A Square That Should Not Be

The other week, as part of the city’s anniversary celebrations, the Domtoren was playing a variety of songs, including popular local songs. One of my favourites, and the one that you can hear in this video I filmed, is called Utereg Me Stadje, which is a local dialect way of saying Utrecht, My City. It was written and performed in the 1970s by Herman Berkien, an Utrecht folk and cabaret singer. If you want to hear his version, there are a number of options on YouTube, including this one.

As for the video itself, it was filmed in the Domplein, and I’m standing where the nave of the cathedral used to be. You see, Utrecht has a grand, Gothic cathedral … it’s just missing half of it. The nave was destroyed in a heavy storm in 1674. There wasn’t the money to rebuild it, nor it seems, was there money to clean up the mess, since it wasn’t officially cleaned up until 1829. No, that’s not a typo. I thought I procrastinated!

Towering
The large statue in the video and in the photo above is a war memorial and it stands up against the outer wall of what is left of the cathedral. Essentially, all that is left is the transept (the arms part of the cross) and the apse (the part with the altar, etc.). In the photo, you can see that they’ve painted the wall with a trompe l’oeil effect to make it look as if you’re looking toward the apse, giving you the view you’d have if the nave still stood.

Parts of the cathedral ruins were used for other buildings, I’m sure, as they always are. What is interesting about the site now is that they’ve marked out, using different coloured bricks, where parts of the cathedral and other buildings used to stand.  In the following photo, you can see the octagonal shape where one of the columns inside the nave used to stand. Next to it is a floor memorial or some sort of similar marker that echoes the numerous ones inside the cathedral.

Ghost Columns

On one hand, it’s sad that the full Gothic structure doesn’t remain. On the other hand, we’ve got a wonderful square that is used for all sorts of events, as you can perhaps tell from the banging sounds of construction in the background of my video. They were setting up two different stages that day in preparation for the Stadsdag events and the following day’s Cultural Sunday dance events. It’s a wonderful meeting place, and in the end, I’m kind of glad they didn’t rebuild it. The tower may be lonely, as a new song says, and it might be the square that wasn’t meant to be, but it has become a beautiful blend of man and nature, as the trees stand as their own columns now.

Occupy Utrecht

Bullets, Bits, and Bobs

Daily Scenery

There have been a few stories of interest that I thought I’d share in a bullet format today, since they’re all short little bits.

  • The Utrechts Archief now has short videos in their archives and you can see some of them online. This one is from 1929 and shows a tram running straight through the Domtoren and turning into the area pictured above. It’s fun to see how much has changed, even in this very historic section.
  • Utrecht also finally got some recognition from the people at Lonely Planet. We came in at number six on their list of 10 of the World’s Unsung Places. I guess the Toerisme Utrecht people are doing their job!
  • Utrecht is also getting an International School this year, which will be a bonus for the children of people who come here for work with international companies.
  • Finally, in sad news, it was announced today that Prince Friso, the second eldest son of the queen, has suffered brain damage after being trapped in an avalanche earlier this week. At this point, they don’t truly expect him to ever regain consciousness. My thoughts go out to his wife, children, and family.

Sounds of NYE in Utrecht

As I’ve said before, New Year’s Eve is the big time for fireworks in the Netherlands. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only at night or at midnight. Officially, they can be set off between 10 pm and 2 am, but in reality, they started going off about 7 am today. They’ve been pretty consistent ever since. They’re also getting louder as the day goes on. We’ve had a few close ones that sounded like major explosions in the past couple of hours. Pippo is getting tenser by the hour.

Around 11:45 am, as the bells were ringing and the fireworks were exploding, I thought I’d record it to give you a hint of what it sounds like all day here today. All the cracks and bangs you hear in the background are fireworks. My camera isn’t the best for recording sound, but you get the idea, especially after the 45-second mark when it gets particularly consistent and especially at the one-minute mark. At the very end, you’ll see why we have a hard time fully enjoying the fireworks.

As the bangs and booms continue, we’ve got ragu cooking on the stove ready to be made into lasagne for our dinner tonight. It’s become a tradition for us. We’re having a quiet night in and hopefully we’ll be able to stay awake until midnight. I hope you have a fun, injury-free evening, whatever your plans!

