern eyes, but no-one in the Netherlands had ever seen a man arrive by any form of flight before, indeed the first manned balloon flight was only two years earlier so few people in the world had ever seen it, no wonder the farmers were afraid.

There is a charming image of preparations for the first flight held in the Rijskmuseum archive, showing the preparation – 24 barrels of gas being released to lift the balloon, four men holding tethers while it inflates, and various citizens strolling past the extraordinary sight. The statue is of a similar shape, but clearly stylised for the period it was created.

Timeline of Balloon Flight

  • 1783
    First manned balloon flight, Montgolfier brothers, France

  • 1784
    Jean-Pierre Blanchard makes his first balloon flight, France

  • 1785, January
    Jean-Pierre Blanchard and John Jeffries, an American, cross the English Channel in a balloon

  • 1785, July
    Jean-Pierre Blanchard makes the first manned balloon flight in the Netherlands

  • 1793
    Blanchard makes the first manned balloon flight in the Americas, from Philadelphia to New Jersey.

  • 1794
    First military use of a manned balloon flight at the battle of Fleurus

  • 1807
    Blanchard makes another flight in the Hague, this time from Huis ten Bosch

  • 1808
    Blanchard has a heart-attack while in a balloon above the Hague, and falls from the balloon. He dies of injuries from the fall about a year later.

  • 1960
    Commemorative statue unveiled in the Palace Garden.

Thanks to Jacqueline Albers of “I guide you through the Hague” who explained what the statue commemorated during a tour.

Image 2: Rijksmuseum, public domain

Museum Voorlinden

Museum Voorlinden is a new museum, by Dutch standards, having opened in 2016. It’s a a wonderful modern pavilion purpose built as a home for art, it’s surrounded by a garden designed to have flowers in three seasons and be interesting in all four seasons. The collection is modern and has at its base the private collection of Mr. van Caldenborgh.

Museum Voorlinden (source: Cordeel, the construction company)

The exhibition space is light an airy, with a specifically designed ceiling so that the gallery space is bathed in light. There were three exhibitions on view. The first is called “Less is More“, a sort of play on art meeting minimalism. Some of the pieces focused on impermanence, some on humans vs their environment and some explored the materials such as Trans-for-men (my favourite piece in the exhibition). This exhibition is on until January 2020 – so you have time!

The second exhibition I saw was a joy, an exploration of fabric and architecture. Do Ho Suh, a Korean artist, is fascinated with space and each piece is infused with colour.

And finally, the exhibition I was most curious to see, I’ve wanted to see Yayoi Kusama’s work for ages. Her power with colour and shape, her ability to visualise in any medium is so impressive. She’s been copied and underestimated forever, and it’s relatively recently – thanks Instagram! – that’s she’s started to have the sort of universal recognition her genius deserves. I was not less impressed for having seen so many images of her work.

I’ve wanted to see Yayoi Kusama’s work for years, so when I saw there was an exhibition on at Museum Voorlinden i rushed off to see it, I was a bit slow noticing so ended up going in the last week. The two other exhibitions I saw are still on, but hurry for Do Ho Suh, it ends on until 29 September.

How To Visit

Voorlinden museum & gardens
Buurtweg 90
2244 AG Wassenaar
The Netherlands

Getting There
isn’t easy!
I cycled from the centre of the Hague which took about 25 minutes, the only public transport option is bus 43 or 44, to the Wittenburgerweg Wassenaar stop, but there’s a 20 minute walk from there to the museum.

Ticket Prices
Adults € 17.50
13-18 year-olds € 8.50
under 12 free
NOTE: Museumjaarkaart is not valid

Opening Times
11 am to 5 pm

I recommend buying your ticket online before your visit.

The Sugar Palace

Model of Mauritshuis made of sugar cubesThe Mauritshuis is an emblem of the Hague, and this model of the building is made of sugar, symbolising the source of Johan Maurits’ wealth. He was the Governor-General of the colony Dutch Brazil, and involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In his lifetime he was so famous for his wealth that one nickname for the Mauritshuis was “The Sugar House”. The current exhibition Shifting Image – In search of Johan Maurits examines how we might view Maurits today, and how our views of him might have changed.

The paintings in the exhibition each present commentary from different perspectives.

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It’s a great way of giving a range of modern views to Dutch history, and I admit I didn’t realise there had been an Afro-Dutch community in Amsterdam during Rembrandt’s lifetime.

The museum has created this exhibition as part of ongoing research, and includes an invitation for participation. It’s the first time I’ve seen an exhibition dedicated to examining the Dutch role in slavery in a major museum here, often mentions of slavery are obfuscated with passive language. It’s necessary.

The exhibition is on until 7 July, and includes a range of extra activities. It’s well worth a visit. Book now!

