Those who think that the use of modern technology is what makes or breaks a museum have clearly not visited Rembrandthuis yet. Travel 400 years back in time and discover the sleeping, eating and, of course, painting arrangements of Rembrandt. In his studio, they still make the paint out of the same pigment that he used, and two stories lower you can examine the workings of a 17th-century press.
Between the sheets, ink and a big wooden press you will find an American man shrouded in a big apron. With the ink he greases an iron plate, which bears an engraving of one of Rembrandt’s images. In the old days, dogs were a useful resource for the printing procedure, as their skin has few pores (that’s why they gasp and pant so much) – therefore, dog leather does not absorb much ink so nothing dries out. It makes a perfect tool for spreading the ink, which back in the day was made of burnt animal bones.
After being invited to feel the different sorts of paper Rembrandt could choose from, the American puts a sheet of paper on the inked-in plate. Due to the relief of the plate, not everything turns black, which is on purpose. The whole package is sent under the press a second time et voila! A Rembrandt is born!
The audio tour will lead you through the rest of the house and you will hear not only the stories of the many paintings on the walls, but also those of arguments between Rembrandt and his mistress about alimony payments for their extramarital child. This old house offers the perfect combination of gossip, art and old-fashioned craft.
Microbes are the smallest and most versatile form of life on Earth. We are somewhat aware of the microorganisms that surround us: germs, bleu cheese and washing your hands after going to the toilet. But did you know that at any given moment you are carrying a kilo and a half of these microbes around with you? Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Museum Micropia brings this micro-world to life.
Microscopes are waiting for you to use them as a true lab technician. Just zoom-in to see the lively water fleas, or focus the lens to see the fungus. The beauty of the micro world is breath-taking and it takes me a few moments before I realize that my skin also bears the now familiar corral-like pattern of the fungus.
The museum makes it perfectly clear that bacteria are not a threatened species. With the ‘Kiss-o-meter’, you are invited to kiss (in what other museum can you do that?) and the message is ‘Congratulations, you have just exchanged 80 million bacteria.’ If you compare this to the number of people, it means that in those few seconds you exchanged the whole population of Germany with that of Turkey. But imagine now that there are more bacteria present in your mouth than there are people on Earth, and you will see that the movement of 80 million microbes is not as drastic as it sounds.
Because all this life is so incredibly small and adaptable, you could say that Micropia is almost a philosophical experience, where the unseen is magnified to its true life-changing potential. Visit the museum and explore the kilo and a half of microbes that you provide a home.
Taking a moment to relax and stretch your muscles at the museum café: what’s not to love? This is an opportunity to discuss the experience and let it sink in, to recharge your batteries or to simply satiate your hunger. I have been known to enjoy all three at times. Usually they also offer a high quality of service and a great atmosphere. So great, in fact, that you will be drawn there the next time you pass by, even though you might not be hungry or tired, or want to discuss the paintings you’ve just seen. Guilty again.
Luckily, you don’t need an entry ticket to visit a museum café, which is handy if you’re only interested in the food, not the art. Or if you just need a change of scenery: De Plantage offers plenty of scenery.
Already familiar with Moes?
Moes is a cosy café at the Appel arts centre. Situated underground and featuring a modern interior, it has a homely feeling, even though they might have gone a bit too far with the airport signage. The service is fantastic and welcoming, and the menu offers healthy classics prepared with local and sustainable products which will pleasantly surprise your taste buds. Their burger is by the looks of it the only non-healthy option and the portions are on the small side, but hey, I like that. Unfortunately, you can’t eat here during the week, however, the café is open longer than the museum, which means you will be able to enjoy a three-course dinner and some great beer after a day at the museum. You can even bring your own bottle of wine, if you are so inclined.
Some museums leave you feeling as though you will never see them in their entirety, that you need to choose something to focus on. Jewish Historical Museum is one of them. The permanent exhibitions on Jewish religion and history, plus two temporary exhibitions are just too much to take in for one visit. This is ideal for those who hold a multiple entry museum pass and can always come back to continue where they left off, but the one-time visitor will need to make a plan and decide how to criss-cross the museum, or alternatively, be blessed with an unending attention span.
The fact that the museum seems to ask its visitors to choose a focus actually fits the message they are intending to deliver. The Jewish people have a moral obligation to perfect the world, which they try to accomplish by spreading awareness. And the only way to do that is to take time with important moments and events, whether it’s together with others or individually. Even though the teachings of this religion are more than four thousand years old, its message still rings true today.
The museum is very inspiring, but the sheer number of stories and objects on display makes it difficult to remain focused. All the touchscreens with even more menus, two auditoriums, four hundred years of history and all the art combined with a vibrating phone in my pocket and a long to-do list in my head make me wish I had time for reflection. Glancing out the window, I can see the Portuguese Synagogue – my next stop?
The current exhibition at the Tropenmuseum, The Sixties – A worldwide happening, offers playful insights into the 60s in the West, as well as Asia and Africa. Even though they were politically turbulent years, cultural life flourished and people were liberated like never before. The last point can especially be seen in the Tropenmuseum. Or is it not just perfectly balanced?
Upon entering, the exhibition springs to life with life-sized dolls and objects, arranged in a playful manner. Where shall we begin? I was free to choose my own route, probably as a sort of consequence of the emerging postmodernism of this still somewhat chaotic decade.
The 60s played out with the background of WWII, decolonization and the Cold War. Independence for countries in Africa and Asia represented a search for their own culture and identity. On the other hand, in the West there were protests against the Cold War and capitalism was expressed through posters, slogans and music. Despite their differences, east and west found inspiration and refuge in each other. Western influences seeped through to the eastern culture, and eastern spirituality, free drug use and new fashion styles fed the so-called hippie period.
The 60s were a period of liberation, unending creativity and also technological advancement, and this exhibition represents just that. The background and causes of this cultural phenomenon remain largely unexplored. It is difficult to assess how the young of today and the unknowledgeable visitor will experience the exhibition, and if they will really notice the playful side of it. Go see for yourself and enjoy. As John Lennon once said: ‘Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.’
The Sixties – A worldwide happening was shown in the Tropenmuseum until March 13th.