* Advent Calender

December 10th, Freedom.

In the spring of 2018 I wrote this column. With the coming of the 4th and 5th of May, many people are without a doubt reflecting on the subject of ‘freedom’ more frequently. At least I did, perhaps because I saw the beautiful movie ‘The Darkest Hour’ at the beginning of May. The movie shows the most fundamental period in the life of Winston Churchill, when he decided to stand up against Adolf Hitler and say no to all negotiations. What if Winston Churchill hadn’t be that strong? How would Europe have looked like, would we still have had so much freedom as nowadays?

Do we really have so much freedom? Is freedom something personal, depending on how somebody experiences their own freedom? A Jewish woman, Mireille Knoll, survived the biggest razzia ever in France, the Vel d’Hiv in 1942. With the ending of WWII, Mireille was able to live in freedom. On March 23 2018, on an incredibly brutal way, she was robbed of her freedom again. In her own apartment in Paris, at the age of 85, she was murdered. Her body burned afterwards, probably an anti-Semitic act. How much freedom do Jewish people really have?

Natascha Kampusch was born in Austria, in 1988. Long after the torments of WWII, she had a careless and free life in Vienna. On her way to school, the ten year old girl was kidnapped by Wolfgang Priklopil. He took away her freedom for eight years. After 3096 days she managed to escape and set herself free. Meanwhile she wrote two books: ‘3.096 Days’ and ‘Ten Years of Freedom’. Can a person really feel free again after something so horrible? Thoughts and dreams will probably never be freed from such horrible memories ever again.

Many countries know the Freedom of Speech. The freedom to spread your opinions and ideas without advanced control by the government. Like most constitutions there are some rules of the game. Abuse, insult and slander can be sentenced. The summary describes Freedom of Speech as the feeling to articulate your opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation or legal sanction. Does everybody still feels that freedom? Freedom of Speech became fatal for Theo van Gogh, just like it did for Pim Fortuin. Both men got robbed of their freedom by murder.

Freedom, a subject where we can philosophize about endlessly. I think people in the past generally experienced more freedom of the mind than nowadays. I think that the children of the 21st century are much more under pressure. We only had some popularity struggles at school and among a group of friends. Now they also have to deal with Social Media. How many followers do you have, how many Likes did you get and do you really look perfect on every photograph online? There are special yoga-, and mindful lessons for children from the age of six, to free their young minds of stress.

The theft of my own youth happened, just like Natascha’s, at a very young age. Thanks to my grandparents I could experience every now and then how it feels to be a careless child, free from fear. Those moments were the happiest of my childhood, unfortunately they will never erase the bad memories. I will never be able to free myself from them. But I refuse to live with feelings of fear, revenge, anger and deeply sorrow! I refuse to give away the freedom of mind again!

When I am outside, surrounded by nature, I really feel free. When I make a long hike and fully enjoy everything I see around me, I really feel free. When I take a deep breath, and feel the fresh air enter my lungs, I really feel free. When I stop at a little wooden bench along the way to eat a homemade sandwich, I really feel free. For all those things I am really thankful. Thankful that I have the freedom and free time to go out on a weekday. Thankful that I have a healthy body and mind, enough food and drinks available. Thankful that I own a mirror-reflex camera to record all the beautiful things my eyes focus on. That I can share my photographs with all of you without advanced control by the government.

The first weekend of April, a television station from The Achterhoek was visiting the biological farm and hotel in the village of Lievelde. After spending the winter in the stables, the cows were released again and free to run and feel the sun in the field. Over 100 people came to watch the cows jumping and dancing, to see the animals go crazy by seeing and smelling the fresh green grass. Of course, they’re not really free.. Just like the free range chickens are not free at all. Or do they experience real freedom because a lack of information? How about my own two cats? They seem satisfied, are affectionate towards me. Do they feel free or just locked up? What if we pass away? Is that a loss of freedom, or will we finally be really free?



December 9th, De Slag om Grolle.

Once every two years the city of Groenlo changes into an authentic 17th century stronghold. On top of the church tower the flag from The Achterhoek gets replaced by the Spanish one. Along the canals the encampment arises, giving shelter to more than 1500 re-enactors from all over the world! During three days and nights the whole city will take you back to the year 1627. All streets are decorated, everybody wears authentic costumes and everywhere you’ll encounter all kinds of entertainment. Children are playing in the streets, merchants try to sell their goods, barrels of beer are on their way to the hostels and verdicts are executed. Food is prepared like they did in 1627, you will see cooking pots on wood fires, a traveling goods market and pigs spinning on a spit.

It took me ten years before I went to this event for the first time after moving to the Achterhoek. I went on Sunday, the last day of the event. I was ecstatic! So in 2019 I hope to go all three days. I subscribed for a press card on Friday, so who knows I will receive one free entrance. The photograph at the bottom of this column won a prize in 2017. It’s awesome to be present at the battle field, to see even the children perform so passionately! Not to mention the gorgeous roughly attracted soldiers.. (for the male visitors: there is also a brothel with beautiful women).

The camp is divided in two sides, the Spanish side and the Dutch (Staatse) side. The leader of the Staatse side is Frederik Hendrik (son of Willem van Oranje). Everything seems to be very peaceful, until the Spanish receive a message that soldiers of the Staatse army are on their way with commander Prince Frederik Hendrik. The re-enactors meet at the battle-field, Groenlo (Grolle) is under siege! During the three days of this event you can watch demonstrations on the battlefield and explore the trenches. You will see fights with roaring canons, hand spears, rapiers and muskets. The horses are specially trained for these kinds of conditions.

