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New territory

The Dutch defied almost half of the area of ​​their country in the past 200 years from the rough North Sea, former port cities are now inland. But the newly created land around the diked IJsselmeer has its natural charm.

Eva-Maria Lessinger


Just don’t move. I lie completely motionless on pricking blades of grass in a wide green meadow. Everything sticks to my body: the motorcycle trousers, the T-shirt, even the wristwatch. Blazing hot sun everywhere, nowhere cool shade – and that in the Dutch province of Noordholland! How I would now be unfaithful to my Africa Twin, tear off my leather clothes and ride the waves on a waterbike, past the kids playing water polo, the three surfers who are more beside than on their boards and the sailing yachts that are cruising further out. Indeed: The IJsselmeer, this gigantic inland lake in the north-west of the Netherlands, is a hit for water rats, but even as a land rat you don’t have to starve. Right on the coastline, I’m heading to another pilgrimage site for small rodents: the cheese town of Edam. There you can get the straw-yellow, creamy “Edammer Kaas” even without the red plastic crust that is customary in our shops. A tinkling mom and pop shop on wheels is already jerking nostalgically on the first Edam drawbridge, while ducks bobbing down in the canal quarrel . Two “meisjes op fietsen” cycle along the proud old patrician houses, and at times truly old men clatter over the bumpy cobblestones as if it were the most natural thing in the world to walk through life in wooden shoes. Not least thanks to this old Dutch picture-book idyll, the heavily frequented water sports area IJsselmeer also brings tourist gold to the dreamy, historically shaped coastal towns. Although the inhabitants had flagged half-mast when this artificially created inland waterway was created, because it was completed exactly 64 years ago, the 30-kilometer-long final dike, the legendary »Afslutdijk«, between the provinces of Noordholland and Friesland, and thus the metamorphosis of the wild Zuiderzee to the tame IJsselmeer completed. With this ambitious large-scale project, the »Kingdom of Below Normal Zero« once again proved the Dutch folk wisdom: »God created the sea and we Dutch created the land.« In the bitter struggle against the storm surges in the North Sea, dykes and dams were built for centuries, water areas with windmills and pumping stations were drained until new polders continued to emerge. The Dutch wrested almost half of their land from the sea themselves in this way. But the port cities of the Zuiderzee Bay were initially traumatized by the completion of the Afslutdijk. Flourishing fishing villages like Marken, Volendam or Urk saw themselves robbed of their home fishing grounds by the decreasing salt content of the resulting inland waters, and the once proud maritime trading towns like Edam, Enkhuizen or Hoorn were finally transformed into provincial inland towns. I nibble on cheese in the old Hoorner harbor Wooden walkway with curved gas lamps. A massive, well-fortified tower, built in 1532 as part of a fortification, towers over the tall, narrow warehouses, which with their representatively decorated stepped gable facades radiate an aura of bygone glory. Tea, cinnamon, pepper, tobacco or precious woods were stored here three hundred years ago, in the l´age d´or of the former world trading city. The rigging of the dark brown, historical windjammers, those with reefed linen sails amid the countless houseboats, cutters and yachts, rattle quietly are anchored in the harbor basin of Hoorn. But they will probably not expire today. In 1616 Willem Schouten, who sailed around the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego and named it “Cape Horn” after his hometown, and a few years later Abel Tasman, who discovered New Zealand and Tasmania together with the devil. A few moments later I drive my sixty horses again on the dike. The winding farm road meanders through the wide green meadows, always along the glittering lake. Washed! The huge lattice wings of the thatched windmill can be heard hissing through the air and almost touching the ground. She stands lonely here on the side of the narrow road to Enkhuizen. Just a cultural monument, and it was the endless windmill chains that helped the Dutch to reclaim land two hundred years ago. Driven by the constant wind power, the water wheels of the mills tirelessly shoveled the excess water into the canals and from there into the rivers. The Rhine, Maas, Waal and Lek then took care of onward transport to the North Sea. However, in the 19th century, steam-powered pumping stations displaced the technology, which was as simple as it was ingenious, and with it the majestic mills. Environmentally friendly and crisis-proof, wind energy is experiencing a renaissance today, but the simple modern wind turbines are unlikely to become the Dutch emblem. Trembling Jan Visser pulls on the thin white thread and erects the masts. Done! Without prejudice, he has piloted the proud five-master into the safe home port – and that under full sail. Put the cork on, close the bottle. Jan Visser is beaming with satisfaction. Whether windjammer, whale schooner, steamboat, fishing cutter or lifeboat – in the »Flessenscheepjes-Museum« in Enkhuizen there are more than 500 bottle ships at anchor. And Jan Visser, owner of the museum and thus the world’s largest collection of ships in bottles, knows a story of its own for each of these ships. ”Knives, scissors, tweezers and, above all, you need a lot of patience and instinct to maneuver the individual parts gently through the neck of the bottle and inside Gluing the belly together, ”explains the passionate collector. He says that shipbuilding in a bottle has its origins on the high seas: when the wind was calm, sailors used to build ships in bottles out of sheer boredom. “They either gave them to their loved ones at home or swapped the bottle for a full one with rum in the next port,” adds Jan Visser with a smile. Sailor’s yarn? Who knows, damn stiff breeze. Certainly wind force 6 to 7. The big enduro lurches along the A 7. The North Sea rages furiously against the ten-meter-high dam. But it will no longer be so easy for “bare Hans”, as the locals call their sea, to storm the land, because the Lely plan has worked. As early as 1667, ideas to contain the Zuiderzee Bay arose. But first the technology was missing, then the political resolve. Flood disasters and famines at the beginning of this century finally led to action. According to the plans of the engineer Cornelius Lely, the dyke grew laboriously meter by meter for five years. But the last piece could only be inserted exactly in the phase of the tide change, when the current stood still for a short time. At noon on May 28, 1932, two minutes past one, it was done: sirens