Friday, May 10, 2013

Benelux festivals 2013

Archticts of Air, Twente Biennale 2013
In the UK, every city, town and even village seem have their own festivals these days. There's been an explosion in summer festivals over the last ten years, and the Netherlands is no different. As well as the big names like Pink Pop and Lowlands, there are lots of alternative, arty, cutting edge events to enjoy over the summer. Here are some recommendations for 2013 across Belgium and the Netherlands.

Sounds of the Underground
9-12 May - Amsterdam
Held across various locations in the west of Amsterdam, this is a festival of alternative and independent music and culture with noise, indie rock, psychedelia, avant-garde, bass music, improv jazz and underground dance. There are also documentaries, workshops, art and performances. (Website in English.)

Dag in de Branding (A Day at the Beach)
11 May - The Hague
This festival is a platform for new contemporary music (classical and opera). This 28th edition of Dag in de Branding has a distinctly Russian flavor, and as well as including Russian masterpieces of the 20th-century, there will be brand new compositions from the 'Motherland'. Website in English with videos of the performers for a taste of what you can expect.

18 May - Utrecht
This is the second edition of Le Guess Who? May Day festival, which brings artistic and groundbreaking pop music to multiple locations in Utrecht’s city centre. This year includes Deerhunter, the Haxan Cloak, Dirty Beaches, amongst many others. A great way to see new music and get to know Utrecht. (Website in English.)

Twente Biennale
23 May - 9 June - Enshede
This interesting festival is a collection of controversial exhibitions, lectures, performances, music, and much more. The theme of the festival this year is 'Identifying Europe' and will be exploring the history, the near future, but most of all about Europe today: such as the EU, the crisis, populism, Fortress Europe. It will take place in Roombeek in Enshede - the area that was formerly destroyed in the firework disaster of 2000, when 400 homes were destroyed, and is now being innovatively redeveloped. Check out the website (English) to be inspired to go (I think I'll go for the Architects of Air alone!).

Rock Herk
12-13 July - Herk de Stad, Belgium
A well-established alternative music festival held in a pretty part of Belgian Limburg. Includes a mix of rock, metal and lots of new talent. Maximo Park headline. (Website in English.)

13 July - Eindhoven
Organised by the well-established local Zodiak Commune of acid freaks and techno heads, responsible for the second generation of Acid, Techno and Electro-parties, including the annual Queen's Day Festival in the centre of Eindhoven. Not many details online yet - so follow them on social media to hear the latest (see the website for details).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

STRP festival

On Friday 8th March we visited the STRP festival in the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven. It's a collection of exciting works of art on the cutting edge of life and technology, many of which are being shown for the first time in the Netherlands. The theme this year was 'city of cyborgs'.

Although this was the sixth STRP, it was the first in its new form - the Biennial. The festival ran for 10 days, and was a hybrid of 'music, art and technology for curious minds'. That feels like an apt description for the festival which always seems to be full of interesting and surprising exhibitions, as well as bands and performances.

Tekton control room before the show
We went specifically to interview D-Fuse and Labmeta from London, and see their audio-visual work Tekton (the interview featured on our radio show). Tekton is described as "a series of audio-visual works exploring the materiality of light in motion produced by electronic assemblages ...  inspired by Moholy-Nagy's Light Space Modulator", which sounds intriguing, but we weren't quite sure what we were going to experience.

The control room for the show was an enclosed space with a large screen at the back and then a gauze at the front several metres away. The mechanics were very high tech, and although most of performance was pre-prepared, there was a live element within it.

Once the show started it was mesmerizing. It was a wonderful show of patterns of lights linked to minimalist  electronic music. The two different surfaces for the projections - the screen and the gauze - displayed different patterns at the same time, creating a 3-D effect. What I particularly liked was how sometimes a section seemed just too long, somehow making the overall effect even more compelling.

I now understand what audiovisual art is, and in this case it was both beautiful and thought-provoking. Very impressive and highly recommended. Here's a clip of Tekton to give you an idea what it's all about:

Tekton - Live edit from D-Fuse on Vimeo.

As well as performances from bands, DJs, performance artists.. and audio-visual artists over the 10 days, STRP also has an expo - an exhibition of concepts that align with the theme of the festival. So we saw lots of robots and automated ideas, and much of it participatory.

