Of memory

I suspect every major Dutch town has one of these –  a statue in memory of the Nazi Occupation from 1940 – 1945.  Their beauty lies in simplicity. The Amsterdam and Rotterdam ones are singular, evocative figures and like this one in Leiden, the plinth is engraved only with the dates.

I visited the Anne Frank Huis today. It’s something that I wanted to be prepared for, to have time to take it in at my own pace. As a museum it tells a complex story with simplicity and humanity. I read the book as a young teenager – I have to confess my aspie special interest was (and remains) the Holocaust – and to see and move inside the house was a revelation. To have come inside, to be confined, to walk from daylight to rooms with blackout curtains was to understand the enormity of hiding as survival.

Primo Levi, an Italian Holocaust survivor and writer of his experiences, said of the popularity of Anne Frank’s story:

“One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did, but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way: If we were capable of taking in the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live.”

I think perhaps that also explains those single figures who stand for the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands. That in the singular we each find and share the universal.



The Dutch like to be cosy and friendly and they have a special word for it: gezelligheid. Coffee is an integral part of this and we are always offered coffee at the beginning of an interview. And not just instant coffee – every workplace has some kind of coffee machine delivering at least four different types of coffee. You can appreciate how lovely we thought this coming from our Melbourne cafe culture.

This is where a health warning needs to be issued: the Dutch like their coffee strong. Heart starter strong. And it’s really not a good idea to take up the offer of coffee at every interview if you have a string of them in one day.  We learned that lesson very quickly.

Gezelligheid is also seen in the architecture and interior design. Even the business hotels make an effort not simply for comfort but for gezelligheid, an atmosphere of relaxation among friends. Some are more successful than others. The one we’re staying at the moment hits it rather well. This is the view from my window. In the bottom right corner is my knitting. Perfection!

Tour de Netherlands

I could get used to international travel, you know.

Well, the international bit anyway. The travel bit is crappy.

Sunday afternoon on the Leidsegeracht, Amsterdam

Amsterdam Radhuis at twilight