Cycling in Denmark (and nearby)

The centrepiece of my recent trip across northern Europe was to cycle up the Jutland peninsula, or most of the way. I think most touring cyclists follow the coastal roads, but I chose to go up the middle along the Haervej or Military Way, perhaps more accurately known in German as the Ochsenweg or Oxen Way – it’s an ancient droving road, used for moving cattle from the Danish pastures to the markets of Hamburg, and also by pilgrims. (The Haervej is now designated as part of EuroVelo route 3, running from Trondheim in Norway to Santiago de Compostella in Spain, about 5,200 km in all, so it can still serve as a pilgrimage route.) It may be 4,000 years old, but it’s hardly the Ridgeway; towards its southern end it’s still partly an unpaved road (with lots of ancient burial mounds nearby, as well as a few nineteenth-century bridges), but the rest of the route is largely on normal roads and tracks. (There’s also a walkers’ route, which takes a longer way round as a rule, to avoid traffic.) Accommodation is, of course, an issue when it comes to route planning (Jutland is a lot emptier than you might think, and also very expensive) – there are some free ‘hikers’ shelters’, literally just a wooden platform with a roof and three wooden walls and as a rule a fireplace, but you’ll need a proper bed, with washing and device-charging opportunities on alternate nights. I diverted quite a way northwest, to Grindsted, in search of a relatively affordable bed, which also allowed me to notch up quite a few kilometres on former railway lines, some well surfaced and some less so.

In four days I made it to Viborg and then the next day to Aalborg, the historic northern termini of the Haervej, but I chose not to push on for a further couple of days to Skagen, the sandy northern tip of Jutland, to tick off the full 450km Jutland End-to-End. Although Skagen was known for its artists’ colony, drawn by the light and big skies, I was finding Jutland’s scenery a little dull and felt I needed to get to some cities if I was to actually learn anything about Denmark. At the time I didn’t know about the mink farms of northern Jutland, across the Limfjord from Aalborg, and the mutant version of the Covid-19 coronavirus they were incubating, not that it would have affected my choice.

My route
The route across the border

I actually started from Flensburg, the last town in Germany, where I can strongly recommend the Seemannsheim Hostel and in particular the excellent breakfast. The border crossing was on a short section of unpaved track in to Padborg, the first town in Denmark; then my route went through the Frøslev prison camp (in use 1944-5 and now a museum) and on authentic bits of unsurfaced route, quiet roads, and a good long grassy section in forest south of Kliplev. The wooden bell tower at Kliplev church claims to be one of the oldest in Denmark, dating from 1300, but I suspect it’s been renewed a few times. Beyond the Povlis Bro, a small bridge built in 1844, there’s a long unpaved stretch on which the only traffic was a fairly large milk tanker visiting several farms, then quiet roads continue past the villages of Hjordkaer, Rødekro, Øster Løgum, Hovlund Stationsby and Vedsted before reaching the town of Vojens, where I diverted slightly to a shelter in Maugstrup Plantage (plantation).

I joined the new railtrail here – ahead is a continuation that’s still under construction.
You’ve made it! 95 metres above sea level!

 On Day 2, quiet roads led to the Stursbøl Plantage, the town of Jels, and another historic bridge, the Frihedsbroen (Freedom Bridge) which marked the Danish-German border between 1864 and 1920; a little further north there’s actually a climb to a hotel and the Skibelund Krat, an open-air site where Danish nationalists from both sides of the border held patriotic meetings. It’s not much further to the town of Vejen, from where a good segregated cycleway leads alongside the road to Asbo and Baekke, where I turned off the EV3 to go via Vorbasse to Hejnsvig (partly on a busier road, but there was no problem and I was happy to make good progress). Quiet lanes took me to a railtrail that’s currently being extended further south from Grindsted, where I stayed the night. For most of Day 3 I followed another converted railway (of varying standards, mostly unpaved but good enough) to the northeast, rejoining EuroVelo3 at Funder; from here it climbs up a steep (for Denmark) hill to a junction with Route 11, which took me at speed down into Silkeborg. This is supposedly Denmark’s outdoor activities centre, with lakes, forests, and relatively high hills; I wouldn’t get too excited, but the youth hostel does have a lovely waterside setting, and there’s a decent museum.

 On Day 4 I returned (on a good roadside cycleway) up the hill to EuroVelo3 and then on minor roads to Hald, where you can either follow a railtrail for 10 km into Viborg or stick to EV3 which drops on a very rough bit of track to an attractive lake and manor house before joining the railtrail into town. Viborg is an attractive cathedral town (although the cathedral is a little way north of the centre) by another lake; however the cathedral was largely rebuilt in 1864-76 and is largely a copy of the one in Lund (Sweden), which I saw two weeks later. From here EV3 runs northeast but I headed north on a cycleway beside a main road, which wasn’t up to Dutch standards but still allowed good steady progress, to the village of Bjarregove and the Hvolris Iron Age village, where a reproduction long house doubles as a hikers’ shelter.

 On Day 5 I headed east to rejoin EV3 through Hvornum, but then came to a bridge over the railway that was being rebuilt for electrification work so had to find my own deviation northwards, taking a short cut on quiet roads via Brøndum and Hørby to rejoin EV3 at Døstrup. From Vebbestrup I should have taken a more direct route to the east of EV3 to Arden, after which the route (a bit rough in parts) passes through the Forest of Arden! Not I think the Shakespearean one, although of course Hamlet is set in Denmark. There’s potential for another shortish cut-off west of Skørping, after which EV3 runs relatively directly north, passing to the east of Svenstrup and Skalborg (having had to distinguish between three towns beginning with V on Day 1, the three towns beginning with S were less of a problem to my aged memory). The route into Aalborg is hardly a direct commuting link, but it gets you there soon enough.

