A Visit to the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen, Netherlands

Enkhuizen is a picturesque little town roughly an hour’s drive north of Amsterdam. Although its population is modest at approximately 18,500, the town boasts one of the largest marinas in the Netherlands. In fact, back in the day, Enkhuizen was one of the major harbour towns for the Dutch East India Company.

Today, it’s better known for industries such as seed production companies and factories. But for tourists, the big draw here is the Zuiderzee Museum; a 15-acre open air museum.

One cool thing about this museum that not all museums have, is that you can get there by ferry. I would highly recommend this option. Sure, it’s just a short 15-minute walk from the train station. But the ferry is more fun, and only takes 25 minutes. Just make sure you purchase your tickets at the Visitor’s Office first before trying to board the ferry.

Zuiderzeemuseum sign

Travel to Zuiderzee Museum by water!

The first incarnation of the museum started around 1930, as a Southern Sea Fishing Exhibition. It featured cardboard houses and locals dressed in traditional costumes. But the plan to turn the idea into a proper museum was delayed by WWII. The indoor museum finally opened around 1948. Construction began on the outdoor component in 1968, though it didn’t actually open to the public until 1983.

The indoor museum has permanent and temporary exhibits covering topics on history, photography, and traditional dress. There are even interesting art installations, such as this mound of broken Delft pottery:

Most importantly, the museum houses the largest indoor display of wooden ships in the Netherlands.

The collection includes hunting boats, an ice boat, and a flat-bottomed fishing boat, among others.

The outdoor section of the Zuiderzee Museum focuses on daily life in the region between 1880 to 1930. And the outdoor museum portion was what I really wanted to see.

Some of the buildings here are replicas, while others were donated by local municipalities as an alternative to demolition. It was so pretty here! The streetscapes were really nicely laid out.

The buildings covered all aspects of town life, including houses, shops, churches and school rooms. The schoolhouse below was a replica of a primary school, originally built in 1828 in Kollum. The original building was destroyed by a fire in 1983. Luckily, it had already been measured to be replicated at Zuiderzee. This replica was built in 1990, and designed to look like a school would have in the early 1900s:

There were several types of houses showing every sort of economic background. Some houses were more modest, while others were richly decorated, depending on the livelihood of the owners. Many of the houses brought to Zuiderzee Museum were transported in one piece, not even dismantled first!

Some buildings had costumed interpreters. One of the more memorable moments came when we entered a small, dimly lit house. We were warmly greeted by the “owner”, a man who seemed to only speak Dutch. He proceeded to show us around his home, and suddenly my rusty, unused high school German classes started to kick in. I was able to start picking up enough of the similar words to understand at least some of what he was saying.

He pointed to his bed, which was designed like a large wooden cabinet with curtains. Between body language, gesturing, and his spoken explanations, I was able to interpret enough to follow along. The curtains and doors could be closed in the winter to keep in the warmth. He pointed to his stove and large cooking pot. I asked, in English, whether he used it for cooking stew. No, he said, still speaking Dutch, he usually cooked fish in it. (While I could remember enough German to understand him, I couldn’t remember enough words to reciprocate. But at this point I started to catch on that maybe he did, in fact understand English).

Then he pointed to his writing desk. He explained that he was the only person in the village who could read and write, so he often wrote letters for other people in town. He said he once wrote a letter to the Queen (probably meant to be Queen Wilhelmina, judging from the time period), though I failed to catch the reason for the correspondence. (No doubt to protest high taxes or some such thing).

As he spoke I translated what I could back to my husband, which started to draw a bit of amused interest from other visitors. Our back-and-forth exchange had gone on for about ten minutes before a lady asked me, “how do you each know what the other is saying? You’re not even speaking Dutch back to him!” I explained that I had learned German in high school, which had enough similarity to Dutch, that I was able to figure out much of what he was saying. At this point the jig was up, and the interpreter broke in. “I actually do speak English,” he admitted, “I just like to stay in character!” Ha, I knew it!

As we walked around a bit more, my husband decided he was getting snackish. Lucky for him, we had stopped in front of this little shopfront:

Mmmmm. Smoked herring! Well, ok, it’s not something I wanted to try. But my hubby is a lot braver than I am! It was a generous serving to get through, too:

He decided it was pretty good, but maybe not something he would want every day. They also had some fish outside drying in the sun, so it obviously has its fans:

For myself though, I’m all about cheese. And guess what? I was in luck! They had a cheese warehouse! Look, aren’t they beautiful?

This cheese warehouse, built in the early 1900s, could store up to 15,000 wheels of gouda. The wheels had to be turned regularly and rubbed with oil to prevent desiccation, and to keep mould from forming. The cheese aged for three months before being transported to Rotterdam for export to the Caribbean. This warehouse was also shipped to the museum in one piece by pontoon boat.

Mmmm, cheese

Cheese production seemed to be a natural fit in the Netherlands. The marshy land is great for dairy farming, and the canals and waterways offer easy transport of goods from town to town.

And of course, nothing goes better with cheese than a bit of smoked meat from the butcher shop:

zuiderzee museum

Another live display at Zuiderzee was the tanning of nets. I thought only leather goods were tanned, but no, other products were too. Nets, sails and rigging were tanned in a preservative to help them last longer. Oak bark was used for its tannic acid. The nets were boiled in the tannic solution for a few hours, then hung in the sun to dry.

If you’re lucky you can watch craftspeople knotting nets by hand on site. This is some pretty impressive work!

And of course, no museum in the Netherlands would be complete without a windmill!

We probably spent a good couple of hours here, including stopping at one of the on-site restaurants for lunch. And we could have spent more time, but we wanted to get back to Amsterdam before it got dark. As a day trip away from the big city, this was a nice way to spend an afternoon!

You can now download this article at GPSmyCity here: The Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen

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