Life in a Small Dutch Country Village
I live in a small Dutch village Maarheeze in the Dutch municipality Cranendonck. Have lived there for nearly twenty years now.
There is nothing spectacular about this village. No tourist guides have ever been written about it and I expect none will ever be.
You won't find top shops here or any haute couture or any haute cuisine for that matter.
No wars have been won here or lost. We do not have the highest building, host the largest festivals or boast the largest cinema. [In fact we don't even have a cinema!]
Maarheeze is just your average small Dutch village. People are born here, people die here. People fall in love and out of love within our village boundaries. Some are happy, others are sad. Some of my village people are poor, even more find it hard to make ends meet. At least one inhabitant is obscenely rich!
Too many are looking for a job. Many young people leave for the city because...
The former municipality of Maarheeze counted 9168 inhabitants in 1996 and covered an area of 55.23 km ².
The municipality of Maarheeze underwent several boundary changes. It was established in 1810, but in 1925 the villages of Soerendonk, Sterksel and Gastel were merged to form the new municipality of Maarheeze. In 1997, with the exception of Sterksel, four villages merged with Budel (a few kilometers down the road) under the historical name Cranendonck.
Cafes and Restaurants
It always surprises me how many cafes and restaurants this part of The Netherlands has.
This is particularly strange when you realise many cafes and restaurants are struggling to get by.
This has, as far as I know, always been the case.
But still many people like the idea of being in this line of business. It won't surprise me if many of their landlords have a (part time) job on the side.
I had to take a photograph of this cafe annex gas station. It was built in 1913.
I enjoy the entrepreneurial spirit of people. These are no exception. Built a gas station behind a cafe.
You know they even rented a trailer for some time.
We used it several times to move junk to the landfill.
Unfortunately, one customer rented it but never brought it back.
The trailer probably spent its last years enjoying the sun abroad.
The Stationstraat, one of the main roads running through our village looks uninviting, doesn't it?
Boring is the word that comes in mind.
Where is everybody?
But do you see how neatly the hedges are trimmed and how clean the street looks.
Even spotted some tulips growing in a pot along the side of the street.
How nice is that!
It is hard to imagine that, during the yearly Carnival that is celebrated in this village, this street is traditional the scene of a colourful parade with many self-built floats and festively dressed groups.
A bit like in 'Rio de Janeiro' carnival but without the sun-bronzed bodies!
How could it be, our carnival is always in winter.
I added a photo of an empty, abandoned Catholic school.
In our country education is divided over schools for different age groups and educational levels. Schools are also divided into public and special (religious) schools.
In this part of the Netherlands, the Catholic schools form a majority.
The two catholic schools in our village merged into one and joined the public school in a newly built building.
It is becoming increasingly difficult due to low birth rates to fill classes in this region.
Our country is often portrayed as a country where people wear wooden shoes, cycle past windmills with a piece of cheese in one hand and a joint in the other.
Well, the cycle part could well (still) be true.
There is a vast array of cycle paths and signs meant for cyclists alone.
The green sign on the right shows two numbers 58 en 59.
They are part of a cycle network where you can define your route in advance by following the numbers.
We have an extensive network of cycle paths available for tourism and recreation.
15% do not have the Dutch nationality
Area: 1.994 hectare
Largest Age Group: 45 - 64:30%
Average House Price: 330.781 euro
"Wij Gaan Verhuizen" is Dutch for "We Are Moving."
In this case, this photographer moved his business to a slightly bigger city.
If you are old enough to remember Photo Cameras with real film (Kodak, Fuji) you will have been aware of the huge change taken place in that business.
In the "old"days you visited a photo shop to buy film and after shooting your photos to develop your films.
I can remember feeling the excitement when I was handed the envelopes with photos, say after a holiday, and see how they turned out.
The good or decent photos found their way into a photo album.
These albums you often bought at the same address.
Since Apple introduced the smartphone millions of peoples abandoned their photo cameras to shoot pictures with their smartphone.
A whole online industry (Instagram, Flickr, Picasa) developed around it.
But at the end of the day the revenue of your favorite photo shop dried up.
And they had to close.
It is hard to believe that until last year we had a annex of one of the Dutch banks in our village. Closed now.
To talk to a person face to face we have to drive to the next village.
Till they close that office too, presumably much faster than I anticipate.
ATM's have taken over the jobs of cashiers.
Luckily for us the traditional "Patat zaak" is still in business.
Our local market is too small for the McDonald's of this world to kill the last independent fast food vendor.
Patat (or chips, like in fish and chips) is a fast food that we Dutch and Belgians are fond of.
But preferably not with disgusting ketchup (made in the USA) but with creamy and calorie rich mayonnaise or peanut sauce.
And for the brave, they can even order a "Patatje Oorlog" (French Fries with mayonnaise, onions, curry sauce and peanut sauce).
Oorlog is Dutch for war.
And in our village we still can get a "normal" cup of coffee for less than 2$.
