Mayors in the Netherlands are appointed and not elected, and it’s not uncommon to see well-known national politicians, such as Ahmed Aboutaleb in Rotterdam (Labour Party), Ahmed Marcouch in Arnhem (Labour Party), Femke Halsema in Amsterdam (Green Party) or Emile Roemer in Heerlen (Socialist Party) step out of national politics to become mayors of a big Dutch city. In the case of Emile Roemer, he became the first ever mayor of the Socialist Party in March of this year, in a town that regularly votes for his party.
My sources tell me that Roemer enjoys being addressed informally and is a fan of heavy metal, the right kind of soundtrack to a city filled with empty buildings where the youth leave to find jobs and a more stable future. As for Heerlen, Limburg, a former mining town of some 87,000 residents, it is the rock and roll answer to the more conservative and tourist-savvy Maastricht some 30 minutes away.
And I don’t know if this is a first, but it’s most probably a first for Heerlen: on Sunday, 23 December, Roemer will be DJing a thrash metal and hard rock set at De Nieuwe Nor, the city’s only pop club. He’ll be opening for Amsterdam band Death Alley who apparently won’t be playing for a while after this.
And if Facebook is any indication, people will go because the whole idea is kind of amusing.
Dutch cycling law and etiquette requires bikes to have bells so they can warn fellow road users. However, many amateur racing cyclists can’t be bothered with bells on their bikes because real racing cyclists don’t have one. Then again, real cyclists have a race completely secured just for them, which is not the case for normal cyclists.
Racing cyclist enthusiasts go faster than most and cannot warn people properly that they are coming, making them ‘less sociable and less safe’, according to Rombouts. By putting a bell in a water bottle, a cyclist just has to extend their arm and ring their bell. Amateurs can now still look cool. After all even retired top racing cyclist Joop Zoetemelk has a Bi-Bell now.
Basically the police need help and what better help than people who think it smells funny over at the neighbour’s place.
In Heerlen’s case, embarrassement played a good part in bringing up the scratch and sniff card. A marijuana nursery was discovered in a building with a daycare centre, something you don’t read about every day and not good publicity for a city that has been fighting its drug-induced image for so many years. [Insert bad joke about children learning what pot smells like at a young age ].
Amsterdam advertising agency KesselsKramer has made the city marketing video below for art centre kunstcentrumSigne (kuS) in Heerlen. The city in Limburg has been going through a long metamorphosis and rebranding process to shake its darker past and get out of the shadow of neighbouring Maastricht.
Heerlen also celebrates carnival with more of an accent on kids having fun as opposed to university students and has enough room to accommodate everyone unlike Maastricht that is often overcrowded. Not unlike the cities themselves, the Maastricht carnival is a very flamboyant yet proper affair, while carnival in Heerlen is smaller but more about fun than good looks.
Street combing is cool, but then so is calling rubbish art and exhibiting it at big venues, including the city hall of Heerlen, Limburg. Starting today, visitors there can have a look all kinds of things collected by cleaners who are trying to attract attention to issues such as being paid for sick leave and getting more respect.
This travelling exhibition already seen in The Hague, Groningen and Utrecht tells stories about some 1,000 found objects such as a gold bracelet, a can of cola, a teddy bear and a syringue. The idea is that cleaners reflect our society and are indispensable, while they are not treated fairly despite the relatively well-organised Dutch labour system. Cleaners all over the country have been striking as well to get their point across.
The watch Dutch astronaut André Kuipers is currently wearing in space was specially designed and made for him by watchmaker Roland Oostwegel from Heerlen, which is positive news from a city that has had to tear down an entire shopping mall right before Christmas for fear of collapse.
The watch bears the name R.O.1 SPACE Special Edition (pics) and will stay five months in space at the ISS on Kuipers’ wrist. It is the first-ever Dutch watch to go into space. I love how the second watch has a number four that looks like the capital Russian letter ‘d’ (Ð”).
When Kuipers met Oostwegel he told him about how astronauts lose their sense of time. Oostwegel then decided to create a watch for astronauts to solve this problem, with a mission counter that displays the elapsed mission time in days and weeks, and an extra sub dial for when the space ship has made one full lap around planet Earth in 91 minutes and 59 seconds.
