Dis­cov­er­ing Haar­lem's his­tory

Polly Allen visits Haar­lem, and finds the quiet coun­ter­part to Am­s­ter­dam full of cul­ture, pe­riod ar­chi­tec­ture and world-class mu­se­ums and gal­leries

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

It’s on the wall of a con­verted at­tic B&B, above El Pin­cho tapas restau­rant, that I find the best sum­mary of Haar­lem: ‘The river cur­va­ceous/ And canals de­serted/ The city feels like a blan­ket’. These words are part of a mu­ral lov­ingly cre­ated by the own­ers who, like other Haar­lem res­i­dents, are proud of their quiet but cul­tured city, with much of its ar­chi­tec­ture pre­served, and world-class ex­hibits in its mu­se­ums and gal­leries. This mini Am­s­ter­dam mi­nus the crowds is lit­tle-known by in­ter­na­tional tourists, who fol­low the herd to the bright lights of the cap­i­tal or the widely-praised pot­tery in Delft. They have no idea what they’re miss­ing out on.

Take Haar­lem’s hof­jes, or almshouses: each is a lit­tle oa­sis of calm. I met few other peo­ple as I walked through, and it felt like I’d stepped back in time. Though pri­vately oc­cu­pied, most hof­jes can be vis­ited, or at least seen from the street.

The city ar­chive is based next to one of the old­est hof­jes, as I learned from Wouter Schelfhout, a city guide since the 1990s. He also took me to the most mod­ern hofje, a wood-clad con­tem­po­rary de­vel­op­ment in stark con­trast to its cen­turies-old coun­ter­parts. Though Haar­lem­mers aren’t afraid of moder­nity, they’ve pre­served the past with quiet pride.

Re­mem­ber­ing the Siege of Haar­lem

For eight months, from Oc­to­ber 1752 to July 1753, Haar­lem held out against Span­ish in­vaders and bore the brunt of their force. Tac­ti­cally speak­ing, the Span­ish fo­cus on Haar­lem al­lowed other Dutch towns and cities to re­group and strengthen their de­fences dur­ing the Eighty Years’ War.

Find the siege memo­rial on Sta­tion­splein square, in front of the train sta­tion and the bus de­pot. It de­picts city gov­er­nor Wig­bolt Rip­perda with Ke­nau Si­mons­dochter Has­se­laer, an aris­to­cratic widow who sup­plied wood and fight­ing women to the cause.

Build­ing on this his­tory, the Dutch slang word ke­nau ini­tially meant brav­ery and tough­ness, but evolved to be­come deroga­tory, sim­i­lar to ‘bitch’. His­to­ri­ans from 1872 on­wards have ques­tioned Has­se­laer’s role, ar­gu­ing there isn’t enough

ev­i­dence to prove she fought. What­ever her truth, women and chil­dren did help de­fend the city, but were rarely praised; I’m grate­ful to see at least one re­mem­bered.

The 14th-cen­tury Grote of St. Ba­vok­erk, Haar­lem’s most im­por­tant church, holds ev­i­dence of the siege: a can­non­ball imbed­ded in one wall, and a memo­rial be­hind the al­tar which men­tions eat­ing cats, dogs and mice when star­va­tion took hold - apolo­gies to vege­tar­i­ans and ve­g­ans, but it’s fas­ci­nat­ing stuff. When the Span­ish took Haar­lem, their re­venge was har­row­ing: Dutch­men were tied back-to-back and thrown into the River Spaarne to drown. A ‘Tied Men’ statue on the river­side re­mem­bers the hor­ror.

Haar­lem’s Golden Age

The Golden Age re­ally was a golden time for Haar­lem: mer­chants pros­pered; artists flour­ished with new tech­niques for more re­al­is­tic por­trai­ture, dra­matic land­scapes and dark still life paint­ings; the city was at its most pow­er­ful. Tulip Ma­nia had struck the whole of the Nether­lands, with the econ­omy boosted by ex­or­bi­tant trade prices for tulip bulbs, and Haar­lem wasn’t ex­empt. Golden Age artists like Frans Hals and Ju­dith Leyster, one of the few women to be ad­mit­ted to Haar­lem’s Guild of St. Luke, of­ten painted tulip mer­chants and col­lec­tors. Walk­ing down the street where Leyster once lived, or past the same Vlee­shal (meat hall) that Hals saw, now part of a mu­seum named after him, brought me closer to their world.

