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Going Dutch

A beautifully-kept open air museum at Enkhuizen recalls the history and culture of villages around the former Zuider Zee. What was once an inland arm of the North Sea was closed off in 1932 to form the IJselmeer. Enkhuizen was one of the villages on the edge of the IJselmeer which had to readjust to the loss of salt-water fishing. The Zuider Zee Museum was begun, and the village entered the tourism industry.

Image: Zuider Zee composite 2

The Museum is at Enkuizen, about an hour by train from Amsterdam Central station. The town is an attractive place with a busy harbour on the IJselmeer, next to the long dyke which carries a road across the former Zuider Zee to Lelystad. It's the story of the people who lived next to the Zuider Zee that is told here. You can walk to one of the Museum entrances quite easily (but beware wrong turns which leave you stranded on the wrong side of the harbor entrance) but the best way is by Museum boat. It first goes to a special ticketing point at the end of the IJselmeer dyke road, then takes you along the lagoon to a landing point next to the main open air buildings.

Image: Zuider Zee composite 1

A display map at the entrance and signposts show the way around the compact site - which has a lot to see in small groups of buildings.

The Zuider Zee Open Air Museum is accompanied by a 'traditional' indoor museum in a set of buildings on a street that is part of the town. These are themselves historic buildings, having connections with the Dutch East India Company which developed colonies in south east Asia. There are other buildings in Enkhuizen which are part of the conservation effort locally.

Such museums have a longer history in Europe and North America than in Britain (for example, see the review of the Colonial Williamsburg book on another page). Generally they stemmed from industrial growth and other changes to community landscapes which spurred people to realise that old cultural reminders were being lost. In Norway the royal family took a lead in preserving buildings such as wooden-stave built churches which were being replaced during tha late nineteenth century. Another influence was British: that of the Great Exhibition of 1851, which made people realise the educational significance of collections drawn from foreign cultures which could be exhibited in one place for visitors to see. The Swedish traveller, Artur Hazelius, pioneered the great Stockholm Open Air Museum, Skansen, in 1891, based on ideas garnerned from international exhibitions.

Though British historians debated the need for British examples, and there were short-lived attempts in Harrogate and New Barnet to begin them, it was the Isle of Man which opened the first at Cregneash in 1938. Wales opened St Fagans, and Northern Ireland opened Cultra Manor, in the late 1940s. York's Castle Museum, of the same year as Cregneash, but is not an open air museum, relying on indoor sections of buildings within its reconstructed street. Kirkstall's Abbey House Museum in Leeds was opened in 1927 but its street reconstructions date from the 1950s and are again indoors.

Image: Zuider Zee composite 3

From the boat the three landmark lime kilns of the Zuider Zee Museum are prominent. This Museum might be decribed as a regional museum in that it has buildings rebuilt after being moved from other, often distant locations. They are grouped at Zuider Zee to recreate characteristic 'scenes' - representations of a fishing harbour, a small town, another village etc. The kilns make a landmark which immediately tells the visitor something about the life of the communities being displayed - about historic and cultural difference. They can also become icons for the attraction.

While this Museum was intended in some degree to replace the declining economic life of Enkhuizen as a fishing port, it has to be emphasised that it was not a commercially-based development. Interest in the past and how parents' and grandparents' generations lived was what drove them. The commercial elements that are present have to serve the considerable costs of running the Museum, not the other way round. As mentioned on the front page of this web site, not-for-profit development policies come first, not one of the other usual marketing Ps.

Above left: the lime kilns and a slaking house near the boat entrance. Sea shells were burnt with coal dust or peat in the kilns, then slaked with water to make one of the components of cement. Right: a green-painted house from Lagedijk belonging to a prosperous family. To its right a butcher's shop and beyond that a cheese warehouse (white structure) and then a building used for a modern video show about local historic events. Extreme right (smaller building) a bakery with shop.

Image: Zuider Zee composite 4a

Fish are smoked in the wooden shed from Barradeel, where nets and other implements are shown. Every day there are freshly smoked herring to be sampled.

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Rather unusual: a steam powered laundry, operating daily. A rotating wooden barrel like an old-style milk churn; a steel revolving drum and a belt-driven mangle are all in use, powered by a small, horizontal, steam engine.

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The steam engine in the laundry, and a cooper's workshop in a building from Vollenhove. The contents of the cooperage were obtained locally in Enkhuizen.

Image: Zuider Zee composite 6

These pictures are of a replica of a school from Kollum in the Frisian Islands. The first room (right) shows a scene of 1905 with wall map and spelling aids - and oil lighting. The other room (left) shows a 1930s style. We happened to sit opposite this family group of two grandparents with their two grandchildren on the train to Enkhuizen. Here they are experiencing a 1930-type of teaching, spied through the classroom door.

Image: Zuider Zee composite 7

The inside story: left - the house belonging to the steam laundry. Centre and right: the Lagedijk house - parlour and kitchen.

Image: Zuider Zee composite 8

Bakery and patisserie from Hoorn; cheese in a Landsmeer warehouse; herring at the Barradeel smoke house; a butcher's shop from Purmerend

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A sailing barge on the town canal and a wind-driven pump from the polders of West Friesland.

Image: Zuider Zee composite 10

Near to the main display area is a reconstruction of the harbour at Buurterhaven on the island of Marken. The cart has baskets full of peat.

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