Shutterspeed: Return to Berlin

A few weeks ago I was in Berlin on a lightning visit, accompanying a friend who was passing through on her way to a conference. I spent half a day there by myself and took the opportunity to visit the exhibition Die Schwarzen Jahre: Geschichte einer Sammlung. 1933 – 1945 at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum. It was an excellent overview of a topic that interests me very much, the Nazis’ famous exhibition of degenerate art (Entartete Kunst) that called for an attack on modernist art, mostly expressionist and abstract pieces. The Bahnhof Museum displayed artworks from the original exhibition, and provided a context by featuring works that were made after the war as a response to Nazism, works that exemplified the Nazi standards of art, and works that had been made in secret and were only shown to the public after the war ended. It was extraordinary to me how arbitrary the criteria that deemed a piece to be degenerate seemed to be. I took a few photographs in the city (sadly there were no cameras allowed inside the museum); Berlin at this time of year is decked out in turquoise and gold.

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Histourism: Tracing Operation Market Garden in Arnhem

Yesterday I spent a marvellous day with a friend in the vicinity of Arnhem, tracing the remnants of Operation Market Garden, which took place in September 1944. There are quite a few museums and memorials dotted around the area, showing that the people there haven’t forgotten the soldiers who tried to drive out the Germans at a great cost. Arnhem bore the brunt of some heavy fighting between the British 1st Airborne Division (with the Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade attached) and the German SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen”. British paratroopers were dropped around Arnhem and given orders to secure the bridge over the Rhine. My beloved Yankees from the US 101st Airborne Division landed further south near Eindhoven, and the US 82nd Airborne Division landed near Nijmegen. All sorts of activities are organised on Market Garden’s anniversary in September, but sadly this is the first year that I’m keen to go and I’m not even going to be in the Netherlands in September. Hmph. One day I’ll do a full tour of the whole area all the way down to Eindhoven.

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Histourism: A weekend in Budapest

Last weekend I visited Budapest with a friend. I had been dying to see Budapest for ages and I was not disappointed. It’s brimming with gorgeous architecture, historical landmarks, amazing food, friendly people and a great atmosphere. It’s fairly cheap to stay and eat there as well. The beautiful sunny weather and the colourful autumn trees were the backdrop for a fantastic weekend.

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Histourism: Kamp Vught & ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Yesterday I went to the south of the Netherlands to visit Kamp Vught, the only genuine SS concentration camp located outside of the Third Reich. It wasn’t even finished when prisoners started to arrive, and they had to help finish building it. During WWII it was pretty large, but all that remains now are a few barracks, a visitors’ centre with a small museum, and a monument where the execution place once was, located a fifteen minute walk from the visitors’ centre.
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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.
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Today, while I was on my lunch break, I walked past a little glass cabinet which functions as a tiny library. People are invited to leave old books there and to take others for free. This afternoon I found Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and a Dutch translation of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. When I opened the latter, I found a note with a short poem on it in Dutch, addressed to “Rob.”
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Shutterspeed: Holiday on Schiermonnikoog

I went on holiday to the island of Schiermonnikoog last week. Schiermonnikoog, like the other Dutch islands, lies in the Waddenzee, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list (as is the Grand Canyon, for example). What makes the “wad” so special is that it’s the world’s largest area of mud and sand that dries up during low tide. It stretches from the Dutch north coast all the way to the Danish west coast. It is also the type of soil with the biggest biodiversity in the Netherlands.
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