Banksy agrees with Integrated Expat: Street art in Dover

This time last week we passed through Dover and I made the comment that Dover “could try harder” with its street art.

Image: Google maps, 2016

It seems I am in tune with the world’s most famous street artist, Banksy, because on the very next Sunday, he created a huge mural on exactly the wall I commented on, with a visual comment on Brexit; a workman chiselling one of the stars from the European Union’s flag.

Dover, England.

A post shared by Banksy (@banksy) on

Banksy’s Brexit mural in Dover (detail):

A post shared by Banksy (@banksy) on

Definitely an improvement! If only Brexit wasn’t happening, though. Uncertainty instead of unity. Both words begin with ‘un’, but they are light-years apart.

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The Kaiser Wilhelm II and Audrey Hepburn connection: Kaiser Bill in the Netherlands

Social history fascinates me, but my knowledge is extremely patchy and I’m not very good at remembering particulars. Nevertheless, sometimes I am astounded by something I discover and this was one of those occasions.

Did you know that Wilhelm II, the last German kaiser, spent the last years of his life in the Netherlands?

Now this is probably where vast number of my peers look at me incredulously and wonder how on earth I have got this far without knowing that because they all learned about it at school, but the fact is, I have never studied any World War I history, except for a tiny bit of background when I was doing A-level German. Our secondary school history department was much more interested in medieval history, then we skipped to the industrial revolution and stopped at about 1830-something. I then did a history minor at university where we went back to the Romans in Britain and got as far as medieval times and that was as modern as it got. I was also brought up on black and white films about the Second World War, but the Great War was largely a blank.

Kaiser Bill was a refugee in the Netherlands


Ex-Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, in exile in the Netherlands Source:

For me, the idea that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany took refuge in the Netherlands after WWI was a complete revelation. When Germany was declared a republic in 1918, Wilhelm was staying at a hotel near the German military HQ in Spa in Belgium, where he had gone in October after his his abdication had been openly discussed in Berlin. Not by him, you understand! In the middle of the night, he decided to board the imperial train and go to the Netherlands. Anticipating trouble, the emperor actually got off the train and travelled the last part to the border by car, arriving at 6am on 10 November 1918 at the border town of Eysden. He was then forced to wait there for twelve hours on the train until the Dutch government decided to offer him refuge.

Even though he always hoped that the monarchy would be reinstated, he came to live in the Netherlands, first for two years at Amerongen Castle, hoping that he would be able to return. When it became obvious that this was not on the cards, he bought and renovated Huis Doorn (Doorn Castle), a mansion surrounded by parkland and forest. Why the Netherlands? Possibly because it was the closest thing to Germany he could find and the allies of the Great War considered him to be a war criminal, with calls for him to be hanged. For the Dutch government, allowing him to live here was a problem because they had a policy of neutrality. This was why it was in their interests to emphasis the fact that Wilhelm was related to the Dutch royal family and he did the same: there is a room in the house with many portraits of joint ancestors. The Dutch Queen, Wilhelmina, was Wilhelm’s cousin and both belonged to the Order of St. John, whose members are sworn to support each other. Nevertheless, she believed that a monarch, deposed or not, should have returned to his own country after the war was over, so refused to meet him in person. In spite of this, her daughter Princess Juliana went to Huis Doorn as a bridesmaid when Wilhelm remarried the much younger Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz.

What was ex-emperor Wilhelm like?

Wilhelm seems to have been impetuous and perhaps hyperactive. When he was still Emperor, he caused diplomatic crises by making impetuous speeches, hence losing much of his support. In fact, he sounds just like the political loose cannon that we see today in foot-in-the-mouth politicians like Donald Trump.

Even though I’ve always known the British royal family had links with Germany, given the two world wars, it still seems odd that the last German emperor, Wilhelm II, or Kaiser Bill as he came to be known in England, was one of Queen Victoria’s grandsons and often visited her at Osbourne House on the Isle of Wight. In spite of a paralysed left arm due to a traumatic birth, he became a keen sailor and his grandmother appointed him Admiral in the British Navy. In fact, Wilhelm was present at Queen Victoria’s deathbed and she died in his arms as he was helping the doctor to make her comfortable.

Wilhelm II and Hitler

Rather bizarrely, I think (though I certainly don’t know the ins and outs of it), Churchill offered  him refuge when the Netherlands was invaded in 1940, but he turned him down and stayed at Doorn. His reaction to Hitler and the Nazis seems to have been somewhat ambivalent. There is much debate, but it seems he initially hoped Hitler would be willing to restore the monarchy so that he could return to his beloved Germany.  He described the Nazis as “a bunch of shirted gangsters” after Kristallnacht and after Hermann Göring had visited, at the invitation of Wilhelm’s second wife Hermine, he ordered the chair he had been sitting on to be burned, but nobody knows whether it was a protest against the Nazis or anger because they refused to reinstate him as Emperor.

In June 1940, Wilhelm sent a telegram to congratulate Hitler when he invaded France, an act that the Netherlands considered a betrayal so that they confiscated Huis Doorn in 1945 as enemy property.  By this time, Wilhelm was dead and his second wife had returned to Germany.