wailed. The dike was closed. At the “Lorentzsluizen” I have to turn abruptly, because the real sailors are clearing for departure into the roaring North Sea. It is not without admiration that I observe a sporty woman who concentrates on the rope that holds her yacht “Allegra Workum” close to the lock wall. “Sailing isn’t more difficult than riding a motorcycle,” laughs the woman from Cologne up to me, “starboard always has right of way.” Well, I don’t know … “Warning! You have left Holland. ”Such a sign for tourists would be absolutely necessary in Zurich. Because if it is fundamentally wrong to simply call every Dutchman a Dutchman, it is sacrilege in Friesland. No other province in the kingdom cultivates its own cultural identity so much. The Frisians have their own flag, literature, cuisine and, above all, “Frysk”, their own language, which can be practiced not only as an official subject in school, but based on it the bilingual place-name signs. The Frisian media, such as newspapers and radio, are of course only recommended for advanced learners, although it is difficult for the Frisians to confess their most famous daughter – Mata Hari. It took a long time before people in the traditional province could officially come to terms with the amorous lifestyle of the beautiful double agent. The famous and revealing dancer was accused of espionage for the German Reich in France during World War I, shortly thereafter sentenced to death and shot. But in 1976 a bronze monument was erected for the Frisian femme fatale in the middle of Leeuwarden. How much a sailing holiday actually has in common with a motorcycle tour, I finally find out in the old fishing village of Makkum, where, even if purely by chance, I have a mineral water there buy where the ships get fresh water: at a “water filling station.” “The great thing about a boating holiday is that you see a lot when you travel, call at a different port every evening and meet new people there,” Wim Kombrink tells me while he fills his canisters with fresh water. Dito. That’s how I do on motorcycle tours. And because travel connects, Wim and his wife spontaneously buy me a coffee on board the lovingly cared for tug »Anco«, built in 1911, a real oldie. While the six-year-old son Michael is romping around the deck with the dog, we start chatting like old acquaintances until the weather forecast on the radio threatens a thunderstorm. Full speed ahead, I successfully escape from the bad weather front to the south, now and then cross one of the Frisian lakes, all connected by rivers and canals, and finally chug through Hindeloopen on the Africa Twin. It’s hard to believe that this little village with its small, crooked houses was once a Hanseatic town in 1368. On the way you can see the terpenes so typical for Friesland, those raised mounds of earth that served as refuge fortresses from the oncoming floods of the North Sea over 2000 years ago. If you pull the steering wheel to the right, do you drive to the left and vice versa? Quite uncontrollably, I turn around my own axis in the little blue boat. Maybe I should have put on the rain suit … Not on the wide IJsselmeer, but in the narrow canals of Giethorn, in the middle of the inland, I try out my nautical talent – so far with rather moderate success. Zack! Again I went full throttle on a collision course. But this time, luckily, it only hit the pillar of one of the narrow wooden bridges, which slow down all too rapid boat trips everywhere here. Giethorn is built on islets that are connected by footbridges and bridges. As there are no navigable roads in the village, the locals either sail in Venetian style in flat punt boats, or in small motor boats through the chaos of the canals from one island to the next. Perhaps I would have signed up for Christian seafaring years ago should, in order to learn how to handle ropes and sailing – just like the boys and girls of the Protestant youth group who disembark from the clipper »Zeelandia« after a seven-day sea voyage with sparkling eyes. The German teenagers tell me enthusiastically that they have tried everything from a sailor’s knot to setting, painting and surfacing to navigating. “But swimming in the middle of the North Sea was particularly cool!” The sunlight shimmers diffusely through the oppressive haze. Not a breeze stirs. No wave splashes on the shores of the flat, glittering Ketel Sea. Even the swans remain motionless. The whole landscape is frozen. Then the “Art on the Dike”: A square, a circle and a triangle made of raw metal soar into the sky. The barren sculptures appear like the ruins of civilization in this fantastic, bizarre atmosphere. Signs of impending doom. But not far away there is a small, indomitable village called Urk with an unrestrained will to survive. When I drift on the waves of the bumpy pavement with my Enduro, I am actually astonished: In Urk the alleys are even narrower and the houses even smaller than in other small towns on the IJsselmeer coast. Everywhere low hunter fences line the front gardens, which in the midst of their splendor of flowers accommodate at least one two-wheeled vehicle, optionally with or without a motor. Before 1942 I would not have reached Urk dry foot, because before the construction of the dike and the creation of the Noordoostpolders was the village a secluded islet. Urk was also an existential threat to the transformation from the Zuiderzee to the IJsselmeer. For more than a thousand years the Urker lived as fishermen, and they wanted to stay fishermen. So they made a pact with the Dutch government and bought new fishing grounds in the North Sea. The result: The port of Urk has the largest fishing fleet in the Netherlands today, and the “Urk fish auction”, which takes place twice a week, is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. Off to Flevoland. Like a large island, anchored to the rest of the country with only six connecting routes. is the youngest polder in the IJsselmeer that was finally drained only in the 1970s. Where just a few years ago only wind and waves roared, today there are extensive grain fields and meadows with apple and pear trees between wild flowers.Flevoland is like Legoland – just not as imaginative. The spatial and landscape planners have consistently designed the entire polder on the drawing board at right angles – from the road network to the cities. Clumsy concrete buildings dominate Lelystadt, the urban center of Flevoland, fresh from the cement mixer. I quickly flee via the motorway to say goodbye to the IJsselmeer in Durgerdam, a small street village north of the capital. In the middle of the dike in front of the laced, colorful wooden houses, there is coffee and cake. A few punks at the next table are probably recovering from the Amsterdam scene stress. One last look over the glittering water of the Markermeer. Then the command sounds: “Ready to turn!”


