Leeuwarden is European Capital of Culture for 2018 which is clearly marked wherever you go and there are so many ways that this is marked. You can enjoy all that is on offer from museums, thought-provoking exhibitions, statues, language and culture information or perhaps a free City tour appeals to you. If like me then all of those will fill your time but really the appeal will come from roaming the streets, people-watching with a coffee in hand and a blanket over your knees.
Here’s a selection of what I enjoyed during my 4 night stay.
Fries Museum: For €13, you can enjoy 3 floors of exhibitions. I spent close to 2 hours there wanting to experience and learn as much as I could. On the 1st floor you learn the story of friesland (ferhaal fan fryslân) where you encounter 100 objects from their collection. The great part is that the object can be experienced visually or through the audio clips provided, there are parts to read or you can lose yourself in the photos of Frisian people. You can walk through a replica house and also get to see the 11 cities of Friesland.
The 2nd floor holds the poignant stories from the Frisian resistance museum (Fries verzetsmuseum) where you will get to witness the lives of those Jews taken in the holocaust. Walking through it as we approach November 11th is all the more thought-provoking as you see the visual effects the second world war had on people’s lives.
The 3rd floor offers you ‘Phantom Limb – Art beyond Escher’ which challenges your perceptions about reality and shows how there are various ways of seeing and understanding situations. This was done very well especially in 2 parts where you read a man and woman’s reaction to a forthcoming romantic meeting. Another one where you simultaneously hear a man and woman’s view of their relationship and what has led them to this moment and you’re able to see how misunderstandings have taken place between them.
Places of Hope: This exhibition is one you walk through and experience by interacting with displays, observing and also responding to questions and choosing your preferred options for the environment. Although it is set for the Netherlands, it also applies to any other country you’re from. Places of Hope explores the future and how that could look in making it sustainable and also plausible. Well worth a visit and it won’t take long to explore but you will be thinking about and discussing it for hours after.
City Walk: Every Saturday, you can take a free tour around Leeuwarden where you pay what you feel is reasonable to the guide at the end of the tour. You can take the tour in English, Dutch or German. I took the English one at 12pm with Zenon as my guide. The tour takes you around the city pointing out key parts of Leeuwarden with snippets of History and Culture. It took close to 2 hours and due to Zenon’s enthusiasm and fun delivery of his knowledge, your attention stays with him. Lots of details are sprinkled with humour and an interesting and interested tone. The part which stuck with me was the Jewish memorial where you see the monument dedicated to the Jewish community lost in the Holocaust. The most poignant part is the plaque on the old Jewish school which tells you that ‘the child is no longer here’.
You may also want to check out the statue of Mata Hari, daughter of Leeuwarden who was an exotic dancer in Paris who during World War 1 had lovers on both sides which allegedly helped her to spy for both sides. She was executed by the French in 1917.
You can’t help but notice the Love fountain outside the train station on arrival. The faces of a boy and girl stand out and demonstrate the openness of the city immediately.
There is also Tresoar which tells the story of Frisian culture through various displays such as the visual poetry, the Pieter Jellies Troelstra exhibition and the basement where you can find old documents of marriage certificates, birth certificates and Bibles.
You may also enjoy the artwork in the City Hall which asks ‘What’s your story?’. Check it out Leeuwarden asks ‘What’s your story?’