Early Days in Haarlem


Wednesday, April 20

Leaving mid-morning we continued cruising down the river to Haarlem, once the most important port after Amsterdam. From here we planned on using public transportation for some day tripping to towns further south. Like in Norway we had notes from our cruising friends, Ginger & Dick of s/v ALCHEMY and Helen & Gus, s/v WINGS; and, all of them had spoken highly of the charms of this historic city.

Just so you get an idea of how the Dutch have adapted to living on the water, check out these condos. Looks like their sailboats serve as their cars :)

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Reaching the harbor master office located alongside a double bridge we paid for a week’s mooring and once again were kindly provided a city map with the locations of boating necessities (public showers, a laundromat, grocery store).

While waiting for the first bridge to open, the lady who had helped us in the office came down to the pontoon to tell us one of the bridges was broken; but, as she said we weren’t in any hurry since we were on holiday, which couldn’t have been truer. With the sun shining, a bright blue sky, and the promise of a berth in the midst of this old city, we felt lucky just to be on a boat gazing at a windmill in the distance.

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Within an hour the bridge was repaired

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and we continued down to a spot on the east bank of the river wall. Although located on the more residential side it was reputed to be quieter and still within easy walking distance of all the major attractions.

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Once JUANONA was secured we hopped off and strolled along the canal dodging cyclists. I have to say we thought it was a bit harrowing in SE Asia when crossing lanes; yet, there at least there seemed to be a constant flow in one or two directions. Here, traffic resembled a whirlpool of two-wheeled cyclists, four-wheeled vehicles, and two-legged pedestrians. Consequently our heads swiveled like owls’ every time we started to cross a pathway. We sigh with relief when we’ve reached the other side without a potential near-swipe of a passing vessel, be it mechanical or human.

In spite of every-which-way traffic historic Haarlem is easy to navigate as the Grote Markt or main square hosts one of the city’s oldest churches, Grote Kerk van St Bravo . We headed in that direction with the church’s towering wooden spire (a replica of its initial stone one, which was replaced due to the weight of the sandstone ) as our beacon.

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The architecture is stunning with facades featuring elaborate gables, which I found out served as an identification prior to the introduction of street numbers by the French. The building below looks like something that’d cause the sky to yell ‘Ouch’. We see these stepped lines a lot around here although this is the most elaborate so far.

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Landing in the plaza we found ourselves with the surround-sound of amusement park rides including a ferris wheel.

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And bordering this modern funtime was the 14th-century town hall,

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the statue of Laurens Coster whom they claim invented movable type along with Gutenberg,

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the 17th-century beef market and fish house all within a cobblestone throw from the church.  

For some reason I had thought of The Netherlands not as a cruising ground but as a transiting point. I believe this arose from (a) knowing it was fairly early to begin our summer voyaging and (b) thinking ahead to a trip home for our nephew Thomas’ and Renee’s wedding. In any event it meant we had left Ipswich without a handy guide book; so, off we went to the local tourist office who directed us to a book store. 

Once there the enthusiastic owner offered us free coffee, wifi access, and proudly showed us the largest book I’ve ever seen and the most expensive for sale (over 6,000 euros) I’ve gazed upon.

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His store had one of only 15 located in the country and he’d already sold five out of limited press run. Gorgeous prints of paintings covered the pages, sized in various percentages to show exquisite details. 

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 We told him one couldn’t fit it aboard JUANONA, which is when he mentioned a nice little table stand came with your purchase. Did I say he was also a salesmen?

 With all of this history flooding around us seems like a good time to do my usual history jaunt through time. There’s no straight line through this country’s history, so bear with me if you’d like…

Who else but the Romans in 59 BC began documenting the Netherlands people. Caesar basically just followed the Rhine to its mouth, which empties into what’s now known as the North Sea. Following the Romans, Franks from the east began their conquering of the Low Lands bringing with them Christianity and the start of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) under Charlemagne in the 8th and 9th centuries.

Adding to the mix Vikings attacked from the west constructing fortified towns and ruling became localized. As individual rulers’ power grew they squabbled among each other while bartering various freedoms in exchange for support from their townsfolk. 

By the 12th century seaport trade led to Dutch towns with sea access joining to from a powerful trading organization, the Hanseatic League, [define]. Meanwhile the first attempt to prevent the sea overrunning the land occurred when dams were built between Haarlem and the Zuiderzee, although disastrous floods still occurred.

Also during this time the powerful Dukes of Burgundy, French princes, took control of the area culminating with Philip the Good in the 15th century.

