[Into the heart of the country] The Dutch influence on Seoul's cityscape

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[Into the heart of the country] The Dutch influence on Seoul's cityscape

Ambassador of the Netherlands to Korea, Joanne Doornewaard, left, and her husband, Wouter Verhey, agricultural counselor at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Beijing, at the secret garden of Changdeok Palace, a Unesco World Heritage site in central Seoul, on May 26. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Ambassador of the Netherlands to Korea, Joanne Doornewaard, left, and her husband, Wouter Verhey, agricultural counselor at the Embassy of the Netherlands in Beijing, at the secret garden of Changdeok Palace, a Unesco World Heritage site in central Seoul, on May 26. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Ambassador hopes that it is just begining for ties 

Joanne Doornewaard, ambassador of the Netherlands to Korea, was once a landscape architect.
 
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 design of the new park in southern Seoul by Dutch and Korean architects, to be completed by 2024.[SEOUL METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

A design of the new park in southern Seoul by Dutch and Korean architects, to be completed by 2024.[SEOUL METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

And with discussions underway about how to shape the Yongsan military base into a national park once the U.S. Forces Korea take their leave by 2021, it comes as no surprise that a Dutch designer will influence the project.
 

“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.”
 
Visitors at Kinderdijk, the Netherlands. [KINDERDIJK WORLD HERITAGE FOUNDATION]

Visitors at Kinderdijk, the Netherlands. [KINDERDIJK WORLD HERITAGE FOUNDATION]

Kinderdijk, situated in the western part of the Netherlands, is home to rows of windmills built in the first half of the 18th century to get water out of the area. The mill network was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1997.
 
“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.
 

What about Kinderdijk makes it a special heritage site to visit in the Netherlands?
The cluster of windmills created in the Middle Ages and specifically during the first half of the 18th century has been able to retain its vast, typically Dutch characteristic features of the landscape and the environment. The Netherlands is very flat, and a big part of the country is below sea level. More modern windmills have been built since then, but the mill network at Kinderdijk is unique for having been preserved over centuries and remain functioning today.  
 
What’s the best way to get there?
If you are traveling from Amsterdam, you can take a train to Rotterdam and from there book a tour or get on a bike. If you are visiting during spring, I definitely recommend stopping by Keukenhof, located between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Millions of tulip flowers will be ready to greet you. A lot of the trips in the Netherlands can be done on a bike as the roads are all connected.  
 
Kinderdijk [KINDERDIJK WORLD HERITAGE FOUNDATION]

Kinderdijk [KINDERDIJK WORLD HERITAGE FOUNDATION]

I heard some stories about the biking culture in the Netherlands and how an unaware tourist could be in for a big surprise in big cities in the Netherlands.
Right, people are going from point A to point B on their bikes and they usually don’t stop. If you are an unaware tourist and stop in the middle of a bike lane, then that can be quite an experience. 
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.  
 
There must have been a point when cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam were not friendly to bikers. How was the transition possible?
We were used to biking until World War II, when people bought cars and that pushed bikes out of cities. There were accidents with children going to school on bikes because of cars. Parents got angry and said that we need special bike lanes for children when they go to school. First there were short bike lanes and that worked so well that many people chose to take a bike to work instead of their cars. 
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.
 
Encouraging biking is what cities going green usually pursue. Where is the Netherlands on the topic of climate change and green development?
Because rising sea levels is a critical issue to the Netherlands, climate change is really big on our agenda. Our climate goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 49 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels and a 95 percent reduction by 2050. 
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. 
 
An aerial picture shows students sailing with solar boats along all Frisian Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Races) during the Young Solar Challenge in Hindeloopen, on July 7.The 220-kilometer (137-mile) journey must be completely solar-powered in five days. [AFP/YONHAP]

An aerial picture shows students sailing with solar boats along all Frisian Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Races) during the Young Solar Challenge in Hindeloopen, on July 7.The 220-kilometer (137-mile) journey must be completely solar-powered in five days. [AFP/YONHAP]

Coming back to the topic of heritage, I heard this was not your first visit to Changdeok Palace.
I was here earlier with my Korean language teacher. Her background is in philosophy and so we have quite interesting conversations. My first encounter of Asian culture and heritage was when I did my practical training in Indonesia and then worked as an intern in Thailand. Following that, I was stationed in the Netherlands, Poland and Mexico, but really wanted to come back to Asia. Thankfully I was assigned to Sri Lanka. 
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.
 
What other Dutch heritage sites would you recommend?
We have also more modern and recent buildings in Rotterdam, including Van Nellefabriek, an industrial factory that produced coffee, tea and tobacco in the 20th century. It is used these days for conferences and start-ups. It’s protected by Unesco — so they cannot change the outside, but the inside can be used for cultural reasons. One year we had our annual ambassadors’ conference there. We also have the Rietveld Schroderhuis in Utrecht, which takes after the design of Piet Mondrian, a leading figure of the De Stijl art movement. 
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  

 
Travel tips  
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   [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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