Tank Man

During the summer of 2013, the Call of the Mall art event took place in the Hoog Catharijne shopping center here in Utrecht. A variety of art works in multiple mediums were placed throughout the mall. The Celestial Tea Pot, which still stands on the roof of part of the mall, was and is a popular piece, but there was one piece that really created a lot of interest, at times blocking much of the walkway in which it was placed.

Tank Man, a lifelike sculpture by Fernando Sánchez Castillo, refers to the unknown man who stood down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in China in 1989 after the Chinese military had come in to shut down protests. Although a few names were bandied about at the time, it seems that there is no reliable information about the man’s identity and fate.
Tank ManAlthough we don’t know what became of the man dubbed Tank Man, we do know what happened to the statue. It was purchased by the Centraal Museum, where it now has a home. I never got to see it while it was on display in the mall, but I did finally get to see it on my most recent visit to the museum. It’s a powerful piece when you stop and think about what this man did, especially at that particularly violent and repressive moment in time.

The video footage and photos that made it out of China are hard to forget. The close-up photos like the one by photographer Jeff Widener are staggering, but it was one I saw a few days ago that really made me think more deeply about it all than I have in many years. The wider angle shows the scope of what this man was up against. To see the tiny figure of the the man standing against at least 20 tanks just on the road, not to mention the numerous other grouped tanks in the background is incredibly moving and thought-provoking. It’s hard not to put yourself in his shoes and wonder if you would have been able to take such a stand. I think being able to come face to “face” with the Tank Man via the statue is what helps to make it such a powerful piece, because you do suddenly find yourself face to face with your thoughts about what you’d be willing to stand up for and against.
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Time Travel: Pieterskerkhof and the Domtoren

domtoren seen from pieterskerkhof 1925 HUA creditThe browser tab cleanup continues …
This image (photo via Het Utrechts Archief) of Pieterskerkhof, with the Domtoren in the background, is from 1925. This is a stretch that really hasn’t changed much at all. That’s Pieterskerk (St. Peter’s Church), the brick building on the far left and the only thing that has changed slightly is the entrance, which seems to have grown a story and added a window. (It’s the bit right next to the white/grey building.)

The lamps have changed, there are a lot more bicycles, and a few trees have changed places, but otherwise, it’s instantly recognizable. Trust me, even the buildings in the background are the same.

I used to joke in the US about how certain streets were what I called “church row”, with seemingly a church on every street corner. This takes the cake, though. As I said, that’s a church there on the left and then not much further on, you can see the top of the cathedral and the Domtoren. I’m lousy at distances, but according to Google maps, it’s a walking distance of 230 meters/250 yards. They say it’s a three minute walk, but that seems awfully slow to me. Of course, if you stop to admire the local cats and the beautiful buildings, it will take a lot longer than three minutes.

Always the DomPieterskerkhof is definitely worth a visit if you’re visiting Utrecht or newly arrived. It’s a surprising cul de sac with a fascinating mix of old and new buildings and some great rooftop views. And when the sun filters through the trees, the charm level goes through the roof.
Summer Light

The Dom’s Architect

Jan van den DoemI’m a tab hoarder in my browser and regularly have more tabs open than is really necessary, but often they’re made up of things that I want to write about. However, sometimes I feel like they require more research than I have time or energy for, so they sit there for month after month. This is one of those topics that I’m finally just going to post what I know and if anyone else has better or additional information, they’re more than welcome to share.

This post started because of this photo that I took of one of the statues in the Pandhof of the Dom cathedral. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked around it, looked at it, and in this case, photographed it, but then never gave it much more thought. I guess I was distracted by all of the gargoyles. But then, a few months ago, I finally wondered if it was a statue of a saint or someone else. Curious, I started Googling.

What I learned is that it’s a relatively modern sculpture of the first architect of the current cathedral and/or the Domtoren. There’s some confusion over the names, but it seems that he was known as Jan van Henegouwen, but sometimes misnamed as Jan van den Doem, who was a later architect. Not surprisingly, for a structure so large, the building process went on for a number of years and there were multiple head architects throughout the project. Some information lists Jan van Henegouwen as the first architect of the Domtoren, whereas Jan van den Doem is listed as the first architect of the cathedral and Pandhof. I do have a book that probably explains it all, but I’m short on time, so I’ll try to do some more research and update if I learn anything more.

