Linn is eleven years old. A beautiful little girl from Medemblik. She has long flowing hair, is a Billie Eilish fan and is preparing to go to senior school next year. Naturally, she knows what war is. And she has already learned a lot about the Second World War. But what exactly is freedom? She finds this so normal that she never stops to think about it. The inspired Wim Gutter (85) from Andijk shows her in the war museum in Medemblik.
We are on an industrial estate. Somewhere between the shipyards and carpenters, is the home of the Educational WWII Centre. Medemblik now has a gem of an addition with this war museum. You would think that there are more pleasant subjects than war and misery. But this place knows how to enchant you and you definitely leave feeling good and enriched.
Come to life
The tales of West Friesland in times of war and liberation are told and depicted here. But a visit goes further than that. “It shouldn't just be a story. We want this period to come to life for you,'' explains Lars Rustenburg (24) from Medemblik. Lars runs the museum with his family and a group of enthusiastic volunteers. His mother Sietske is involved in the decorative details and his father Robin works on the dozens of military vehicles: more about these later.
On entering, we see a reconstructed village square as it might have looked at the time. There is a shop, house, printing works and cobbled street with play equipment and other children's entertainment. Linn and Wim meet in the cafe. They drink lemonade and coffee. A 'Recommended' sign in Frisian is on the bar. Carpets are on the table, as well as old newspapers and board games.
Wim says he was an 'inquisitive rascal', about 80 years ago. "I was six or seven years old and wanted to be first in everything." Linn listens attentively while he talks about marching Germans who rumbled through the village, the raids and the National Socialist Movement members. About how exciting he found it. “Sometimes we lay on the road. Hordes of planes flew over us. Thousands. And those buffalo vehicles!
I found it mighty interesting. But of course, we knew very well that it was wartime and that you should dislike the Germans.''
How things have changed. Linn knows Germany from holidays and from the tourists who enjoy visiting her town in the summer. The slang word "mof" doesn't mean anything to her. And freedom? She shrugs slightly when we walk through the banquet hall. In addition to a replica of 'The Night Watch' (the masterpiece was kept in Medemblik for some time to protect it from the occupiers), the term 'being free' is also discussed. Lars: “Wim experienced the occupation. He knows what it’s like not to be free. 75 years later, young people take it for granted. But we forget that 70% of people do not live in complete freedom.''
The museum makes it abundantly clear that freedom was celebrated exuberantly 75 years ago. The village shop has a party dress hanging in the window, flags are flying and the liberation is in the headlines in the newspapers. “You can also experience liberation parties here in the banquet hall. Combining the useful and the pleasant,'' explains Lars.
We take a look at the authentic cinema, the classroom and the printing works. Everything is taken care of down to the finest details. An endearing cuckoo clock hangs in the cosy house and visitors can join in and knit a warm scarf. "It’s so small here!" Linn shouts in surprise. "My bedroom is the same size as this entire house." She can barely stand in the cramped sleeping loft.
With music by Vera Lynn playing in the background - daily music from that time - Linn strays through a mountain of army uniforms. A costume party follows. Now that she thinks she has seen everything, another door opens. A huge warehouse appears, full of military vehicles. They are impeccable and every engine is running, thanks to the achievement of Robin and many lovely volunteers. Whereas the 'civil' part of the museum portrays daily life, this military part highlights the army, warfare and the strategic work. Wim is amazed. "What a lot of buffalos Linn, huh?" He shouts.
Back at the printing works, the food stamps appear. Wim: “You couldn't just buy something: everything was rationed with coupons. It was a big deal when you got one for a lollipop. But a crumpled coupon wouldn’t get you anything." He sighs and continues:
"Linn, whatever you do, never follow a bunch of windbags, like Hitler. Know what you want and what you think. Never forget that, okay?" She nods in agreement and hops out of the street.
Wim Gutter and Linn Sluis