Once exiled to Doorn, Wilhelm, led the life of an English country gentleman, laying out gardens, hunting and fishing. One of his hobbies and a way to keep fit was to chop down the trees on his estate. He felled an estimated total of 40,000, hence the derogatory nickname, ‘The Woodchopper of Doorn’. This was quite remarkable, considering that his left arm had been paralysed since birth, so had to use the axe one-handedly. Luckily, he also replanted trees. Not only did this bizarre hobby provide firewood for the house, but he also gave blocks of wood away as signed souvenirs, kept the most auspicious tree slices (the 5,000th tree felled, for instance). He also gave firewood to the protestant church (Hervormd) to distribute to needy parishioners.

Throughout his time at Huis Doorn, Wilhelm’s movements were restricted. Not only was the house itself tiny in comparison to his Imperial palace in Potsdam, but if he wanted to travel further than 15 km from Doorn, he was forced to ask for prior permission. He was a proud man and the only time he travelled further was when he travelled to the German border with the body of his beloved first wife, Auguste Victoria, who was buried in the family grave in Berlin.

In an interview with Dutch author and TV presenter Boudewijn Büch in 1998, Dr W. von Ilsemann, the son of Wilhelm’s adjutant. recalls how he was the last godson of the ex-emperor and was christened at Huis Doorn so that Wilhelm could take part in the ceremony. He had childhood memories of Wilhelm as a genial man who was always joking and he used to call him ‘Onkel Kaiser’ (Uncle Emperor).


When Wilhelm died in 1941 in the occupied Netherlands, Hitler allowed him a small military funeral in exile, though he would have preferred to have brought him back to Berlin as a demonstration of the continuity of German history. Nevertheless, Hitler respected the ex-emperor’s wish to never return to Germany unless the monarchy had been restored. On the other hand, Wilhelm’s request that no Nazi insignia should be displayed at his funeral was ignored. Not only did Hitler send an enormous wreath decorated with swastikas, but German uniforms were much in evidence and Reichskommissar for the Occupied Netherlands, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, gave the Nazi salute during the funeral. Wilhelm was buried in a mausoleum at Huis Doorn, leaving instructions for his body to be reburied in Germany if the monarchy was ever reinstated. German monarchists still visit the mausoleum as a place of pilgrimage.


The Audrey Hepburn connection

Huis Doorn used to belong to Audrey Hepburn’s grandmother, Baroness W.C. van Heemstra-de Beaufort, so Audrey’s mother, Ella van Heemstra, spent much of her childhood there.

Coincidence – an Audrey Hepburn exhibition

The day after I was writing this, the Airborne Museum in Oosterbeek (near Arnhem) announced a new exhibition for 2017 about Audrey Hepburn and her mother, Moederliefde: het geheim van Ella & Audrey (Motherly love: the secret of Ella & Audrey), with exhibits on loan from Audrey Hepburn’s sons. The exhibition will focus on the start of Audrey’s career and her mother’s role. It also promises to reveal a family secret which will also be the subject of a novel in Dutch, Het geheim van Audrey H (The secret of Audrey H). The exhibition will be opened on 26 January 2017 by Audrey’s sons and will run until August. It sounds like it’s well worth a visit.

More information / sources:

Wilhelm’s escape (in Dutch):

Interesting documentary on Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany (in English):

Posted in Dutch history, life in the netherlands, random research | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Making toffee apples: the dangers of starting a family tradition

Family traditions sound wonderful, but choose them with care. How toffee apples came back to haunt this imperfect mother.


Most mothers are really good at creating memories for their children by organising wonderful parties, baking birthday cakes and spending time baking cookies (what I’d call biscuits) with their children. I have to admit, none of these are my strong points. I always have good intentions, but when it comes down to it, I usually chicken out and go to the shop to buy the Dutch version of a birthday cake. If I had been prepared, there would now be a link to a blog post about Dutch cakes, but alas! I’m an imperfect blogger as well as an imperfect mother.

They may not appreciate this, but my children ought to be thankful for my reluctance to bake. After all, somehow my adventures into cake-making have a tendency to end in disaster. In a bid to impress my husband, my mother and I once tried making one of her tried-and-true cake recipes, but it came out almost as flat as a pancake. This was one of several favourite cake recipes that my mother made throughout my childhood so that there was always a slice of cake when we got home from school. Chocolate coconut cake or cherry cake or date and walnut. Whichever it was, it didn’t rise, possibly due to using a different oven, but more than likely due to the flour being different here than it is in England. It always seems to absorb less liquid. Excuses, excuses. At least we tried.

A post by my friend Mrs Sarah Coller on her blog inspired this bout of reminiscences. “Every mom or grandma has that list of things they want to do for the little ones while they’re still little”, she says and writes about how it took her 17 years to cross off an item on her list, namely making pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies with candy corn eyes, just like her mom did for her. Halloween’s not really one of our traditions, but it’s around this time of year I have another one of those moments of ‘Oops, I did it again!’, or rather, didn’t do it again.

Making traditions, only to break them

This was a tradition I inadvertently made, then wished I hadn’t. It happened like this. My eldest son was born halfway through October, so even though neither the UK nor the Netherlands is really seriously dedicated to Halloween, it’s a good theme to use for parties and treats and our expat club always held a children’s Halloween party. Not to mention the fact that when we lived in Hamburg for a couple of years, Halloween was one of the best annual celebrations at the International School.

