We wanted to see how mustard is made so we drove to the tiny town of Doesburg about 90 minutes east of Amsterdam near the German border. We traveled for the mustard but ended up being totally charmed by the 13th century Hanse village of Doesburg. (Keep reading and I’ll share a mustard soup recipe, below.)
The Hanseatic League (now referred to as “Hanse”) was a group of merchant guilds and merchant towns in nothern Europe that banded together for commerce and defense beginning in the 1400’s. They had their own armies and legal systems but they were not a government. Their trade routes extended from London to Scandinavia to Estonia. They fought pirates, built ships, and controlled trade in the region for more than 300 years.
Because they belonged to the Hanseatic League, little Doesburg became a prosperous medieval town until the River IJssel silted over. Today about 12,000 people live in the beautifully preserved town. Doesburg is popular with Europeans and more than 4,000 camping spots are located just outside of town for visitors.
Right in the middle of town you’ll find the Doesburg Mustard Factory. They’ve made mustard in Doesburg since 1457 and still sell it in grocery stores today. According to their website, “Mustard is offered at every meal and is used with most vegetable and potato dishes” in Doesburg.
Mustard seed. Doesburg, the Netherlands
We dashed into the factory in the late afternoon and joined the last tour of the day with an entrance cost of about $3. A mustard maker explained how the seeds are removed from the dried bushes and soaked in a mixture of vinegar and water and spices for several days. The seeds soak up all that goodness and then they are ground into mustard.
The factory uses millstones that are hundreds of years old to grind the mustard. Here’s a video I made of our tour. Not the greatest quality, but you’ll get to see how mustard is made.
The best part, of course, was the tasting at the end of the tour. We were so busy gobbling up fresh mustard and Gouda cheese that I forgot to take photos! Here’s the Mustard Soup recipe I promised earlier.
Doesburgsche Mosterdfabriek Mustard Soup
200 grams smoked bacon (1/2 pound)
40 grams butter (2.5 tablespoons)
60 grams flour (1/2 cup)
1/2 litre milk (2 cups)
1/2 litre water (2 cups)
3 tablespoons Doesburg mustard
Cut the bacon into small cubes; slice and finely chop the onion and leek. Melt the butter in a soup pan and gently fry the bacon, onion and leek until soft. Add the flour, stirring all the time so that it does not burn. Let this cook for a few seconds. Gently add the milk and the water. When this has been thoroughly sitrred, add the mustard and season to taste. For an extra luxurious soup: Add a couple of tablespoons of cream with the mustard.
First you drive an hour east of Amsterdam past green fields and creamy cows, sharp industrial parks, and ever-changing speed zones. You arrive in the dense Hoge Veluwe National Park and abruptly stop at a gate with a small tourist booth. Believe it or not, you’ve arrived at the second largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world: The Kroller-Muller Museum.
The gate keeper explains that you are in a national park and that while your Museum Kaart gives you free admission to the museum, you have to pay 9 Euros for admission to the park (the museum is in the middle of the park) and 6 Euros to drive into the park. You can save the parking fee by parking at the gate, borrowing one of the free white bicycles, and peddling four kilometers to the museum.
It turns out the 4-kilometer drive into the park follows a pretty but circular route through the forests with a stop at the museum. When you leave it’s only about 1/2-kilometer back to the main gate. So it’s an easy walk or peddle to the museum if you go backwards from the gate rather than follow the long, circuitous route prescribed.
The museum, itself, is sleek, a modernist’s dream nested into a rich, green sculpture garden.
The sculpture gardens are located behind the museum but you get a taste of the art as you approach the front door.
The inside of the museum is just as beautiful as the exterior with clean, fresh lines and – unusual for most museums – lots of seating.
The Potato Eaters, Vincent Van Gogh
These are a few of the paintings Van Gogh created as he studied the local field workers. He was interested in how they worked and how they moved but he did not fill in or closely detail many of their faces. He was more interested in the light, the color, the motion of the moment.
And here is Van Gogh’s masterpiece.
