Wintertime In The Hague: Art, Concerts And Palaces

Posted Feb 15, 2002 by Bernd F. Meier
THE HAGUE (dpa) - The Dutch have a saying that Rotterdam is where the money is made; Amsterdam is where it's spent; and The Hague is for living in.

It sums up the fine differences between Holland's three biggest cities. Although it's the third in rank, The Hague is the seat of the queen and her government. It is also a centre of art, culture and architecture - a status underlined by two significant art exhibitions this winter.

Outside youngsters on the Hofvijver, the "Inner Courtyard", whizz around what is usually a skating rink at this time of year, while inside, in the Martishuis museum, visitors can compare the winter scenes as painted by the Dutch masters in the 17th century.

"Winter in the Past: Snow and Ice in the Golden Age" is the title of the fine exhibition featuring 40 works of art. It runs until February 24 and is open every day except Monday.

The oeuvres show typical Dutch winter scenes - ice and snow on canals and ponds and dramatic, cloud-covered skies. The busy goings- on of the people skating, sledding and playing games are also captured on many of the paintings. The only known winter landscape painted by the great Rembrandt in 1646 is about the size of a postcard.

The 400-year-old paintings point to a long tradition of winter sports in the Netherlands. When the mercury starts to sink shortly before Christmas and the night frosts become frequent, young and old start getting impatient for the lakes and canals to freeze over. Whole families dust off and sharpen their often simple iron runners and head out to the natural skating rinks. Soon the whole country is out on skates.

The Mauritshuis museum on the Hofvijver and the neighbouring parliament buildings is an ideal starting point for a walk round The Hague's small city centre. All the sights can easily be reached on foot. And the city of 450,000 boasts 19 museums - among them one featuring old trams, another devoted to mediaeval torture instruments in the Gevangenpoort and one filled with games of chance.

Well worth a visit is an important exhibition of Spanish 20th- century masters. It is open every day except Monday until February 17th 2002 in the Gemeentemuseum on the Stadshouderslaan. The exhibition, entitled "From Picasso to Tapie" and featuring paintings, sculptures and ceramics on loan from Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum, is visiting the Netherlands for the first time.

Among the first things to strike the visitor in the city is the contrast between the patrician houses of The Hague's idyllic central square, Lange Voorhout, and the skyscraping high rises from our own day in De Resident district.

A pleasant stroll taking in the most important architectural sites begins at the tourist office next to Centraal Station, leading past the Foreign Ministry - called "Monkey Cliffs" because of its angular construction - to the twin towers of the Health Ministry, which has the pointed gables of the old houses lining the canals.

Haguers love the little cafes and brasseries in the covered passage in the centre, built in 1882 with a glass roof after the Milanese style. For even more stylish surroundings, head to Lange Voorhout and the luxurious Hotel des Indes, built in 1858 to house guests visiting home from the East Indies colonies. Aristocrats and diplomats still turn up here for "teatime" as they did 150 years ago.

Courtiers and lobbyist built magnificent townhouses on the Lange Voorhout in the 17th and 18th centuries to be near the centre of government. Den Haag had been the seat of the Counts of Holland since the 13th century and since 1593 the residence of the States-General during the Dutch Republic, despite the fact that Den Haag has never had a town charter.

"When spring came in those days, Lange Voorhout would be full of people strolling under the shade of beautiful trees enjoying the colourful sight of the first crocuses," says city guide Anneke. Today, the street is the home of banks and embassies.

Visitors on the royal trail can walk in parts of the park adjoining the pretty royal residence known as Huis ten Bosch, built in 1645 and now the home of Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus. The queen's offices are situated in the city centre, in the palace on the Noordeinde, built in 1533.

And right next door at number 66 Noordeinde is the official residence of Crown Prince Willem Alexander. Haguers are of course extremely proud of the local boy's wedding last February 2. Although Willem Alexander, 34, tied the knot with Maxima Zorreguita in Amsterdam, The Hague was also the scene of parties and concerts.

Music lovers visiting The Hague for the weekend shouldn't miss an evening at the "Residentie Orkest", featuring the young conductor Jaap van Zweden. The orchestra has both a classical repertoire, for example the works of Bach, Mozart and Mahler, and performs modern compositions. Founded in 1904, it has been headed by a string of famous conductors, among them Igor Stravinsky, Max Reger, and Maurice Ravel as well as Leonard Bernstein and John Cage.

The winter exhibitions are listed on the Internet under, the Spanish painters under Tickets for the orchestra can be booked under