Den Haag - Global City by the Sea
After living in Delft, Den Haag felt like a big, busy city. Here the sense of evolution and change was palpable. Throughout the Centrum, we walked along fences, behind which construction cranes rose above new towers under construction. Further exploration revealed a skyline of avant guard towers clustered between Centraal Station, the center of transport, and the vast white Stadhuis (City Hall).
It took a bit of searching to discover the Binnenhof, the historic heart of the city, but it was there, a graceful mass of brown brick turrets and walls at the edge of the Hofvijver, a small lake. Inside the courtyard, the Ridderzaal, the elegant Knights Hall, sat surrounded by the stately buildings where the Staten-Generaal, the Dutch Parliament, has met since 1446. For more about the Binnenhof, click here
Den Haag's Vision for the Future
Home to many international organizations including the International Court of Justice housed in magnificent Peace Palace (below, left), Europol, and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (below right), Den Haag is presently the international city of peace, justice and security and, according to the Strategy, it would like to expand upon this image in the coming years. According to the Strategy, "The city council intends to firstly profile The Hague even more as an international city that can more than adequately hold its own in a comparison with other European UN cities such as Brussels and Geneva. Secondly, the council plans to fully exploit the location by the sea through offering a wide range of amenities which attract tourists."
Our Life in the 'Big City'
During walks around our new neighborhood, we came to realize that Den Haag has a rich stock of elegant, charming residential buildings. Built from the 17th century onward, from solid Dutch brown brick with white trim, two to four stories high, these houses lined many blocks, fronted by wide sidewalks shaded by leafy street trees. In other areas, the buildings were of various ages, often difficult to guess, but the sense of style and grace was mostly always maintained. The concept of "mixed use", probably wasn't necessary in Den Haag; having shops and offices along residential streets was just normal.
With over 30% of the city's area being green space, parks and canals were never far away and pleins, the Dutch version of squares, occurred frequently. Usually with a statue or memorial in the center, trees along the edges, and sometimes with a church along one side, these pleins normally had a pub or cafe as well as several shops of various sorts.
The canals were another essential element of the city's infrastructure, providing transport, water management and security since early times. Like many cities in Zuid Holland, Den Haag had a ring of canals surrounding it with gates that were closed at night to prevent access from outside or to control floods, if necessary. Today, these canals provided ambiance and habitat as well as transport.
The great Haagse Bos, once the hunting grounds of the Dutch counts and stadholders, now enabled residents to walk, ride bikes or just hang out in green and leafy surroundings. A herd of deer still inhabited a section of the forest, although they were within a fence. Other parks, large and small, around the city enabled residents to play, walk, bike and relax when the weather was suitable. Of course, the fine beaches and dunes of the North Sea were a short tram ride away!
In the 1970s and '80s, Den Haag experienced a huge population expansion as people immigrated from Surinam, Turkey and Indonesia. This caused a shortage of housing and a movement of the native population to the suburbs, especially Leidschendam and Zoetermeer. The former is connected to the Centrum by trams and buses while the latter has recently been connected by the new 'Randstad' rail line that continues on to Rotterdam.
Serendipitous discoveries included incredible sand sculptures of Dutch masterworks (below left); a milonga in the Sint Jacobskerk where folks gathered on Sunday afternoon to dance the tango (below middle and right); and Wild Wonders, a stirring, emotional and visually stimulating open air photo gallery of 100 images showcasing Europe's biodiversity. Click here for more about Wild Wonders.
Of Palaces and Queens
Living well together
For us, we found that living in the Global City by the Sea was one of the more pleasant and comfortable experiences we have had!
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