Daily Diary, July 30th

by jennyabrahamson on 1 August 2010

The Video

We spent Friday exploring The Hague, which hosts the Netherlands’ seat of government and is just a 50-minute train ride southwest of Amsterdam. Rob announced that the theme for the day was a mix of high and low culture – thoughts on this one, people?

But first: we met in the courtyard at 8:30, our earliest and most painful rendezvous yet. However, the sky was clear, spirits were high, and the possibility of enlightenment fueled our step.

Taking the scenic route to the Centraal Station

On the train, I spotted much foliage and a cute baby. Though I didn’t buy my own ticket this time, I found all other aspects of the journey surprisingly hassle-free. Train travel in The Netherlands has thus far been thoroughly convenient, scenic, and an enjoyable time for rest without the stress of navigating traffic. Trains are neat and the US should have more of them.

A brief rest from the demands of foreign travel

Upon arrival, Rob spent a few moments introducing The Hague. Since the 13th century, this area has hosted a noble, and later royal, presence. Today, the Dutch government is split: Amsterdam is the capitol but The Hague hosts both the parliament and the queen’s royal office. Amsterdam has traditionally been more of an international, cosmopolitan city whereas The Hague has been a smaller, friendly residential town. The large UN presence in The Hague in the form of the International Criminal Court, however, has brought a wave of wealthy, international residents. This has had a polarizing effect on the distribution of wealth so that there is a sharp distinction between the cosmopolitan upper class and the poorer areas in the south. As a result, the city lacks a strong middle class.

The Hague suffered during WWII when occupied by the Germans. The Nazis built their Atlantic defense wall through the middle of The Hague, demolished some neighborhoods in the process. The allies then bombed the city, mistakenly hitting a heavily populated and historic area. This explains the presence of many newer buildings in the city center.

Our first stop was Madurodam, a miniature town that models Dutch buildings and landmarks from all over the Netherlands. All structures are exact replicas of the originals on a 1:25 scale. Inside are 66,000 inhabitants alongside moving cars, trucks, trains, and boats.

A monument to Dutch culture and achievement

Named after George Maduro, a law student who died at the Dachau concentration camp after fighting Nazi occupation forces as a member of the Dutch resistance during WWII, Madurodam opened in 1952 as a war memorial and charity foundation. Madurodam continues to donate its profits every year to its Support Fund Society, which “financially supports social and cultural institutions for young people”.

Madurodam itself funds eighty percent of the models. The other 20% is paid for by industries and companies, though all structures must be approved before construction begins, there must be space available, and buildings must be both typically Dutch and attractive to visitors. Thus, the KLM airplanes, Shell service station, etc.

Royal Dutch Shell

On a related note, Mini-Europe in Belgium contains roughly 350 similarly scaled landmarks from all across the European Union. The world’s largest miniature park is Miniatürk in Istanbul, Turkey. Basically, this is not just a Dutch thing.

After much exploration, we gather again to discuss some interesting aspects of Madurodam, a few of which were:

  1. The variety in types of buildings represented, from St. John’s Basilica to standard Dutch apartments to oil refineries and everything in between, which makes for a striking contrast and expands the notion of what should be considered interesting architecture.
  2. The advertising, as mentioned above – part national pride for Dutch companies, part sponsorship, and part effort maintain realistic physical depictions
  3. The attention to detail of everyday life, ranging from people admiring museum displays to commuting in cars to shopping with friends. Madurodam is not just a monument to Dutch construction, but to Dutch life and culture generally
  4. The popularity of Madurodam itself, which brings pleasure to children and adults who can recognize national buildings and monuments, take pride in Dutch infrastructure, and feel really, really big.
  5. The mechanizing of planes, trains, and automobiles which brings the city to life (according to statistics given in the booklet, trains in Madurodam travel 16,000 kilometers per year)

The park felt a little bizarre initially, but its sheer size, attention to detail, and some familiar sights made my adventures in Madurodam surprisingly stimulating. As a serious tribute to the country’s infrastructure, the place demands respect. Its popularity suggests to me a widespread sense of national pride that seems lacking in the United States.

After a brief lunch and coffee break, we took the tram back to the city center and went to The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, an art museum. I am no art connoisseur, but I enjoyed the opportunity to see some familiar works in person, especially The anatomy lesson, which was painted in our very own de Waag tower.

The anatomy lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, Rembrandt

The museum was physically majestic.

No pictures allowed inside, but Google provided examples of some of the museum’s most famous works:

Girl with a pearl earring, Vermeer

The view of Delft, Vermeer

The young bull, Paulus Potter

After touring the Mauritshuis, we went our separate ways. I’d estimate that about half of us went to the Escher museum, which I’m going to defend as completely worth my 7.50. A graphic artist who lived from 1898 to 1972, Escher is definitely a personal favorite. His work, which features themes of infinity, recursion, and distortions of reality, continually blows my mind. I’ve highlighted just a few examples below:

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