 My route was almost entirely through pleasant agricultural country, dominated in southern Jutland by cows, corn (maize) and Christmas trees, as well as lots of wild rosehips, and by cows, potatoes and root vegetables in northern Jutland, which is slightly hillier but still easy riding. Roads are wide, smooth and little used, and EuroVelo3 is well signed, the only inconsistency being whether they show mileages as well as directions. Jutland is not heavily populated, but I could find supermarkets (if not village bakeries) frequently enough – I wouldn’t recommend doing the trip on a diet of nothing but Danish pastries, but it would certainly be possible, and enjoyable for a while at least.

Elsewhere in northern Europe
A cycle bridge in Copenhagen
Cycleway past Amsterdam Centraal station

I had already spent three days cycling from Hoek van Holland to Leiden, Haarlem and Amsterdam, and I also cycled from Roskilde to Copenhagen, from Malmö to Lund and back, from Berlin to Potsdam, and from Koblenz to Bonn, as well as using my bike around town every day. Copenhagen is generally touted as the world’s best cycling city, and that’s fair enough (they built seventeen bicycle bridges between 2006 and 2020), but Denmark as a whole is not as great for cycling as the Netherlands. On the other hand, for someone like me, constantly stopping to write notes, snap a photo, or just find out where on earth I am, cycling in the Netherlands is problematic because there’s constantly someone about to run into the back of me – in Denmark I didn’t usually have to signal and manoeuvre off the cycleway before I could draw breath. The same applied when I was a pedestrian – I was always getting caught out on Dutch cycleways while trying to take photos.

A nodal point near Den Haag

  Navigation is made easier in the Netherlands by a nodal system, with all the usual route signs but some at key junctions marked with a number and signs to other nearby numbered nodes – there are good maps at the nodal points and of course all the apps and online maps also show the nodal points. Belgium has a similar system, but Denmark and Germany don’t; in fact I was surprised that Bonn was not signed from Koblenz, or vice versa, despite its being a very obvious route along the Rhine – you have to follow signs for intermediate towns such as Andernach and Remagen. Even stranger, the route from Malmö to Lund is not signed (despite being a direct off-road route), but Malmö is signed from Lund. I quite liked the Dead End Except Cyclists signs used across northern Europe – they don’t comply with British regulations so we have to have an Except Cyclists plate beneath the standard Dead End sign – except that usually we don’t.

 In the Netherlands a road will usually have a one-way cycleway on each side of a road (although riding the wrong way for a short distance is acceptable), while in Denmark and especially Germany there’s more likely to be a two-way cycleway on one side of the road, which is adequate provision but not the best. In fact, Germany generally feels fairly similar to the UK from a cycling perspective – drivers are not particularly aware, and in most cities the idea of cycle provision is lines of white paint on the carriageway, with no physical separation. Dropped kerbs tend to be bodged ramps rather than properly planned infrastructure. I can’t speak for the Germans, but the Dutch and Scandinavians do not share the Anglo-Saxon obsession with not paying tax – they prefer to have decent infrastructure (for transport, health, education), which might also be linked to having proportional representation, often with coalition governments and a good degree of continuity rather than the to-and-fro system of undoing everything the previous government started.

A Danish roundabout

 There was some excitement recently in Cambridge when our first ‘Dutch roundabout’ opened (partly because it was absurdly expensive and late), with a cycle lane all the way round with priority over motor vehicles; in fact I found that the ‘Dutch roundabout’ is not as clearly defined as we thought and comes in various forms. Quite often it actually has a two-way cycle lane, but one that only goes halfway or three-quarters of the way around the roundabout. Where there’s no space for off-road cycleways in a built-up area, the Dutch will provide on-road lanes of a decent width and leave a central space which is wide enough for cars in one direction only – so to pass in the other direction, drivers have to negotiate and move into the cycling space where possible. This works with Dutch drivers, but I really don’t think British drivers could cope.

 I was surprised to see so many lycra roadies belting along on the Dutch cycleways – there are already scooters and mopeds on many Dutch cycleways, and adding fast road cyclists to the mix just builds annoyance and resentment – or maybe that’s just my reaction. I dare say they would be on the roads if Dutch law didn’t force them to use cycleways where provided. In the circumstances it seems weird that every one of them is convinced a helmet is part of the uniform, even though they’re not coming into conflict with cars except for the odd road crossing – what a triumph of marketing. I’m sure they don’t wear them when they’re out on their cheaper bikes around town.

 Road cyclists were also visible in Copenhagen, mainly going out in the early evening after finishing work, but much less so in the rest of Denmark (and the same applies to cargo bikes), and in Malmö they actually seemed to be commuting. They are very rare in Germany, for some reason.

 However the big issue in the Netherlands at the moment is the advent of ‘speed pedelecs’, electrically assisted bikes that are able to cruise at 45km/h rather than the 25km/h of regular pedelecs. E-bikes account for 42% of bikes sold in the Netherlands (and over 50% by value) and are expected to be over 50% of sales soon, as opposed to 4% in the UK. In 2019 65 people were killed riding e-bikes in the Netherlands, almost all of them for some reason men over 65 riding speed pedelecs, and just after I left the country it was announced that a 4km stretch of cycleway near Schiphol airport had been fitted with electronic devices that automatically slow e-bikes (presumably only those fitted with corresponding devices) when they approach junction or enter built-up areas. If the trial is successful, this will be rolled out across the country. I did notice that ‘close passing’ (car-to-bike and bike-to-bike) is pretty common in the Netherlands and doesn’t seem to bother people – but there’s not much of a safety margin. It didn’t greatly concern me, but it’s one of the things that puts a lot of people in the UK off cycling on roads.

 Incidentally, I was riding a Dahon Speed TR, a touring folder, I think, rather than a folding tourer. I’ve had a Brompton for some years, which is great for train travel but doesn’t really carry luggage – the Dahon will carry standard panniers and rides well all day long (it has the full 21 gears), but it is a bit heavy and too big for luggage racks on trains and so on. Virtually every train I used had loads of space for bikes so it was no problem (generally you need a cycle ticket, unless the bike is folded). It’s a compromise, of course, but one that I was happy with.

