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Arnhem, Not Just a Bridge Too Far

Bridge too Far

If you are as much of a history nerd as I am, when you hear the word Arnhem, you think of this bridge and the desperate battle fought for it in September 1944

But there is so much more to the part of Holland called Arnhem.

Arnhem is a beautiful part of Holland. It straddles the Rhine River. It combines the hustle and bustle of a very fashion conscious city with the complete tranquility of multiple parks.

When I was there it was just past peak tulip season, but it was leafy and green and just wonderful.

Tulips

My guide kept telling me that the tulip season was over, but I kept running into examples of what it must have been like just a few weeks earlier.

My guide was provided by The Regional Tourist Board for Arnhem. They also provided a driver, my hotel room and my meals. I could not even buy a cup of coffee. But I am telling you folks, I would have loved Arnhem at my own expense.

The first stop we made was at the Burger’s Zoo. I am normally not a zoo person. I prefer to see animals in the wild, and being the lucky boy that I am, I have seen most of the population of any zoo  in nature. This however was a special VIP visit.

Burger zoo

I was treated to the backstage of the zoo. Here we are looking down into the aquarium with not only many south pacific species of fish, but also a large coral garden. The lights of course emulate the sunlight. There are also lights to simulate moonlight, according to the phases of the moon.

 

 

burgers zoo birds

Burger’s zoo is divided into different natural biologic areas such as tropical, savanna, desert and the like. Each is also an aviary so you get to see the birds that live in that area as well.

I was also treated to the Kroller-Muller museum.My guide told me we were going to see a large collection of Vaahn Gokts. I shook my head and said “A collection of WHAT?” when she said ” you know, the painter Vincent Vaahn Gokt” it took me a second to get excited that I was about to see some van Goghs!  The museum has a considerable collection of paintings by van Gogh, in fact the second-largest collection of van Gogh paintings in the world.

This was just one of my many favorites in the museum.

This was just one of my many favorites in the museum. It uses the bright colors and starry skies he is known for in his later paintings after he discovered the French impressionists.

 

He did not begin painting until his late twenties, completing many of his best-known works during the last two years of his life. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks. He died at 37, most believe by suicide. His brother Theo kept his paintings. While he was alive, Vincent sold a grand total of one painting.

After taking time to sit in front of many spectacular works of art and just wondering why some people are blessed with such talent while the majority of us live in quiet envy, it was time to move on.

Our next stop was the Dutch Open Air Museum. I had no idea what to expect, but when my visit was over I had a great appreciation for Dutch culture and heritage, which I guess is the purpose of the place. The docents are friendly and informative. The exhibits are authentic because they were all brought there and reconstructed as they were, where they were, before being acquired by the museum.

windmill, holland

What would Holland be without windmills?

free bikes in Holland

This is a very large park, and to get around they have free bikes that anyone can use. You take the bike to the next exhibit and just leave it, take another when you leave.

 

Dutch children

40,000 students a year visit this museum. I think most of them were there when I was. Dutch children are very well behaved, but they run their schools as opposed to the teachers. If the kids object to something, democracy applies and the teachers must deal with it.

dutch farm house

This is a typical farmhouse from the 1800’s. The blue is for luck. The front door as shown here was only used for ceremonies like weddings. In daily life the people entered through the back which is where they kept their livestock, to help keep the house warm.

These ladies explained day to day life in the house. All the furniture was authentic, as it was when the house was purchased.

These ladies explained day to day life in the house. All the furniture was authentic, as it was when the house was purchased.

This is thye bedroom in the house. Notice that they slept in a sitting up position. They believed that if the laid flat they might die in their sleep.

This is the bedroom in the house. Notice that they slept in a sitting up position. They believed that if the laid flat they might die in their sleep.

 

Dutch brewery

The museum had a brewery which was up to modern standards. They made great beer as old fashioned as they could. It was excellent. I tasted a few brews and bought a big ceramic bottle.

