One of my favorite things about living in Amsterdam is the sheer amount of stuff to do. In my bad moments, I used to call central Florida a “cultural wasteland.” To be fair, it was possible to find things to do there other than theme parks and the beach, but we certainly weren’t doing them every weekend. Here in Amsterdam, every weekend I have to choose between several different activities that all sound wonderful. From museums to concerts to festivals to educational expositions, there is just so much going on. And if I widen the net just a little, to cities reachable by train in less than an hour, I have Rotterdam and The Hague, as well as places like Haarlem, Utrecht, Amersfoort, and Leiden, all of which have their own vibrant cultural scene. Truly an embarrassment of riches.
Since I started working in The Hague, I tend to hear a lot about what’s going on there, and my work email came pre-subscribed to several e-newsletters about different kinds of events in the area. On one of those I saw that the Binnenhof (Dutch Parliament) would be holding an open house in honor of its 200th anniversary this month. If you had seen the Binnenhof from the outside, as I have on many occasions, you would want to go inside. Take a look at this photo, which is quite obviously NOT one of mine:
As is usual for these types of events, one had to go online and secure free tickets. We were also supposed to bring ID, which I completely forgot (note to self: find out how to get a Dutch ID card so you don’t have to drag your passport around and fear losing it), but they let us in anyway.
Inside, we were free to wander at will, taking in the ambiance, and also going inside to view the mixture of historical and practical that is the Dutch parliament complex. Our first stop was the Hall of Knights, a dramatic building with an almost Viking feel to it. This is not a building that gets used very often; just once a year when the King gives the Dutch equivalent of the State of the Union speech, and also whenever a new king or queen is crowned. In fact, off to the left you can see the actual throne.
It’s a delightful old building; fairly grand, but in a modest Dutch way, and filled with quirky little details, like these carved wooden monkeys eating fruit.
The Dutch Parliament has two houses, like the American one. The first is the Senate, or First Chamber (Eerste Kamer). They meet in a historic old building with painted ceilings and ornately carved wooden seats.
The House of Representatives, or Second Chamber (Tweede Kamer) is on the other side of the complex. Here’s where they used to meet, all in marble, but with a modern-looking brightly colored carpet that wouldn’t look out of place in a Kindergarten.
The podium was still there, so of course Tony took the opportunity to indulge his political side.
As did I, along with Simon, our German friend who came with us.
From the outside, you can see that the Ridderhal (Hall of Knights) is sort of set up as a castle keep in the middle of the Binnenhof, and also that last weekend we had a brilliantly blue, cloudless sky, although you can see the afternoon shadows creeping in early.
In honor of the 200th anniversary, there was a lovely little touch: a couple in the courtyard playing Bach on period instruments.
We finished up our tour with a visit to the new Tweede Kamer. I’m always fascinated by countries without a strong two-party system, where coalition governments often end up being formed out of strange bedfellows. Here in the Netherlands there are quite a few different parties with seats in Parliament, including one devoted to animal welfare, another for elderly people, and a very leftist green party. The Pirate party doesn’t have any seats, but I have seen stickers advertising it, strangely enough, with President Obama’s face on them! Here’s what the modern House of Representatives looks like:
And outside they had a great interactive display where people could “vote” on measures currently before the Tweede Kamer by using red and green stickers. The result was a perfect visual of democracy at work.