Back in Britain – what a shock! Why can’t we just fund our infrastructure properly?
A new road/cycle bridge in Haarlem, the Netherlands
km599 of the Rhine, north of Koblenz

 

Bremen and Hamburg

I thought Bremen was a bit dull at first (and coming from the Netherlands, very car-dominated, with two road overpasses in front of the railway station), but I changed my mind when I found the pretty small historic area near the cathedral. I thought Hamburg was unpleasant at first and I didn’t really change my mind, although I did find quite a few positive features, notably the excellent art collection in the Kunsthalle. They’re Germany’s two main ports, both with estuary access to the North Sea, and have been since the time of the Hanseatic League, but I’ll say more about the Hanse when I get to Lübeck. 

 The historic centre of Bremen is Marktplatz, where the Old Town Hall (1405-10) looks out over the statue of Roland, one of Charlemagne’s heroic paladins, which was raised in 1404 as a symbol of the city’s status as a free city within the Holy Roman Empire (I saw another one in Brandenburg a few weeks later). Immediately adjacent are two fine Gothic churches, the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of the Virgin) and the Petri Dom (St Peter’s cathedral) – the bishopric was established by Charlemagne in 789, and the present building was built after a fire in 1041. 

 It’s hard to see that this small area really justifies its World Heritage listing, especially as it’s partly fake, with façades brought from elsewhere in the city when the square was rebuilt after Word War II – but an alley immediately to the southwest is the real surprise. The medieval Böttcherstrasse (Coopers’ Street) was rebuilt in 1922-31 by Ludwig Roselius, coffee merchant and inventor of HAG decaff, with a heavy dose of expressionist features and unusual external decorative features, notably a golden relief of the Archangel Michael, and a carillon of 30 Meissen porcelain bells. Roselius was a Nazi sympathiser but his applications to join the party were rejected and Hitler tried to have the street demolished. The Roselius Museum houses his art collection, from medieval Madonnas to Picassos via Cranach, and he also built the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum here to show her works (see below).

 

 

 

 

 

The Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, the smallest of Germany’s federal states, consists of Bremen itself and the exclave of Bremerhaven (a new port founded in 1827 at the mouth of the Weser). I’d not actually heard of the Grimm Brothers’ story The Musicians of Bremen, but it’s commemorated by a sculpture at the western end of the Town Hall – it’s about four animals who set out for the city that they saw as standing for real freedom (sorry, spoiler alert – they never actually reached Bremen).

 Just south of the cathedral the Schnoorviertel consists of a few moderately quaint streets with cute cafés, restaurants and boutiques; just to the east, on the site of the old city walls, the Kunsthalle is not as big as Hamburg’s but still has a pretty decent art collection.

In the nineteenth century the burghers of Bremen mainly collected Dutch art, donating works by Pieter Claesz, Jan van Goyen, van der Velde the younger, Salomon van Ruysdael, Jacob Jordaens, Rubens, van Dyck, Jan Brueghel the younger, Isenbrandt, Lievens, Aert van der Neer, van Ostade, Dou, Jacob de Wet (yet another Haarlem painter I didn’t know about) and Rachel Ruysch (qv). The museum also acquired a few old German Masters (by Altdorfer, a couple of Dürers and some Cranachs) and some minor (but superb) Italian Gothic paintings – they’re in Room 1 which is appropriate but not an easy place to start your circuit.

 The museum’s first director Gustav Paoli then started buying French art, which was controversial but has proved a smart move – the collection ranges from Vigée-Lebrun, Corot, Delacroix, Horace Vernet (see my post on Avignon) and Géricault to Pascin, Gris, Léger, Metzinger and Picasso, by way of Boudin, Courbet, Manet, Monet, five Renoirs, Pissarro, Cézanne, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Vallotton, Bonnard, Maurice Dennis, Bernard, Serusier and a whole room of Derain, not to mention sculptures by Gauguin, Rodin and Maillol. He also bought German art, of course, with quite a few paintings by the Nazarenes (who had similar ideas to the Pre-Raphaelites) and the Impressionists Max Liebermann, Max Slevogt, and Lovis Corinth. There’s Expressionism too, with plenty by Kirchner and Beckmann, as well as Schmift-Rotluff, von Jawlensky, Gabriele Münter, Campendonck, Marc, Nolde and Heckel, as well as sculptures by Ernst Barlach.

 But what you won’t see much of elsewhere is work from the artists’ colony of Werpswede, just north of Bremen, established in the 1890s by Fritz Mackensen, Otto Modersohn, Heinrich Vogeler and Carl Vinner. Mackensen’s pupil Paula Becker married Modersohn, and – in addition to the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum mentioned above – there’s a whole room of her paintings here, showing how she increasingly went her own way independently of the Werpswede group, eventually being hailed as ‘Germany’s Picasso’- a bit overcooked, but she was good. Incidentally, her friend the sculptor Clara Westhoff married Rainer Maria Rilke, a sort of German T S Eliot who I mentioned in my post on Trieste. Finally, contemporary artists include Olafur Eliasson and Kehinde Wiley, as well as a room of works by Nam June Paik, who was big in Amsterdam too, although he spent a lot of time in Germany from 1956 on.

Hamburg
An art centre in Schanze. Obviously.

I arrived in Hamburg mid-afternoon on a Friday (during the Covid-19 pandemic, but that didn’t seem to matter) and the roads and the Hauptbahnhof had seized up due to the number of people trying to get in and out of the city. Outside the station there was a stink of stale tobacco and a wail of sirens, people were raiding the rubbish bins for who knows what, and the taxi-drivers were all convinced that red lights, speed limits and basic good manners didn’t apply to them. The supposedly hippest areas of the city are plastered with graffiti (some of which might qualify as street art), which I usually see as a bad sign. Schanze is a bit like London’s Camden with more graffiti and lots of cafés, none special; the Karoviertel (Karolinenviertel in full) is marginally classier – it’s been well traffic-calmed, but is surrounded by the Messe trade fair complex and former abattoirs, and yes, there’s graffiti everywhere. So I have my doubts about Hamburg, but it’s one of Germany’s half-dozen main cities and there’s lots to see and do.