Back in the Netherlands, birthday traditions sound rather like Sarah’s recollections of taking treats into grade school in America. There is also a typical Dutch tradition called ‘trakteren’, or treating your classmates or colleagues on your birthday. Some mothers make a whole performance out of crafting amazing handmade treats, preferably healthy ones, but the older the children get, the more it tends towards a plastic cup with some crisps or sweets. I was immediately cured of the idea of spending too much time working on treats when my eldest was in playgroup. I spent hours making Mickey Mouse faces out of luncheon meat and cucumber on round crackers, only to watch 20 children stare at them with total incomprehension. After that it was cocktail sausages, cucumber and cherry tomatoes on sticks or more likely, cheese and pineapple sticks. Easy peasy and everyone ate them.

By the time my eldest was about 11, we’d been back in the Netherlands about 2 years and I’d noticed the shift towards salt and fat-laden crisps (chips for the Americans) and I wanted him to think of something more healthy. Imagine my surprise when he suggested toffee apples, something he had enjoyed when we went to travelling fairs in both France and Germany. Something I remember as a special autumn treat when I was a child, though I can’t specifically remember when or where I ate them. In any case, I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t make them for us, but they held fond memories for me, too, so I thought it was a fantastic idea.

Toffee apples: A Learning Experience

So full of the joys of autumn, I found a toffee apple recipe and got to work. Toffee apples are simple. You just have to boil up some sugar until it caramelises, then dip in unpeeled apples on sticks and let them cool. Simple… in theory. This is what’s known in technical terms as A Learning Experience:

  • Put 30 apples on 30 sticks. Some will fall off and refuse to stay on. You will stick some of the sticks in your hand. It hurts.
  • Caramelised sugar is extremely hot. You will splash some on your hand and regret it for a month. It hurts even more.
  • The recipe says don’t stir the sugar. You will stir the sugar and make dried-out sugar. You will have to start again.
  • The quantity of sugar required is not enough. You will have to go back to the shop for more.
  • The recipe calls for a drop of red food colouring. If you have it, you will put too much in. If you don’t, you will wonder why you needed it.
  • Some of the sugar will be not quite hot enough. It will not set properly. All the apples will stick together.
  • Some of the sugar will be a little bit too hot. It will taste ever-so-slightly burned.
  • Transporting 30 sticky toffee apples on sticks to school on a bicycle is a logistical nightmare. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
  • The children will love the toffee apples. You will feel like a super mum!


  • Your own 3 children love toffee apples. They will all ask you to make toffee apples for their school treats on their birthdays. That’s 90 toffee apples a year (plus some spare for the family).
  • You didn’t count on having to do this every year. Your children will nag you.
  • You try to get out of it. Suddenly crisps/chips seem like a healthy option… for your sanity.
  • Your husband likes the idea of you as a domestic goddess. He nags you to make toffee apples because the children want them.
  • Your children’s friends love toffee apples. They will nag your children to bring them on their birthday.
  • Your children’s friends love toffee apples. They will ask you for the recipe because they want their own mums to make them too.
  • Your children’s friends’ mums are all Dutch. You will have to translate the recipe and instructions into Dutch. Your children’s friends’ mums will probably not thank you!


Think carefully before you make a tradition

Do you want to repeat this tradition, or is it a one-off experiment? Can you keep it up every year or is it too much effort? Pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies with candy corn eyes look much easier. Except they don’t sell candy corn here. And no, in case you were wondering, I don’t want a recipe to make my own candy corn. Raisins would do, wouldn’t they?

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Dutch wall art: a mystery solved

In my previous blog post I talked about how I became intrigued by a particular style of wall art in Wijchen, and how I wanted to learn more. How old was it? Who was the artist? Where was it made?

Internet research: finding the right search term

I thought there must be a proper record somewhere of art on walls in the Netherlands, but it took me a long time to find the correct search term and I’m not at all sure there is a correct term in English, either. The word that came spontaneously to mind when I was surprised by the ‘bird man’ (see my last post) was gevelkunst, art for the sides of buildings. The Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, I have since discovered, is asking for help finding wandkunst, wall art, from the post-war recovery period (wederopbouwperiode) between 1945 and 1965, a time of great growth and building. They host a site called Help wandkunst opsporen, or Help find wall art. You can see what they already know about on their site and take your own photo to submit if you find anything they don’t know about. Even though the project has been going since 2006, new wall art in obvious places is still being added; one of the most recent is in the main market square in the city of Groningen. You would have thought they would have added that years ago, but if recording this art relies on volunteers, there are bound to be gaps.

In search of my domestic wall artist, I got lost on the internet myself for a considerable time. What did I discover? Many things, some of which I will save for another time!