I know you are reading this because you are interested in Van Gogh – and there are more photos at the bottom of this blog. But so many other greats are featured at this museum! The best part of viewing paintings at the Kroller-Muller is that there are not hordes of people crowding around a tiny painting. You don’t feel pressured to move on after three seconds (think The Mona Lisa in the Louvre). You can almost smell the paint as you take a side-ways look at the artist’s brushstrokes and a guard doesn’t come running up to tsk-tsk you away. Visiting the Kroller-Muller is an extraordinarily delicious experience!
Here’s Georges Seurat’s La Chahut, a neo-impressionist artwork that Seurat created using the pointillist technique of painting with tens of thousands of dots of paint. Close up you might only see pink or green but at a distance, the colors blend and you’ll see brown. This painting was a huge hit when it was introduced in Paris in 1890. It led the way for new art movements such as my daughter Christie’s favorites, the Fauves.
Here are close-ups of two sections of this painting. See what I mean about getting close without being rushed?
Many more impressionist artists are also represented at the museum. Here are a few of the paintings that attracted me such as this painting by Renoir of the Clown John Prince. Renoir was commissioned to paint this full length portrait by the owners of the cafe at the Circus d’Hiver in Paris.
Camille Pissaro, whose work is below, is the artist who encouraged Van Gogh to paint with more color and to paint more freely. Pissaro was fascinated with the interplay of light and color, according to information provided by the Kroller-Muller Museum.
As promised, here are more Van Gogh’s.
Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, “You know Jeannin has the peony and Quost has the hollyhock, but I am in a way the one who has the sunflower.” (Taken from the wall of the The Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands.)
The beautiful floral arrangements throughout the museum made this museum even more delightful. Here are a few snaps:
Make the trip to the Kroller-Muller Museum. It’s well worth the visit and a great break from the frenzy of Amsterdam. There are easy bus and train connections and the drive is interesting.
This has nothing to do with this visit to the Kroller-Muller, but you must watch this trailer for the upcoming movie Loving Vincent, just because it is such an original. Breakthru Films has taught 100 painters to paint in the style of Vincent for the movie. Cannot wait! Read more about the world’s first fully painted film here.
There’s also an interesting video about Van Gogh’s life here from 1Media if you’d like to know more about Vincent’s life.
The pretty little towns and harbors of The Netherlands are the real magic of the lowlands. Hoorn, founded in 1300, became a VOC (Dutch East India Company) by the 1600’s. “Merchants, traders, seamen, dignitaries and authorities populated the then capital of West-Friesland” (Tourist Brochure, Mooi Hoorn 2016, Toeristisch Magazine). They created a harbor-side city of quaint brick buildings that are now embellished with the iconic Dutch trims and rooftops that let you know in an instant that you are in The Netherlands. It is neat-as-a-pin beautiful.
Because the town is situated next to the water, when our GPS said to go right, it was really telling us to take a swim. Since we didn’t want to sink the car, we headed around the block and tried to find a new way to get to a small quay where we wanted to park. After several long and loopy right turns, we found a parking spot only to be waived off by a woman who said firmly, “No, no, you cannot park here.” Sher showed her our handicapped parking pass and with a large smile she pointed, “this way!” and we drove across a narrow bridge to one of two parking spots. The Dutch make space for the handicapped, but not many. Three cars squeezed into the two spots. But by some kind of GPS luck, we were right next to our destination: The Museum of the 20th Century.
We hopped out and sat down on benches overlooking the scenic marina and a monument to – I think – immigration. As we dug into our hand-packed lunches a fine drizzle began to soak our sandwiches so we headed back to the car and huddled in the front seat as we watched the mist slowly turn into a deluge. Five minutes later, lunch was done, the rain had stopped, and we headed for the museum.
The Museum of the 20th Century is a nostalgic collection of stuff used by the Dutch during the last century. The treasures are gathered into decades to show how technology has impacted family life, as well as into big categories like school or toys or shopping. Walking through the museum was like talking to a favorite granny about “What was life like back in the day?”
Visitors begin their journey through the 20th century by viewing typical rooms of each decade. A good narration on the free audio tour explains how technology freed women of hard manual labor and birth control helped downsize families from about nine children in 1910 to one child in 2000. Interestingly, most technology came to the Netherlands from the United States about 10-15 years after the US.
