Museums plan to sell collections to survive

Museums in The Netherlands have received some bad news–national funding for arts and culture will drop from 900 million euros to 700 million in 2013. Now museums and other institutions are scrambling to figure out how to survive.

The Wereldmuseum in Rotterdam has come up with a controversial plan. They’re going to sell off their African and American collections in order to raise money.

While this has caused an understandable uproar, it makes sense in some ways. The Wereldmuseum’s main collections are in Asian and Pacific art, such as the Korwar figurines from New Guinea pictured above courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. These will not be sold. Other museums in the country are known for African and American art, so the Dutch and the tourists won’t be left without. It’s also a major opportunity for museums that still have decent funding for new acquisitions, assuming there are any.

There are still plenty of downsides. The Wereldmuseum and any other institution that tries this tactic will lose some of the diversity of their collections. It makes it harder for them to participate in the exchanges of artwork that help create bonds between different museums and the creation of major exhibitions. The sale will probably also see some of artifacts leave the country or go into private hands, and out of sight of the general public.

For the Wereldmuseum in particular it means losing some of its unique character. The collection is partially made up of objects brought back by Dutch traders, who in past centuries were one of the major economic powers on the high seas and traded to all corners of the globe. At the moment the collection reflects that. To secure its future, the Wereldmuseum will have to discard some of its past.

It may even undermine its own name. Wereldmuseum translates to “World Museum”.

Scratch and sniff cannabis cards distributed by Dutch police

The new government of The Netherlands has been cracking down on marijuana-serving coffee shops lately, and now it’s setting its sights on marijuana cultivation.

Police are distributing 30,000 scratch and sniff cards to homes in Rotterdam and The Hague to help people identify the smell of cannabis. That’s right, many Dutch people apparently don’t know what pot smells like. Just because something’s decriminalized doesn’t mean everyone does it.

While possession of up to five grams of pot and the cultivation of up to five plants is decriminalized, large-scale growing is illegal and authorities consider it a problem. The cops are hoping people will scratch the cards, take a good whiff, and then sniff around near their neighbors’ backyards and narc on them if they turn out to be growing something they shouldn’t be.

The cards also ask citizens to be vigilant in noticing if their neighbors keep their blinds closed, have ventilators running all the time, or use a lot of electricity.

This latest move appears to be attacking coffee shops from another direction. While some localities are closing shops down or making them members-only to keep out the tourists, the authorities recognize that illegal farms (up to 40,000 in the entire country, they estimate) are needed to supply the shops with weed.

[Photo courtesy user Bastique via Wikimedia Commons]

VIDEO: Inside new German high-speed train

In 2013, Europe could become even easier to navigate, with a new high-speed train connecting Germany with other major cities in Western Europe. The new Deutsche Bahn train would travel at 200 miles per hour from London through the Euro Tunnel, arriving in Amsterdam in four hours (currently only reachable with a connection) and Frankfurt in five hours (down from seven hours on DB). Additional services are planned for Brussels, Cologne and Rotterdam and officials are hopeful this could pave the way for additional high-speed routes.

The above video from BBC goes inside a prototype train currently at London’s St. Pancras Station for safety checks and a test run. Reporter Richard Scott shows off the train’s reclining seats, real-time travel information, and even multi-country emergency stops. Let’s hope they work out any air conditioning problems for the new trains.

Best bar in the world is not where you’d expect it

Lonely Planet and Singha beer released the results of their “best bar in the world” contest.

The winner is a small corner bar in the heart of Rotterdam called “De Witte Aap” (the white monkey).

I am at a total loss how this bar was able to reach the top spot – I have been there, and while it isn’t a bad bar, it’s miles away from being the best bar in the world.

In fact, there really isn’t anything special about this bar. They do offer regular live entertainment and the same assortment of beer and snacks that you’ll find at most decent Dutch bars, but compared to some of the amazing other bars around the world, De Witte Aap is nothing special.

When you check out the list of other bars that made the Lonely Planet lineup, you’ll understand why I’m surprised they made a fairly basic bar in Rotterdam their top pick. Oddly enough, De Witte Aap never appears on any other “best bars of Rotterdam” lineup.

Across Northern Europe: The Elusive Dutch Drivers License

I met Ella, Hilde and Amber in a Stockholm hostel two years ago this summer just after they went to the Roskilde music festival. They were roadtripping from their home in Rotterdam, Holland and we got along famously. So famously, in fact, they invited me to drive south to Denmark with them in Hilde’s sister’s tiny car. It was an act of generosity, yes, but also one of convenience: I could drive.

Though all three were well into their 20’s, only Hilde had her license. Driving in Holland just isn’t so simple.

To be fair, Ella knew her way around a steering wheel, having taken several dozen lessons as part of Holland’s rigorous, expensive divers-license gauntlet.

“I was taking lessons two to four hours a week,” Ella said today, license now in hand after completing an eight-month process that took her sister three years.

But back in 2005 in a Swedish parking lot, a perfect metaphor played out for the difference between American and Dutch driver certification: It was the Dutch learner teaching the American licensee how to drive.

Though I’d been driving for nearly a decade my mastery of the stick shift was non existent and since that July afternoon I’ve often credited Ella with giving me the direction my various amateur instructors hadn’t: basically encouraging me to ride the clutch as I started in first gear. She had plenty of chances to offer advice as I stalled and sputtered and the giggling Dutch girls asked if I was sure I had my license.

Amber would like to drive too but she’s held back by a common complaint: It’s just too expensive. Before you can spend several hundred euros taking the theoretical and in-car exams you need the green light from your instructor. Typically that comes after 40 or so lessons (though Hilde’s mom had more than 60 when she finally attempted to get her license in middle age). Each lesson is roughly 30 euros, bringing the total cost over $2000.

The various hurdles are paired with a general sense that driving just isn’t necessary. Holland is biker-friendly and covered with train tracks. But still, today, it was nice to have the driving option as they headed to another music festival, Holland’s own Lowlands festival.

“When you have your license you get the feeling that you need it,” Ella said. “But really there’s very good transportation without it.”

An old van pulled up to Ella’s apartment and the Dutch girls piled in with some other friends. Though two-thirds of the trio are now street legal, they were still bumming a ride.

“Even when you have your license,” Hilde pointed out. “You still need a car.”


Previously on Across Northern Europe:

  1. Shining a Light on Iceland
  2. Lonely Love on Iceland
  3. Iceland Gone Wild
  4. A Trip to the Airport
  5. Why Bother Going to Berlin?
  6. A Perishable Feast
  7. Globians Film Festival

Brook Silva-Braga is traveling northern Europe for the month of August and reuniting with some of the people he met on the yearlong trip which was the basis of his travel documentary, A Map for Saturday. You can follow his adventure in the series, Across Northern Europe.