  • intriguing stories about public wall art (a new topic to research)
  • finding out about a regional artist who could be the one
  • discovering a link to Nazi propaganda
  • inventing my own conspiracy theory
  • internet research didn’t bring me any still no closer to finding out where ‘my’ wall art came from

On the trail of the missing artist

One thing I knew when I started this quest was that there had been a public outcry a couple of years ago when two local schools were demolished. One of them, I seemed to remember, had an artwork that had been rescued, a bas relief, but I didn’t know what had happened to it. Luckily I managed to find an article from the local newspaper online and discovered that it had been given a new lease of life as a free-standing sculpture in the garden of the local parish priest, so of course I took a photo next time I was in de buurt (nearby). The artist who made it was Daan Wildschut, but most of his work was religious, so I discounted him. I also remembered visiting the Kapelberg in Bergharen a few kilometres away where there are bas reliefs of the 13 stations of the cross made by the artist Jac Maris. The style seemed similar, but there is a museum dedicated to Maris’ work in Heumen in his old workshop. Looking on their website, I couldn’t see anything that matched the birds.

Nevertheless, I decided I ought to visit the museum to show them my photos and ask them if they had any ideas. Also, there is a local history society that keeps archives in the basement of the town hall. I resolved to ask them too, if only I remembered to go there on a Wednesday afternoon. Surely somebody there would have an idea? If that failed, I could ask at the art museum in Arnhem or the Valkhof Museum in Nijmegen or I could post it on Facebook and ask one of the local artists I know if they had any ideas.

Wall art and sculptures are everywhere

Meanwhile, everywhere I go, I have started noticing wall art. I have started checking my phone is fully charged on every trip, just in case, and taking alternative routes in promising housing estates to find new examples. It’s amazing; sometimes I’ve cycled past a building hundreds of times without noticing that they had one of these sculptures, but now they jump out at me. And sometimes I take a slightly different route than usual, look up and – how wondrous! – another group of birds. At the weekend I cycled into Nijmegen and crossed over at a different junction than usual, glanced up, and there they were. It must have been fate!

The mystery is solved – another close encounter

Then I had a stroke of luck! As I was packing my cycle bag outside the chemist’s, I looked up at the side wall of the house next door. Now, if I hadn’t looked up from that particular spot, I could have cycled past it another 1,000 times on the way home from the gym but would never have seen it. And just as I was taking my photo, what should happen but the owners stepped out of the garage door. I explained that I had been taking photos of their wall art and the lady told me the story behind the birds. She had bought them for her husband about 15 years ago when their two children left home or ‘flew out’, as she put it (de kinderen zijn uitgevlogen), so the birds symbolised that for them. What’s more, she knew where the sculptures came from! According to her, they were made by a potter called Jansen in Haalderen, a small village (pop. 2,000-ish) just outside Bemmel, between Arnhem and Nijmegen. She had been for pottery lessons there, so it seemed like she knew what she was talking about. If she hadn’t have come out of her door at just that moment, I might never have found out. I couldn’t wait to get home and confirm it.

Back to the internet: the name of the artist

She was almost right. As soon as I googled ‘pottenbakker Jansen Haalderen’, I found a website that described the ceramics centre in Bemmel, Ambacht Haalderen, AMHA for short. It was a craft centre set up in 1947 as a work creation project after the war, subsidised by Volksherstel Gelderland (People’s Aid Gelderland). Originally there were going to be several departments, but in the end only the pottery got off the ground and it’s still running today. It started off with five potters and the designer Joop Puntman (1934 – 2013) who stayed there until 1969, first producing domestic pottery and later more decorative work, initially with mostly religious themes. During the post-war recovery period, the company became well-known and was commissioned to make wall sculptures for many schools and governmental buildings under the Kunst aan de Wand programme (Art on the Wall), just like Jac Maris and many other Dutch artists. At the time, there was a government-sponsored percentageregeling (percentage rule) whereby all government buildings, schools, churches, post offices and the like had to spend 1 % of the cost of the building project on art, hence the proliferation of wall art.

So what about the Mr Janssen (with a double S) who had given the lady pottery lessons? G.A. Janssen was one of the co-founders and took over as director in 1990 as co-owner with his son Bart. I also discovered that Jac Maris (mentioned above) also worked with AMHA. For example they made a series of statuettes of St Joseph (Heilig Jozef) for a house in Elst, on the corner of the Koningin Emmastraat and the Prins Hendrkstraat, with copies for the directors of the Sint-Josef housing association, plus some copies for the artist himself, one of which belongs to the Jac Maris museum.

Coincidence – Joop Puntman and new Dutch polders

When I was looking for images of art by Joop Puntman, what should I stumble across but a 1973 work in Emmeloord, commemorating Bernard Geurtzen. The style is unmistakable, but unlike the birds on the houses in Wijchen, the scale is enormous. Coincidentally, while I was investigating this, the book I was reading was Het Nieuwe Land (The New Land) by Eva Vriend, telling the tale of the selection and social engineering involved in picking the first people to live and work in the new polders created when parts of the Zuiderzee were drained to create the IJsselmeer, Flevoland and the Noord-Oost Polder. Everything had to be built up from scratch by pioneers, and one of the pioneers in Emmeloord was Bernard Geurtzen, the person commemorated in a huge wall sculpture in Emmeloord in the N-O Polder (visit the website for the picture).  I never would have come across this if I hadn’t been interested in the artist at the same time.

The artist Joop Puntman and AMHA

Josephus Theodorus Puntman, known as Joop, was born in Bemmel on 20 March 1934 and died in Nijmegen on 12 December 2013. He studied at the academy of fine arts in Arnhem and worked from 1949 to 1969 for AMHA in Haalderen, continuing to produce ceramics until 2005 for private individuals. Ceramics such as the birds that sparked my curiosity.