Elbow in Amsterdam

Elbow
We bought the tickets months ago, but there was no way we were going to risk missing Elbow’s concert in Amsterdam last night. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for years, having been incredibly frustrated to learn that they were playing in Amsterdam — at the picturesque Paradiso — shortly after we first moved here, but with tickets well and truly sold out. They played PinkPop, a summer festival here in the Netherlands earlier this year, but summer festivals are a heat stroke waiting to happen for me, so I had to give it a miss.
Early Arrivals
We got to the Heineken Music Hall early last night, not long after the doors opened. We knew that going for a spot on the ground in the standing-room-only section would be a nightmare for us, knowing that we’d probably be surrounded by Dutch giants and not see much at all. Instead, we headed for the seated section in the back, but still got a decent spot. The hall soon filled up, with even the steps next to me in the seated section becoming impromptu seating.
Mirrorball
By the time the show started — which included their beautiful song Mirrorball, of course — the place was packed! The show itself was amazing. So worth the years of waiting to see them live! Besides making great music, they put on a fun show, with lots of laughs, as well as some moments of heart-aching beauty. As the saying goes, “I laughed. I cried. It was better than Cats.”

One of the best moments of the show came when the band joked that since they’re celebrating 20 years together, the audience should sing Happy Birthday to them. We dutifully did, and then things took one of those wonderful turns and the audience ended up surprising the band by launching into the Dutch birthday song. It started off in patches, but eventually, the whole audience came together in one voice, singing and cheering, while the band looked on in amazement. They truly had no idea what was going on but seemed to absolutely love it all! See for yourself:

Ecstasy of the Beat

Feel the Rhythm
Before heading to the market today, we took a slight detour over to Korte Minrebroederstraat and the Stadhuis. I knew that there were supposed to be various events there today as part of the In Vervoering Festival taking place in Utrecht this weekend. The festival is a mix of music, poetry, theater and film, often mobile, and in unexpected places and formats. You can ride in a bakfiets and have poetry recited for you, for example. The festival continues through tomorrow. More of the action is moving to the nearby Lepelenburg Park tomorrow, so I’ll have to check the schedule and see what else might be worth checking out.

What we saw today was a bit like Stomp, but with cups, along with a bit of singing and chasing. It was a fun performance to watch. For once, I thought to use the movie option on my camera and filmed a snippet of the performance. Don’t mind the bikes passing by; that’s just normal life here.

If you can’t see the embedded video, click here to go to the youtube page.

Cultural Integration

We frequently watch BBC’s program called Coast, which explores Great Britain’s coastlines, along with those of other nearby countries. One episode focused on the Netherlands, but I missed that episode when it first aired and only recently tracked it down. Watching it this afternoon, I realized that although my Dutch is still limited, my cultural integration has definitely expanded.

The program featured a short piece on fierljeppen, which I’ve written about before. I recognized it immediately, and soon realized that I even recognized one of the athletes! Sure enough, I looked through my photos from the event we went to last year and found the guy in the video, Jaco van Groot. How’s that for integration! Not only did I immediately know what sport they were doing, but I even recognized the athlete.
Setting Up

In another segment of the show, there was a Dutchman used as a local guide during a visit to Scheveningen. (They mispronounced it in the voiceover, something which could have gotten you shot during WWII when the name was used by the resistance as a test to prove that the person actually was Dutch and not a Nazi infiltrator.) While at the beachside town, they enjoyed some raw herring. As I watched and listened to the local, I soon realized that I did, in fact, recognize him, as well! His name is Philip Walkate, and I recognized him from his humourous bits about the Dutch inburgeringscurse (integration course).

And, of course, there was the bit about Dutch cuisine. As they commentators discussed the popularity of Indian cuisine in Britain, I knew immediately that they were going to be talking about the popularity of Indonesian cuisine here in the Netherlands. I knew that meant one of two things, saté or the broader rijsttafel. They went with the rijsttafel, a meal that goes well with my love of a selection of lots of smaller dishes.

I was ridiculously thrilled to recognize the athlete and comedian and to realize that I was very familiar with much of the information they provided, although the story about Texel island up north during WWII was something new and fascinating. My cultural integration is moving right along.

Countdown to Pot

In just over a week, The Phoenix Foundation will be kicking off their European Tour at the Paradiso in Amsterdam. You can still buy tickets to the show, and I really think you should. They’re from New Zealand after all, so they don’t get out and about quite as much as some of us would like. You should make the most of this opportunity now, while you can, even if you’re not as familiar with their music. If it sounds like something you might like, go ahead and seize the day! You’ll be kicking yourself otherwise! Really!