We had a great evening ... and left feeling like we wished we had seen more of the STRP festival. We'll be back for the next one in 2015, this time with the full week pass ticket.

Some images from the STRP expo

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Restaurant week

Restaurant van Piet Hein Eek
Restaurant Week begins on Friday 1st March. For the week until Sunday 10th March you can sample the food of top restaurants across the Netherlands for a special offer price. It costs just EUR 22.50 for a three course lunch and EUR 27.50 for a three course dinner. Bargain! In each case you get a set menu developed for the promotion - so it's not the normal restaurant offering, but a great way to sample what a place if capable of.

Restaurants taking part in Eindhoven

Avant Garde van Groeninge - a fine dining restaurant, serving modern French cuisine, situated in the PSV stadium.

ART Hotel (Best Western Premier) - restaurant in a central Eindhoven designer hotel, based in the old Philips 'light tower'.

Boon - contemporary seasonal food, situated in a converted town house in central Eindhoven. Has a nice garden for summer meals.

Brasserie van den Berg - open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving a good range of food. Specializes in quality steak.

De Karpendonkse Hoeve - one of the top restaurants in Eindhoven. Set in the a park with a terrace (nice in summer). Serves modern cuisine and has held a Michelin star since 1979 (and because of this you pay EUR 10 extra for your meal).

Het restaurant van Piet Hein Eek - informal and lively restaurant situated in the building owned by designer Piet Hein Eek.

JIU.NU - a classy modern fusion restaurant. Also a wine bar, so has a great selection of wine - over 30 that are offered by the glass.

Oriental Green House - this elaborate building includes different restaurants: The Pacific Ocean Buffet, Chinese specialties and Japanese Teppanyaki.

Restaurant Parkzicht - smart restaurant serving French Cuisine. Situated in a park with a terrace for summer months. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.Re

Restaurant Vestdijk 47 - French restaurant, with an open kitchen and chefs table. Situated in the Pullman Eindhoven Cocagne hotel. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Zuid - popular local restaurant serving French and fusion cuisine.

See the Restaurant Week website for the full list of restaurants in Brabant, and to book your meal.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Dutch Royal House of Oranje-Nassau

Queen Beatrix Of The Netherlands Announces Her Abdication
Queen Beatrix

I was introduced to some basic Dutch history on the 'inburgeringscursus' (the Dutch citizenship course). But the news that Queen Beatrix will abdicate on Queen's Day - 30th April 2013 - made me curious to find out more. Having employed my best internet research techniques, I'd like to share my slightly improved understanding of the history of the Dutch royal family, and its connections with England - namely William of Orange.

Even though there has only been a monarchy in the Netherlands since 1815, the House of Oranje-Nassau (or Orange-Nassau) has played a central role in the governance and rule of the country since the 16th century. The dynasty was a result of the marriage between Hendrik III of Nassau-Breda from Germany and Claudia of Chalon-Orange from Burgundy, France in 1515. The most significant member of the family in relation to the history of the Netherlands was William I of Orange (also known as William the Silent - this was his style in negotiations) who rose to political power at the end of the 1500s with the aim of removing the Spanish occupiers from the Netherlands with what became the Eighty Years War. 

At this point the country was not a kingdom. It became the United Provinces of the Netherlands in 1579, a union of provinces, each ruled by a 'stadthouder' and often one of these ruled the whole group. In 1648 the Eighty Years War ended and Spain finally acknowledged the existence of the independent Dutch republic. Members of the Oranje-Nassau family maintained the status of the ruling stadthouder throughout most of this period of Dutch history until the kingdom was formed later (1815).

William of Orange
It was stadthouder William III, who married his cousin Mary Stuart (daughter of James II of England)  in 1677, who is connected to British and Irish history, and inspires the Orange marches in Northern Ireland today. With the help of a Dutch fleet and the support of the anti-catholic English establishment, the protestant William overthrew the catholic King James II, and became King William III of England in 1689. (It was a coincidence that he was the third William in England as well as the Netherlands.)

As a protestant William III was involved in several wars against the powerful catholic king of France, Louis XIV, and many protestants considered him a champion of their faith. In terms of Ireland, the significant event for William was the Battle of Boyne in 1690. The deposed catholic King James battled protestant William in an attempt to regain his crown (for Ireland as well as England and Scotland). The battle across the River Boyne on the east coast of Ireland was won by William, marking the defeat of James' in relation to the crown, while helping to ensure the continuation of protestant ascendancy in Ireland. 