The Eighty Years’ War (Dutch War of Independence) was a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces (today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg) against Philip II of Spain, the sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands. Resentment towards the Spanish authority and religious tension led to this war. Groenlo (Grolle) was sieged a number of times by both fighting parties. On August 4th 1606, the Spanish army, led by Spinola, arrived at the gates of Grolle. After just 10 days the Staatse defenders had to surrender. Until the siege of 1627, Grolle remained in Spanish hands.

The Slag om Grolle will happen again in 2019, October 18, 19 and 20. During daytime (10.00am- 05.00pm) you have to buy an entrance ticket. After closing time the event is free to enter. Most of the re-enactors stay in the city of Groenlo and therefor the atmosphere is also in the evenings very special. In 1627 they used silver and golden coins to pay with, so during those three days special coin-offices open their doors. If you want to buy yourself drinks and foods during the day, you will need these coins.  In the evenings some bars and restaurants will accept the coins as well. Believe me, you have to visit this event at least once in your life! See The Achterhoek- Municipality Oost Gelre for more info about Groenlo and in my portfolio you will find some more photographs of the Slag om Grolle on ice.



December 8th, Coffee with Dialect.

In The Achterhoek we are very proud about our dialect. In fact, it’s no longer just a dialect. In October 2018 the Dutch Low Saxon dialect became an official language! So now we have our own flag AND our own language. There are specialized dialect society’s all over The Netherlands and of course also the Achterhoek has one. Several writers and artist are involved to keep the dialect alive. Throughout the year they organize all kinds of events and publish new stories and books on a regular base. One of the returning events is ‘Coffe with a Dialect’ around noon, at the beautiful location of the open-air museum in Lievelde (Erve Kots). Everybody is more than welcome to listen to stories and music in Low Saxon dialect.

On one of those mornings they had a special guest, Hans Keuper. He is a member of the band Boh Foi Toch, and wrote several lyrics in dialect. Music is a good way to keep the Low Saxon dialect alive. Another (rock) band from The Achterhoek with primarily lyrics in dialect is the band Normaal (ordinary). The lead singer Bennie Jolink is now 72 years of age, in 2019 they will be on stage once more. The rock band Normaal is the oldest Low Saxon dialect band in all of The Netherlands. His son Gijs had his own rock band, Jovink en de Voederbietels, also a Low Saxon dialect band. Both of them make an effort to keep the dialect of The Achterhoek alive. Gijs Jolink is one of the organizers of the world wide famous Zwarte Cross Festival (Black Cross Festival).

On that morning (October 1st 2017), when Hans Keuper was one of the guests, the society celebrated their 60 years of existence and it was the 100th episode of ‘Coffee with a Dialect’. I was present with a friend of mine. She is, just like me, born and raised outside The Achterhoek and moved here out of love. Both of us do understand, but do not speak the dialect. Barbara is a great storyteller and writer of poems. Sometimes we put our creations together, a photograph of me and a matching poem by Rabarbara. The poem-picture we made of Hans Keuper was published, shared and printed a lot! This month it was published again in an article about the importance of using dialect in healthcare. I will place the English translation beneath this story (in Dutch). At the bottom you will find the original poem-picture.



I am writing an ode to smooth talking

Even though I don’t manage it myself

I am actually from the city

Till lots of farmers grief


Recently I was at a party

A society existed 60 years

One hundred times they spoke

With each other in dialect


The audience was grey, still there was hope

Because ‘Long shall Dialect Live’

I am a happy believer, will fight with them

For as long that is given


‘With Own words’ is a book

Proudly it was presented

In this region our language

Is fully respected


After that I heared songs about a baker,

Gypsies and trussers with a rope

With ‘Hendrik Haverkamp’

The audience turned thunderous upside down!


Gladly I take a hard line on,

even though I don’t understand every word,

Dialect, smooth talking or how you name it

Your desires are heard


Therefor at this moment,

In the presence of everyone

“Long shall dialect live”!

Even through my urban throat.



December 7th, The Ploughing Farmer.

Every year around April a group of coachmen from The Achterhoek organize a special plough-day. With a little bit of luck the event takes place on a beautiful spring day, like it was in 2018. Ploughing with horses is an almost disappeared manual labour, therefor I love to go see the farmers and their horses convert the soil. Of course I take my camera with me and hope to shoot some beautiful pictures. In the old days the farmers and their horses worked for hours on the abandoned and completely silent acres. It was a soothing job without rush, the only sound coming from birds, the horse and nature itself. Nowadays time is money, ploughing the acre like then is no longer thinkable! Unless you travel to Avlona, a little village on the Greek island Karpathos, like I did several times. It’s like watching an ancient documentary. Men and women in traditional clothing working on the land with old wooden tools and ploughing with donkeys. The smell of fresh baked bread comes from some stone-ovens on the edge of the village, stoked on wood that was brought there by the same donkeys. No sound of a tractor can be discovered wide and far around.

Around 1950 the farmstead knows a huge development, in a high speed a lot of things changed. To fulfil more work in the same time, a lot of new machinery was invented and bought by the farmers like the milking machine and mechanisation of the manure processing. The most important development of all was the arrival of the tractor. Ploughing with horses was no longer necessary and quietly disappeared from sight. The knowledge was no longer passed forward from father to son automatically. Fortunately some associations have great passion for ploughing with horses, and love to demonstrate this long-gone labour. One of the farmers proudly told me his wooden plough is 150 years old. It was out of use and stored in the farm barn for almost 80 years! When he was around twenty years of age, he worked with this same plough. He restored the almost fully rusted plough himself to demonstrate it on special occasions like this. My own grandfather had horses too, I never saw him work the land with them. The only thing they pulled was a nice little carriage every now and then.