In spite of losing some of their freedoms towns switched into prosperity mode now that the local rulers stopped their spats under the domination of this Duke. Shipbuilding and trading of tapestries, paintings, chic clothing, beer, and salted herring flourished.

But all good things seem to come to pass, and such was the case of the Low Lands when Charles V, a Burgundian Duke, Head of the Spanish Empire and the Holy Roman Emperor, granted his son Philip II the Low Lands in 1555. The age-old ugliness of religious intolerance reared its head under this staunch Catholic. Prior to his rule Protestantism had taken hold with an array of sects allowed to practice. Eventually the largest group were the Calvinists. Believing all non-Catholics were heretics, Philip introduced his subjects to the Inquisition. In 1566 the Calvinists went on a rampage destroying Catholic churches symbols of idolatry. To combat this form of rebellion, Philip sent the Duke of Alba who took revenge of these unruly subjects by destroying towns and executing the inhabitants. Haarlem was one of the unfortunate victims when it surrendered after a seven-month siege in 1572, whereupon most of its inhabitants were executed.

This led to the War of Independence and the recognition of the country’s founder:  Willem van Oranje (count in the House of Nassau, later becoming a Prince of Orange in 1544).  

As a prince raised in the Hapsburg court as Philip II, Willem, too, was Catholic, but unlike Philip II, Willem believed in tolerance. Philip’s brutality caused Willem to revolt, and so began 80 years of war beginning in 1566.

In spite of the strife and ongoing battles the 15th and 16th centuries created a lot of wealth for the area thanks to the merchant cities. Once the war ended businesses really prospered and so, too, religious freedom. The northern Union of Utrecht, formed in the late 1500s by Protestants, offered religious tolerance unheard of in most European countries. It’s where the Pilgrims came and organized a sailing trip to the New World. In 1648 the War ended with the independence of the country called the United Provinces.

Trading continued to expand with the forming of the Dutch East Indies Company and Dutch West Indies Company in the 17th century. Colonizing of some of the Caribbean Islands and Indonesia occurred and the residents of theses United Provinces just got wealthier and wealthier. 

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Then wars with France in the 18th century interrupted lucrative trade, dykes fell into disrepair, and the country floundered. A civil war in 1785 between the House of Orange and its democratic opponents eventually led to Napoleon’s rule; but his Russian mistake created an opening for Prince Willem VI who in 1813 took over and sired a monarchy whose descendants still reign. He also formed the Kingdom of the Netherlands between the Netherlands in the North and Belgium. But, it was a bumpy ride with the country truly not becoming a unit until 1848 under Willem II’s more liberal constitution.

FYI: Inhabitants of The Netherlands refer to themselves as Nederlanders, not Dutch. The latter comes from Old English for ‘people or nation’ and was used to refer to people from the Holy Roman Empire way back when. “High Dutch” meant those living in the mountainous regions (Germany) while “Low Dutch” was used for those living in the flat lands (Netherlands). However, like Holland, which is really just two of the 12 country’s provinces but were the two most foreigners knew due to trading, Dutch is the word used by non-Nederlanders when talking about this country’s folk. Habits die hard!

The country avoided WWI and tried to stay neutral during WWII but Hitler’s invasion in 1940 created a Dutch resistance, which is where I take you back to Haarlem and to our wanderings on the following day.  

Thursday, April 21

I remember hearing about Corrie ten Boom but had forgotten the specifics of her heroism. She didn’t want to be called a heroine but the title fits; and, her selfless acts began right here in Haarlem at her home on Barteljorisstraat number 19. 

We arrived mid-morning thinking we’d just stroll right in and walk through not realizing reservations were taken online. Fortunately, the tour guide kindly let us join the group of 20, which increased by 24 by the time we all squeezed through the door and up the narrow staircase.

Corrie grew up in a very Christian household and one that truly lived by the code “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Theirs was an ‘open house’, which eventually became an underground railroad when the war broke out. To indicate it was safe to knock and enter, the ten Booms would place a wooden sign advertising a Swiss watch brand in the dining room window (her father was a watchmaker, and, interestingly, Carrie became the first female licensed watchmaker in Holland).

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Corrie, her sister, and her father saved over 800 people, many of them Jewish including up to 100 orphans, from the Germans’ clutches. The majority were fed and provided with temporary shelter during their escape route. Six, however, stayed in the house with Corrie’s family.

After a thirty-minute talk our guide took us upstairs to Corrie’s bedroom where the hiding place was located. 