How are the ceramic wall art pieces made?

Fine clay (chamotte) is put into plaster moulds and fired, giving a red or black finish after firing. Sometimes coloured glazes with various surfaces are used as well and some pieces have a lightly decorated background. They can be marked with a stamp saying Het Ambacht Haalderen (in capital letters) or AMHA, scratched into the clay or painted on.

The pottery will definitely be added to my growing list of places to visit. It’s in one of those difficult-to-reach-by-public-transport villages, so I might have to mount an expedition on my bike. Address: Ambachtstraat 8, 6685 BH Haalderen, tel. 0481-461314. In 2015, it took part in Open Monument Day (bother, too late again!). The announcement in Hét Gemeentenieuws online newspaper is too good not to include.

Ambacht Haalderen AMHA

Het Ambacht Haalderen (AMHA) pottery. Source: Hét Gemeentenieuws

I found a close-up photo of one of the smaller sculptures for sale online, for a price of € 75, if you’re interested.

Why are these wall sculptures still there?

Looking at them from the ground, the birds don’t look very big, but I’ve just found one online that is 120 cm wide by 65 cm in height. That’s pretty big and, I should imagine, heavy. If those are going to stay up on a wall, they will have been stuck on pretty hard, permanently, and the wall would probably have a mark on it if you removed the wall sculpture. The matt glaze helps protect the clay against the elements, so they remain in good condition. Perhaps they have survived so well simply because they are well able to withstand the elements and for most people, they fade into the background, so to remove them would simply be too much hassle. That’s not to say they are not threatened; much post-war recovery period artwork, particularly larger-scale art on official buildings, is now under threat as buildings change hands, are given a different function or simply demolished.

More on that next time as well as some answers to the questions I didn’t answer in this blog post.



Posted in art, Gelderland, life in the netherlands, random research, Wijchen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dutch wall art in Wijchen: a detective story

Local wall art on private houses sent me on a detective journey through the story of Dutch public and private art of the post-war recovery period (wederopbouw). Sparked by a chance thought, I followed the trail of wandkunst, gevelkunst, bas reliëf and other mysterious terms across the internet, but only a chance encounter gave me the clue that unravelled the mystery.

If you had an artwork on your house that you didn’t like, would you remove it, even if it might have a certain historical value? Would you keep it, even if you really disliked it? Would you take it down and throw it away or put it in the garage? Put it up for sale? Take it to a secondhand shop or an art dealer? Many houses have plaques or decorative objects on an outside wall. But are they art? Are they valuable, financially or artistically? Who made them? Where? How old are they? Questions, questions. I wanted answers!

Integrated Expat, private investigator, at your service! I’ve always enjoyed digging deeper into the background of questions where other people might just casually think to themselves, “I wonder…”, then promptly forget and move on to something more ‘important’ like the ironing or washing up. Not me! If I have a question, I want to know the answer, do some more research, do a little detective work. I always wanted to be a reference librarian. I was born for the age of the internet! But sometimes the internet is not enough. Either you get stuck or you need a personal tip to help you on the way. That’s what has been happening on a recent personal project of mine.

Wall art in Wijchen

Gevelkunst, wandkunst

Rather a splendid example of the Dutch wall art I was investigating

It all started one day when I noticed a wall decoration on a house and commented that I was sure there used to be more of these wall plaques about when we first moved to Wijchen. I hadn’t noticed them elsewhere, either, so I wondered if they came from somewhere local. The larger wall decorations this particular one reminded me of were in a particular style that is quite distinctive, using a specific palette of muted blues, reds and greens on what looks like concrete. This was the only lead I had to go on and I didn’t even think they were particularly beautiful, just interesting. Still, I thought it was a shame they seemed to be disappearing, probably because they are old-fashioned and have gone out of style. If new owners don’t like them, they can simply replace them with something more modern.

In search of wall art

The first part of my detective work was simply to go for a cylce ride on a sunny day and take some photos with my phone. It turns out I was right; there are still lots of these wall plaques around. Sometimes there were streets and streets where I didn’t find any at all, then I would hit the wall art jackpot and there would be several in the same area. Did all the houses used to have them, or is there just a cluster because one person was inspired by another? There were many sorts of wall art, but the majority wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.

Most wall art shows birds

The first thing I discovered from my own photos was that almost all of this style of wall art on private houses had birds as the subject, and most came in a group of two or three birds. Some are more stylised than others, but I would say that they are very clearly the work of one designer. Another thing that surprised me was that there are almost no duplicates. Yes there are similarities, but they aren’t identical. You can see it quite clearly if you look at the gallery of photos (below). So it seems unlikely that these have all been bought from the local garden centre. It also makes it even more exciting to find one that it isn’t a bird and I was lucky to spot it because it wasn’t high on the front wall of the house like most of the wall reliefs I’ve seen. This one was low on the side wall of a house that had something else on the front. Interesting!

Paarden van Joop Puntman, AMHA. Paarden zijn veel zeldzamer dan vogels.

Horses. The horses are far rarer than the birds.