Price for the stainless steel limited edition starts at 4900 euro.
As if the troubled old mining town of Heerlen didn’t have enough problems, just before Sinterklaas, the biggest shopping time of the year in the Netherlands, shopping mall ‘t Loon (residential tower shown here) has been closed off, as it could collapse at any moment.
There is a parking garage under the mall, which has been propped up with big steel beams since October. A part of the garage was closed off for security reasons and the people living in the 12-story tower above were told that the cement pillars in the garage had cracks in them.
That’s the only information residents got until just a few days ago when the authorities announced that the mall was unsafe. A dozen shops have had to close and cars have been removed from the parking on the roof, while residents have been offered alternative accommodations in a motel.
Today, the shopping mall is empty and ‘potdicht’ (totally closed off). It could be months before they reopen, if it the entire thing doesn’t collapse before then, which actually could happen.
Experts and specialists are working on it, as it wasn’t just some construction error. Something underground is accelerating the sinking, but nobody knows what yet. And it all got worse overnight. As I write this, the city of Heerlen is holding a press conference and twittering about the situation.
Until 25 May these elephants will be adorning the city of Heerlen, Limburg, which can proudly be listed as a host of these works of art alongside big cities such as Rotterdam, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London. The Elephant Parade can be admired in and around the city centre — have fun finding all 30 elephants, I found about 10. The elephants were designed by local, regional and Thai artists, as the goal is to eventually raise money with an auction for the Asian Elephant Foundation to help protect the Asian elephant. Convincing the foundation to set up the Elephant Parade in a small, lesser-known Dutch city was done by a group of local women who come up with ways to let their ‘problematic’ old mining city smile again. It worked for me.
Boffins over at the sleep research centre of the Canisius-Wilhelmina hospital in Nijmegen have concluded that learning how to play the Australian musical instrument didgeridoo helps reduce snoring. The specific training of the mouth and throat muscles to play this instrument apparently help reduce sleep apnea, which causing snoring.
Some 50 people were given a didgeridoo training for four months, which was not easy as one third quit, claiming they were not able to sustain the necessary circular breathing, never mind the time committment. No definite conclusions were drawn with such a small bit of research, but the boffins could be on to something. The Dutch were inspired by the Swiss who did something similar and obtained similar results.
To wipe away the associations some of us have of digireedoo players being Caucasian dreadlock-wearing backpackers who play on the street as they need cash while on vacation in major cities during the summer, have a look at the cool, modern sounding didgeridoo player jamming with South African rapper Jack Parow live at De Nieuwe Nor in Heerlen a few weeks back.
Built in 1941, but only completed after WWII in 1947, the Maria Christina neighbourhood in Heerlen, Limburg, was designed by German architects Karl Gonser and Hans-Georg Oechler by order of Hitler and has been protected heritage since 2008. The locals have long referred to this neighbourhood as the ‘Hermann Göring’ neighbourhood, as the story goes that he actually visited the area before construction started. Although thousands of houses were originally planned, the neighbourhood ended up with 240 homes of different sizes, clearly meant for families with many children (many small rooms upstairs and big gardens by local standards), in this case German mine workers that were to take over the mines from the Dutch.
A plaque I read while visiting the neighbourhood explains that the houses with big attics had saddle roofs masoned with rare bricks called ‘vechtsteen’, bricks made of clay that came from the region along the river Vecht. There is also a rumour that houses were broken down in the province of Zeeland, all the way across the country just to building these houses, which is plausible considering that there was ‘vechtsteen’ to be had in Zeeland.
As you can see in both pictures, some houses have a 17th century Dutch bell gable. The first picture shows a row of houses with prominent bell gable houses, while on other streets, the bell gable house is in the middle of the row. My personal impression was that I was looking at row houses in Ireland, and that I was not in the Netherlands.
Many houses on either side of the bell gable house in the second picture are for sale and surprising inexpensive: 135,000 euro on average for 125m2 of living space. To give you an idea of how affordable that is, neigbours of mine in Amsterdam, the country’s most expensive city only rivalled by Utrecht, are trying to sell their 110m2 house for 335,000 euro, down from 349,000.