For now, a few details on this specific sculpture, though. It does seem to be meant to be Jan van den Doem, the architect of the cathedral and Pandhof. The sculpture was installed in 1989 (practically yesterday!) by sculptor Paul Grégoire (Amsterdam 1915 – Amsterdam 1988), presumably after his death. His son is also a sculptor, so perhaps he finished it/attended its installation. It turns out that there’s another sculpture by Paul Grégoire on Mariaplaats that I quite like. The sculpture of Jan van den Doem includes a beaver down by his feet and a plumb rule in his hand, symbols of an architect.

It was a nice, “Ah! Of course!” moment when I finally found out the subject of the sculpture. Nice to think that the architect gets a bit of a nod after all these centuries!

Zeven Steegjes From a Different Perspective

zeven steegjes
I wrote about the Zeven Steegjes (Seven Alleys) two years ago. For a moment, I thought I’d written about them two years ago to the day, but then realized I was a month off. Still, close enough.

Last month, while on the Free Utrecht tour held every Saturday starting at the Domplein at noon, (you should go!), I ended up getting to the Zeven Steegjes from a different direction than I’d seem them originally. It was a nice surprise when I realized where we were. On my previous trip, I’d been more interested in seeing the clear rows of buildings and hadn’t really wandered down the actual streets. This time, I was captivated by the variety of decorations in the neighborhood, both on individual homes and the details within the building designs. I love a good keystone!
zeven steegjes
zeven steegjes
But seeing the rows of domestic streets from the back also gave me a different view of the rest of the neighborhood, including this fantastic view toward one of the church spires.
zeven steegjesA bright, sunny, winter day also helps. Plus, the buildings also made me think a bit of Italy, with the orange roof tiles and warm colors that some of the buildings were painted.
zeven steegjesAs if all of that wasn’t so charming you could just die, there was an adorable dog who seemed quite determined to tell us all off for invading his neighborhood. That, or he just wanted a bit of attention and someone to play with him. I would have gladly complied!
zeven steegjes

Modern Rotterdam Centraal

Rotterdam Centraal
While my friends were visiting, we did end up taking a couple of day trips to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Our visit to Rotterdam was for one specific point of interest, which I’ll post about eventually, once I can whittle down the photos. Oh so many photos!

Rotterdam is a very modern city, due in large part to the fact that much of the city was destroyed by bombs in World War II. As a result, instead of an old city center full of traditional Dutch brick buildings that have been around for a few hundred years, you end up with gleaming glass skyscrapers and a variety of large contemporary buildings. We have more modern buildings just outside the Utrecht city center, but I only see them rarely, so it was a bit of a culture shock in a way. But in a nice way!

Today, I’m just going to share a few photos of the Rotterdam Centraal Station, which was recently renovated. It’s a stunning structure, with sweeping lines and metallic materials that shimmer and shine, especially in the crisp winter afternoon sunlight. The Utrecht train station is undergoing its own renovation right now and I hope ours turns out even half as impressive.
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal

Utrecht Cathedral, Inside and Out

ArchesIt’s been a fun and busy week, with friends visiting, giving me a chance to explore the city anew, as well as visit a few new places here and in other cities. Lots to post about, lots of photos to share, but right now, not a lot of time. So I’ll start with a simple one.

My friends were staying at an airbnb over by Mariaplaats (very cute!), so we often met up at the Domplein as a starting point. One day, while waiting, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the remembrance statue and the trompe l’oeil depiction of the interior of the cathedral framed by the Domtoren walkway. All the empty space in between used to be the nave of the cathedral, but that was destroyed in a “tempest” back in the 1600s. The large image on the wall serves as a sort of window into the interior of the cathedral, looking toward the apse.
Outside Looking InIn the illustration, you can see some of the central ring of columns, the stained glass at the eastern end of the church, and even some of the chandeliers. And this is how it actually looks inside.
Apse
There’s a little less stained glass throughout, but otherwise it’s the same. Either way, it’s a beautiful interior, even without all of the statues and decorations that were stripped out during the Reformation. I cut my art history teeth on Gothic architecture, so I do have a fondness for this cathedral, inside and out.

