The Old Fire Station

brandspuithuisjeHistory is full of stories of devastating fires ripping through closely packed cities. Having enough fire houses spread throughout the city to quickly respond was vital, especially in the age before motorized vehicles that could move quickly. I think if I was living in a time when you were reliant upon horse-drawn vehicles, I’d probably want to live pretty close to one of the fire stations.

Although it has long since been retired, there is one of the old fire station buildings on Schalkwijkstraat, a charming little street near Lepelenburg Park. (It’s charming now, anyway, although I wonder what it was like originally. Schalk seems to translate as “rogue” so schalkwijk seems to mean “rogue district”. Maybe the firehouse was regularly needed!) This sensible brick building dates from 1860 and served one of the volunteer fire services that were located throughout the city. Although there were many such buildings, only two of them now remain: this one and one on Burgemeester Reigerstraat further east outside the old city center.
brandspuithuisjeI think an architect firm now makes its home in the old building. Fortunately, it retains its large double doors, while the small circular window over the doorway and the scalloped pattern along the top add a surprising decorative element to what was an important functional building.

I’m glad so many buildings like this still exist, giving us a chance to visualize history in ways that you just can’t when it’s only through words or old photos. Seeing the buildings in situ gives a better feel for how they really fit in the city landscape. Of course, it comes in handy that many buildings have informative plaques on them. I often wish any building over 100 years old had some sort of plaque listing any pertinent history/use. It would make my research so much easier (and feed my curiosity)!brandspuithuisje

Time Travel: Janskerkhof te Utrecht

JanskerkhofAs you wander through the Utrecht binnenstad, if you look closely, you’ll probably notice a number of painted-tile images throughout the city. All are hanging on walls in public places, although some are easier to spot than others. It is worth keeping an eye out for them, as they are something like the city’s own version of my Time Travel posts. Each tile image is taken from old paintings of the city, depicting various important/well-known spots around town. Sometimes, there’s little change; other times, it is completely different. Either way, it’s fun to stand in the spot and compare then and now.

The tile images are an ongoing project, from what I can tell. One of the latest ones to go up is a depiction of Janskerkhof, as painted by Isaac Ouwater in 1779. The original painting belongs to the Centraal Museum, but if you go around the back (northern side) of Janskerk, you’ll find the tile version on display.Janskerkhof
On Saturdays, it can get lost amid the bloemenmarkt, but all of the flowers for sale also add to the charm of the setting and the flower market wouldn’t seem out of place in the painting. The painting shows a handful of people going about their daily lives and it really doesn’t look much different today.JanskerkhofA few things have changed since the painting, including the addition of the Willibrordkerk (the spire in the background of my photos) and many more trees. As a result, it’s hard to get a clear, full shot of the area, but behind the trees and the flower trucks, it really does look quite similar. Trust me when I say that the Janskerk is there on the left behind the trees, looking much the same as it does in the painting.JanskerkhofJanskerkhofHere’s a winter view of the square from much the same spot.Winter Sunlight
Here’s a view of the Janskerk itself: JanskerkhofAnd here is the building on the right of the painting. The building itself has changed, but the grand entrance is still recognizable.
Open Day [day 328/365]

Time Travel: Biltstraat

Biltstraat 1947 (Het Utrechts Archief)It seems appropriate that I came across this photo of Biltstraat recently, as this is one of the only streets I see these days. The wine bar and my freelance writing are keeping me very busy. This photo is relatively recent, dating back to 1947. In some ways the street has changed little. Amusingly, even the awning looks to be the same style on the second-from-the-left building. The fifth building with the bay window looks nearly identical, as does the larger ninth building and everything in between.

The street used to be lined with trees, but those were felled during the war, I believe, but they’re gradually being reintroduced, which makes taking comparison pictures a bit more difficult. The biggest difference, perhaps, are the defined bike paths now on each side of the street. They’re the reddish strip seen in the current photo. Amazingly, it looks like I managed to find almost the exact same spot to snap this photo as the original. Mine just includes a few more rooftops, a bit of sunny, blue sky, and the other side of the street.Biltstraat
To show just how little the street has changed in almost 70 years, here’s a photo I took from the front door of our wine bar, Vino Veritas, earlier this week. In black and white, just a few steps up from where the original photo was taken (directly across from the third/fourth buildings), everything looks surprisingly similar. The grand old dame is holding up well! Biltstraat
First photo via Het Utrechts Archief

18 Things to See, Do, Taste, and Experience in Utrecht

klmmapI’m always singing the praises of Utrecht and encouraging people to visit this beautiful, historic, and vibrant city, so it only seems right that I make a handy map of some of the places and things visitors should see. So here’s a map of 18 places in Utrecht that you should see, including museums, sculptures, parks, restaurants (which, of course, includes Vino Veritas), and historic points of interest. It is, by no means, a complete listing and hopefully I’ll be able to add on to it as the spirit moves me. Did I leave out one of your favorite must-see spots in Utrecht? Tell me what you think is a must-see.