Most farms in The Achterhoek around 1950 were small scaled and self-sufficient. Every farmer had a small piece of land somewhere nearby where they cultivated cattle-fodder. In the fall (winter) rye was scattered, in the spring they sowed barley, oat, potatoes and sugar beets. Ploughing therefor was necessary. Depending on the scale of the farm and the type of soil, with one or two horses. On sandy soils one horse before a light switch plough was enough. On heavy clay soils a farmer needed two horses to pull the spade plough. It was important to own strong and calm horses, who were able to keep up the hard work an entire day. One of the demonstrators told me that when the weather got too bad, the horse was brought back to its stable, the farm help on the other hand was told to pick some roots on another piece of land! That shows that the horses were a precious possession for all farmers back then.

Good ploughing depends mostly on evenness, the horse must be prepared to pull the plough in the exact same pace all day. The type of horse that was used for ploughing was heavier build then the horses they breed today. Pulling a plough regularly, not only caused a very good condition (for both the horse and the farmer!) but also strength and an equal pace. Today most horses are raised with a competitive mentality, they don’t have that calm attitude that is so important for a steady and equal pace when pulling a plough. According to one of the four farmers who are demonstrating today, it’s very important that the first ridge on the acre is perfectly straight. After that you have to roll the wheel exactly besides the first ridge, so all the other ridges will be as straight as the first one. With two horses it’s a lot more difficult to keep the ridges in perfect straight lines. The farmer has to guide the horses very precisely. When a farmer is ploughing with horses, he can make one ridge at a time. A tractor can make four ridges at once, also then the straight lines are very important.

How deep the farmers plough is depending on the crops. For potatoes the farmers had to plough deeper, for grains they didn’t need to plough that deep. The average depth was about 20-25 cm. Because ploughing with horses became so rare, it’s very hard to replace a broken part, especially the turning parts like a wheel. Therefor the farmers need a blacksmith who is able to make a specific part himself. They also need a blacksmith to sharpen the blades of the plough. If the farmers would use a grinding machine, the blades would get smaller every time! Depending on the soil, the blades need to be sharpened after 10 hectares of ploughing. My grandfather lived not far away from a traditional blacksmith, it loved going over there and watch the blacksmith at work. The old barn is still there, not long ago I made some photographs with my own orange wooden clogs in the window.

There was one thing I really wanted to know from the farmers, is ploughing with horses better for the soil than using big tractors and their machinery? The farmers told me the mechanical ploughing got better over the years. Tractors nowadays have much wider tyres, they have to cross the acre less often. After ploughing with a tractor they use a cultivator for loosening up the soil what makes it better for the hydraulic conductivity and the structure of the ground. Otherwise a plough pan would develop, a layer in the ground so hard that roots and earthworms cannot get through. The earthworms are necessary to make air holes in the ground, otherwise the ground would be used up. The upper layer of ground (about 20cm) will dry out and less nitrogen will enter the soil. The rainwater and oxygen can only enter the bottom through the air holes made by earthworms and roots of plants. To get a healthy and optimum soil structure farmers sometimes have to leave the acre well enough alone for years! At this moment only 5% of all Dutch farmers has chosen to stop the ploughing, scared that their income will reduce the coming years. A change-over from ploughing to not-ploughing is besides that pretty difficult, it’s another way of cultivation. The farmer will have to deal with new and other weeds, pests and diseases who are more difficult to dispute. Thankfully most farmers are aware that less ploughing is necessary for a more healthy soil structure on the long term.

I hope I can enjoy the demonstration of old-fashioned ploughing next year again,  it brings me beautiful photographs and stories!


More photographs in my portfolio: Aalten, de Ploegende Boer.


December 6th, Big John.

This summer I went to the 19th edition of the Old-timer Festival in The Achterhoek. It always takes place in the village Sinderen, every first Sunday of June. The festival is called ‘Old-timer Treffen Sinderen’ (treffen is Dutch for meeting), all kinds of vintage vehicles come together early in the morning on the meadow of a farm belonging to one of the board members. The goal of the organisation is to preserve the old-timers (and machinery). Not only to show them in the meadow, but also to keep the vehicles rolling and demonstrate the machinery in process. Therefor the festival starts with a ride, 40 vehicles all together. Tractors, cars, motorcycles and mopeds make a tour in the area of Sinderen.

The meadow opens to the public at 10 a.m. Around noon the spectacular parade returns and all the owners proudly present their vehicles to the people. Of course in the meanwhile there is a lot to see at the festival. There are several themed demonstrations, like the use of cultivation machinery and how the harvest takes place. Bands are playing besides the terrace and there is a market with typical products from the region and homemade decorations. The children can take a dive in the straw Jacuzzi bath, ride a pedal go-kart or practice a bit of tractor pulling on a lawnmower.

The week before this festival I gave an interview to a regional newspaper about my (strange) love for old farm barns and sheds, and how I love to photograph them. The newspaper wanted a picture of me in action with my camera to go with the story, so at the festival I met up with the most famous news photographer from The Achterhoek. It was a funny scene, myself photographing two old farmers and Theo photographing me at the same time. Both article and picture became really nice. After the shoot I went my own way, making some more photographs of visitors and vehicles. I saw a young boy entering the demonstration field on a little green John Deere lawnmower, followed by a huge green roaring John Deere Tractor. The presenter introduced us to father Arjan and his 12 year old son Yannick, who became champion of the Netherlands with lawnmower-pulling for children. Yannick told about his love for John Deere tractors and that both the lawnmower and the big Tractor are his?! He allows his father to use the Big John until he is old enough to drive it himself. The green John Deere 4240s was a gift from his grandmother. A special gift like that must have a special story behind it!

