From the pile of grass heaped alongside his rickety stool, Ruud is weaving rope using a traditional Dutch technique. Steady and confident, he wraps the thin pieces around and around each other until they form a strong length.
The loose sleeves of his basic cloth shirt are rolled up to his elbows as he gets into his work. The young Dutchman pauses to shoo away a goose that has escaped from its pen, where a pair of pigs are rolling around in the muck.
On one side of Ruud is a small barn piled with ancient agricultural tools, on the other is a rudimentary fireplace above which is a giant steel pot. Beside him is a fur pelt, presumably to provide warmth as the afternoon stretches into the evening.
The sun has disappeared behind the thatched barn alongside the animal pen. Schoolchildren and tourists sometimes sleep in that barn, Ruud points out. It is part of immersive experiences offered by the Eindhoven Museum, this open-air historical ‘theme park’ which recreates an ancient Dutch village.
Here, in a quiet and beautiful suburb of this mid-sized city in the Netherlands, well-trained museum staff dressed in traditional Dutch garb populate the authentic-looking village. The sprawling area adjacent to Eindhoven’s lovely Genneper Park is at the same time attractive and primitive.
Its waterside location and quiet are wonderfully soothing after a day spent indulging in the cosmopolitan delights of downtown Eindhoven.
Beyond the city’s modern train station, chic shopping district and state-of- the-art soccer stadium, the museum provides a stark contrast.
Where Eindhoven is a spotless, sophisticated and orderly city, the museum’s grounds are intended to be as rough and crude as the original settlements were. It is not modelled on a specific period but instead incorporates elements of day-to-day life during the Iron and Middle Ages.
Ruud tells me that while the entertainment of guests is key to maintaining the museum’s popularity, education is the primary aim.
“We want to teach people about what life was like many years ago to show them how much the world has moved,” Ruud says. “It is fascinating how much more complicated life was in many ways centuries ago, the way so many things had to be done by hand. The best way to teach our visitors about these old ways of life is to do it, to actually show them.”
When I found Ruud weaving, he had been sitting by himself in silence with a contented look on his face. I had asked him what the rope would be used for and he shrugged. “It’s just important to make it to show people. And I find it very relaxing, so that is good to,” he said with a laugh.
Ruud’s laid-back and amiable demeanour is typical of the museum itself. There is no hard sell on visitors to join in one of the many paid activities on offer. Just like Ruud, the staff seemed to love working in the unusual environment and are enthusiastic in their displays of traditional skills and crafts.
From rope-weaving to masonry, agriculture and metalwork demonstrations, the museum allows visitors to either watch or take part.
The experiences offered by the museum are comprehensive. Visitors can “train” to become a baker, chef, blacksmith, or a farmhand — chopping wood, building fires and tending to the animals.
The baking course costs $AUD55 per person and takes four hours. Participants go through the entire medieval baking process, first grinding grain then kneading dough and cooking bread in a traditional loam oven.
If you’re still peckish after eating your fresh bread, you can head to the museum’s basic kitchen for the four-hour “Gourmand” course which involves the preparation of a huge Dutch meal of the Middle Ages.
The museum’s on-site “Ancient Tavern” offers food and drinks throughout the day served from old-style dishes and cups.
Chances are that you will have worked up an appetite if you do the most intensive of the museum’s “experiences” — called “the secret of the blacksmith”. I watched as a group of Dutch teenagers slowly became comfortable in the blacksmith’s antiquated workshop. Under expert instruction, they hammered hot iron on an anvil until it had formed into a medieval tool.
Whether shepherding a goose back into its pen, mending a wooden fence, practising ancient sports, cooking a traditional meal, or just having a chat with Ruud as he makes rope, the Eindhoven Museum is a fascinating and unique place.
The Eindhoven Museum is easily reached by taxi from downtown Eindhoven. But if you have the energy, it is advisable to walk as the suburbs linking the museum with the city centre are gorgeous and lined with many cute cafes and restaurants.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 5pm, although during winter it is closed, shutting down in November and re-opening in March. http://www.eindhovenmuseum.nl/en
Eindhoven is the fifth-largest city in the Netherlands, with a population of about 220,000. It is 120km south of the capital and tourist hotspot, Amsterdam. There are regular trains from Amsterdam to Eindhoven and the journey is about 75 minutes.
Published under license from Well Travelled