 Anyway, that’s the old Hamburg, which has the same problems as big cities across the world – there’s also a new Hamburg, which may show ways to make these cities more liveable. In particular I was interested to revisit the Victorian warehouses of the Speicherstadt or ‘warehouse city’ (like Shad Thames, if we’re going to keep up the comparisons with London, but with wider streets), and see the HafenCity, currently the largest urban development project in Europe, where 157 hectares of former docks will become housing (one third social housing), shops and cultural venues, expanding the downtown area by 40%. Sustainability and energy-efficiency are key, and fully 25% of the area is to be open space.

 

I was particularly keen to see the Elbphilharmonie, the prestigious concert hall by Herzog & de Meuron which finally opened in 2017, seven years late (and costing €870 million instead of €200 million). It’s a glass box with a wave-like top set on a 1960s warehouse, but although I’m sure it would be fantastic to go to a concert there, I found the exterior underwhelming. The rest of HafenCity seemed to me to be mostly generic modern architecture (although the earlier phase is less corporate and more interesting). As usual, I find modern European architecture rather too constrained compared to what I see in the Americas, particularly (you may be surprised to know) in Uruguay. Plans are being developed for an extension to the southeast in the Grasbrook and Veddel areas, including a 245m-high tower designed by David Chipperfield, so maybe this will look more distinctive.

 

 

 

 

 

In any case, the Speicherstadt is still very impressive and worthy of its World Heritage status;  there must be some fabulous loft apartments up there, and the Wasserschloss café’s terrace has a wonderful location. The HafenCity’s information centre is actually in the Speicherstadt (in an 1887 boiler house) and is worth a visit – they have an English-language booklet on the buildings and a café and free toilets.

 Following the waterfront a little way west, you’ll come to the main ferry docks and the Sankt Pauli-Elbtunnel, opened in 1911 (after three construction workers died from the bends); it seems similar to the foot tunnels in London, Newcastle, Antwerp and elsewhere, but this one also takes cars (which come down by lift), although not at the moment thanks to refurbishment work. So it’s a great ride by bike, and you can continue south into Wilhelmsburg, which was a poor immigrant neighbourhood that was hit by a serious flood in 1962; more recently it has been transformed into a model of sustainable living. The centrepiece is the Energy Bunker, a World War II anti-aircraft gun tower converted into a solar power plant, alongside a biogas combined heat and power station.

 Not far northwest of the tunnel is the notorious Reeperbahn (see below) and beyond it the middle-class Altona district, with a station where many intercity trains terminate, mainly so that they don’t occupy platforms at the Hauptbahnhof for too long – but now DB (German Rail) has sold the station site and will build a smaller terminus just to the north. After 2024 the present station site will become another green development, with housing (half subsidised or co-operative), shops, a school and for some reason four day-care centres, as well as a park. Also in Altona, the A7 motorway (heading north to Denmark) will be covered for about two kilometres, creating a new linear park leading down to the Elbe.

 A couple of kilometres further west, the waterfront cycle route ends at a pontoon and ferry dock (a great ride, especially if getting close to container ships is your thing) also known as the Övelgönne Hafenmuseum, where roughly twenty historic vessels are moored – the pontoon is open 24/7 but the boats can be visited less predictably. In 2008 the International Maritime Museum of Hamburg opened in a Speicherstadt warehouse (though it too claims to be in HafenCity), and there are some full-size ships moored nearby that can also be visited – at least a couple offer Escape Room experiences.

 There’s plenty of art here too, and the Kunsthalle is a major collection by any standards. As with the one in Bremen, it’s hard to find the chronological starting-point – go upstairs and to the left, through a small room of Klee and Ernst to start the Rundgang with a few Italian Old Masters (notably Pietro de Rimini) and altarpieces by the fifteenth-century Hamburg artists Bertram von Minden and Meister Francke. It’s more natural to start with the central room, currently dominated by the immense Entry of Charles V into Antwerp by Hans Makart (1878), which was very controversial because of the naked women rather improbably taking part in a welcome pageant. As in Bremen, there’s plenty of art from the Dutch Golden Age, including Jan Gossaert, Jan Massys, Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem, Willem van der Velde, Jacob van Ruisdael, Joos de Momper, Jan van Goyen, Aert van der Neer, David Teniers the Younger, Jan Steen, Gerard ter Borch, Gerrit Dou, Gerard van Honthorst, and still lives by Rachel Ruysch and Willem Claesz Heda (both of whom I mentioned here), Rubens and van Dyck. There’s Rembrandt, of course, in the form of Simeon and Hannah in the Temple (1627), which is the story of the Nunc Dimittis.

 But maybe you’re here for the German art, which continues with a small room of Cranach the Elder, Holbein the Elder (a big but not particularly good Presentation in the Temple), eighteenth-century portraits by the Tischbeins (uncle and nephew) and Graff, Romantic paintings by Philipp Otto Runge, Carl Gustav Carus, Ludwig Richter, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg and Caspar David Friedrich (notably THE famous one of The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog), more by the Nazarenes (see above), Realists such as Adolf Menzel, Wilhelm Leibl, Hans Thoma, and Anselm Feuerbach, then Max Liebermann, who began as a Barbizon-style realist, then became an impressionist and leader of the Berlin Secession. 

 Incidentally, the Hamburg School seems to refer both to artists such as Georg Haeselich (1806-94), Jacob Gensler (1808-45), Adolph Friedrich Vollmer (1806-75) and Valentin Ruths (1825-1905), and then to the more interesting group led by Arthur Siebelist, Arthur Illies, Ernst Eitner and Thomas Herbst who formed the Hamburgische Künstlerclub (Hamburg Artists Club) in 1897. Paula Modersohn-Becker (see above) and Max Beckmann are here too. It’s also worth mentioning the Norwegians Johan Christian Dahl (a close friend of Friedrich) and Edvard Munch who tend to get lost among the Germans. 