I wanted to know all about it and mother Birgit told me the, indeed very special, story. Through the tv-show Farmer Wants A Wife Birgit came in touch with farmer Arjan. In 2007 she and two year old Yannick moved from the province of Limburg to The Achterhoek to start a new family with Arjan on his farm in the village Sinderen. Back then Arjan owned a shiny green John Deere 4240’s, little Yannick loved both very much. By the time he went to preschool his favourite subject was the John Deere of daddy Arjan. At a given moment a new tractor was bought for all the work on the farm, however Yannick never forgot ‘Big John’. When he became older and learned how to use the internet, he searched the entire globe to find a green John Deere 4240s.  Every now and then he found one, being too far away (mostly the US), too expensive or both. Most children that age would forget about it, moving their attention to something else. But not Yannick. After a stay with his grandmother in Germany, Birgit and Arjan received a phone call from grandma Hennie. She had a very important question: where can I order that green John Deere Yannick loves so much?

Grandmother Hennie (mother of Birgit) became 78 in 2018. She is suffering from the lung disease COPD, which makes every new day a gift to her. She realises herself that she might not make it until the sixteenth birthday of Yannick. Therefor she decided she wanted to give him the John Deere now so she can enjoy seeing Yannick and Arjan using the tractor on the farm. Nevertheless it lasted another two years before they found a decent John Deere 4240s! When grandma Hennie heard the price, she had to sit down for a moment.. Anyhow she bought the Big John and didn’t regret that for a moment after seeing the reaction of her grandson. Both of them are glowing from ear to ear when the presenter in the demonstration field explains that both John Deere’s belong to Yannick. After the introduction Arjan and Yannick showed the audience their skills with tractors in a so called ‘tractor-dance’, both very capable in steering and turning. The audience loved it, including Birgit and her mother. I loved it!

I am very grateful that I could share this story and a lovely photograph in the local newspaper, and now also in English. A beautiful story about a boy from The Achterhoek and his beloved grandmother. Like Yannick, I know how strong the bonding with your grandparents can be, what an important place in life they can fulfil. THAT is true wealth.



December 5th, Missing.

I already heard a little bit about the story of Tonny Krabbenborg. When I took a guided tour through the Cathedral of The Achterhoek in Zieuwent, our guide Bennie pointed out a beautiful leaded glass window called ‘the Jennekes-window’. It was a gift by the family of Tonny out of gratefulness that their six year old son was found unharmed. The massive search for the little boy lasted 6 days! We are talking about the year 1960, without Amber Alert, social media, mobile phones and for a lot of people in the village of Zieuwent also without television. Bennie started telling the whole story.

On the Wednesday after Easter Sunday, the 20th of April 1960, six year old Tonny went with his father to the blacksmith. Because it was a beautiful sunny spring day they took the bicycle. Tonny needed a new strap on his wooden clog and the flat tyre of an old bicycle had to be repaired so Tonny could ride it. When that was done by the blacksmith, father told his son that it was alright to head back home by himself. Father had some more work for the blacksmith and thought Tonny might be bored waiting. So of Tonny went, his repaired wooden clog hanging in a bag on the steering wheel. Very proud of himself, because he only learned to ride a bicycle since one week. When father arrived at home somewhat later, Tonny wasn’t there yet. Both parents thought he stopped along the way to play with one of his friends. When lunchtime passed, they started to worry and went looking for the little lad. Later that day they called in the police who started a search, thinking that the boy probably fell asleep somewhere nearby in the fields. When there was still no sign of Tonny that evening, a search warrant was put out on the telex (predecessor of a fax machine). That night the whole village volunteered in the search, but the boy remained lost. In the following two days not only the Dutch Army was recruited, also all the inhabitants of the surrounding villages were called in. Fields and forests were searched in long rows of people, ditches and creeks were dragged and the nearby turf moor was also combed out. The radio asked all their listeners to check their barns and sheds, all the efforts in vain.

The German police was noticed by telex, Tonny’s parents in the meanwhile promised a reward of 1000 Dutch guilders for the golden lead. Although the police kept in mind something bad might happened to the boy, there was not a single clue that indicated that. What a horrible time this must have been for mum and dad! The weekend past, the weather changing to cold and unpleasant and the regularly searching started to reduce. On Tuesday evening, 26th of April 1960, at seven o’clock the police decided to show a photograph of Tonny on the German television during the program ‘Here and Today’ (the Dutch television didn’t want to cooperate). 38 year old Joseph Hicker, handyman in a German orphanage recognized the little boy as ‘Jan’ who remained silently for almost a week in the orphan home. He informed the Mother Superior of the home, nurse Gisela, she ended the dreadful insecurity and despair that same evening. The Mayor of Lichtenvoorde drove up to Wesel, Germany to see if it really was the missing boy. Well, no doubt about it! Tonny was already asleep and didn’t appreciate it much that he had to leave his new friends (he went into the car crying and moaning).

That Wednesday when Tonny got lost he must have taken the road to Lichtenvoorde, some people saw him that morning. He went on, firmly cycling over sand-, and country roads (because those were familiar to the little lad) for more than 45 kilometres, passing the German border all the way to Wesel. For a child his size he must have cycled at least six hours. In Wesel he got noticed by an engaged couple on their evening walk. Tonny was sitting at the Rhine riverside, looking exhausted. He didn’t say a word, so the couple brought him to the police station in Wesel. Once there Tonny still kept his silence, therefor policemen decided to bring the child to nurse Gisela in the orphanage. Gisela thought the boy was left behind by a ship’s masters family and named him Jan. He ate, drank and played like all the other healthy boys, but he never spoke a word. Later on his parents told the news reporters that Tonny never spoke to strangers and no more than necessary even to his family. The only thing he told his father and mother about his big journey to Wesel was that he slept in a nice white bedstead. The politics had a debate about the search, why the Dutch television refused to cooperate. That question was never really answered. Nowadays we have Amber Alert, operative in more than twenty countries. Over twelve million Dutch people are connected and lots of large companies offer their billboards to display a message when necessary. A bicycle factory offered little Tonny a brand new bike. After all those years when people see Tonny on a bicycle they still tease him: do not take the wrong turn Tonny!