Close encounters of the local kind

Cycling around taking photos turns out to be a good way of getting into interesting conversations with people you never would have spoken to otherwise. I know this because I have been ‘caught’ on several occasions and asked what I was up to. Luckily, every time the person has been intrigued rather than angry or worried that I was planning on burgling their home. The first time this happened, I had spotted an intriguing metal wall sculpture next to a front door under a carport (below). Just as I aimed my phone camera at it, a head popped into the frame and I had to hurriedly explain what I was doing, feeling highly embarrassed. The owner of the head wasn’t in the least bit phased. He turned out to be an estate agent waiting to show somebody around the house and thought I was the prospective buyer.

A few doors away, I took a photo of three pottery birds on a house, then cycled on. As it happens, I doubled back and was just taking a photo of another house nearby when the owner of the birds called out to ask what I was doing, fortunately in a friendly voice. I told him about my project to take photos of the wall art that seemed to be disappearing and we struck up a conversation. He told me that he thought that he had put up his birds in the 1980s when they were renovating the house, so they weren’t so old, but his birds looked different, not like the birds I was really interested in (see below). He told me that he had worked in a blacksmith’s (smederij) making decorative metalwork to put on glass front doors as an anti-burgler device. He also used to make the metalwork names that you can see on some houses, but said that both the doors and the names have fallen out of favour now. I’ve been taking photos of those too, so I will share those in another blog post soon. For the time being, I had taken an interesting collection of photos, but I was no nearer to finding out any clues about where they came from. My phone battery was empty. Time to go home.

[To be continued]

Posted in art, Gelderland, life in the netherlands, random research, Wijchen | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Expat Eurovison dilemma plus scandal, history, Douwe Bob and the UK entry

Forget Brexit! For many European expats, this week’s dilemma is whether to give their hearts and their Eurovision votes to their country of origin or some other country. And though I can’t vote for the UK to stay in Europe, I can vote for the UK entry to the Eurovision Song Festival. But not for the Dutch entry, because I live there. But before we get on to this year’s contestants, let us take a trip down memory lane.

Nijntje Oosterhuis cartoon, Eurovision 2015

Dutch Eurovision contestant Trijntje Oosterhuis was criticised for her dress in 2015. The cartoon pokes fun at both her dress and her uneven eyes. The bunny is called Nijntje in Dutch, hence Nijntje Oosterhuis. Zoek de verschillen means Spot the differences.

We love Eurovision

One of the highlights of the television year – or the lowlights, depending on your point of view – is the Eurovision Song Contest. The USA has Superbowl; Europe has Eurovision. Every year people throw parties to watch an evening full of cheesy pop, unexpected opera, glitter, false eyelashes and men with beards wearing dresses. You never know what you’re going to see. Every year there seems to be at least one act that involves ripping off a dress to reveal something skimpier. We’ve had gymnasts, men dressed in masks that make them look like they’re orcs from Lord of the Rings, Polish soft porn and more novelty acts than you can shake a rainmaker at.

Then we move on to the final voting that is supposed to be 50 % professional jury decision and 50 % public telephone vote. It could have been “exciting” except for the fact that neighbouring countries tend to vote for each other, especially the Eastern bloc countries that all vote for Russia and each other. It can’t all be a matter of similar taste, surely? Then there are countries like France that more often than not perform in their own language, whether that be a traditional chanson or hip-hop guys singing about moustaches. It’s all hilarious fun and the chances of hearing of the singers after the event are slim unless they were popular beforehand. The major exception to the rule being ABBA, whose international career was launched into superstardom by the experience.

Costume controversy and wardrobe malfunction

One of the joys of Eurovision is making rude comments about the costumes and in 1915 we were in for a real treat with the Dutch singer’s decisions. Trijntje Oosterhuis tried out several different outfits during the rehearsals. The first dress was a show-stopper by designer Tycho Boeker, a black figure-hugging creation with a jagged neckline slit to the navel, held together by a sheer skin-coloured insert. Daring, but was it tempting fate and wardrobe malfunction? Public debate was undecided and so was Trijntje; for her second rehearsal she wore a plainer black dress with a red jacket, but said she was just trying her options.

From vamp to vampire in one decisive moment

So everyone was wondering what she would wear on her big night, the semi-finals, hoping for a chance to wow the whole of Europe and random countries like Israel, Russia and Australia. The song was frankly pretty nondescript anyway, though annoyingly catchy with the meaningful words “Ai, ai, ai, ai.” There were probably more, but all instantly forgettable, though after 2 weeks, I could still remember the refrain. Scary! Imagine everyone’s horror when Trijntje turned up on the night wearing a black bat-winged jumpsuit with an elasticated waist that did absolutely nothing for her. Even if it was by Issy Miyake. Not even a snazzy belt to make it more interesting. Oh, and I nearly forgot, a lace mask covering her eyes at the beginning, none of which had any relevance to the song. If she’d been making a point about women in burkas, I would have understood, but it just seemed like she wanted to feel comfortable so nerves didn’t affect her singing. She would have been better off wearing a cute onesie. As it is, she looked like a sky diver in a wing suit, a fact not lost on the internet (see below). The designer was also disappointed that she didn’t choose to wear his dress; she didn’t tell him beforehand that she’d changed her mind, which seems a little callous. As it was, she stood almost motionless like a startled rabbit in the headlights. Needless to say, she didn’t go on to the finals and her final choice of outfit was also criticised. In fact, Trijntje Oosterhuis’ outfit was voted the worst at the 2015 Eurovision Song Festival.