The museum acknowledges the challenges of two terrible wars during the 20th century which slowed down technological progress in homes. The museum also took a look at a typical shopping street in the early part of the 20th century. Families worked in shops, took a break at lunch time, and re-opened in the afternoon. Interestingly, people still love their small shops and there is no large grocery chain or big box store such as Walmart in the Netherlands. It’s been tried but never caught on.
The Dutch love their children and there was room after room of toys. It was so much fun to see what children played with and how it connected to the toys of my childhood!
There were roomfuls of goodies – TVs, cell phones, appliances and dishes that never made it to the museum displays; they were just grouped under variety and stashed in shelves in rooms. It was fun to wander through these rooms and remember what similar items our families owned when we were growing up.
The beautiful town of Hoorn and the sweet Museum of the 20th Century are well worth the hour drive out of Amsterdam. The slower pace is a healing antidote to the frenzy of Amsterdam and truly soothes the soul.
We discovered a museum of automatic musical instruments in Ultrecht, the Speelklok Museum. Our family’s most special heirloom is an antique Eckhardt silver music box that my grandfather brought with him from Croatia. So this little museum of music box wonders was a delight for me.
Our old German music box plays Silent Night and Oh Sanctisima. My father used to put it out every Christmas with a small Christmas tree that would spin. Here’s a little video of the music box.
We took the excellent tour provided for free by the museum. Our guide easily switched between Dutch and English while giving children in the group the opportunity to operate the machines. If we had not taken the tour, we would not have seen so many machines operate.
Here is the machine (above) operating. Many of the machines are so easy to play that even a child can play them. This child was asked to demonstrate during our tour.
Here is a short video of the bird in the cage (photo above) performing. And here’s another short video of the operation of the small box to the far right.
Here’s a video of the music box (above) in motion.
Here is a little video of a bunny popping up mechanically – but he is shy and quickly disappears.
This video is about a huge automatic machine playing one of its tunes. (I do not have a photo of this machine but you can see it in the video.) This is what the dampers look like opening and closing when the huge machine is working.
The entire museum is housed in a renovated old church. According to our Amsterdam tour guide, only about 40% of people in the Netherlands belong to a church and fewer than 10% worship regularly. That means there are a lot of churches throughout the country that have been decommissioned and are now used for new purposes such as the Speelklok Museum. The museum designers wisely chose to keep some of the heritage pieces on display in the church.
For example, this old bread table for the poor dates from 1603. Back in the day, guilds would sponsor their own altar in a church such as this bread table for the poor sponsored by the Saint Eloy Forgers’ Guild. According to a plaque in the museum, guild members used an inheritance from a rich forger to hand out five cents worth of bread and five cents in coins to 20 less fortunate members of the guild every Sunday.
The remains of a fresco on a wall in the upper loft shows the Tree of Jesse, a depiction of the lineage of Christ according to Jesaia II and Mathew I. This artwork was created by the Master of Evert van Soudenbalch about 1550. In 1600, the Netherlands was the richest country in the world and the great art of that period is seen as the result of those riches throughout the country.
Admission to this don’t-miss museum is covered by the Museumkaart. Here’s one more little video that is a bit of a fantasy of a summer night.
Our first stop in Amsterdam was the extraordinary Rijksmuseum, the Museum of the Netherlands. We made our reservations months ahead of time and were rewarded by a comfortable, early-morning visit with controlled crowds. What a treasure!
First off, the building itself is beautiful with a colorful brick exterior decorated with intricate designs of inlaid bricks. There is a feeling of graviats as you enter the building yet as you look up, the huge space fills with light and welcomes you to enter.
Secondly, the story of Dutch exploration and accumulated wealth is reflected in massive paintings of men at work and families at play, all richly dress and sporting elaborate jewelry. The Dutch lavishly support the arts so the museum has a bountiful display of great art as well as significant artifacts like furniture and boxes for storage of precious items. The entire museum is dedicated to arts, crafts and history.
You will see lots and lots of these kind of Dutch paintings across Europe. With no photography, back in the day, it was common for guilds and families to pose for portraits.
In this photo you can see how the painting looks on the wall at the Rijksmuseum. The painting on the left is the Drapers’ Guild; the painting on the right is The Jewish Bride.