 There’s plenty of French art, from Lorrain, Delacroix, Courbet, Daubigny, Corot, Diaz de la Peña and Millet, via Manet, Monet, Renoir (including an instantly recognisable sculpture), Degas, Sisley, Pissarro, Boudin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, Gauguin and Jongkind to Chagall, Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Picasso, Feininger, Vlaminck, Derain, Gris, Vallotton and Léger (although the only Matisse is a bronze sculpture).

 Modern German art begins with a room of Corinth paintings, two by Hodler and one by Ensor (I don’t see enough of Hodler outside Switzerland, but I see too much of Ensor), a Brâncuși sculpture and then the Expressionists – Macke, Schmidt-Rottluff, Pechstein, Kirchner, Otto Mueller, Heckel, von Jawlensky, Marc, Gabriele Münter, Kandinsky and Nolde, as well as Dorothea Maetzel-Johannsen (a local artist who was new to me) and sculptures by Ernst Barlach. From the 1920s come hyperrealistic paintings by Franz Radziwill then Anita Rée (another interesting local artist), Grosz, Dix, the Constructivists, De Stijl and the Bauhaus (including Willi Baumeister, Sophie Tauber-Arp, Hans Arp, Klee and Ernst). Then you should go down to the basement level and across to a modern extension for the contemporary art collection, which includes German names such as Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Hamburg-born Gustav Kluge and a room of Baselitz; plus  David Hockney, Mona Hatoum, Dan Flavin, Jeff Wall, Marina Abramovic & Ulay, Ian Hamilton-Finlay, Giacometti, Bacon, Serra, Nauman, Fontana, Twombly and much more.

 There are a few more bits and pieces hidden away – from the café you can get to The Transparent Museum, offering behind-the-scenes insights into identifying forgeries, framing, and restitution of art stolen from Jewish families, as well as another gallery dedicated to the Hamburg Artists Club, and the Sculpture Agora.

And finally

I was happy to see that the cut-out silhouettes at Beatles Plaza on the Reeperbahn (at Grosse-Freiheit) show five figures (although the Rough Guide refers to the Fab Four) – Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Best and Sutcliffe, of course, and not Ringo. It’s well documented that they were tough rock’n’rollers living in sordid conditions (washing in water taken from the club’s urinals) in the most sordid part of town, playing in clubs crowded with hookers, pimps and drunken sailors – but this was where Stu Sutcliffe met the photographer Astrid Kirchherr (who died a few months ago, in May 2020) and and was soon living with her. As well as taking iconic photos of the band, she persuaded them to copy her Juliette Gréco-style bob and to swap their leather jackets for black polo-necks, a less macho look that showed the way ahead for pop culture. When the Beatles returned to Liverpool, Sutcliffe stayed here to study art (one of his tutors was Eduardo Paolozzi, who later said he was one of his best students) – but he died in April 1962 from a brain haemorrhage, possibly caused by a fight outside a club in Liverpool.

The Chilehaus – mentioned in my Amsterdam post.

Amsterdam

I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times before, mainly to see the art (and the cycling provision), and I rather assumed that this visit would be similar – and yes, I did visit the main museums and galleries, but I was also sidetracked a bit by architecture and design. But first – continuing the theme of my recent visits to Oxford and Leiden – Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum. One of the world’s greatest art collections, the Rijksmuseum was famously closed for a whole decade (2003-13), twice as long as planned, to modernise the building and reorganise the displays to give more historical perspective (as at the Lakenhal) – only Rembrandt’s The Night Watch still hangs in its historic position at one end of the Gallery of Honour, the grand top-floor space where the finest works of the Golden Age hang, including more Rembrandts, and three of the world’s 34 Vermeers. One of the Rembrandts is of the Syndics of the Amsterdam Draper’s Guild, who were responsible for checking the standards of dyed cloth, just as in the Lakenhal in Leiden. The Night Watch, incidentally, was cut down on three sides (mainly the left) in 1715 when it was moved from Kloveniersdoelen (the civic guard’s shooting range) to the City Hall – the original is known from a copy by Gerrit Lundens (c1642-55), currently on loan from the National Gallery in London.

 They’ve also produced excellent audioguides and apps – there’s an infuriating photo that pops up on Facebook from time to time, of a school group looking at phones instead of The Night Watch, posted by people who don’t actually have any understanding of how smartphones are used – they’re not texting their friends, you idiots, they’re using the Rijksmuseum educational app. And of course I like the cycleway that cuts right through the building too.

 I also came across quite a few more painters from Haarlem that I didn’t mention in my previous post (Gaertgen tot Sint-Jans, Jan Jansz Mostaert, Jan van Scorel, Floris van Dyck, Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck), as well as maritime paintings, Italian drawings, dolls houses and model ships (with good coverage of Dutch colonialism and slavery). Finally, from the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries, there are largely realist paintings from the Den Haag School (notably Hendrik Mesdag), Dutch Impressionists such as Johan Jongkind, George Breitner and Isaac Israels, as well as Jan Toorop, who started as an Impressionist but moved on to Symbolism and Art Nouveau, a couple of Van Goghs and an early Mondrian (and early Mondrian is /very/ different from the famous abstract Mondrian). There’s also some French art, by Courbet, Monet, Emile Bernard and Monticelli, and a Whistler.

 Of course, there’s also the Rembrandt House, where he lived from 1639 to 1656, which features a recreation of a period interior and paintings by Rembrandt’s contemporaries – there are etchings by the man himself, but no paintings.