Winter Festivities in Utrecht

Winter WonderWe didn’t really get any snow last year and the way these last few months have been surprisingly warm, I’m not sure we’ll get any snow this year, either. But even without snow, there are plenty of winter traditions and events in Utrecht that give the city its own charm. And really, with all those brick streets and sidewalks, not having to navigate them when they’re covered in snow and ice is a good thing!

I recently wrote a travel feature about some of the upcoming winter events in Utrecht for a Canadian-based publication called DUTCH: The Magazine. You can pick it up at select news stands in North America, I believe, but this month, you can also read my article online. So if you’re like my three friends coming in tomorrow from the US, Canada, and Germany, and want to get some ideas of things to see and do in Utrecht this winter season, you’ll find a few tips and suggestions, along with a brief bit of history of this amazing city.

Happy Halloween

Kasteel de Haar
Halloween’s not really a thing here, unfortunately. I always loved it in the US and had a nice selection of decorations. Sadly, they were left behind and only our two black cats made the big move. They’re the best decorations year round, anyway.

Still, I can’t resist a quick post to wish everyone a fun Hallow’s Eve. I was going to post a few gargoyles, but then I remembered the Kasteel de Haar here in the Utrecht province. It’s a real castle! No vampires or ghosts, but there is a spooky doll in a window.
Pinocchio
Clouds Taste Metallic
Kasteel de Haar
The Castle
Spooooooky!

Utrecht Skyline

Views from Neudeflat
Friday I posted a teaser of a photo with a view of Neude square from above. Today, the grand reveal. Thanks to the post I did a couple of weeks ago about the Neudeflat building that is considered an eye-sore by many in Utrecht, someone filled my request to see the view from the top of the building. Herbert, a Twitter acquaintance, happens to work for the city, who own the building. He kindly offered to take me up to the 16th floor to see the grand view of Utrecht from above.

The weather had turned a bit foggy, so distance views weren’t great, but the low light worked out well. I really do have a lot of photos, but for today, just a few overviews. I’m thinking up ideas for some of the other photos.

In the first photo, obviously you see the Domtoren and the cathedral, with the Willibrord church on the far left. The building in the middle foreground area with the flags is the stadhuis (city hall) and the Oudegracht canal runs off to the right, though it’s a bit lost amid all the buildings.

And now, a bit to the northeast, here’s a view of Voorstraat as it leads off from Neude square, and on the left is an old water tower. This is the binnenstad, the old city center, but notice all the trees. It’s an old, urban city, but it’s nice to see bits of greenery, as well.
Views from Neudeflat
That’s all for now, but you’ll be seeing plenty more in the coming weeks, I’m sure.

Time Travel: Janskerkhof and Bikes

janskerkhofhua(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)
This photo from 1959 shows the Janskerkhof during one of the weekly Saturday flower markets. That aspect hasn’t changed at all and it’s a stunningly beautiful spot to hold a flower market. In the shadow of the church and the trees throughout the square, the flowers in the market are just gilding on this historic space.

I love the hustle and bustle and bursts of color that fill the space on Saturdays, but I also love the serenity of the area on a quiet Sunday morning, when the only remains of the market are a few fallen flower petals and a new bouquet at the feet of the Anne Frank statue in front of the church. My present-day photos were taken on one of these quiet Sunday mornings. To be honest, I was interested in the row of bikes and the scooter that day. I only saw the old photo of the spot recently and knew I already had a comparison photo.
Janskerkof Fietsen
The area today looks much as it does in that photo from 1959, though they’ve gotten rid of most car parking in the square in recent years, though you will see the odd scooter. Even the lamp and bicycles look much the same, though the bikes now face the other direction to allow for a separated bicycle lane. Today, you’re just as likely to see people walking away with the same bouquets of flowers as cycling away, with flowers in hand, under the arm, or in bags or baskets. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone leaving the market with a small potted tree strapped upright onto the back of their bicycle.
Janskerkof Fietsen
Janskerkof Fietsen