Hals is Haar­lem’s most fa­mous son, known world­wide for his dark and ex­pres­sive paint­ings

The Golden Age re­ally was a golden time for Haar­lem: mer­chants pros­pered; artists flour­ished with new tech­niques for more re­al­is­tic por­trai­ture; the city was at its most pow­er­ful

such as The Laugh­ing Cav­a­lier (1624). He spent most of his life in Haar­lem and is buried in the Grote Ba­vok­erk. Whilst his work would draw art-lov­ing crowds on its own, the dual-site Frans Hals Mu­seum com­mis­sioned con­tem­po­rary artists to re­spond to his paint­ings and hung the works to­gether for the ex­hi­bi­tion Ren­dezvous with Frans Hals, which I caught dur­ing my visit. This dy­namic ap­proach breathed new life into Hals’ style, pro­voked de­bate amongst vis­i­tors and at­tracted a younger crowd, drawn to oil paint­ings by Kerry James Mar­shall. I par­tic­u­larly loved a tongue-incheek se­ries of film trail­ers, Where is Rocky II?, by Pierre Bis­muth, at­tempt­ing to un­cover the lo­ca­tion of a lost Ed Ruscha in­stal­la­tion in the un­for­giv­ing Mo­jave desert. This au­tumn’s ex­hi­bi­tion, Frans Hals and the

Moderns (show­ing un­til 24 Fe­bru­ary 2019) cov­ers some of the world’s most fa­mous artists who cited Hals as their in­spi­ra­tion: Manet, Singer Sar­gent and van Gogh.

World War II (WWII) Haar­lem

The Nether­lands suf­fered bit­terly in WWII un­der Nazi rule from 1940-1945: it’s no ur­ban myth that starv­ing Dutch peo­ple re­sorted to eat­ing tulip bulbs as food short­ages in­ten­si­fied. Haar­lem had a huge Re­sis­tance net­work, in which one fam­ily, the ten Booms, played a ma­jor part. On pa­per they were un­likely to arouse sus­pi­cion: Cas­par ten Boom, the de­voutly Chris­tian owner of a watch­mak­ing shop in the city cen­tre, and his two spin­ster daugh­ters in their early 50s, Cor­rie and Bet­sie, plus other chil­dren nearby. Above the shop, the ten Booms hid 800 Jewish peo­ple be­tween 1942-1944, pass­ing most onto other Re­sis­tance mem­bers when it was safe

to move, but four Jews were hid­den in a spe­cially con­structed ‘Hid­ing Place’ in Cor­rie’s bed­room. By day, they roamed the house, kept safe by an alarm sys­tem in­stalled by the Re­sis­tance net­work to warn of un­ex­pected vis­i­tors.

A Dutch col­lab­o­ra­tor re­port­ing to the Nazis be­trayed the ten Booms in 1944; they were sent to prison, where Cas­par died and Cor­rie was placed in soli­tary con­fine­ment. From there, Cor­rie and Bet­sie en­dured an­other prison and then the Ravens­brück con­cen­tra­tion camp, where Bet­sie died. For­tu­nately, the four Jewish peo­ple sur­vived, hav­ing fled 72 hours after the Nazi raid. Cor­rie’s book of her fam­ily’s Re­sis­tance ef­forts,

The Hid­ing Place, touched read­ers around the world, and put the ten Boom house firmly on the map for many vis­i­tors – my­self in­cluded - since the mu­seum opened in 1988. Be warned: en­try is free, but by group tours only, pre-booked at least five days in ad­vance. The Hid­ing Place has been faith­fully recre­ated and see­ing its scale brings home the des­per­a­tion of those hid­den here.

Han­nie Schaft was an­other Re­sis­tance mem­ber who made her mark, known as ‘the girl with the red hair’. Schaft sup­plied her many Jewish friends with false ID cards, and she car­ried out at­tacks on Nazis and Dutch col­lab­o­ra­tors, mak­ing her a ma­jor tar­get. Ex­e­cuted just three weeks be­fore the end of the war, aged just 24, Schaft’s de­fi­ant last words to her bum­bling ex­e­cu­tion­ers were: “I could shoot bet­ter.” I rec­om­mend vis­it­ing her statue in Ke­nau­park, a short walk from the sta­tion, fol­lowed by a calm river­side walk to the city cen­tre.

What­ever your his­tor­i­cal fo­cus, or your cul­tural in­ter­est, Haar­lem has you cov­ered, but with less crowds and noise than its more pub­li­cised ri­val cities. As the say­ing goes, it’s al­ways the quiet ones…

Top left: Hofje van Bak­enes

Far left: The statue of Wig­bolt Rip­perda with Ke­nau Si­mons­dochter Has­se­laer on Sta­tion­splein by sculp­tor Gra­ziella Cur­reli

Left: Lau­rens Coster statue with Ba­vok­erk be­hind

Top right: Ex­te­rior of the Frans Hal Mu­seum

Right: Sec­tions ofPor­trait No. 524-531 by An­ton Hen­ning at the Frans Hal Mu­seum

Above: View of Haar­lem Sin­tBa­vok­erk from the south (Turf­markt), look­ing over the Spaarne river

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