If you can’t make it to the show in Amsterdam, or more likely if you want to go to multiple shows, here’s more info on their current tour dates and locations.

25/01/11: Instore @ Rough Trade East, London info

27/01/11: Paradiso, Amsterdam – Buy Tix
28/01/11: Botanique, Brussels – Buy Tix
03/02/11: Oran Mor, Glasgow (w/The Go!Team) – Buy Tix
04/02/11: Liquid Room, Edinburgh (w/The Go!Team) – Buy Tix
05/02/11: Lemon Tree, Aberdeen (w/The Go!Team) – Buy Tix
06/02/11: The Cluny, Newcastle (w/The Go!Team) – Buy Tix
09/02/11 – The Hope – Brighton, UK – Buy Tix
10/02/11 – The Louisiana – Bristol, UK – Buy Tix
16/02/11: La Fleche d’Or, Paris – Buy Tix
17/02/11: Le Bleu Lezard, Lausanne – Buy Tix
18/02/11: Komplex, Zurich – Buy Tix
22/02/11: Comet, Berlin – Buy Tix
23/02/11: Studio 672, Cologne – Buy Tix
24/02/11: Beatlemania, Hamburg – Buy Tix
26/02/11: The Borderline, London – SOLD OUT… stay tuned!
(more info and links on their website)

Their latest album, Buffalo, has been getting some rave, five-star reviews in the British music press, which is saying something! They’ve also been getting some play on various UK radio shows, including Jarvis Cocker and Guy Garvey (Elbow frontman)! And hey! Buffalo is going to be released in the UK/Europe on Monday, 24 January! You can pre-order through sites like Amazon and such. You could also probably pick up a copy at the show. *nudge nudge*

In the meantime, here’s a cool video for their song Pot:

Return of the Utrecht Moat


The other day I saw this video thanks to the 24oranges blog. I know the areas being discussed, but didn’t realize that the area first mentioned had been at risk of being built up into a large motorway. As it is, it’s a beautiful, peaceful neighborhood, with trees lining the canal. It’s where I spent part of my first Koninginnedag here, and where I enjoy taking Pippo for a quiet walk.

I thought I’d post a few of my photos of the area to give you another view of some of the areas being discussed.
Life Is Good
Boulevard Canal
Mooie Brug

I might not have known that the one area in the north of the city had been at risk, but I did know about the “shortest motorway”. It’s over by the Vredenburg on the eastern edge of the city, near the station. The traffic is gone now and they’re definitely working to return the water to that spot. My first year here, I did a bit of a then-and-now project for my parents, based on a calendar of old photos I bought for them for Christmas. As you can see here, this is a photo of the main street through Utrecht. The bridge is crossing over what was then the canal.
junoud
When I took my photo of the same area in 2008, some parts looked surprisingly similar, but other parts were quite different. The road had widened, obviously, but it was no longer water running under the bridge; it was cars. The motorway was open until this year.
junnew

I’m certainly glad they never expanded the motorway. It would ruin some of the beauty of the city. I’m also quite happy to see that the water is returning to the motorway that was built. With all the renovation and construction going on in that part of town, hopefully the end result will be an improvement to the already beautiful city.

Rietveld’s Chairs

De Stijl
Gerrit Rietveld didn’t just work as an architect. He was also a designer and created some very famous chairs. One of the most famous is the Rood-Blauw Leunstoel (Red-Blue Chair), which has been getting some extra mileage this year during the Rietveldjaar celebrations.
Blue Blauw

Next to the Rietveld-Schröder House is a highway overpass that was constructed in the 1960s. In 2001, the overpass (or technically the underpass) got a Rietveld-inspired makeover. The whole thing is covered in blue and white tiles and depicts many of Rietveld’s most famous chair designs. The tile project is appropriately titled Sitting in Blue.
Stoelen
I’m quite fond of the zigzag chair as seen above. Many of these chairs are featured in a special video made by Utrecht band C-mon & Kypski. They’ve been working with the Centraal Museum to help promote the Rietveldjaar. They’re also performing a concert at the Tivoli here in town later this month. It’s a catchy song and the video is a fun play of musical chairs. Check it out!

Street Life with Art
For more information about Rietveld and for a view of the many different works he designed, check out the new Rietveld Collection website. It’s in English and Dutch and is a great way to learn more about his work.