December 4th, Nightshifts.

I read a very interesting article in the first V&VN magazine of 2018 (magazine for associates in healthcare). It was about employees who work nightshifts, the ‘night moths’ inside hospitals and nursing homes. Those shifts are not quite popular, in my own team most colleagues also try to avoid them. I don’t mind the nightshift that much, I work them regularly. Mostly I don’t have any trouble falling asleep. When the nightshift is almost over, I long for my soft (warm) bed and a cup of warm ‘Sleepy Love’. That is a hot biological mango drink with Jasmin and Bach flowers from the brand Lombardia. My dream-potion, much better than medication. Based upon the article a lot of associates in healthcare however do take sleeping pills after a nightshift, pretty disturbing if the numbers they present in the article are true. Some of my colleagues work nothing but nightshifts, that is a little bit too ‘moth’ for me.

Every now and then I love to work a nightshift, some time away from the daily grind. In The Netherlands we have the expression: the mad mill of life spins unstoppable. Well, during nightshift it feels like I managed to escape the mad mill. In the nursing home a nightshift can be pretty busy, people who wander around having no idea where they are (and that it’s the middle of the night), patients who have to use the toilet or need to be turned in another position. Patients who are afraid, thirsty, hungry or just can’t sleep. Nevertheless it’s really different than working a dayshift. No noise coming from the television or radio, washing machines or tumble dryers. No endless to-do lists which I prefer (like all my colleagues) to complete before the end of my shift and no telephone calls. Does that make me a night owl? During the evening I’m definitely more creative. I like to read when I’m in bed. Not just because I love to read books, but also to stop the train of thought in my head. Otherwise I will be thinking of new ideas and old problems for hours. I also love to write, columns and about my personal story. It always seems to me the night contains more hours than the day.. As I grow older I notice that a steady day-, and night pattern becomes more worthy to me. I have never been afraid of the dark. When I was working in Doetinchem, about 20km from my hometown Lichtenvoorde, I often went by bicycle. Sometimes I finished working after sunset, so I had to ride home in the dark. Believe me, in the countryside dark means really dark! No light-pollution from electric streetlights. The first part was through the forest, I loved the hoot of the owls from the trees. The whole ride was about one hour, in which I had the feeling to be all alone in the world. Maybe that’s what I like about the nightshift?

When I go out hiking, I deliberately make those walks on my own. I love to photograph what attracts my eyes, what amazes me and makes me happy. That means I will stop several times to choose the right angle and search for the best light. For people who are not so fond of photography this can be very disturbing, they start talking to me or even walk through ‘my scene’! When I go out for a walk with Marc I will leave my DSLR camera at home, I only carry my canon pocket camera. Still I prefer to go by myself, away from everybody and everything. No other sounds than the ones produced by nature itself. It’s quite easy actually: take a normal weekday (when most people have to work), get out before sunrise and leave the built-up area behind you. Before you know it you will face some animals in their natural habitat. Nevertheless the sound of the blackbird, who is so attached to villages and cities, is my favourite one. When I am alone in a beautiful natural area, I always feel enormous privileged. With every step I take, the train of thought in my head starts to slow down, my body becoming more relaxed. When I take a break, and set myself somewhere on a bench to eat my homemade sandwiches, I feel really fortunate. Even though I can share a moment like that only with myself. Does that make me an individualist? Are the night-owl-people individualists?

In 1995 there was a Dutch television program called ‘The Nightrider’, presented by Irene van der Laar (Miss Universe of The Netherlands in 1994). It showed real life situations by night, all over The Netherlands. I loved the stories Irene found, driving around on her motorcycle. Of course I was a bit younger back then, often taken part of the nightlife in Utrecht. When I am in Greece (Anissaras Crete, hotel Oasis Beach) I like the beach the most during the night. Just the sound of the waves and a thousand stars twinkling in the black sky above. I love the silence, my house in silence. In my small apartment in Bilthoven, my even smaller garden was completely surrounded by the ones from my neighbours. I loved to sit there, hidden on my garden bench with a cup of tea and my dog lying at my fit,  just listening to the environmental sounds. Conversations, children playing, the boy next door practising his guitar playing, birds whistling and nobody who notices me.

Marc is a definitely an early bird, he thinks sleeping in is a waste of his time. When he arrives downstairs in the weekends, turning on the radio is the first thing he does. I don’t mind, but I won’t put it on when I’m alone in the house. I love listening music in the car, probably to reduce the noise of the engine. Or is that on moments like these I have nowhere else to go, and the music makes me more relaxed? When I go out hiking I never bring my earplugs to listen some music. I don’t want to miss the sound of the wind, the birds and the rustle in the trees. Not as long as I am still able to hear them! Now is the time to memorize them. I always feel a bit pity for dogs who are walked on a leash by someone listening to music.. poor thing must be feeling ignored!

In the Netherlands you don’t have to work the nightshift in nursing homes anymore after turning 55 years of age. I hope I will be healthy enough to work them anyway every now and then, without taking sleeping-pills. I am not really a night owl, nor an individualist. I like working with colleagues, I can’t imagine my life without Marc. Am I a little bit eccentric? I think I am, I am my unique self.



December 3rd, Into Hiding.

In November 2017, Sunday 26th, I visited the synagogue in Winterswijk for the first time. The sacred building is here since 1889, the beginning of the Jewish community in Winterswijk. In 1905 they built a house for the priest and the school opened in 1911. That there was enough money to install a schoolteacher shows that there must have been a large Jewish community. Before the start of The Second World War about 400 Jewish people lived in Winterswijk.