 Just south of the Rijksmuseum on Museumplein, the Stedelijk Museum continues the story with modern and contemporary art – it was also closed for the best part of a decade (2004-12), having failed a fire inspection, and an extension like a huge white bathtub was added in front of the original 1895 building. The extension houses a superb display of the permanent collection – where the Lakenhal and the Rijksmuseum integrate  art with history, here it’s art and design that are integrated, with furniture and in particular chairs displayed alongside contemporaneous paintings and sculpture. When I got to Copenhagen a couple of weeks later, I was amused to read about the Design Museum’s gallery on ‘The Danish Chair’ – yes, of course, Danish design is iconic, but the concept of the minimalist chair made of modern materials originated in the Netherlands in 1917 with Gerrit Rietveld and De Stijl, followed by Marcel Breuer and Mies van de Rohe at the Bauhaus in Germany. In fact the technology to make bentwood chairs was developed in Vienna as early as 1842 and adopted by the Wiener Werkstätte group, who were inspired by Ruskin, Morris and the English Arts and Crafts movement.

 The art starts with Cézanne, Matisse, Braque and Chagall, as well as photography by Paul Strand, and both early (figurative) and mature (abstract) paintings by Mondrian. Charley Toorop, a friend of Mondrian’s, was every bit as good and interesting as her father, but was not attached to any particular school or movement. The Russian avant-garde is well represented, especially Malevich, as well as a Dutch version of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and the COBRA (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam) group. Postwar art is mainly American (Elsworth Kelly, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, George Segal, Richard Serra), as well as de Kooning, who moved from the Netherlands to New Amsterdam, sorry, New York. There are appearances from non-Americans such as Yves Klein, Tinguely, Bacon, Agnes Martin, Christo, Gordon Matta-Clark (Land of Milk & Honey – made of… you guessed it), and a very atypical Nikki de St-Phalle (and Gilbert and George famously spent a day on the stairs here as living sculptures in 1969). Upstairs the art is more contemporary and less familiar to me (but for once I don’t feel that this is contemporary art with the stress on ‘con’) – Nan Goldin and Grayson Perry are names I know, and Nam June Paik, whose TV Buddha, created back in 1974, was the first item in the Stedelijk’s ‘time-based video’ collection (which apparently now accounts for no less than half of the museum’s holdings); Dara Birnbaum was new to me but is another interesting video artist. The original building now houses temporary shows of generally high quality.

 Next door, the Van Gogh Museum also has a modern addition, with a ticket hall and shop added in 2015 from which you pass through a tunnel and up into the older building. In a fairly short career, van Gogh really did produce a lot of great work, including, of course, searching self-portraits, which provide another link to Rembrandt. It struck me that, although loosely categorised as a Postimpressionist, Vincent was one of those figures who always sticks out – rather like Baudelaire, I thought – and doesn’t fit tidily into any group. In addition to masterpieces such as Sunflowers, The Yellow House, Wheatfield with Crows, and Almond Blossom, the museum holds half of his almost 1100 drawings, and you’ll also see paintings by Monet (Tulip Fields near Den Haag), Denis and Vlaminck, as well as Vuillard, Van Dongen, Munch and Gabriele Münter, all influenced by van Gogh.

 I also visited, for the first time I think, the Amsterdam Museum, which gives a great overview of the city’s history but also includes more art – no Rembrandts, and only a copy of Hals’s famous portrait of Descartes, but others by Rachel Ruysch (the city’s leading female artist in the seventeenth century, who I wasn’t aware of but came across again in Bremen and Hamburg), van der Helst, Flinck, Bol and Van Honthorst, and from more recent times George Hendrik Breitner and (early) Mondrian. Their estimate is that three million paintings were produced in Amsterdam during the Golden Age (essentially, the seventeenth century).

Flammekueche with a Thai Thai Tripel from Oedipus Brewing, at the Tolhuistuin – all recommended.

 There was also a temporary exhibition on beer and brewing in Amsterdam, which (as in Leiden) had been very important back in the days when the cloth industry was polluting the waterways, and plenty of brewers were also mayors of Amsterdam. From the late nineteenth century, however, nothing but mass-produced pilsner was available, and the Dutch seemed pretty happy with this until very recently, despite the totally different and far more interesting beer culture just south in Belgium. The first speciality beer bar, Gollem, opened in 1974, and the first microbrewery, Brouwerij ‘t IJ, in 1985 – both now have a couple of branches. There are now at least forty breweries and almost 800 beer cafés in Amsterdam, producing a fantastic range of both Belgian-style and British/American beers; personally I enjoyed the local IPAs, which were sharpish but not too floral or citrusy. With roots in the 1980s squatting scene (which was and is very influential), many of them are socially and environmentally committed, employing the disadvantaged and, in the case of De Prael, making beer from rainwater (1200 litres of water produces 1000 litres of Code Blond). Troost uses their spent grain to make bread, while all other waste gets transformed into energy. The ‘ginaissance’ is, naturally, occurring here too, and bars that specialise in jenever, the ancestor of gin, are doing well.

 The museum also pointed me towards various interesting housing developments and other urban design projects which were world-leading at the time and are still visually striking. The population of Amsterdam doubled between 1870 and 1900 and there was an urgent need for affordable and hygienic housing – grandiose plans were drawn up for Haussmannesque boulevards, but meanwhile slumlords started throwing up cheap overcrowded tenements. The one exception (until the Housing Act of 1902) was the De Pijp district (The Pipe, perhaps named after a ditch that was drained in 1891), which has been the city’s hippest district since the ’60s. Its southern extension, the Nieuwe Pijp (1921-29), was part of the Plan Zuid urban expansion plan drawn up in 1917 by Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934), known as ‘the father of modern Dutch architecture’. In the 1890s he designed the Beurs van Berlage (Commodities Exchange) and what is now the Swissôtel, both on Damrak, but later moved to broader urban planning, inspiring the younger architects of the Amsterdam School (roughly 1910-30) to fill in the details. Their style is hard to pin down but it draws on Jugendstil (Art Nouveau), the English Arts and Crafts movement (along with Charles Rennie Macintosh from Scotland) and Art Deco to produce a kind of brick expressionism, using sculptural brick and stonework to decorate inside and out, creating something like a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), including designing furniture and lighting. It’s linked to the Chilehaus and similar buildings in Hamburg, which I saw a few days later.

