Histourism: Hidden art deco gem Radio Kootwijk

A weekend at my mother’s is always good for some last-minute adventures. Last Saturday night we took a drive in the dark to go and listen to the belling of the stags, a very distinctive sound that they make when they are in heat. Unfortunately, we were a bit early – they do it from mid-September to mid-October – so we didn’t hear much. We did run into (not literally) some deer grazing in a field and some wild boars by the side of the road, which was really cool! I’d never seen any in the wild before. They didn’t seem scared of the headlights at all; they just trotted along, minding their own business. On Sunday, we cycled to  one of the most surreal places I have ever visited in the Netherlands: a former radio station in Kootwijk, nicknamed “the cathedral”, in the middle of the Veluwe.

A massive concrete structure that juts up from the purple-hued wasteland, Radio Kootwijk was built in the 1920s, and is a wonderful example of art deco architecture. It was once the main location for radio contact with the Dutch East Indies, with connections to Bandung, Semarang, Jakarta and Malang. During World War I, the importance of a connection to the colonies other than the sea cable (which was censured by the English) became increasingly important. After the war, a massive radio transmitter was built on the island of Java near Bandung, and its counterpart in the dunes near Kootwijk soon followed. During World War II, the Germans used it to communicate with their U-boats. After the war the quality of intercontinental communication via sea cable improved, and the importance of Radio Kootwijk declined. From the 1970s onwards it became the home of Radio Scheveningen, who provided maritime communication and helped ships on the North Sea who were in distress. In 1998, transmission stopped altogether, and the state owns the now vacant building, which is sometimes used for cultural purposes. It’s certainly very unusual, and it was awesome to see from the inside (though really crowded, as it was Open Monuments Weekend.) We also paid a visit to the nearby water tower.

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