A Bridge Too Far – Arnhem

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 checked into my hotel, a small one somewhere near the town centre. The lift was really tiny. It could only fit 1 person with luggage and you had to open the door manually. There was no inner door and you could see the wall slide past you as the lift moved up and down.
I checked into my hotel, a small one somewhere near the town centre. The lift was really tiny. It could only fit 1 person with luggage and you had to open the door manually. There was no inner door and you could see the wall slide past you as the lift moved up and down.

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.

The small square near my hotel. A Chinese restaurant and Heineken was all I could see.
The small square near my hotel. A Chinese restaurant and Heineken was all I could see. The streets were almost devoid of people on Sunday. Where did all the people go?
Dutch humor in their signs.
Dutch humor in their signs.
The most prominent building in Arnhem. It used to be a church but is used a museum of sorts and observatory tower.
The most prominent building in Arnhem. It used to be a church (St Eusebius’ Church) but is now used as a museum of sorts and observatory tower.
After climbing to the top of the tower you can see most of Arnhem. Here is the city church.
After climbing to the top of the tower you can see most of Arnhem.
I could also see the famous bridge from WW2 history.
I could also see the famous bridge from WW2 history (more about that later).

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.

Another view of the bridge from the river. It is now called the John Frost Bridge and is actually the third incarnation of the famous bridge. The original bridge was destroyed and rebuilt twice in WW2.
Another view of the bridge from the Lower Rhine River. It is now called the John Frost Bridge in memory of the Commander of the ill fated British force, and is actually the third incarnation of the famous bridge. The original bridge was destroyed and rebuilt twice in WW2.

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.

A brick kiln nearby the vendor's factory.
A brick kiln nearby the vendor’s factory.

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.

Arnhem is a good place to see original windmills which date back hundreds of years old.
Arnhem is a good place to see original windmills which date back more than a hundred years old. Many of these windmills are privately owned and you need to get permission from the owners to visit them.
A medieval windmill scene.
A medieval windmill scene. There are not many original windmills left as most of them have been demolished to make way for housing, since electrical pumps have taken over their function.
Another sign on the Polders which caught my attention. Eh... frogs crossing the road?
Another sign on the dikes which caught my attention. Eh… frogs crossing the road?

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.

Huis Bergh Castle is one of the largest castles in Netherlands. I didn't go inside but just looked at it from afar.
Huis Bergh Castle is one of the largest castles in Netherlands and dates back from the 13th century. I didn’t go inside, but you can actually book a luxury room in the castle’s tower to stay.
I visited Doornenburg Castle another day.
I visited Doornenburg Castle later that day. This is just the front castle and is connected to the main castle by a small bridge. It also dates back to the 13th century.
The main castle of Doornenburg. It was destroyed during WW2 but rebuilt to it's original state.
The main castle of Doornenburg. It was destroyed during WW2 but rebuilt to it’s original state.
The courtyard of Doornenburg Castle. It's free to enter the courtyard but you have to pay to go on a guided tour of the inside of the keep.
The courtyard of Doornenburg Castle. It’s free to enter the courtyard but you have to pay to go on a guided tour of the inside of the keep.

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.

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