The Cut Out Girl

It’s really weird to read a book that tightly references the area you live in, and “The Cut Out Girl” begins with a walk around my new neighbourhood. This is where Lien, the author’s Aunt, lived before she was smuggled away to safety in Dordrecht. Lien is Jewish, and under the Nazi occupation her life was in danger, so her parents sent her into safety where she posed as a cousin from bombed-out Rotterdam. She never saw her parents again.

There are a lot of books about Jewish people in hiding, most famously of course Anne Frank, but there’s an important aspect to this book. Lien’s story is told simply and documented with photos, personal letters and trips to the nation’s archives. What makes it different as that Van Es, Lien’s nephew, looks at the dark side of the occupation. There were Dutch collaborators working with the occupiers to find Jewish people to deport, and there was a bounty for citizens to inform on Jews in hiding – remember that the winter of 1944-45 was the Hunger Winter, a real famine with a massive shortage of food so hiding extra people got harder, and there must have been more than one starving family who betrayed their Jewish neighbours for that bounty.

There were thousands of Dutch people who took part in measures to rescue Jewish people – from replacing the civil registers so that Jewish people were not identified (before WWII the civil register included religion), to hiding children, and moving Jews to safety. All of that is true and gets celebrated. But this darker side is usually ignored. Van Es has researched and documented some of the darker side, leading to some tough conversations among Dutch people.

I walked around the area where Lien lived with her parents as a child, ending on Rabbijn Maarsenplein. This square is tucked in behind the Nieuwe Kerk and surrounded by various Asian restaurants. But when Lien left The Hague this is where the only school for Jewish children was. There are two monuments on the square that point to its history, the Jewish memorial in the background of the photo above, and the Jewish Children monument (Joods Kindermonument ). The children’s names on the bars commemorate 400 children who attended the school on this square during the German occupation and did not survive. From the Hague 16,000 of the city’s 18,000 Jews were killed during the second world war including Rabbi Isaac Maarsen for whom this square was named, his wife and three daughters.

It’s an interesting book and a worthwhile read because of this honest perspective.

The Japanese Garden

I had free time this afternoon so I cycled up to Clingendael, to see the Japanese Garden. It’s full of vibrant colour from the azaleas, rhododendrons and maple trees. There are narrow meandering paths through moss covered grounds around a pool, the reflections make for great views. There’s also a small pavilion to take a rest at the end of the pond, and a small buddha statue in a tiny hut.

It’s the oldest Japanese style garden in the Netherlands and many of the stone sculptures throughout the garden were collected by Baroness Marguérite van Brienen, who sourced them in her trips to Japan. It was her garden and it’s retained its original design.

There’s a trick to visiting – the garden is only open for a few weeks a year, for this year it’s

  • Spring: 27 April to 10 June, 9am to 8pm
  • Autumn: 12 October to 27 October, 10am to 4pm

We Remember

Today is Remembrance Day here in the Netherlands, flags are flown at half mast and there will be a minute’s silence at 8pm this evening. But there are other signs of remembrance in the country, and sometimes the absence of something is also an act of remembrance.

Last year the new North-South line was opened, and many tram lines changed their routes. In among the change I stumbled upon a random fact. There is no tram number 8 in Amsterdam.

From 1905 there was a Tram 8 in Amsterdam, here’s the route that it followed in the 1930s.

The area around the J.D. Meijerplein and Nieuwmarkt was known as the Jodenbuurt, or Jewish Quarter, and Zuider Amstellaan is in the Rivierenbuurt, another area where many Jewish people were living. In the early 20th century this tram was known as the “Jewish Tram” because it connected these areas. After the German’s occupied Amsterdam in 1940 they began limiting what Jews could do, including banning them from using public transport, and the number 8 tram stopped running in 1942.

However the tracks of the number 8 tram were still used, after curfew, to transport Jews from Rivierenbuurt to Amsterdam Central station as the first step of their exile to concentration camps further east. An estimated 80% of Amsterdam’s 80,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

In the late 90s a new tram route was launched with a circular route that was promoted for tourists. The city had planned to use the number 8 for this route, playing on the likeness of the number to the infinity symbol. The circular route was very different from the historic line 8, but even so the memories were too strong and the circular route was eventually given the number 20. (This circular line was never that popular and only lasted from 1997 – 2002).

There is still no number 8 tram.

Image:Tram sign via wiki media: CC-BY-SA, allowed by Amsterdam Museum

Ik ben verhuisd! I’ve moved!

I’ve moved to the Hague, I’ve been working on this move for a while and made my decision to move before the city ranking put the Hague at the top of the list of Dutch cities for expats.

I’m excited to be learning and writing about my new home city. I’m settled enough now to be finding my way around for the fun stuff although I’m still spending way more time on google maps than ever before. I’ve found the essentials; supermarkets, bookstores, and a cycle repair. I’ve made trips to a few of the local museums and I’m starting to learn about the history of my new home town.

