By Alison Smith
Following on from last month’s piece on the Vondelpark, I thought we’d continue our ‘wandel in the Vondel’ and have a look at the Art, if we can find it, check out the catering and see what lies beyond the park gates.
Art (and trees)
I’m merging art and trees under one heading as, quite often in the Vondelpark, trees form part of the art, and art forms part of the trees. Sometimes quite literally. There are two sculptures, one in the form of a supporting hand, carved from wood, holding up a great branch and another is an Atlas figure hewn out of a tree trunk and rising from the ground to support a falling tree. I have to say I passed by these works of art for years before I noticed them. Go see if you can spot them.
The park is full of unusual trees, many old plane trees, horse chestnut, Dutch red chestnut, catalpas, weeping willow and different sorts of birch trees, many leaning precariously over the water, inviting kids to dare climb.
Apart from the natural beauty the park has to offer, there are also a number of man-made sculptures dotted around, sometimes in unusual places.
In the Rose Garden is Jan Bronner’s sculpture of fictitious character Teun de Jager (1948). According to Hildebrand’s story he is a tragic figure who mistakenly shot his lover through the heart while out hunting with his dog. The piece once formed a part of an eight sided fountain which was designed as a monument to Nicolas Beets who wrote the book Camera Obscura under the pseudonym Hildebrand. Eight of the various characters from the book were depicted by Jan Bronner and stood around the edges of the fountain. When the fountain was dismantled “Teun de Jager” was moved to the Vondelpark.
The Vondelpark is also home to a Picasso. An abstract concrete piece called ‘The Fish’ was placed in 1965 as a gift from Picasso to the city of Amsterdam to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Is it a bird or is it a fish?
A bronze representing a Caribbean woman called ‘Mama Baranka’ is by Amsterdam contemporary sculptor Nelson Carrilho. Mama Baranka, or Mother Rock, was created in 1985 as a monument for a 15 year old Antillian boy called Kerwin Duinmeyer who was murdered in a racist attack in 1983. His death caused outrage in Holland and Kerwin became a symbol in the fight against racism. Nelson Carrilho was commissioned to make a lasting tribute.
The statue of Joost van der Vondel sits statesmanlike on his podium opposite the old film museum and, while the statue itself isn’t particularly remarkable, check out the supporting angels around the dais and ask yourself why one of them is holding a severed head?
Cafés in the Park
The Blue Tearoom (“Het Blauwe Theehuis) is a round modernist building, completed in 1937. Located in the middle of the park it’s a good place to enjoy the last rays of sunshine on a summer evening. There is plenty of terrace space and its self service café offers decent nibbles.
De Vondeltuin café is situated at the top of the park by the Amstelveenseweg exit and is ideal for families as there is a playground for the kids right next to it. It serves the usual Dutch fare of toasties, saté, sandwiches and uitsmijters (fried eggs on an open sandwich). They now also have Flammkuchen on the menu, which is a trend that seems to be sweeping the nation. Very thin pizza base topped with bacon, leeks and cheese and cooked on the stove top.
Also great for the kids is the Melkhuis which has swings and rides as well as a decent terrace where adults can chill Self service, with a canteen feel to it, you can get light and substantial snacks and sandwiches of a decent quality.
For more of a sit-down dinner experience, there is the Film Museum Café, which has seating indoors and a large terrace to enjoy. I have only dined there once and found good food and friendly service. It’s a lovely place to spend a summer evening.
If you walk the full length of the park you will exit on the Amstelveenseweg, which is a street full of good restaurants and cafe’s. In fact, right next to the exit there is a great take away coffee wagon with very friendly service and great coffee.
If you turn left at this exit and head down the Amstelveenseweg, you will find a wide choice of restaurants to suit all appetites. Famous chef Ron Blaauw has his Gastrobar on this street and you will also find Restaurant Dragon-i on the opposite side, which was very favourably reviewed in our Dec/Jan edition by our restaurant expert Nick Nugent, who declared it worthy of four stars. Praise indeed from Nick. It’s not all famous names and heavy price tags though. Through this exit of the Vondelpark you will also find good pizza, steak and Indonesian food.
If you walk from the Leidseplein end to the Amstelveenseweg end in a clockwise direction there are many exits which can take you to some interesting streets. The first exit left takes you to the PC Hooftstraat and all the fancy shops. Next exit along (van Eeghenlaan/Willemsparkweg) you’ll find café George, great for brunch, (try the eggs Benedict), café Gruter,which has a sunny terrace until the sun goes down and on a Saturday there’s an organic market on the Jacob Obrechtstraat.
Next exit to the left is the Cornelis Schuytstraat which is home to many high quality shops and chic cafes. Brasserie de Joffers and le Pain Quotidien are both good for brunch and for delicious ice cream and frozen yoghurt check out Ijsboutique in the same area.
On the other side of the park most exits lead to the Overtoom, great for quirky retro furniture shops and a scattering of decent restaurants. Why not get a bottle of decent wine from Chabrol (Overtoom 444) and a pizza from De Pizzabakkers (Overtoom 501) and you have a ready made picnic … Just don’t forget the corkscrew and glasses.
Just to finish off our little tour of this fine park, here are 10 facts about the Vondelpark that perhaps you didn’t know.
- The park was designed by L.D. Zocher, who chose an English landscape style for this green area, which was to look as natural as possible despite the fact that it was located in a growing city.
- Before it was named for the popular 17th century Dutch poet, Joost van den Vondel, it was called de Nieuwe Park.
- In the old days, ‘the public’ was not even allowed to enter the park. The Vondelpark was for members and on invitation only.
- There are 4,980 trees – give or take the odd one or two that blow down in each winter storm
- There are 66 different types of trees – presuming they have not blown down
- 275 street lanterns cast a ghostly glow on a winter night.
- 17 works of art are scattered around the park, including a fish sculpture designed by Picasso
- The park farm was used as a hiding place from the Germans during the Second World War.
- During the Second World War, people cut down the trees in the Vondelpark because of a shortage of fuel. The German occupants ‘saved’ the park by closing it.
- Constructed on a muddy, marshy area, the Vondelpark has to go through a total renovation every 30 years. This is because the actual ground level of the park constantly lowers itself. If these works were not carried out, the whole park would be submerged. The water cannot be simply pumped out as this would lower the groundwater around the park and endanger the wooden foundations of the buildings nearby.