BROEKE OP LANGEDIJK
Sunday, October 16
Well, punt is more like it, which is how farmers in Broeke op Dijk tended their fields (actually islands) using boats to navigate the manmade waterways to their manmade islands ; Prior to the 17th century residents lived next to a boggy marsh and raised cattle. However, the land for grazing was constantly under the threat of flooding, which, combined with a cattle plague, created an unpredictable return on their investment. Somehow, someone or two thought to dredge the marsh to build islands for growing crops. In a relatively short time over 15,000 of these islands appeared and a more stable livelihood evolved thanks to the raising and selling of potatoes, onions, carrots, and cabbage. LOTS and lots of cabbage. I mean TONS: at one point over six million heads of cabbage were harvested and sold here.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First let me explain how we even got to Broeke op Langedijk. To quickly retrace our steps: on October 10 we flew from Maine back to Enkhuizen, Netherlands where JUANONA had been patiently awaiting our arrival since we left August 7. Two days later we did our final sail to Hoorn
espying the 1532 tower, which we first saw back in May with our nephew Rudy, and which now welcomed us back. Or, at least, it didn’t shudder and collapse at seeing two Mainiacs turning into its harbor.
Tieing up to one of the guest pontoons we felt we had reached home, one we hoped would be our place of residence for awhile.
The following Saturday, October 15, our friends Thijs, Deborah, their daughter Tika, and Thijs’ father Jan joined us for lunch, which included kibbeling, a delicious meal of delicately fried cod.
We had last seen them late July when the five of us met up in Hindeloopen on the east side of the IJselmeer, the manmade lake created by the building of the Zuiderzee Dyke.
And, just a quick mention of one of our favorite Netherlanders who is Tika :) She has taken on the thankless task of trying to help me learn some Dutch. Being an excellent teacher she had created a beautifully illustrated book presented to us when coming aboard. I now can practice the various sounds while, no doubt, making very unusual facial contortions. And, yes, she’s a dear one!
Okay, back to Broek op Langedijk, which we visited the next day (Sunday) via train to Alkmaar and then bus to the waterways with a short walk to the Museum Broeker Veiling.
Looking around the area as we strolled the half-mile to the museum from the bus stop, Broek op Langedijk seemed pretty nondescript. I wondered just how interesting it would be to tour. But, hey, it was a beautiful day to be outside enjoying the blue sky and sun while stretching our legs.
Yet, like many of the destinations we’ve explored in the Netherlands, this country has the knack of expanding the history of a place into a fascinating tale of living, the Museum Broeker Veiling being no exception. Comprised of several buildings (a new one, housing an overview via an 8-minute film and some artifact, and the original 1887 auction house and storage sheds), an outdoor display of how farming families lived, and a boat tour of the waterways through the remaining islands.
With audio guides we began our tour learning how these ingenious folk had turned a lemon (boggy land) and converted it into lemonade (productive, arable acreage). Not only was the land fertile but also generally protected from freezing with the surrounding water (one to two degrees warmer than the land) providing some insulation from night frosts. This set-up allowed farmers two crops a year leading to a competition on who could harvest the first potatoes (called ‘the Langedijker first’). During radio days the winner even received recognition over the airwaves.
With the dredging of the marsh, the landscape evolved into what is called “The Realm of a Thousand Islands” with over 15,000 islands (each island and canal named by the various owners) separated by numerous waterways or canals. Approximately 75 of these islands were inhabited with steep, short bridges tall enough to allow water traffic through. We walked one of those bridges in the open area display next to the museum (followed by two chickens!).
The farming families lived on the Langedijk (Long Dyke). As the population grew, residences were built on the opposite side of the dam. With so many houses clustered around this watery community one can only imagine the quality of the water. With one source (the canals) used for drinking, washing dishes, laundering clothes, making bread, and sewage outlet, I’m sure there was a distinct flavor added to the water.
Although it’s rare to see today, farmers punted to and from their crops in wooden flatboats. These were engine-less until the 1920s and were all wood until the 1930s.
Another common form of transportation was the tjalk, a sailing barge used to by the farmer to take his produce to the market.
However, by marketing their produce themselves, farmers typically sold their harvest in bits and pieces versus in one lump, which meant one wouldn’t necessarily sell all of his crops and/or at decent prices. This form of commerce created a lot of uncertainty regarding the amount of income each farmer would derive from his produce. In 1887 this changed when a local trader came up with the idea of an auction. With an auctioneer setting an initial, agreed-upon price then offering it to bidders, the farmer was able to not only get a fair price but also sell all of his produce in one fell swoop.
Unlike auctions where the bidding starts low then increases as buyers vie for the item, the Dutch auction system starts at a set price named by the auctioneer then decreases until a buyer bites. In other words, instead of going from low to high, the bidding goes from high to low.
In 1903 a clock numbered 99 to 1 was used as part of the process with the auctioneer naming the initial price and setting the clock on that price. As the clock ticked clockwise and the auctioneer yelled out the decreasing price a bidder would press a button at his chair that would stop the clock on the price he was willing to pay. A number in front of the buyer would light up indicating clearly who was the buyer and what price (by kilo or piece) he was paying. The farmer, therefore, could offload all of his produce at once versus in straggling lumps.
The original mooring halls housing the produce
and the auction house
still stand and are incorporated into the museum, which the then monarch, Queen Beatrix, helped preserve in 1979.
Auction day would begin at 6:00 a.m. with merchants inspecting the individual harvests by walking through the mooring halls. At 8:00 a.m. the excitement would start and for 2-1/2 hours two to three hundred lots were auctioned off.
A unique feature of this auction house was how the auctioned items were conveyed: the auction house featured a small canal right through its center. The boats were steered between the buyers while the bidding on that lot took place.
Sold merchandise was loaded onto barges, later via trains and trucks, for transporting to various destinations.
The MS Westfries, seen below, was used for over 50 years as part of this conveyance of sold produce to greengrocers.
What makes this tour really interesting is visitors participate in a live auction held in the same building where this occurred until the auction relocated in 1973.
Of course we had to bid on some of the items being offered up by the auctioneer, and my husband, endowed with a generous competitive spirit, managed to win a bag of local apples for 1.30 euros :)
A 30-minute boat ride took us through this watery world of canals and one of the two small dels or lakes (initially formed when low parts of the landscape were flooded by the sea). Nowadays many of the canals have been filled in creating larger plots of land. The area is in conservation under the control of a government agency; yet, roughly 80% of the islands are still being farmed, primarily as a hobby with two being professionally managed by market gardeners.
One rule applies, though: cultivation must be purely biological, i.e., organic. Thanks to this requirement medicinal herbs are grown here by the manufacturer VSM and waterfowl enjoy a wonderful habitat for breeding.
And, remember when I said cabbage was a bounteous crop?
Well, evidently it created a rather odiferous aura due to rotting, outer cabbage leaves, which found their way into the canals. Of course, I would think eating lots and lots of cabbage would also contribute its own unique smell to the air…
To maintain the water level (3.3to 4 feet in the canals and 5 to 6.6 feet in the dels) the locals built 14 windmills. Two remain, which we spotted in the distance on our boat tour. (You can just make out the spear of one of the blades in the top right corner of the photo below).
Disembarking, we finished wandering through the various buildings and outdoor exhibits listening to our audio guides explain how the occupants of this Realm of a Thousand Islands creatively found a way to create a healthy, sustainable community.
Retracing our route we landed back in Hoorn and enjoyed some of the local cheese (no, we didn’t eat all of this at once, nor did we eat any cabbage)
and, once again, looked at one another and said how fortunate we are to be doing what we’re doing.