Back in the Netherlands
William III died in 1702 without children resulting in a short break in the line of Dutch stadthouders. In 1747 Fresian stadthouder Willem Friso, a descendent of William of Orange, was appointed stadthouder of Holland, when a period of inheritance for the House of Orange began, but this was broken again when France occupied the Netherlands in 1795.

In 1815, after the French occupation, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established. The first head of state was William I, the son of William V (the numbering of the Williams went back to the beginning again as they were now kings). Initially the monarchy was absolute, meaning the king had ultimate power and was head of state as well as head of the government. William I pushed through many changes that set the nation on the course towards industrialization and wealth. This regal power and influence continued  until the end of the reign of William III in 1890, although it slowly declined.

Queen Wilhelmina was crowned in 1890, and though she tried to reassert authority, she was generally unsuccessful and in the end introduced a new concept to the Dutch monarchy instead - the popular monarch. She received nationwide support from the nation during the Second World War. She fled to London, refusing evacuation to Canada, and sent encouragement to her people through radio broadcasts into the occupied Netherlands.

After Wilhelmina abdicated in 1948, she was followed by her daughter Queen Juliana whose style was different style to her mother's. She gained popularity with the people for the 'neighbour and housewife' air about her. She was more homey and down-to-earth, even regularly seen riding her bike.

Then in 1980 Queen Juliana abdicated to make way for her daughter, Queen Beatrix. The monarchy now has few real powers and only countersign official documents as a formality.

The Dutch monarchy is unusual in that it has an above average amount of abdications, and Queen Beatrix has continued the trend. When she abdicates on 30 April her son Willem-Alexander will become king. The process and ceremony is relatively simple. On 30 April Beatrix will abdicate by simply signing a document, and at this point Willem-Alexander automatically becomes king. He will then be inaugurated in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, in a secular rather than religious ceremony.

Queen's Day (Koninginnedag)
This year will be the last Queen's Day to be celebrated on 30 April - and there seem to be plans to make it a special one. Traditionally this is a Dutch national holiday that celebrates the queen's birthday (in a very orange way). With a new king it will change in 2014 to Koningsdag (King's Day) and the date will become Willem-Alexander's birthday - 27 April. The first King's Day will be held on 26 April though, because his birthday falls on a Sunday.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Oliebollen recipe

'Oliebollen' are little Dutch doughnuts that can be bought from stalls all over the Netherlands during the winter months. They come in two varieties - with or without added dried fruit. You'll be asked two key questions when you buy them - do you want it warmed up, and do you want icing sugar on it? I recommend saying yes to both, though be prepared for the mess. I usually get covered in icing sugar when I'm eating an oliebol, but it's worth it. And anyway, eating food in the street is rarely sophisticated, so give in to the experience!

Oliebollen are an important part of the New Years' Eve ritual in the Netherlands. They are the snack that keeps you going through the long night of alcohol and fireworks. For the event you can not only buy oliebollen in bulk from the stalls, but also from supermarkets (this is the only time they sell them). You can buy packet mixes to make them yourself at home, but if you want to go all the way and make them completely from scratch try this recipe. It's based on the one in my trusty classic Dutch cookbook 'Het Nieuwe Kookboek', but is slightly modified to contain a bit less fruit (I was advised on New Year's Eve that the original recipe maybe contained a bit too much). They're easy to make, but be warned... they are deep-fried.

Oliebollen recipe
(makes 12-15)

250ml milk
6g dried yeast (13g fresh)
250g plain flour
5g salt
30g currants
30g raisins
half an apple, peeled and finely chopped
(optional 20g candied peel, chopped)
oil for frying

1. Heat the milk until it is lukewarm.
2. In a mug, add the yeast to half of the milk, and mix thoroughly.
3. Add the salt to the flour in a large bowl and stir it through. Then make a well in the centre.
4. Add the yeast mix and the rest of the milk to the flour, and mix from the centre outwards, to make a smooth, wet dough. The dough should be quite thick and fall from a spoon in lumps.
5. Add the fruit to the dough and mix together.

6. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a moderately warm place to rise for about an hour. It should double in size.
7. Deep-drying: use a deep-fat frier or a medium saucepan 2/3 full of oil. Heat the oil to about 175 degrees centigrade, or until a small piece of bread crisps quickly in the hot oil.
8. Using two dessert-sized spoons form the dough into little balls (about 4-5cm wide) and add to the pan. Dip the spoons in the fat before making the balls - then they won't stick. Cook about 4 oliebollen at a time.
8. After about 3 minutes, turn the balls over to cook the other side. After another 2 minutes both sides should be nicely browned.

9. Remove olibollen from the pan and put on kitchen paper to soak up any excess fat.
10. Serve warm, dredged in icing sugar.

Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's Eve

It's not even lunchtime yet, and already the sound of random fireworks being set off by naughty boys around the neighbourhood is dominating the air. In Britain, Bonfire Night - 5th November is the main firework night of the year. But in the Netherlands it's New Year's Eve - when at midnight a spontaneous, massive and wonderful firework display goes off around the country. Thousands of people contributing to a public display that would be the envy of any municipal event. It's fantastic to enjoy from the safety of your own home... but on the streets, near bars, it can be a bit scary and feel like you're navigating a minefield. It's not for the feint-hearted. The firework-fest lasts over an hour and then a heavy fug of smoke fills the streets.

New Year's Eve, or 'Oud en Nieuw' (old and new) or 'Oudejaarsavond' (old year's evening) is often celebrated at home with families or friends, and the midnight hour is celebrated with champagne and 'oliebollen'. Directly translated, this means oil balls, which is a sobering reminder of how they are cooked - in the deep fat fryer. They are little doughnuts, mainly plain with no filling, and are doused in icing sugar ('poedersuiker'). Even better is  a version called 'gevuld oliebollen' which contain dried fruit.

Oliebollen are sold all over the country from brightly lit stalls that start to appear near markets and train stations from the end of autumn, marking the changing of the season. As well as the standard oliebollen, you can also indulge in ones with fillings such as apple, cherry, banana or custard - these are called 'berlinerbollen', and are more like a British doughnut. Another variation eaten on New Years' Eve is the 'appelbeignet' - slices of apple coated in a similar yeast-based dough and deep-fried.

All that fat is great for soaking up the alcohol. Fijne jaarwissleing!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Museum Card (Museumkaart)

While in the UK it has been free to enter government-funded museums since 2001, in the Netherlands you have to pay. And prices can be quite steep - €5 - €10 for small, local museums to €15 on average per adult for national museums.

If you live in the Netherlands it's definitely worth investing in the Museumkaart if you enjoy museums and expect to go several times in the year. The museum card isn't cheap either (€49.50 for adults and €22.50 for children), but once you've bought it, you can freely enter as many museums over the year as you want. After just three visits to major museums in the year you're then reaping the value of the card.

There are nearly 400 museums across the whole country, on almost every topic - so seek out the best museums and make the most of your time in the Netherlands as well as the card. And if like me you sometimes need a bit of an incentive to get you out more (especially if it's cold and wet), once you've bought the card, you really feel like you should make the most of it!

There's no information on the Museumkaart website in English. You can buy the card online, but will have to pay €4.95 admin costs. Alternatively - and cheaper - you can buy your card at any of the museums where it is valid, and use it to enter freely straight away.

The card will get you in to the top museums in Holland, including the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijkmuseum in Amsterdam. Closer to home, here are a few examples of the museums you can visit for free with the Museum Card in the Helmond and Eindhoven area:

Gemeentemuseum Helmond - which includes two locations: the Boscotondohal which has a permanent art gallery on ground floor and temporary exhibitions on top floor, and Helmond Castle (Kasteel Helmond)

Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven - which features regularly changing contemporary art exhibitions, in addition to a permanent collection of modern art, including key works by Lissitzky, Picasso, Kokoschka, Chagall, Beuys, McCarthy, Daniel and K├Ârmeling.

Museum de Wieger, Deurne - former home of the doctor and expressionist artist Hendrik Wiegersma. The museum usually shows temporary exhibitions, but also holds his wonderful collection of local folk art (which he accepted as payment from patients with little money), as well as his paintings, which you can arrange to see if you contact the museum in advance.

Museum 't Oude Slot, Veldhoven - a old farmhouse displaying objects of the local culture, and the People's Print Room. Also linked to an exhibition space on the city hall (Gemenntehuis) showing comtemporary art.

Search the Museumkaart website for more ideas.