[Into the heart of the country] The Dutch influence on Seoul's cityscape
Ambassador hopes that it is just begining for ties
And it’s not hard to imagine her in her previous profession once she gets started talking about Korea.
“When I first heard about the palaces, I was amazed that you could have that sort of enclave of traditional structures in the middle of the city,” Doornewaard said. “Having seen one in person, I was fascinated by all the efforts that Koreans put into the woodwork, the sills, the paintings, the patterns.”
While taking a stroll through the Secret Garden of Changdeok Palace, a Unesco World Heritage site in central Seoul, on a late May afternoon, Doornewaard marveled at the harmony between the structures and nature.
“They made use of the natural area and the slope and built the structures so they sit in harmony with their natural settings,” she said. “We’re only here today, but the garden has been around for centuries and it has been like a sanctuary for the royal family. You can almost imagine someone sitting there by the pond, reading a book, or writing a poem.”
Doornewaard is not the only Dutch native leaving a footprint in Seoul.
Winy Maas was the architect behind the city’s overpass park, Seoullo 7017, built in 2017 that turned an old overpass highway into a pedestrian park.
A team of Korean and Dutch architects won a competition to design a 630,000-square-meter (155-acre) park, equal in size to 88 football fields, in the Han River area of southern Seoul, which will run from Coex to Jamsil Sports Complex. The park is scheduled to be completed by 2024.
“A group of designers including a Dutch designer also won that contest,” Doornewaard said. “I believe that one of the models being discussed by the designers is the Maximapark in the Netherlands. But the key would be to find out what the people want and to have the residents in the area shape the park into what they need it to be. That way it will also be the people who preserve and use the park once it’s built.”
The prevalence of Dutch designers in Seoul is perhaps not surprising given the centuries the Dutch have had in incorporating nature into their city planning.
With half of the country a meter below sea level, the residents of the Netherlands had to devise designs to ensure their survival.
“We had water boards from the middle ages, those were more important because it was about keeping people safe together and keeping the water out,” Doornewaard said. “So the dikes along the river and dunes on the coast have been structured for centuries. The windmills at the Kinderdijk are part of that system.”
“There are several bike trails running through the area,” Doornewaard said. “And usually they have these restaurants and cafes on the road. I know Koreans are into their coffee, but so are the Dutch. If you’re there, I’d say hop on a bike, see the windmills, don’t forget to take pictures, and stop by a cafe, which will almost always offer Dutch apple pie with cream.”
Doornewaard in a recent interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily spoke about her experiences exploring culture and heritage in Korea, her tips on visiting heritage sites in the Netherlands including Kinderdijk and what it means to be Dutch in both natural and urban settings.
The following are edited excerpts of the interview.
In the Netherlands, kids start riding bikes sometimes as soon as they can walk. They go to school on bikes with their friends and it makes them independent. As grown-ups, the Dutch could come to own even three bikes at once — one bike to ride to the railway station or school, one bike for recreation, longer distances or racing, and a bike to do shopping with a big basket in the front.
It won’t be hard to see some peculiarities about riding bikes in the Netherlands — for instance, the groom taking his bride on the back of his bike, dressed in white, going to the city hall to get married.
To get the people out on their bikes, you have to make sure that they feel safe on the road, that there are bike lanes and rules to protect them. If you have an accident, the pedestrian or biker always has the right of way in the Netherlands. But what helps is that those who drive a car also ride a bike. So the drivers think like a biker. They anticipate the direction the biker is going to take on the road.
There are also incentives by workplaces to encourage more biking. Our ministries make it very difficult to park your car, but offer spaces to park your bike. We even have shower booths in the offices for long-distance travelers on bikes.
Riding my bike here, I must say I really have to be careful. The cars are not used to bikes. We are hoping to organize a meeting with the Seoul city government to talk about bike lanes.
Part of that plan is to expand our renewables, and part of that is wind power — we have a huge wind park at sea because our country in densely populated on land. We also phased out coal and nuclear energy, meaning we have to close factories and replace them with renewables. We are on a path of phasing out oil as well.
The next step for us is to have cars running on electricity instead of gas. I must admit I was a little bit surprised when I came here because Korean electric cars are very famous in the Netherlands. I thought that once I get to Korea I will have my electric car, but it turns out that there are very few charging stations here. I think the Korean government will come to tackle that issue.
In Sri Lanka, I was fortunate to be involved in some preservation work of cultural heritage sites. One project that the embassy put forward was mapping an old market area in Colombo, which you can only reach by foot. We recruited writers and photographers, who were young Sri Lankan locals, to meet the elderly residents in the area and vendors to interview them and map out the routes through the market. All information was put together into a mobile application that tourists could use to navigate the area.
For natural heritage sites, I recommend the Wadden Sea, the sea in the northern part of the country. At low tide you can walk from the mainland to an island there, but you really have to be careful because it takes a few hours and you have to get to the island before the tide comes in. As students we would do that together — you leave at dark or early in the morning. It’s a Dutch thing to do.
Netherlands in brief
• Capital city: Amsterdam
• Area: 41,543 square kilometers (40 percent of size of South Korea)
• Population: 17.3 million (2020)
• Main language: Dutch
• Ethnic groups: Dutch, Turkish, Moroccan, Indonesian, German, Polish and other
• Religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and other
• National day: April 27, King’s Day
• Government type: Parliamentary constitutional monarchy
• Currency: Euro
• Best time to visit: If hoping to stop by Keukenhof for the thousands of Dutch tulips in season, plan your trip around April.
• Recommended flight routes from Korea: There are direct flights three times a week between Incheon International Airport and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. If you are headed straight for the Kinderdijk, get on the train from Schiphol to Rotterdam, and from there take a bus or a bike to the cluster of windmills.
• Recommended modes of transportation: Train, public bus or bike.
• Books to read before the trip: “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1947) by Anne Frank, “Spice: The History of a Temptation” (2004) by Jack Turner, “Tulipmania: Money, Honor, and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age” (2007) by Anne Goldgar and “The UnDutchables” (1989) by Colin White and Laurie Boucke.
• Movies to watch: “Antonia” (1995) by Dutch feminist filmmaker Marleen Gorris and “Soldier of Orange” (1977) by Paul Verhoeven.
• Music to listen to: Songs of Lavinia Meijer, a Korean-born Dutch harpist, and Golden Earring, a rock band.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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