This painting filled a long wall at the museum where it’s been a mighty crowd pleaser since 1885 and it was difficult to get close – so I borrowed this image from Wikipedia which says this is the best known painting in the Rijksmuseum’s collection. My source says, “The painting is renowned for three characteristics: its colossal size (363 cm × 437 cm (11.91 ft × 14.34 ft)), the effective use of light and shadow (chiaroscuro), and the perception of motion in what would have traditionally been a static military portrait.”
Each district of Amsterdam had a guard unit made up of about 120 men. This, most likely, was a guard unit who kept watch on their area of the city. “There were some 120 men in Frans Banning Cocq’s company, but only 19 of them are shown in the painting…Depending on where they were positioned, (the subjects) paid up to 100 guilders each to be included, and the captain and lieutenant no doubt paid more than that,” according to Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen in “What Great Paintings Say – Volume 2.” This wasn’t a fighting unit – Amsterdam largely used mercenaries to fight their wars – it was really more of a guild of city leaders.
The next painting is one of my favorites. My little “bible” of art, Julian Porter’s “149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe” says, “When he saw this painting in 1885, Van Gogh said, ‘What an intimate, what an infinitely sympathetic painting. Believe me, and I mean this sincerely, I would have given 10 years of my life if I could sit for a fortnight before this painting with just a dry crust of bread to eat.‘” Yes, it’s that good.
In the book Rembrandt, Christopher White wrote, The Jewish Bride “is one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusion of spiritual and physical love in the history of painting.” No one is sure of who the people are in the portrait but some people think they were a couple posing as a biblical couple for this portrait.
The people of Amsterdam sometimes posed for portraits that depicted scenes from the Old Testament of the Bible. The Netherlands were a fairly new country when it became rich through trade in the 1650’s, so if painters wanted to paint history, some chose to paint bible history. This was a bit problematic because the country was heavily Calvinistic at this time and the religion placed restrictions on artistic subjects (paintings were even forbidden in Calvinist churches). Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen discuss this in “What Great Paintings Say – Volume 3”, writing, “Calvin did not want paintings to be worshipped, his teachings thus forbad works of art depicting God, Jews, Mary or the martyrs of the Catholic Church.” That pretty much left the Old Testament. The Netherlands “certainly had no heroes who could hope to compare with the famous figures of the Old Testament.”
The Rijksmuseum has curated their collection in such a way that it is easy to understand not just the item but the context of the item. The picture above is a tiny self portrait by Rembrandt. The curation notes, in both Dutch and English, take up more wall space than the painting. This is terrific! I can easily see the text and the image, making my visit easy and interesting.
Here’s a typical sign that appeared next to the Drapers’ Guild painting. See how easy it is to understand both the history and the art?
Isn’t this swan just magnificent? It fills a wall at the museum. This painting was so lifelike, I expected the swan to hiss at me.
This isn’t one of the “greats” but I love it because it kind of reminds me of Christmas at our house when the kids were growing up. Note the child who got coal from St. Nicholas. Not good.
The Rijksmuseum is where I finally fell in love with Vermeer. I used to volunteer to teach art appreciation to students at my kids’ elementary school as part of a team of school docents. We introduced students to Vermeer but concentrated on his technique rather than content. Imagine my astonishment when I saw what the man could do beyond technique! The Milkmaid transforms the very space where it hangs with a rich butter-yellow tone that engulfs the room. Julian Porter writes, “The jumping blue of the balloon skirt against the flaxen yellow of the cloth blouse set under a gold pot against an ivory spotted wall flooded in light is a drawing room bravura act.” I already miss this painting.
Here is more great stuff at the Rijksmuseum showing the wealth made through trade.
There was an interesting exhibit of 21 Joan Miro sculptures in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, but we just ran out of time and didn’t visit. It was kind of funny that when we traveled to Barcelona to the Miro Museum, one of his sculptures was missing – it was back in Amsterdam and we had missed it there, too.
I did get to enjoy Miro’s Personnage 1975 as it was displayed in the Rijksmuseum lobby. I couldn’t find a sign telling me what I was seeing but people stopped and photographed the sculpture because it simply dominated the space.
So that’s the Rijksmuseum for this visit. I’ll be back again next summer 2016 and you can count on me adding to this page.