Thanks to KLM for doing the technical creation of this map for me, while letting me use my own words and photos. They were kind enough to let me focus on Utrecht, instead of Amsterdam, after I pointed out how quick and easy it is to get to Utrecht from Amsterdam. Fly into Schipol Airport with KLM and hop on one of the many trains to Utrecht. You’ll be here in just half an hour!

Utrecht Turns 892

StadsdagGefeliciteerd, Utrecht! You make 892 look great!

Today is the official Stadsdag (city day), commemorating the date that Utrecht became an official city. On June 2, 1122, Henrik V officially recognized Utrecht as a city. (However, don’t forget that Utrecht as an inhabited location has been around since at least 50 CE with the Roman fortifications, and people may have inhabited the area during the Stone Age, going back to 2200 BCE.)

Although today is the official date, the celebrations were held yesterday. Sadly, I didn’t get to get out and enjoy them. There were birthday cakes galore, with neighborhood baking competitions and a final round for the neighborhood winners. Appropriately, representations of Nijntje (Miffy) and the Domtoren were among the winners.

Numerous other events also took place yesterday, including the opening of a new exhibit, but I’ll save the details for another post. I’m hoping to squeeze in a visit of my own sometime this week. *fingers crossed* In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the news that the trompe l’oeil image that used to hang on the cathedral is back! It was a nice surprise that I noticed on Saturday while I was out. It’s good to see it back.Cathedral Art

Time Travel: Het Maliehuis

maliehuisZo Was Utrecht, a fantastic source for old images of Utrecht, recently Tweeted this old advertising poster that dates back to 1897. It’s for the Utrechtsche Levensverzekeringsmaatschappij (Utrecht Life Insurance Company/Society), which was housed at the time in the Maliehuis located at Maliesingel 28.

The original Maliehuis (huis=house) was built in 1637 and was used by the administrator of the Maliebaan. The Maliebaan, a long, tree-lined avenue, was originally used to play the game known as malie, which was somewhat like croquet or what eventually became golf. People could rent the game equipment from the administrator at the Maliehuis. This went on through the 18th century.

Then, in the 19th century, the building was significantly enlarged and turned into a house. Eventually it then became office space, for businesses such as the aforementioned life insurance company, and nowadays, I think it’s used as an exhibition space.

It’s a nice house from the outside, with clean, simple, classical lines. There’s also a tile depiction of the house, showing the canal that runs in front of it. That section of the canal is called the Maliesingel, but it is also part of the canal that rings the old city center. The Maliehuis is just outside the binnenstad (city center). My photos are a few years old, and I think the outside has been cleaned up since then. Still, you’ll see just how much the building still looks as it did in the illustration from the late 1800s. To the right is the Maliebaan, where the game was originally played. In the 1600s, it was a student area where they played malie and generally hung out together. It’s since changed to an important and wealthy area. Het MaliehuisHet MaliehuisHet MaliehuisHet Maliehuis

The Liberation of Utrecht in 1945

I posted Monday about Bevrijdingsdag, the liberation of the Netherlands at the end of World War II, but also mentioned that the allied forces didn’t arrive in Utrecht until 7 May. Today marks that anniversary, so I thought I’d share a few of the photos from the Utrecht Archives showing the anticipation and arrival of the troops.

They came through Biltstraat in order to enter the old city center at the Wittevrouwenbrug. They followed that street, which becomes Voorstraat, before eventually making their way through the rest of the city. People lined the streets in masses to celebrate their arrival. The photos I’ve chosen start with people waiting for the forces on Biltstraat and then follow them down Wittevrouwenstraat and Voorstraat.Waiting on BiltstraatAllies on WittevrouwenstraatAllied Forces on VoorstraatAmong the allied forces that played a part in the liberation of Utrecht was the CanadianEnglish 49th Reconnaissance Regiment, known as the Polar Bears. (See comment below.) They’re seen marching along Janskerkhof. There’s now a Polar Bear monument dedicated to the regiment at a spot on Biltstraat. There will be a memorial service held there this evening.Canadian Polar Bear regiment at JanskerkhofFinally, a charming photo of a couple dancing in celebration in Framboosstraat.Liberation celebration in Framboosstraat
All photos via Het Utrechts Archief.
Biltstraat
Wittevrouwenstraat
Voorstraat
Janskerkhof
Framboosstraat

Bevrijdingsdag in Utrecht

BevrijdingsdagToday is Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day) in the Netherlands. It marks the 69th anniversary since the Germans surrendered at the end of World War II and signed the capitulation documents in Wageningen. There are various celebrations held throughout the country today, including here in Utrecht. Today is also one of the official days when the flag is flown and there are flags fluttering in the sunshine across the city and on most streets. Our neighbor is flying the flag and it looks lovely against the bright blue sky.

