We all know The Netherlands (or better known as Holland internationally) as the land of windmills and tulips, and also not forgetting that they contributed wooden clogs and Heineken beer to popular culture. Besides the more well known cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Arnhem is a city on the eastern side of The Netherlands. Most people may not know about Arnhem (sometimes spelled Arnheim which is the German name), but once you mention about the war film ‘A Bridge Too Far’, this city becomes prominent as it was the site of a famous battle in WW2.
I stayed in Arnhem for 2 weeks in 1996 during my time as an engineer sent to inspect and commission some factory equipment before it was sent to Singapore for installation. The Netherlands was the first European country that I’d set foot on, not counting Frankfurt Airport where I was just a transit passenger. So the vendor arranged a car pickup for me from Schiphol Airport to Arnhem. It was a Sunday when I arrived and when I reached Arnhem, it was like a ghost town. The streets were mostly empty of people and cars. I guess nobody goes out on a Sunday in Arnhem.
I spent the rest of Sunday and the next few days exploring Arnhem. It’s a small city with a population of more than 150,000 in 2014. In 1996 it must have been even smaller, and Arnhem is considered one of the larger cities in The Netherlands. That’s really tiny by Asian city standards.
In WW2, the Battle of Arnhem was one of the defining moments in war history. During Operation Market Garden (1944), the Allies tried to secure the bridge in Arnhem from the German forces. The majority of the troops parachuted too far away and only a small British force managed to reach the bridge, but were too weak to secure the bridge from the Germans. The British fought bravely against an overwhelming German force but finally ran out of ammunition and were captured by the Germans. These events were dramatized in the 1977 film ‘A Bridge Too Far’ starring big names like Michael Caine, Sean Connery and Anthony Hopkins.
So I spent the next 2 weeks shuttling between the vendor’s factory and hotel, inspecting and testing the equipment to make sure it was ready for shipping to Asia. It’s always good to be the customer since the vendor will take care of your every need, big or small. During some of the lunch breaks, they would bring me for some site seeing trips near Arnhem.
Windmills were once used to operate pumps for pumping seawater out to form the Polders. But electrical pumps have replaced the windmills over time. I didn’t see any windmills for the past 1 week that I was in The Netherlands, so I happened to mention this to one of the vendor’s engineers. It was more of a curiosity statement since The Netherlands is supposed to be famous for windmills and it was strange not to see any. So as if by magic, during one of the lunch breaks, they came to me and said “Let’s go see some windmills.”… Darn, it’s good to be the customer.
On another day, the vendor brought me to see some castles. I guess they wanted to make sure I wouldn’t think that the Dutch only knew how to build windmills.
My stay in Arnhem was quite pleasant. The Dutch are really friendly people and helpful to strangers. Besides, Arnhem, the other places in The Netherlands which I visited on the same trip, I will save it for another blog post.