The IJsselmeer, the formerly wild Zuiderzee, with its numerous maritime attractions, from the diverse water sports to the romantic windjammer atmosphere to the idyllic, historically shaped coastal towns, proves that artificially created areas can also have their natural charms. All of this is offered in a landscape that is as fantastic as it is spacious. Recreation seekers, leisure activists and culture enthusiasts get their money’s worth.

Arrival: Whether clockwise or counterclockwise – an IJsselmeer tour is always best started from Amsterdam. Coming from the northeast, the A1 is an express route to the capital in the Netherlands, and the A2 coming from the southeast. Travel time: The stiff breeze at the IJsselmeer is of course also refreshing in midsummer, especially when you plunge into the cool water. But autumn storms on the lake also have their charm. Spending the night: You will be well looked after at the Hotel “De Posthoorn” in Hoorn. The double room without bathroom and toilet costs 80 marks. You spend the night on the hotel motor yacht “MS Olympia” in the port of Kampen almost like on a houseboat. A double cabin costs 90 marks. Gastronomy: Anyone who would like to nibble on fresh “Edammer Kaas” shouldn’t miss the weekly cheese market in Edam on Wednesdays. The “Markerwaard” restaurant in Enkhuizen offers excellent fish dishes in a cozy maritime atmosphere. Activities: The “Flessenscheepjes Museum” in Enkhuizen, the world’s largest collection of ships in bottles, is an absolute must. In the »Zuiderzeemuseum«, a large open-air museum in Enkhuizen, you can find out how people lived and worked on the coast of the wild Zuiderzee a hundred years ago. A trip to the small island fishing village of Marken is also worthwhile, where vehicle traffic is prohibited. In summer there is hardly a place on the IJsselmeer that does not attract events. Old Dutch Market “in Hoorn, which has a different motto every week. · Also with changing themes, big street festivals take place in Kampen in July / August for six weeks on Thursdays. The “Urker fish auction”, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, is haggled every Monday and Friday. If you want to take part, you have to register in advance. Telephone 00 31/5 27/68 18 22. Tip: Anyone who would like to try their hand at being a »ordinary seaman« should exchange the motorcycle for a clipper or schooner for one or more days. Organized trips are offered by the »Hanzestad Compagnie«, Ijsselkade 62, Postfach 5, 8260 AA Kampen, Netherlands, Telephone 00 31/38 33 16 05 0, Fax: 0031/38 33 11 57 7 or »De Zeilvaart«, Stationsplein 3, 1601 EN Enkhuizen, Netherlands, Telephone 00 31/22 83 12 42 4, Fax 00 31/22 83 13 73 7. · Literature: A very good overview and a lot of information can be found in »Traveling correctly. Holland «by Helmut Hetzel from DuMont Buchverlag. The book »The Netherlands« from the Goldstadt Travel Guide series, Volume 216, by Waltraud Latja is just as detailed for a trip around the Ijselmeer. Map: The general map “Netherlands” from Mairs Geographischer Verlag on a scale of 1: 250,000.

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