No Starbucks, Nero's or Costa's to "experience" your coffee.
No, just the real deal!
Do You Enjoy Walking Through The Countryside?
Every Picture Tells A Story
On one of the few crossings in our village, you can find two bar/cafes and one gas station.
One of the bars/cafes operates from what used to be a traditional farm house.
It has a dark interior and serves a light meal, coffee and a nice beer.
If you could rewind the clock to let's say ten or twenty years ago, you'd see not much has changed on that front.
The gas station is another matter.
It used to be a Shell or Esso gas station. Well known Dutch/UK and US companies.
Unfortunately, our central government has raised excessive duties on petrol, tobacco and a lot of alcoholic beverages to ridiculous levels.
At the same time, since we are now part of the EU, free movement of people and capital is allowed.
So you can guess what happened in the border areas of our country.
A lot of our fellow country men shop on the other side of the border.
Our village lies next to Belgium.
As a consequence of the lower duties on petrol in Belgium a lot of people simply gas there.
No UK/Dutch or US oil companies are willing to invest in a lost cause, but fortunately Russians have money to burn.
Tons of money actually.
So now Lukoil (Russia's second largest oil company) has a franchise here.
In one photo you see the result of the new global economic reality coinciding with traditional local business.
One of these farms dates from 1779.
She owns a beautiful gable.
The farm has remained in the same family for over 225 years!
Most traditional farmhouses are inhabited by citizens now.
Many farmers run industrial pig and chicken farms, polluting the air and (often) not caring less about animal welfare and for that matter our health too.
The agribusiness lobby is a forceful lobby in Europe.
But why should I complain?
They provide us with plenty of penicillin rich foods, resistant bacteria and Q fever.
But I digress.
However, sometimes I find it hard to understand that we live in an area without much heavy industry but even so our air is invested with particulates from mass produced living animals.
This neo-Romanesque church dates back to 1910.
The adjacent rectory from 1821.
When you come to our village over the highway (from north or from the south) those two church towers serve as a beacon.
Telling me, you are nearly home, Raymond.
The church clocks have a beautiful sound when they ring.
The cemetery on the front side of the church is almost full.
But there's still room at the back.
I heard the other day that the majority of deceased Dutch people are cremated instead of buried nowadays.
And that's what is in store for me too.
But I can wait.
No hurry yet.
The number of Dutch that are members of a religious community has declined sharply between 1958 and 1995, from 75 percent in 1958 to 40 percent in 1995.
The figures are probably even much lower now.
The number of atheists and agnostics is quite high in our country.
Many people no longer believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force.
One of the consequences of all this is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to uphold these churches financially and to form congregations.
Just Outside The Urban Area
We love animals too! We even have a pet hotel.
The name 'Maarheeze' contains the word 'Maar', that means 'swamp' and "heeze" that means 'passage.'
Maarheeze must have been a passage through the swamp once upon a time.
When you walk through the countryside here it is mostly green with pastures (cows, sheep and horses), some small patches of forest and agriculture. And we have quite some asparagus fields.
It is quite a rural place. And I love to walk here.
The core village Maarheeze emerged as an "esdorp."
The "es" was a common field. Often a little higher than the village.
This high position was partly caused by the method of fertilization of the es, and partly because the locations in itself were higher.
Cows and sheep would be gathered there in the evening until the morning.
The oldest written reference of our village dates back to 1289 when Willem van Cranendonk was called the lord of Maarheeze.
Bee Garden and Volunteers
One of the things I found refreshing when I came to live in this area of the Netherlands was the fact that a lot of people work on projects together as volunteers.
For instance this initiative.
Running a flower garden to accommodate the local bee population is one of the many initiatives where people come together and try to make the world a more beautiful place for all of us.
Kasteel van Cranendonck
Around 1250 a castle was built between Maarheeze and Soerendonk.
It was named after the natural circumstances of the surroundings.
'Kraan' after kraan from kraanvogel (crane) and donk (hill).
The castle knows a rich history and it even has a connection to our current Royal family.
From the middle of the 16th century it belonged to the 'Oranjes' (that's the name of the Royal family, Orange).
In 1820 it was sold to a private owner.
The French demolished the castle almost completely in 1673, the farm next to the castle was torn down in 1899 and replaced by a villa, the current 'castle'.
In 1938 the council purchased the castle, renovated it and used it as a town hall till 1996.
Today it is frequently used as a wedding location.
At the beginning of the last century the parts of the castle above ground were removed.
In 1996 the foundations of the castle appeared through exploratory drilling.
After extensive research the former contours of the castle were charted and in 2008 these were indicated in the spot.
Let's Rock And Roll
This is the youth center next to the church.
Our son performed here once with his band.
The band is now extinct.
Our son moved to England.
His friends are still making music.
I must admit I loved driving these kids around.
It was fun while it lasted.
This is how they sounded live.
"Well I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in a small town
Ah, that's prob'ly where they'll bury me""