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After a few tastes of the local brews, it was time for the local sport. I cannot pronounce the name, neither can you I bet. It is a cross between lawn bowling and croquet. The balls weigh as much as a bowling ball. You use paddles to try to get the ball thru the little hoop, and/or prevent your opponent from doing so. I enjoyed it. I would play it again if I ever saw it again. Once popular in Holland it has gone the way of the Dodo bird, thanks to the Angry Birds.

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 Now that the fun stuff was done, it was time to turn our attention to the battle of Arnhem. Covered more or less accurately in the movie A Bridge too Far this was an ill fated campaign even before it started. Conceived of by British commander Montgomery ( who should never have been allowed to play with toy soldiers let alone command armies, in my opinion) vital intelligence was ignored or denied. The 1st Airborne division was told to expect nothing but reserve forces, when indeed there were two German Panzer divisions waiting for them when they landed. This was the last in a series of bridges to be captured so allied forces could flow into the Ruhr, which was the industrial center of Germany. The  entire battle was called Operation Market Garden, and it failed at the expense of a majority of the soldiers who landed there.

 

This cematary of British paratroopers  was as solemn as it should be

This cemetery of British paratroopers was as solemn as it should be.

The battle for Arnhem soon centered in a neighborhood called Oosterbeek. The Brits were caught in a horseshoe shaped area with the open part being the Rhine. My guide happens to live in the middle of where this desperate battle took place.

Oosterbeek

She showed me her home. You can see the bullet holes in the wall, patched now, but still a vivid reminder of a terrible time.

angel of arnhem

This beautiful home is on the Rhine, at the open end of the horseshoe. It became the field hospital. The woman who owned it is still known as “the angel of Arnhem”. Her daughter owns it to this day. Again, it is portrayed in the movie.

Of course there is a museum dedicated to the battle. It is without a doubt excellent. It is located in what was used as the British headquarters during the battle. It contains many authentic weapons, photographs and documents from the battle. The basement give the visitor a very personal experience. From the perspective of a jumper, you get an orientation speech, you “fly” in the plane, and then you are dropped into the midst of the battle. The whole experience leaves you with an edge, and almost the ability to imagine being “one of those lads”.

Britis paratroopers

Tough hombres without a doubt.

Oosterbeek

This is my guide in front of a photo of Oosterbeek people thinking they had been liberated.

I hope I portrayed the Arnhem area of Holland in the manner it deserves. As I said in the start of this post, it deserves a visit for many cultural, artistic and natural reasons. If you happen to love history, so much the better. I owe a debt of thanks to the Regional Bureau Voor Tourisme in Arnhem for treating me like a valued guest. I was there for too short a time, and hope to return. If you ever find yourself in Holland, you will do yourself a favor by visiting Arnhem.

I will leave you with a quote: “God made the world, but the Dutch made Netherlands”. They both did a great job!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses so far.

  1. Turtle says:

    I was quite amazed at how much culture there was in the Netherlands. I know that sounds silly – I’m not suggesting I thought they were uncultured. But I hadn’t realised just how many famous artists,etc had been Dutch!

  2. Ann says:

    Hi, I read your post about TBU and the city of Rotterdam and completely disagreed when you said that Rotterdam was “blah”. I’ve never been to Dubai, but one of my favorite cities for architecture is Shanghai. Although Rotterdam is nothing like Shanghai, I really appreciated the architecture and liked Rotterdam.

    When you mentioned that you were going to write about Arnhem, I was a bit nervous. I’ve gone to Arnhem many times and plan to go again and again. It’s a nice place, and I wasn’t prepared to read anything negative.

    I’m glad clicked the link. I’ve been to the zoo and Open Air museum and your post makes me want to go back. I’m glad to learn of some of the history of the Battle of Arnhem, so I’m more prepared than would’ve been. I’ll read more about it before we go. And as soon as the weather is consistently good, I’ll go to Kroller-Miller. I completely agree with your assessment that Arnhem is worth a visit and appeals to many different types of people. Thank you so much so sharing what you learned!

  3. Leeann says:

    Hey…another great post! The way you teach a history lesson as you make the reader feel as if they are right there with you is such an art.
    Never thought of visiting Holland… until now.
    Keep the posts coming!
    Love you

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