This Sunday afternoon Astrid Dekkers will tell us the story about the betrayal of 23 Jewish people in hiding (all from Winterswijk). In her hometown Den Haag Astrid came in contact with a Jewish man from Winterswijk, who told her a little bit about his roots. During a holiday in The Achterhoek, cycling around, she discovered the memorial stone for the Jewish people in hiding standing by a dirt road in the natural area of Winterswijk. Being an artist and historian she wanted to know the story behind this monument. She found a book written by a man from Winterswijk, talked to neighbours and people involved like Jan ten Dolle. He remembered a lot about the tragedy. In Den Haag she read a lot of files from the archives of ‘Special Jurisdiction’. This large archive (about four kilometres long!) contains files of everybody who was accused after WWII of cooperating with the German enemy in any way and betrayal of his own people, no matter what the eventually verdict said.

The Jewish inhabitants of Winterswijk knew very well about the cruelties in Germany. Because Winterswijk is close to the German border, there were mixed marriages with German Jews and from Germany a lot of Jewish people escaped across the border to The Achterhoek. The first mass arrest of Jews took place on the 8th of October 1941. The German had a list with 33 names (among them some of the later betrayed 23 inhabitants). All of them got warned on time, so the police of Winterswijk never made an arrest that day. The next day the SD (Sicherheitsdienst) still arrested 6 Jewish people. From the 29th of April 1942 the Jews in Winterswijk had to carry the yellow Star of David on the outside of their clothing’s. In July 1942 the German police claimed 100 bicycles from the Jewish inhabitants and started to make an inventory about the amount of Jews that worked at farmers in the municipality. The pressure rose quickly, when the Jews ignored orders like darken their home every afternoon they got arrested right away. A group of 23 Jewish people from Winterswijk therefor decided to go into hiding in to the moor nearby called the ‘Korenburgerveen’. This was a very difficult and dangerous job to accomplish! Three small sheds needed to be dismantled, transported and build up again in the moor. This, and the transport of some necessary furniture, happened all during the night. The horses got bags of jute fibre tied around their feet to muffle the sound of their footsteps. All the helpers had to be paid for risking their lives. The first people went into hiding on the 26th of August 1942, the youngest a six month old girl and her 62 year old grandmother was the oldest of the group.

The refugees were dependant on locals helping them. Three families living nearby the hide-out, about 500 metres, offered all the help possible. The brought milk and also meat in milk churns, water was transported in wheelbarrows. The baker in Winterswijk smuggled the bread. The refugees were able to use a little stove, but they were very afraid the smoke would betrayal them so they hardly ever used it. A lot of locals knew about the people in hiding, frankly too much. They were all concerned about the severe and cold winters, could the refugees survive that? In February 1942 it had been -21°C (-5,8°F)! That question was eventually never answered. The people in hiding didn’t have many other opportunities, it was very hard to find a suitable hide-out for an entire family. In 1942 everybody believed that liberation from the Germans would happen any day. For a short period of time a hide-out in the moor seemed the perfect idea. The area was not free to enter and besides that the Germans didn’t have the courage to walk into those swampy fields.

Early in the morning on November 27th 1942 the overseer of the ‘Korenburgerveen’ sir Uwland, who lived in the farm called ‘Den Oppas’ (the Keeper), went into the moor with two men from the Dutch Nature Consideration. The men wanted to check the quality of the wood, because it had to be delivered to the German. On the south-west side of the moor they discovered a small path that was obviously used frequently. Sir Uwland, who always wrote very detailed reports to the Dutch Nature Consideration about the area, declared he had never seen this path before. When the two inspectors heard some noise, they immediately set foot on the path to investigate it. That’s when they discovered the poor wooden sheds where the Jewish people were hiding. The inspectors were shocked by the size of the group, and demanded the refugees to leave right away. The Jews begged the men not to betray them, they promised not to take any action straight away. When sir Uwland brought the two men back to the train station, they pressured Uwland that the Jews had to be gone the next morning. Sir Uwland who was desperate about the whole situation decided to ask the village doctor for advice. The doctor was on his way to an emergency, he did not have the time to listen to Uwland. Therefor Uwland went to the sergeant of the military police sir Aalders, who sent him home and told him not to tell anybody else. Nevertheless the story reached the major of the military police sir Slotboom, the inspector general of police sir Feberwee and the mayor of Winterswijk sir Bos (member of the NSB).

In the meanwhile the people in hiding considered the situation with farmer Vreeman who delivered them milk. He gave them the advice to wait until the next morning so he could figure out a plan, besides that overseer Uwland and the two inspectors promised not to take any action right away. The refugees returned and got arrested that same night. During the arrest a young man named Hartog Meijler managed to escape into the moorlands. The other 22 Jews were put in a cattle car and brought to the current theatre of Winterswijk. During this transport both sisters of Hartog Meijler also managed to escape. The three of them were young, unmarried and without children, for them escaping was less difficult. The next day, at a half past five in the morning, the Germans brought the twenty prisoners to the train station in Winterswijk. From there they would be transported to camp Westerbork in The Netherlands. On the train station 29 year old Paul Romann managed to escape but soon after that he was arrested again. Only one week after arriving in camp Westerbork the Jewish people from Winterswijk were transported to camp Auschwitz in Poland. Most of them were killed in the gas chambers on December 11th 1942. In the end only Hartog Meijler and his two sisters Emmy and Leny survived the war. A teacher from Winterswijk brought them to a hide-out address in Vlaardingen, in the west part of The Netherlands. All together 326 Jews from Winterswijk were killed during WWII.

