Den Haag was the next stop on my little Holland tour. It is a somewhat unusual Dutch city so far as it has no canals (but a lake in front of the parliament). I thought the city free tour was only average, but the Esher museum and the seafront were worthwhile visiting. After the tour I had a fun afternoon with Julia (from Darmstadt, but now in Berlin) enjoying the local food festival and, given she also blogs (see here), I got some handy tips.
What I learned about Den Haag
- The Hague is the 3rd largest city in Holland with c1m population in the metropolitan area. It is home to the parliament and the royal palace though Amsterdam remains the constitutional capital.
- Haagse Harry statue: It looks right out of a comic book and was designed by an artist who lived in the more artistic area of Den Haag (for locals there is a distinct separation of richer & not so rich people in the city).
- There was a V1/2 base (German flying bomb) very close to the Hague in the Haagse Bos (the Hague forest). When the English tried to bomb the base, they got the target wrong and killed 600 people. The Hague was one of the most bombed places in WW2. This explains some of the more modern architecture in the city (similar to Rotterdam).
- There was originally a synagogue in the city, but the few remaining jews couldn’t support it anymore. Then Turks squatted this synagogue in 70s and made it their building. Now two minarets have been added and its a mosque.
Seagull mania: Being close to the seaside, there are plenty of seagulls about. They are pretty aggressive in their endeavour for food and take apart rubbish bags (apparently not red/yellow bags) and steal food right out of people’s hands/mouths – so watch out when you snack here.
- Across the city you’ll find many storks – a symbol of Den Haag that stands for prosperity (and children).
- Stay normal rule: apparently very important for locals is to stay normal. Hence, it is not difficult to spot people like the PM having a coffee in an ordinary cafe.
- Language: With 60% foreign students and mot people well versed in English, there is a growing debate about what happens with the Dutch language. I have to add here, that Dutch people all too easily switch to english even for foreigners that are trying to learn their language – so give us a chance & be patient.
- The Hague is home to the first mall in Europe, which looks similar to the one in Milan & Brussels. The origin is closely related to the chaperone rule whereby young ladies required supervision when they leave their house. Having everything under one roof provided a certain freedom for those upper class chicks.
- Bike orphans & battle with drivers: As in any Dutch city there are loads of bikes. Currently there is a big debate raging between bikers and car drivers. The former provide for 65% of the city’s movement yet the cars get 10x the space. Bike parking is pretty organised and should you leave your bike in an area not being a dedicated parking space it might get picked up. There are in total c100,000 bike orphans in the city – picked up bikes that are not claimed by their owners.
- The Hague has arguably the smallest city park I have ever seen ;o) In total less than 1sqm. Locals would love to have a bigger one, as the stone that heavily features in construction here heats up in summer adding 10 degrees extra at times. Well, you can always head to the beach though – something most other cities don’t offer.
- Pharmacy anecdote: We stopped by an old pharmacy that retains much of its antique past. There is a joker figure above the entrance. This symbols ‘de jaaper’ (the jawner). He would travel with the doctor and if you don’t trust your medicine, he would try it for you so as to proof it doesn’t kill you.
- Fahrenheit (1686-1736) is buried here in the Kloosterkerk.
- Polderen: A term that I first came across in my waterland tour (see here). It basically means to debate a problem with all parties involved to find a solution. The origin is from the polder/water management where people realised that only if decisions are taken together a good outcome can be achieved since drainage of fields is interconnected.
Esher museum – graphic & twisted art
Esher was a Dutch graphic artist that made mathematically inspired woodcuts & lithographs including many ‘impossible’ pictures (like illusions). A few samples below. The museum was EUR10 to get in and is not covered by the museums card, but worth it.