Covid-19,  Observations,  the Netherlands

A Sweltering Summer Day in the Hague

Yesterday, the sun continued to offer us another sweltering summer day here in the Netherlands (quite exceptional, to be honest). As the temperatures rise well above 30 Celcius, our tiny penthouse apartment changes into a sauna experience, not that far away from a true Finnish one. Hence, completely ex tempore, the Italian of the household suggested that we head for the Hague and the Scheveningen beach. As my living in the Netherlands has lasted less than six months and all of that in Covid circumstances, I had no previous experience of these places. That brought some surprises along the way.

The Hague is situated on a coastal plain with the city center a little bit inland from the North Sea. While Amsterdam is the official capital of the Netherlands, the Hague (den Haag) is the nucleus point of corporate and government administration and also the capital of the province of South Holland. The Hague is the seat of the Dutch government and the Supreme Court, the International Court of Justice (the main judicial arm of the United Nations), and the International Criminal Court. It also hosts 115 embassies and consulates.

With its 545 00 inhabitants (over a million in the metropolitan area), the Hague is the 3rd biggest city in the Netherlands. It has a flourishing trading, banking, and insurance scene along with e.g. electronics, printing, and publishing businesses.

The city was founded in the 13th century by the last counts of Holland who had their hunting lodge in a woodland area named Haghe. In the 17th century, when the Dutch Republic had a central role in Europe, the Hague became a hub of diplomatic negotiation. It became a midpoint of international law at the beginning of the 20th century and continued to grow fast with the construction of broad avenues and public parks.

A tourist aware of the political prestige of the Hague should at least take a look at The Binnenhof (Inner Court), a complex of historical buildings that has been the heart of the country’s politics for centuries. The main building is Ridderzaal, the Knight’s Hall, where the States General (parliament) meets.

The Pretty and Sympathetic Hague

In this sweltering summer day in the Hague, my eye was not only caught by the broadness of the streets and the massive, modern buildings. Most importantly, the city manages to be very green and picturesque. The canals are lovely and the parks and gardens are plenty. This greenery is a stunning difference to another lovely city I just visited, Florence.

Who could not like Haagse Harry, Harry from the Hague, originally a cartoon figure created by Marnix Rueb? This character, strolling around the city with its fat belly, smokes weed, is rude and acts like a hooligan, but has a heart of gold. As every local found a way to identify with this collection of stereotypical traits, a sign of self-irony and sense of humor, the figure became well loved. When the creator died in 2014, a two meter statue of Harry with Rueb’s ashes incorporated into it was raised in the city center.

The Hague has a vivid cultural scene, which is evident by a stroll around the centre. The quirky, funny, and lovely sculptures are everywhere, some of them, nicely put, testing the limits of what is provocative or interesting and what is just weird.

The city was heavily damaged in WWII. The destroyed areas were quickly rebuilt soon after, which gives a unique look to the city: For the most, there seems to have been no attempt to make the new buildings match the old ones. Many of the very modern big buildings of the city are very impressive in their modernism, such as the National Library of the Netherlands. However, despite its multitude of big governmental, administrative, and business buildings and a strikingly modern touch in the architecture, the city doesn’t come across as cold -it is as pretty and friendly as an international metropol can be.

De Grote Kerk

Because of the hot weather and our wish to go and see the Scheveningen beach, we limited our sightseeing visits to the Great Church (de Grote Kerk or de Sint-Jacobskerk). It is a landmark protestant church right in the center of the city and one of the Hague’s oldest buildings. It was founded in the late 13th century probably as a wooden chapel. The present church was built in different phases between the 14th and the 16th century, founded by several counts of Holland.

The church has a lovely vaulted interior known as the Hague hall style, and rows of beautiful stained glass windows. You can also admire the 34 escutcheons of the Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece, or the impressive Baroque tomb of Philip, Landgrave of Hesse-Philippsthal designed in 1721 by Daniel Marot.

This cenotaph (below) of the 17th century Lieutenant-Admiral Jacob van Wassenaer Obdam by Bartholomeus Eggers, is actually an impressive marble monument of whitewashing, intended to disguise the worst defeat in the Dutch naval history ever. The whole cenotaph was raised posthumously to cover the fact that the guy, apparently with no sense of naval leadership, had his ship exploded by the Englishmen in a gigantic disaster, and his body was never found (read more here). Hence, we are talking about 17th century emergency PR done to cover up this loss and soothe the protesting people.

Friet and Pancakes

After a while, we asked ourselves what would be the most Dutch way to eat something. In a heartbeat, we decided for friet and then some pancakes. The last mentioned we had at Will’s Pancake House and they were lekker. I always enjoy mine sweet -and with Nutella, if it is an option- but also for the fan of salty pancakes there is a plethora of options. The Dutch pancake is not just a flat circle of wheat. It is a tasty, sufficiently thick and oily thing, and a vegetarian like me can have it with e.g. fruits, berries, cheese, or mushrooms. Easy, simple, and so Dutch!

In conclusion, the Hague was a beautiful big city with a unique combination of prestigious history and greenery. Outside the summer season -and the Covid pandemic- the city is probably bursting life in a way that is hard to imagine when strolling at the almost empty streets among foreign tourists. I am looking forward to experiencing more of the Hague; visits to Binnenhof and Madurodam theme park are high on my to see -list.

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