Photos of overall and wing suit – Source:

Edsilia Rombley saves the day

However, the real dress did not go to waste. The woman who announced the Dutch points at the end of the show was Edsilia Rombley, a former Eurovision contestant, who just happens to be Trijnte Oosterhuis’ sister-in-law, and they had a surprise in store for us. Edsilia wore the much-maligned dress and looked stunning. The coven of witches presenting the show for the hosts, Austria, obviously had no idea that they were supposed to have noticed this, but Edsilia was grinning like the Cheshire cat. When she was interviewed later on Dutch TV, she told them that the designer had done a rush job to adapt the dress to her figure and skin colour. Good recovery!


Sadly, Trijntje’s outfit (presumably the batwing) was voted worst outfit of the whole competition, which is saying something. If only she hadn’t stood so still, she could have made it look amazing, as Stevie Nicks did during the Fleetwood Mac concert I went to a while back. Singing Gold Dust Woman, she wore an ethereal gold crocheted shawl over her black outfit and waved it like butterfly wings. I was mesmerised. I need a shawl like that. That’s how to wear a batwing!

The Common Linnets

The most successful Dutch entry since the Netherlands won in 1975 were The Common Linnets in 2014, coming second  with a country-inspired song featuring Dutch country-style singer Ilse de Lange and Waylon. Both are known in their own right. I have to admit I wasn’t particularly impressed by their song Calm After the Storm at the time. However, I occasionally overhear it on the radio or TV now and it definitely has a certain je ne sais quoi. Apparently the Germans also agree as they have become popular there and were asked to perform at the German national final this year, though they sang a cover of Dolly Parton’s song Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jo-lee-hee-heen. Earworm? You’re welcome!

Unsuccessful returnees

Continuing the historical theme, I came across a blog post about unsuccessful returnees to the Eurovision stage some time ago and have being saving it for my Eurovision post this year. One of the singers mentioned was the Dutch singer Corry Brokken who won the contest in the very first Eurovision show in 1957 with Net als toen (Just like it used to be). What a beautiful  song and such a beautiful voice.

Douwe Bob – Dutch Eurovision entry 2016

Personally I don’t rate this year’s Dutch entry, Douwe Bob with another country-style song, Slow Down. Boring, boring, boring, vaguely catchy due to the interminable repetition, but instantly forgettable. By the way, Douwe Bob is a non-hyphenated double-barrelled name, a bit like Jim Bob in The Waltons. Douwe Bob is a good-looking young chap, however, and the reviewer at The Telegraph seems quite taken with him. Her reviews are sarcastic and funny; well worth reading. He performed well at the first semi-final with an odd 10-second pause, though he did forget to put in the usual flourish at the end, apparently. I have also just discovered that his guitarist used to play for the well-known Dutch band Krezip; I’ll have to write something about them another time. Also, the piano player has just become a father for the first time. After the performance at the semi-finals, he flew back to the Netherlands for the birth of his daughter Eleanora and will fly back to Stockholm on Friday to take part in the finals on Saturday. No slowing down for him, then!

Joe and Jake – UK Eurovision entry 2016

As for the UK’s 2016 song, I liked it from the first time I heard it, so let’s hope they do better than last year’s entry, the flapper-style Still in Love With You by Electric Velvet, that was truly atrocious. The voting agreed: 24th out of 27 with only 5 points. In 2016, the boy band-like duo of Joe and Jake are going to sing You’re Not Alone. They met when they were both contestants on The Voice talent show in 2015 and they’ve already been signed to Sony, even though they do sound like a TV programme for pre-schoolers. Boyish enthusiasm and a song that sounds like a cross between Coldplay and – so I am reliably informed – One Direction. And it’s catchy, so maybe if you listen a couple of times it will replace Jolene in your brain!

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Bevrijdingsdag: freedom festivals, fun facts, 2015 fluff-ups

Dutch remembrance day (Dodenherdenking) and Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag) are taken seriously here and fully celebrated. Here are some fun facts, things that went wrong in 2016 and a couple of the special cartoons commissioned for the occasion, reflecting on freedom, war, refugees and what it all means today.

Rear view mirror, cartoon by Guffo, Mexican artist

The peace that surrounds us now is a result of the war and destruction of the past. A powerful image by Mexican cartoonist Guffo commissioned for the 2015 remembrance and liberation celebrations,


Freedom Festivals – Bevrijdingsfestivals

Every year each of the twelve provinces and the major cities in the Randstad organise a Freedom Festival (Bevrijdingsfestival) on 5 May, together forming the largest free one-day cultural event in the Netherlands. Last year, in spite of the fact that some of the events had to finish early or had parts of the celebrations curtailed due to awful weather, an estimated 927,500 people took part in the Freedom Festivals. They are coordinated by the National Committee for 4 and 5 May. In 2015 the theme was Freedom and Identity. In 2016, they seem to be sticking to the 5-year theme of Passing on Freedom. Not only is this a wonderful free music festival, but there is a definite emphasis on celebrating freedom and taking a moment to think about people who aren’t so free. Well-known Dutch artists act as Freedom Ambassadors,  visiting several of the festivals to perform and pass on the message of freedom and each festival has a Freedom Square with stands and activities run by organisations such as Amnesty International, the Red Cross and Humanity in Action. Not to mention the main Dutch refugee organisation, Vluchtelingenwerk, whose work is particularly important this year.