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An architect had the foresight to use brick instead of wood to create a phony wall. Thus, it sounded solid when hunting Nazis thumped on it during their house searches. The two men, two women, and two boys who lived with Ten Booms were able to get themselves into this hiding place within 70 seconds of a warning by one of the family members (a system of buzzers had been installed in strategic areas around he house) There, with some bread, a little water and a bucket, they remained hardly breathing until an all-clear signal was given. 

On February 28, 1944, the Ten Booms were betrayed. Corrie, her sister and father were taken prisoner. Her 84-year-old father died in custody while his two daughters were shipped to concentration camps. The six in hiding weren’t found by the Germans; and, after two days of not daring to exit, two Dutch policemen who were part of the resistance found them and helped them all escape. Our guide said they knew what had happened to all of six them, except for one of the young boys. However, they found out in the mid-80s when a visitor on one of their tours quietly announced he was that young boy when the group was being shown the hiding place. Can you imagine?! 

Our guide also pointed out where extra food ration stamps were hidden under a riser in the staircase. Discovery of this  was the proof the Germans used to charge the family, since they had been unable to find anyone in hiding. 

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Corrie was the sole survivor of her family, and she continued to share her faith with others by preaching love of others around the world. Eventually she moved to California where she died in 1983 on her birtthday, April 15, at age 91. Pretty powerful story.

I can’t leave this house without saying how absolutely wonderful our tour guide was. She was very efficient (and fast-talking) in relating Corrie’s life. She mentioned at the very end when we were all saying good-bye she had been a child during the war and remembered eating tulip bulbs but not hyacinths because the latter were poisonous. But, what was more memorable was her aura of gentleness and kindness. When I come into contact with such a spirit all I want to do is bask in their warmth. 

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Later that afternoon we headed back to our boat and ended up at another Dutch symbol, the windmill.

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Our host was just as eager as the morning one. He threaded us up to the top where outside he showed us the blades holding the sails and how they stop the sails with a brake.

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He also pointed out a large dome, which he said had been a jail and was now housing a recent group of immigrants.

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Then, indoors he explained how this particular windmill was used to grind grains and nuts,

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including cocoa beans for the local chocolate company, Droste. I recognized the packaging but had no idea it featured a nurse because chocolate was touted to be good for you. Smart messaging :)

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The impressive structure was pinned together with pegs, and numbered, so that the windmill could be moved to another location if necessary. Giant wooden cogs converted wind into power.

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A brake allowed the operator to stop the grinding and another lever adjusted how fine one ground the raw ingredients by raising or lowering the stones. (We did stop by the next day to see how noisy it was, and surprisingly it was extremely quiet with the blades turning, although no grinding was being done.)

The next floor down displayed several models of the different types of windmills and a map depicting all of the Netherland’s reclaimed land (light blue).

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Originally created to pump water out of the low-lying lands, these mills were used for sawing wood, supplying clay for pottery, even grinding pigments for artists. By mid-19th century there were more than 100,000 windmills; yet, they fell into disuse with the invention of the steam engine – only 1,000 are in operation today.

Fortunately, the government recognizes the windmill as a Dutch heritage and have created a three-year training program for someone to obtain a license to operate these windblown mills. 

During our tour we met two British cyclists who had taken the ferry from Harwich (just south of Ipswich) and were riding to Prague! Yes, they were fit; and, yes, they could probably eat all the cheese they desired and drink all the beer they wanted and still be fitter than when they started. It’s almost enough to make me want to take up cycling; and, I have several friends, such as Kathryn Y., Andrea, Cindy, and Jane G., who could mentor me.

We invited Paul and John back to JUANONA for some wine and cheese and had a wonderful late afternoon discussing a range of topics with the inevitable one of Trump arising.

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In addition to this cycling trip (which would take roughly 3-1/2 weeks), they were also traveling to France in the Fall to tour some WWI sites. One of their field hockey teammates is an expert on WWI history and provides an amazing experience, such as researching John’s ancestor who died on the battlefields. Paul mentioned he was asked to recite a poem during this trip, and he kindly obliged us by reading John McCrae’s haunting “In Flanders Fields”.

Tomorrow more explorations of Haarlem’s offerings…

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6 thoughts on “Early Days in Haarlem

    1. margaretlynnie

      We definitely understand why they would say that. Not only are the waterways lovely but the history tucked in and around all of these canal cities is amazing. And, yes, we’re definitely having a blast :)

  1. Janice Waller

    Have been checking out yourotherblog entries. Looks like you are going to the types of places we wi
    L like to check out as well as having interest in the history of the area. WIll keep tabs on your travels. WE came into the NL through the canals in the south the first time and the second time from the north. HAve really enjoyed traveling through the villages -a nice way to travel for sure. Enjoy wherever you go!

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