 I started by viewing the Scheepvaarthuis or Shipping House (1913-6,

Scheepvaarthuis, Amsterdam

built as headquarters for six shipping companies and now the Grand Hotel Amrâth), which is renowned as the first major building produced by the Amsterdam School; then I cycled east to the Indische Buurt, so called because the streets are named after places in Indonesia. This area was built on a former polder between 1900 and 1930, with five apartment blocks on the south side of Javaplein designed by Berlage in 1915-6; also on Javaplein is a striking public bathhouse built in 1941 and now a restaurant. There was a citywide programme to build bathhouses from 1919 to 1931, but in fact this one was not built until 1941. For me the most attractive social housing was on the other side of the city, to the west on Spaarndammerplantsoen, where a museum in Het Schip (known as The Workers’ Palace, built in 1919), gives insights into the Amsterdam School’s work. Similar movements occurred in Vienna and Berlin (and of course London), where industrialisation brought huge numbers of people to the city, but the Amsterdam version does have its own charm.

 Nowadays industry has given way to a process of regeneration, partly of course in the docklands, as in every similar city around the world, but also the Western Gasworks, via which I arrived in the city, and various sites across the IJ river in Amsterdam-Noord, such as the NDSM shipyard – here there are an abandoned submarine, a lightship and trams, all adapted to new uses (vegan street-food cafés, craft ale bars and spaces for music and theatre), and a hotel in a giant crane. Using shipping containers for cafés or accommodation is of course a given.

 And naturally there’s graffiti, or street art as we should call it – in October, just after my visit, the STRAAT museum opened in one of the NDSM hangars – but surely if street art is displayed indoors in a gallery it ceases to be street art?

A ferry dock

 I should finish by stressing that there are frequent free ferries from Amsterdam Centraal station and elsewhere to NDSM – at busy times these are swamped by cyclists, along with vehicles for the disabled and a few mopeds, and there’s now talk of a tunnel under the IJ, with spiral ramps and pedestrian escalators.

Ferry and cycleway at Centraal station

 

 

 

 

Sweets ‘dispersed hotel’, with rooms in about 30 bridge houses.
The A’DAM tower and The Eye film museum

 

Leiden and Haarlem

My one excursion outside the UK in this plague year was a five-week trip with a bike in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, which was bookended by commemorations of two great geniuses – Rembrandt and Beethoven. I started with the ferry from Harwich to Hoek van Holland and an easy ride through the edges of Den Haag to Leiden, where Rembrandt was born and grew up. Last year Leiden’s Lakenhal Museum, with the Ashmolean in Oxford, put on a Young Rembrandt exhibition, which finished in February and moved to Oxford, where it was promptly closed down by Covid-19. I thought I’d missed it but it did reopen, hurrah! Because I was actually booked to visit the Lakenhal at the end of the week it seemed totally auspicious that I should go to Oxford to see the show first – it was excellent, very well presented, and a great prelude to my visit to Leiden. Young Rembrandt covered his first twenty-five years in Leiden, before he moved to Amsterdam (where I was to see far more of his wonderful paintings a few days later). In Leiden he shared a studio with his friend Jan Lievens – I wasn’t particularly aware of him before this trip, but I saw quite a few really very striking paintings by him on this trip, including in Bremen and Braunschweig.

 The Fitzwilliam Museum here in Cambridge has a fantastic collection of Rembrandt prints, so I’m used to seeing them in rotating displays (often comparing different states of the same image, depending on how the artist altered it and how worn the plate was), but very few featured in this show.

 Lakenhal is usually translated as Cloth Hall, but Laken is specifically worsted, one of the seven main kinds of cloth brought to be inspected here. A fine building dating from 1640, it now houses the town’s main museum, which was closed for remodelling and extension from 2016 to 2019 and now combines its art and history collections to good effect. Isaac Claesz Swanenburg’s paintings of the cloth-making process are hardly great art, but they are informative. In recent posts about England I mentioned the wealth brought by the wool trade, which funded the building of big churches with great expanses of late-Gothic windows; much the same happened here, and the cloth trade was also key to the wealth of the Hanseatic ports, as you’ll see when I get to my post on Lübeck in a month or two.

The extension to the Lakenhal (rear)

 The Lakenhal’s art collection per se is excellent, starting with an unusual Last Judgment by Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533), who was the town’s most famous artist (more an engraver than a painter) until Rembrandt’s rise, and continuing with well-known names such as Jan van Goyen (who specialised in local landscapes), Willem van de Velde (the leading marine painter of the late seventeenth century), Gabriel Metsu and the genre painter Jan Steen. The Leidse Fijnschilders or Leiden Fine Painters were led by Rembrandt’s pupil Gerrit Dou but harked back to a pre-Rembrandt era with their small, finely detailed paintings, which are less attractive to modern eyes. There’s also modern art, thanks to Theo van Doesburg, who moved to Leiden in 1916 and established the magazine De Stijl (with Piet Mondrian and others) in 1917.

 Anyway, Leiden is a lovely town with a renowned university, a huge church, and other museums, notably the Volkenkunde Museum, opened in 1937 in the former university hospital. As the National Museum of Ethnology, this has since 2014 been part of the the National Museum of World Cultures (NMVW), grouped together with the Afrika Museum in Berg en Dal and Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum (a colonial-era museum that was until then run by the Royal Tropical Institute); since 2017 the Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam has also been a partner of the NMVW. It’s full of treasures from around the world, but especially Asia, notably pieces collected at the trading station at Nagasaki (when Japan was otherwise closed to the outside world), and the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia); however a newly adopted policy of unconditional return of cultural objects that were seized without due process may see the collection shrinking somewhat. The museum is in the Singelpark or Belt Park, created in 2019 by stringing together existing green spaces (with six new footbridges) the whole way around the canal ring that surrounds the city centre. This was the city’s main line of defence (you’ll learn about the 1574 siege in the Lakenhal) and if you walk the whole 6km loop you’ll pass the two remaining city gates and the Molen de Valk, the high windmill that is a symbol of the city.