There are free festivals in:

  • Almere
  • Amsterdam
  • Assen
  • Den Bosch
  • The Hague
  • Groningen
  • Haarlem
  • Leeuwarden
  • Roermond
  • Rotterdam
  • Utrecht
  • Vlissingen
  • Wageningen
  • Zwolle

Things I didn’t know about Bevrijdingsdag

  • There is a 5-year theme to provide continuity, Vrijheid geef je door – Passing on freedom.
  • An annual theme is chosen each year. In 2015 this was Wie de ogen sluit voor het verleden, is blind voor de toekomst – Those who close their eyes to the past are blind to the future. This is a quotation from Richard von Weizsäcker, the first postwar president of a united Germany who died in February this year. Last year the celebrations focused on the liberation in 1945 and what we can learn from it. You can read the full text in English here.
  • In 2016, the general them of Passing on Freedom seems to have been adopted. A text has been written by political philosopher Tamar de Waal entitled De vrijheid omarmd, Freedom embraced, dealing with the themes of refugees and connections to the past.
  • There doesn’t seem to be a translation into English this year which seems particularly strange as you would think, with so many refugees in the country who can’t yet speak Dutch but who may speak English, that the translation would be more important than ever!

  • Several artists were commissioned to produce cartoons related to the theme this year, like last year. My favourite in 2016 is the one below. You can see the others on the 4en5mei site.
Embrace Freedom

True Freedom by Swaha from Lebanon,

  • Due to the strong influence of the Dutch Resistance after WWII, it was felt inappropriate to celebrate liberation on the same day as commemorating the dead, hence the 2 separate days.
  • Dutch Remembrance Day (Dodenherdenking, literally Remembrance of the Dead) only commemorates lives lost during and after WWII because unlike many other European countries the Netherlands was neutral in the First World War, so had no war memorials or formal tradition of remembrance. So unlike the UK, Dutch war memorials only commemorate WWII!
  • To ensure a respectful 2 minutes’ silence at 8pm on 4 May, it is compulsory for all shops close at 7pm for Dodenherdenking. All public transport stops, cars pull over to the side of the road, radio and TV stations are quiet, some social media platforms ask users to respect the 2 minutes’ silence. The major airports including Schiphol even ensure that planes to not take off and land around 8 o’clock.
  • Bevrijdingsdag concludes with a light classical concert held on the banks of the Amstel River in Amsterdam, featuring popular artists and a different orchestra each year. It is free to the public and televised.

Small-scale celebrations

As well as larger celebrations, smaller towns are starting to organise their own events to celebrate Freedom. One local one that caught my attention in 2015 was the brand new Vrijpop (Free Pop)  in neighbouring Beuningen. N.B. It’s not taking place in 2016, but they are already counting down to 2017. All afternoon there was a free programme of music, not only of the 1940s swing-band style (Glenn Miller Market Mood & Andrews Sisters), but they also programmed some more alternative bands going on into the evening (The Hubschrauber, Donnerwetter). The last is ironic; Donnerwetter is German for ‘thundery weather’ and there were thunderstorms in the afternoon. The thing that caught my attention, though, was the Kinderbouwdorp, the children’s building village, where children can enjoy themselves building structures out of old wood. The organisers chose this activity to remind people of the Wederopbouw, the reconstruction required after the Second World War when so much of the country’s infrastructure had been destroyed or damaged – bridges, roads, railways, houses, factories and other buildings. What a wonderful way to bring it all to life for young children!

Things that went wrong on 4 and 5 May 2015 – The bells, the bells!

All around the country, the freedom to party was restricted by the need to shelter out of the torrential rain, coupled with high winds. Many of the festivals were delayed as a result of this. Tragically, 2 young women who sheltered under a tree in a park in Amersvoort were killed by lightning on 5 May last year.

In 2015 there were also a couple of things that went wrong with the traditional ringing of bells to celebrate freedom. In one small town, the large ceremonial bell that is used during the Liberation Day ceremony rather unceremoniously let everyone down. To everybody’s horror, the klepel (clapper) of the bell fell out, leaving behind a deafening silence broken only by gasps of horror.

In Boxmeer, on the other hand, the 2 minutes’ silence was broken by the unseemly tolling of the church bell. A spokesperson could only explain that it was due to ‘a technical issue’, presumably because they have an electronic bell instead of one operated by someone pulling on a rope.

2016 – Hemelvaart and Bevrijdingsdag on the same day

With any luck, this year’s celebrations will go without a hitch. The weather at least seems to be auspicious, with clear blue skies and the temperature predicted to reach 20ºC. This year is also a public holiday for everyone because it falls on the same day as Hemelvaart or Ascension Day, which is always a public holiday.

Happy Liberation Day! How are you going to pass on freedom?


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