Although today marks the liberation of the Netherlands, the full component of allied forces didn’t arrive in Utrecht until 7 May (and later in other areas). However, in the days leading up to their arrival, food began to make its way into the city as part of Operation Faust. Food had been dropped by airplane in various cities in the country and then was gradually distributed to help feed the starving citizens of the Netherlands.

The Utrecht Archives has some photos of the early arrival of these important food deliveries, which I found particularly fascinating and poignant, as many were taken here in my neighborhood. This first one shows some of the trucks arriving on the eastern edge of the city center, having driven up Biltstraat (in the background) and then crossing over to Wittevrouwenstraat. On the right is the turn to Lucas Bolwerk.
http://www.hetutrechtsarchief.nl/collectie/beeldmateriaal/fotografische_documenten/1940-1950/97576In fact, in this next photo, you can see the trucks lined up along Lucas Bolwerk. There’s a narrow park that runs along this street, with the city ring canal on the other side. It’s where we used to take our dog Pippo every day, so it’s an area I know very well. That makes it seem that much more real and not just a historic photo.
http://www.hetutrechtsarchief.nl/collectie/beeldmateriaal/fotografische_documenten/1940-1950/22187The final photo is of an allied motorcyclist riding up Voorstraat in the last few days leading up to the liberation of Utrecht. From the waves of the hats, he was surely a wonderful sight to see. And once again, it’s a street I know so incredibly well — in fact, we walked along there on King’s Night last week — which makes it more personal and yet still so hard to imagine.http://www.hetutrechtsarchief.nl/collectie/beeldmateriaal/fotografische_documenten/1940-1950/97699After the liberation of Utrecht, a tree was planted on the south-eastern side of the city, in the park area at the end of the Nieuwegracht. It’s where my beloved Spoetnikkijker statue now stands. The Bevrijdingsboom (Liberation Tree) has a painted, ironwork sign in front of it to mark its commemoration of the liberation of Utrecht and the country in May 1945.BevrijdingsboomDirect links to the photos:Wittevrouwenstraat
Lucasbolwerk
Voorstraat

The Arrival of King’s Day

Koninginnedag DomtorenSo, the inaugural King’s Day (Koningsdag) celebrations are beginning, as stages and oceans of beer are being put in place across the country. It’s the first time there’s been a King’s Day; it has always been Queen’s Day since the holiday’s inception. However, after Beatrix stepped down last year and Willem-Alexander ascended the throne, we now have a king for the first time in more than 100 years.

It turns out there’s an Utrecht link to the holiday. It was an Utrecht newspaper editor who first organized Princess Day for Wilhelmina in 1885, as a celebration of her fifth birthday. The celebration eventually evolved into Queen’s Day once she succeeded her father, King Willem III in 1890.

Originally, Queen’s Day was celebrated in August, the month of Wilhelmina’s birth. When her daughter, Juliana, took the throne, it then moved to her birth date, 30 April. When Juliana’s daughter, Beatrix, took the throne, she decided to keep the April celebration date, since the weather is much nicer than her birth month of January. Willem-Alexander’s birthday is 27 April, which is when King’s Day will usually be celebrated. However, since the 27th is a Sunday this year, they decided to move the celebration to the 26th. Next year it will be on the 27th. I kind of wish he’d just kept the 30 April date to avoid confusion. Now it’s starting to feel a bit like trying to figure out when Easter is!

The party actually starts tonight with King’s Night festivities that usually include bands playing outdoors throughout the city, with plenty of covers of Golden Earring songs and Shocking Blue’s “Venus” (both are Dutch bands, if you didn’t know). The vrijmarkt also starts tonight at 18:00 (6 PM), in which the northern part of the city center becomes a massive flea market. Lots of people like to go early to find the best items, before everything gets picked over. It’s particularly useful if you’re looking for a specific item.

Tomorrow, which is the official King’s Day, will see more of the same, with lots of parties across the country. Throughout it all, there will be more orange than you’ve ever seen in your life, as the Dutch royal family is part of the Orange-Nassau family. BoatsMore OrangeKoninginnedagBand
Janskerkhof