I’ve updated my twitter profile with my take on the city’s arms – a stork.

According to the city’s official site storks are seen as as bringers of luck and prosperity; sounds good to me!

Dutch Train Stations

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 11.25.18I saw him just ahead of me, a young man carrying a white cane walking confidently towards the escalator at Utrecht Central Station. What I knew and he could not know was that the escalator was under repair and there was a gaping hole just a few paces ahead of him.

I took his arm gently and said “you need to take the stairs today, the escalator is broken”. He walked with me to the top of the stairs and there I stepped to the right so that he would be back on the guided path set up for the visually impaired. He understood where he was and wandered off into the insanely busy station, the busiest in the country.

It’s a challenge to move around a city without being able to see your surroundings, but NS, the Dutch national railway company has taken a big step in making it easier for visually impaired people to get around the country. As of late 2017 all railway stations in the Netherlands became accessible for the visually impaired, this includes;

  • 90 km of guide lines through stations
  • sound tiles
  • braille signs
  • tactile maps in the four biggest stations of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Den Haag and Rotterdam
  • 5000 spoken route descriptions

The 350,000 blind or partially sighted people living in the Netherlands can use the stations more easily. Of course the rest of us need to take care not to leave obstacles in the guide lines and keep an eye out when repairs are underway, but this is brilliant.

Image: Rotterdam Centraal Railway Station  |  Alan Grinberg  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


High Society

To celebrate their wedding Marten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit had their portraits painted by Rembrandt. To celebrate acquiring the pair of paintings the Rijksmuseum has created an exhibition of some of the world’s greatest full size portraits called High Society.

The paintings have been restored and are magnificent in the detail of their opulence, and they once contributed to Rembrandts’ reputation with Amsterdam’s wealthy elite. This is the first time in more than 60 years they’ve been part of a public exhibition. They are jointly owned by the Rijksmuseum and the Louvre and part of that agreement is that the paintings will be kept together and displayed together. I think they’ll be at the Rijksmuseum through next year which is the 350th anniversary of Rembrandt’s death.

The High Society exhibition show cases full length portraits through the centuries from the world’s greatest artists, from Sergent to Munch  and the museum has presented it as if these world famous people turned up to an unlikely party. You can everyone meet the solemn Count and Countess da Porto (by Veronese) who lived 100 years before Rembrandt to the dazzling Marchesa Luisa Casati, who lived 250 years after him.

I met Anna Comptesse de Noailles, the first woman to win the French Legion d’honneur. Apparently when this painting was exhibited it was considered scandalous, partly because of how low her gown sweeps, but also because she is wearing her award around her neck – and apparently that is not done, it should be worn on a sash diagonally across one’s body. Obviously the designers of the award had never thought about how women would wear it.

My favourite painting was this debonair gentleman; he’s Samuel-Jean Pozzi, and he was quite the lady’s man, whose lovers included Sarah Bernhardt. I think I have a crush!

The museum created evening events for this exhibition, and I was lucky enough to go to one. It was fantastic to be in the museum after dark and after the exhibition they turned the lobby into a dance floor and we had champagne and a dance. Just as if we were part of High Society.

High Society is on for about another week – until June 3rd. Tickets to the whole museum are 17.50 and there’s no additional entrance fee for the exhibition. (Free entry with a museum jaarkaart)


Art on Sunday

I went to see the wonderful “Coded Nature” exhibition from StudioDrift at the Stedelijk Museum. The image above is one of their ShyLights. They dance above your head and as they float down they open up like a flower, the movement is gentle and mesmerising. The perfect thing to do on a Sunday afternoon

Here’s what the room full of ShyLights looks like. Everyone stays in this room for ages, watching the lights glow and dance, their faces filled with wonder. Everyone gives into the temptation to lie on the floor and watch the lights from below, and it’s amazing – until the vigilant museum stuff come in and ask you to move. Apparently the light on the floor is part of the exhibition and by lying on the floor we are ruining it for others. IMHO the one ruining it for others was the grumpy museum guy.

The title of the exhibition is Coded Nature and there’s one piece that seems to be a commentary on our destruction of the earth, it’s a long film showing floating concrete blocks drifting through the air forming large structures until nature is obliterated. And in the next room is one of the concrete blocks – a drifter – floating, un-suspended  in a huge room.

I’ve followed Studio Drift’s Instagram account for a long time, and I’ve been fascinated by the “fragile futures” sculptures. So it was really cool to see an installation of fragile futures, be able to walk around it and get up close to the tiny dandelion lights that make up the sculpture.

The exhibition filled me with wonder, it’s that intersection of art and science, it’s beautiful and kinetic and well worth visiting. I might be back next weekend.

The exhibition is on until the 26 August, and it’s free for museum card holders, or €17.50.