 Leiden is also marking the four-hundredth anniversary of the departure of the Pilgrim Fathers to America – it’s often forgotten that having left England they spent twelve years in Leiden, before deciding to move on – in 1620 they sailed from Delft to Southampton, and then only stopped in Dartmouth and Plymouth because Mayflower was leaking. It’s an odd coincidence that I had a look around the town of Harwich before catching my ferry to the Netherlands, and discovered that Mayflower is believed to have been built there, and her master, Christopher Jones, lived there; there’s also an information panel about Christopher Newport of Harwich, who commanded the ships that carried the first settlers in 1607 to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America.

 The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum is in a fourteenth-century house with furnishings from the Pilgrim period and maps and engravings illustrating the events of that time. The Pilgrims were associated with the huge Pieterskerk, founded in 1121, and their leader John Robinson is buried there (as is the painter Jan Steen); a plaque facing the church marks Robinson’s home.

Hal

Haarlem, just a couple of hours north of Leiden by bike (all on off-road cycleways, of course), is also associated with one major painter – what Rembrandt was to Leiden, Frans Hals was to Haarlem. (And of course there was also Vermeer in Delft, but I didn’t go there on this trip, as I’ve spent time in the Rotterdam/Delft/Den Haag area relatively recently.) Twice the size of Leiden, it’s close enough to Amsterdam to almost be a suburb, and has even more museums than Leiden (15 by my count), as well as fascinating early twentieth-century architecture. However the Frans Hals Museum merged in 2018 with De Hallen Haarlem – officially still the Frans Hals Museum, its two locations are known as Hof and Hal (buying a ticket for one gives free entry to the other, but you currently have to book time slots online due to the pandemic). Hal, right on the Grote Markt, is a good contemporary art gallery (the collection includes Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin and Andrea Fraser), but the one not to miss is Hof, a ten-minute walk south.

 You have to build up to Hals himself by passing through several rooms of paintings by other Haarlem portraitists, such as Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574), Pieter Pietersz (1540-1603), Karel van Mander (1548-1606), Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem (1562–1638) and Frans Pietersz de Grebber (c1573-1649). Some were born in Antwerp and moved to the free Netherlands to escape the stifling regime in Spanish Flanders (now Belgium), others moved from Haarlem to Amsterdam, matching the general trend of the time as Amsterdam became a major centre of global trade. Hals himself was born in Antwerp in about 1582 but was brought to Haarlem as an infant and refused to leave, obliging his clients in Amsterdam to come to him towards the end of his life (he didn’t die until 1666). All six of his group portraits of civic guards, with which Hals made his name, are here, along with portraits of assorted worthies, in a freer style than his contemporaries, becoming positively slapdash in his 80s (as with Rembrandt, this creates a fine effect at a distance, but looks messy close up). His younger brother Dirck Hals (1593-1656) was not nearly as good an artist and largely confined to himself to painting ‘merry company’ scenes for wealthy young clients. Of his successors and students, I was most interested by Judith Leyster (1609-60) whose works used to be confused with those of Hals himself – I was not aware of her before, but she was the leading female painter of her time, and well worth further study.

 Later Haarlem artists who are still widely known include Pieter Claesz Borchem (c1597-1660), Salomon van Ruysdael (c1601-70), his nephew Jacob van Ruisdael (c1628-82), Adriaen van Ostade (1610-85), his brother Isaac van Ostade (1621-49), Philips Wouwerman (1619-68) and Willem Claesz Heda (1594-1680), who I wasn’t aware of but who is esteemed as a master of the still life paintings that were so popular with the Dutch middle class (and specifically of the ‘late breakfast’ genre, which I wasn’t aware of either…).

 Across the road from Hof is the Haarlem Museum, which covers the city’s history with an interesting sideline in architecture. Immediately east of the centre, Teylers Museum is the first and oldest museum in the Netherlands, founded in 1778 and covering art, natural history and science. The Oval Room, opened in 1784, is a neoclassical jewel, and it’s continued to expand with painting galleries added in 1838 and 1892 and a new wing in 1996, finally expanding into the property next door in 2002. The paintings are mainly landscapes by the nineteenth-century Den Haag School which are not too exciting, but they also have prints and drawings by Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Raphael.

 If you’re familiar with Dutch Golden Age landscape paintings, you’ll know that all these relatively small cities are dominated by a huge Gothic church, which of course were originally Roman Catholic; in Haarlem it’s St Bavo’s church (also known as the Grote Kerk), which should not be confused with the present Roman Catholic cathedral of Saint Bavo (1895-1930), an even huger edifice that appears unexpectedly as you arrive from the south. Built between 1370 and 1538, the Grote Kerk is known for the grave of Frans Hals, the models of ships hanging in the south transept, its floor composed almost entirely of gravestones (around 1,500 of them) and the massive organ (the world’s biggest when it was installed in 1738) that was played by Handel, Mozart (aged 10) and Mendelssohn. Not quite as dominant but still a very striking edifice is the former De Koepel prison, just east of the centre on Papentorenvest – a huge circular panopticon block (built so that a guard in the centre could have a view of every cell), it housed criminals from 1901 to 2016 and then briefly migrants from the Middle East; it is now being converted to house a university college.

 I’ll write about beer in my next post, from Amsterdam, but it’s worth mentioning the Jopenkerk Brewery, which is known for its conversion of a former church into a popular café-bar, where they usually have twenty of their own beers on tap as well as guest beers; however brewery tours take place not here but at another brewery in the industrial area east of the centre.