The locals who helped the refugees were also very afraid for their own lives. On November 30th and December 1st both farmers sir Vreeman and sir Elburg were arrested. The Germans had found a milk churn inside the shed. The interrogations and following reports were mitigated so much that the Germans released them both on December 6th. That there was no involvement of any Nazi in this story is probably the most saddening. Locals who knew each other very well fulfilled the arrests. It was well-known that police inspector Feberwee was very active for the Germans, a lot of people testified against him. Also sergeant Aalders, major Slotboom and overseer Uwland got arrested after the war. In the files from the archives of ‘Special Jurisdiction’, Astrid Dekkers found that in the end only major Slotboom got convicted for several cases. After the lecture Astrid read aloud all the names of the betrayed and murdered Jewish people in hiding, a minute of silence following. The memorial stone in Winterswijk is standing beside a beech tree and reads ‘May this tree always remember and protect us of racial discrimination’.



December 2nd, The Phoenix Disaster.

One day I visited an exposition in the Walburgis-church by Aafke Steenhuis in the city Zutphen. The expo was called ‘Refugees’, which won a prize on an art congress in 2013. Just before the exposition I read the book ‘These Are the Names’ by the Dutch writer Tommy Wieringa. That same book inspired Aafke to make this artwork. She knew exactly how she was going to form it, when she saw a photograph in the newspaper showing a group of boat refugees, and read the subtitle: refugees searching for asylum mostly don’t have anything more with them than their own story..

The last decade there are a lot of sad stories about boats full of migrants, sometimes so very close to shore, who drowned. I was wondering if something that disastrous ever happened in The Netherlands or with people from this country. When I was searching the internet I found a story about a shipwreck in the year 1847 in the state of Wisconsin, America. Most of the migrants on the boat came from the Netherlands, from The Achterhoek. I was very surprised when I read the whole story, it was completely unknown to me. When I wrote a column about it on my website, it became clear that a lot of people knew nothing about this. Thankfully, a Dutch writer will publish a book (partly fictional) about this history in 2019.

Most of the migrants came from The Achterhoek, being tenants (sharefarmers) on small farms in this area. Between 1845- 1847 most rye-, and potato harvests all over Europe failed which raised the food prices to extraordinary heights. The farmers had nothing to eat for themselves and besides that they could no longer pay the farm lease to the aristocracy. Some families already emigrated to America because of the Religious Reformation, they wrote letters to their relatives in Holland to persuade them to leave that small doomed country and come to America like they did. A large group of people from The Achterhoek decided to go and started their journey in August 1847.

There were little over 200 people on board of ‘The France’ (including 23 staff members) when they left the harbour in Rotterdam, about 125 of them coming from The Achterhoek (74 from the village of Winterswijk). After a two month journey they arrived on October 26th in the harbour of New York. The circumstances on board were horrible. In between decks was very little space and a lot of people got seasick. Every family became a restricted ration of food, there was a schedule for the woman who’s turn it was to prepare their dinner. There were fights over the little food on board, anyone who didn’t pay enough attention was robbed of it. Most of the migrants travelled further towards Buffalo, 600 kilometres inland. New York had already pretty good connections to the Great Lake District. Everybody who was broke, stayed behind in New York in Castle Garden, a shelter were the could wait until they received some money from acquaintances.

The migrants stepped on board of steamship The Phoenix in Buffalo on the 11th of November 1847, sailing towards Lake Michigan. The ship would take them to Sheboygan in the state of Wisconsin. Even though the weather was tempestuous, the ship arrived in good condition in Manitowoc on the 20th of November. The goal of the journey was another 45 kilometres southwards, at 02.00 a.m. The Phoenix left Manitowoc. Not much later a fire started in the engine room, only eight kilometres left to the harbour of Sheboygan. Some say the steam boiler was out of water, others claim the staff was drunk. We will never know for sure. The two rescue boats could only safe a little over 30 people, 24 from Winterswijk. When they reached Sheboygan another boat was send for help. It took about an hour to get to The Phoenix, who was at that time almost totally burned out. The amount of victims was unclear for a long time, passengers lists were incomplete or burned and along the way people entered and left The Phoenix. The last survivor of The Phoenix passed away in 1918. In Sheboygan a monument was revealed in 1999. Shortly after I wrote my column about The Phoenix (2017) I found out a monument was going to be revealed in Winterswijk.

Between 1840 and 1920 over 6000 people from The Achterhoek decided to emigrate, most of them to Wisconsin. About 4000 of them could be found through several American sources, showing that a lot of families changed their often unpronounceable Dutch name into a more  English one. The Legters family for example changed their last name into Lictus, Oberink became O’ Brink, Fukkink was changed to Fern and Kortschot chose Crosscut as a new family last name. In contrary to the refugees from the 21st century, people back then did carry some personal things in a small suitcase, like photographs, jewellery, journals and  clothing’s. The last few years the issues around the boat refugees and taking good care of them increased fast, it was a regular topic in the daily news. The artist Aafke Steenhuis wanted to show us with her artwork that every refugee is indeed a person on its own, with their own unique self and personal story. Not just a group of refugees without a face..

Aafke started her project by making all kinds of human figurines out of clay, shaping them in different positions. She covered them with medical gauze (bandages) soaked in acrylic one (synthetic resin). After the drying process, she ‘took out the human bodies of clay’, which left only the white cover of medical gauze. The figurines became refugees, a recognizable group of people. Without personality, without seeing who they really are. The exposition definitely made me think about my own view, there were so many different figurines in so many poses. When I look at my own hometown in The Achterhoek, I can be nothing but proud about the positive way of most inhabitants towards refugees. During the summer of 2017 a man from Syria got a house in our street (a block of 12 houses, six on each side with a strip of green in the middle). He escaped his country by foot, leaving his wife and children behind for their own safety. He rang all eleven doors to introduce himself and proudly he showed us around his new home. We were shocked to see the completely empty house besides a huge new refrigerator still wrapped in plastic. There were no lamps, not even some toilet paper!

As new neighbours we offered him so bring over some things to make it a little bit more comfortable. He nodded yes, looking very grateful. Within half an hour everybody came back with something useful like lamps, a small couch and a bed. We brought an old dining table with four chairs, some glassware and a quilt. The other morning we set the picnic table with coffee and sandwiches to get to know each other a little better. That is what makes The Achterhoek special, the very social neighbourhood and close community feeling.



December 1st, The Achterhoek and me.

Since 2009 I’m living (finally!) in The Achterhoek, in the village Lichtenvoorde. I really love my life here, I don’t want to go back anymore to my hometown Bilthoven where I lived and worked until my 33rdbirthday. If I would desire to live nearby a big city in the future, I would choose for Zutphen instead of Utrecht.

Bilthoven is situated directly next to the big city of Utrecht, and just like the Achterhoek located in a very beautiful natural area called ‘the ridge of Utrecht’. Next to it the lovely little village ‘Lage Vuursche’ where it is always crowded with tourists. The north part of Bilthoven is well known for the huge capital estates, comparing to Dutch places like Aerdenhout and Wassenaar. Princes Beatrix (mother of our King) and her sisters went to school in that wealthy part of my hometown. My school was just besides their old school, my house on the other hand was in a total different area. I was born and raised in a tenement house on the first floor. The street had a block of flats on both sides, each apartment building containing five condo’s (two floors). It was a nice peaceful area with lots of children and little playgrounds between the apartment buildings. Nevertheless being with my grandparents in The Achterhoek is what I liked most of all.

My grandparents lived in a lot of places inside the Netherlands. In 1980, when I was five years of age, my grandfather retired and they moved from a small house in Spijkenisse (west part of The Netherlands) to a farmhouse in The Achterhoek, in the village of Lievelde (east part of The Netherlands). There were pigs on the farm and my grandfather also kept some white goats. Back in the sixties my grandparents were living in the Northeast Polder, where my grandfather raised a goat breeders association. He even became a Dutch national champion! I still have some of that old trophy’s. For me as a child from the city all the animals and natural area around me was wonderful. I played a lot with the children from a nearby farm, just like them I got my own little wooden clogs. Although I loved my orange clogs, I wasn’t used wearing shoes like that. Walking on them was not such a problem, running on the other hand was very difficult. Because they slowed me down, I kicked them of whenever I needed to run, left them besides the dirt road to continue on my  woollen socks. Therefor my mother wrote my name inside them, so they wouldn’t get lost every time. I still have them, you will find them sometimes on my photographs as a personal finger-mark.

Somewhat years later my grandparents moved again, to another farm in The Achterhoek. There, in the village of Winterswijk, I definitely had the most wonderful and untroubled time of my whole childhood. Home was not such a warm and secure place for me as it had should been, thankfully my grandparents picked me up every school holiday possible. In Winterswijk I rode my bicycle to the bakery at the end of the road to buy just baked bread, I walked over to the neighbours with a milk churn to collect fresh milk for the rest of the day. When it was around coffee time, I was invited into the warm and cosy kitchen where I got a slice of gingerbread before walking back. My grandparents cultivated their own vegetables and slaughtered their own meat. I liked helping out in the vegetable garden and inside the cowshed. When the weather was cold and rainy I played inside the indoor barn where my grandfather put up a swing for me. My bedroom was next to this indoor barn, the little room above the cellar. My grandfather worked as farm hand for a long time, responsible for the horses. In Winterswijk he bought me a horse and taught me how to ride her. Together we took a lot of rides, granddad on his bicycle and myself on top of Nelly. During those rides I developed my love for nature, granddad pointing out as much as possible. He shared all kinds of knowledge with me: don’t eat the blackberries from the bottom of the bush, foxes might have urinated on them what can make you sick. I still remember that when I pick and eat blackberries in the wild.

Originally my grandparents came from the province Zeeland, which is located in the southwest part of The Netherlands. One day the decided to move back there to a commune for elderly people, not much to do for me there. The got homesick for The Achterhoek within a year and moved back. This time to a farm in the village of Corle where I also spend a lot of holidays. My grandfather kept some sheep and of course they got a new dog and a big red cat. Close to this farm was a smithy, sometimes  I rode my bicycle over there and watched the blacksmith at work. Nevertheless I had the best time in Winterswijk. The neighbours were all very close and honoured a lot of traditions I never knew before, like putting up a triumphal arch made out of flowers at weddings and anniversary’s. At New Year’s Day all the children took me from farm to farm to bring over the best wishes for the new year and each of us received a pouch filled with sweets.

Later on, when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they went back again to Zeeland. This time for good, they both deceased there. I always told my grandfather that somehow someday I would move to The Achterhoek myself, with a big red cat which he loved so very much. Who could have thought it would happen in such a special way! I worked in a nursing home in Bilthoven and lived nearby in a small first floor apartment with my best friend, a beagle named Frankie. The nursing home had to be completely renovated. The company responsible for the job came from a little village called Zieuwent, located in The Achterhoek! That is how I met Marc, he worked as an electrician there. What a pleasant surprise when Marc told me he lived in Lichtenvoorde. Coincidence?! We fell in love in 2007 and I moved to The Achterhoek in 2009. Luckily Marc met my grandfather, he passed away when we were about eight months together. So here I am in The Achterhoek myself, not on a farm but with a big red cat my granddad loved so much. I am very grateful for all the loving memories my grandparents gave me to drive away the unpleasant ones.