The Dutch

The Lowlanders from the Netherlands

In our special edition of the Cult-ED class we take you to the Netherlands. The lowlands between the sea and the sky. The Netherlands are located in Europe and borders the sea and some land parts are even below the sea level.

Jimmy Nelson can usually be found in the farthest corners of the world. But in spring 2020, travel suddenly became impossible by the pandemic. So instead of flying around the world, Jimmy stayed in the Netherlands, riding his bike all through the country’s fishing villages, polder landscapes and old fortified towns. This is where he discovered traditional Dutch dress and realized that it is just as unique as those of the Papuans or Maasai he had marveled at before.

Do you want to know everything about the Netherlands and the inhabitants? Then join us on a digital journey to meet the Dutch.


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To accompany the Cult-ED download the Jimmy Nelson App. Scanning the image from the worksheet with the app will enable you to step into the world behind the image, through your smartphone. Beautiful video material will guide you through breathtaking footage, but above all uncovers information about different cultures from around the world. No smartphone? Scroll down for all the videos.

The Netherlands | The lowlands between the sea and the sky

Marken - Noord-Holland

Marken has always had a love/hate relationship with the sea. Of course, the water provides the islanders with a source of income; life here is unthinkable without shipping and fishing.

But the sea is also a fickle mistress, giving lavishly one moment and savagely carrying everything off the next. Even the island’s very existence is due to the waves, which swept away the swampy tract of land that once connected it to the mainland. In the 13th century, the order of monks that settled here did their utmost to resist the water, building dykes and digging ditches to make the soil suitable for farming.

With the construction of the Afsluitdijk, further disasters were finally averted. Yet it also instantly killed off the fishing industry.

The Horse of Marken 1:00

Axel, South Zeeland

Axel flourished for a long time, the nutritious marine clay on the fields guaranteeing abundant harvests. Fishermen only had to lower their nets to be guaranteed a good catch. The town’s location on the West Scheldt river also meant it benefitted from passing trade headed for Antwerp and Ghent. When Belgium broke away, Zeelandic Flanders was cut off from the rest of the Netherlands, and Axel became an island a second time over.

Zeelandic Flanders 0:50
VOLENDAM, NOORD-HOLLAND: Volendam owes its very existence to their larger neighbour Edam. When the Edammers dug a new, more direct connection to the Zuiderzee in the 14th century, they no longer needed their old harbour mouth. So they closed it, filling up the dam—hence ‘Volendam’.

Katwijk, South Holland

Katwijk’s lookout—a small hut on wooden stilts—sat high above the dunes. Every day, an old fisherman, too worn out to go to sea, would climb its ladder to watch the horizon through a large pair of binoculars. When he spotted a ship in the distance, he’d squint, forcing his eyes, wearied by the wind and the weather, to decipher the number on its prow. Once he identified the vessel as local, he sent his assistant back to the village to spread the news as quickly as possible: Ship coming in!

During the fishing trips, spirits were high, and prayers of thanksgiving rose up all around. The duration of the fishing trips depended entirely on the whims of nature. Sometimes it was calm for days, so the fishermen bobbed around without anything to do, unable to catch a single fish. Other days, storms whipped up the waves as high as houses, toying with the ships like helpless little balls and carrying them off to unfamiliar waters where they were sure to run into a rival fleet.

Ship coming in! 0:51

Urk, Flevoland

Once the construction of the Afsluitdijk was underway, the ferocity of the unpredictable Zuiderzee was largely contained. But the people of Urk feared for the future of fishing, their only source of income. When the last hole in the new dyke was closed on 28 May, 1932, every single flag of Urk’s fleet flew at half-mast. But like its previous setbacks, this one, too, was overcome, and Urk reinvented itself as a hub for North Sea fishing. With the creation of the Noordoostpolder, Urk faced another major change. Suddenly they were attached to the mainland – but in the minds of its inhabitants, Urk remains an island. They do not live ‘in’ Urk but ‘on’ it.

On Urk! 0:59
ZAANSTREEK, NOORD-HOLLAND: If you were to use a time machine to explore the Zaan region’s past, you wouldn’t need to look at the calendar to know in what era you arrived: you could simply follow your nose! Is that fresh sawdust making you sneeze? Then you must be in the 17th century! Is there an unbearable stench of cod liver oil? Then you’ve gone back another century! But if all you can smell is cocoa powder and sugary biscuits, then it must be around 1900!

Spakenburg, Utrecht

The Dutch town of Spakenburg has its own deep-seated rivalry: the blues versus the reds. The blues are fans of SV Spakenburg, a football club founded by local dignitaries and wealthy farmers. The dressier outfits in the stands betray the club’s wealth; the working class doesn’t seem welcome here, neither as players nor spectators. So the less wealthy villagers set up their own club: the IJsselmeervogels. Its fans, the reds, are more down-to-earth. You’ll find no heels and manicured nails along the sidelines here, but jeans and baggy sweaters. The reds know that the blues look down on them; they can almost feel it in their bones, which only reinforces the fans’ passionate devotion.

But such contradictions aren’t limited to football: they go back to the village’s earliest years. At that time, it consisted of two different communities, Bunschoten and Spakenburg, separated by pastureland. The first was a handful of farms strung along a single road with low moors behind them. With their ingrained routines and convictions, the farmers considered the fishermen brash adventurers who let their lives depend on the wind and sea. The fishermen, in turn, felt misunderstood by their land-bound neighbours, because it took a lot of work to keep their heads above water.

the blues versus the reds 0:51

Leeuwarden, Friesland

All that grandeur made the Frisian capital a particularly attractive place to live. Moreover, it was actually well connected to the rest of the country. Leeuwarden wasn’t dependent on the few bad roads there were back then: an intricate network of canals, waterways and rivers guaranteed an expedient journey. If you wanted to go to Amsterdam, you could easily take a barge to Harlingen and from there continue across the Zuiderzee. If you wished to go elsewhere, a fleet of narrow sailboats could reach villages in even the remotest areas of the province.

Leeuwarden, Friesland 0:53
WALCHEREN, WEST-ZEELAND: Middelburg owed this strong position to its extremely favourable location in relation to both maritime routes and inland waterways. The Romans had already recognised the Walcheren peninsula’s strategic importance around the beginning of the Common Era. They founded a stronghold near present-day Domburg, which they called Walachria, and traded there extensively. Particularly important was the extraction of salt, called ‘Zeeland’s gold’, since the Romans used it to pay their troops.

Kampereiland, Overijssel

Despite its isolation and the ever-present danger of flooding, Kampereiland was in fact popular among farmers; they queued up to lease a piece of land. After all, this was the most fertile soil in the area, with grass thriving especially and the resulting hay highly sought after. With relatively little effort, farmers could earn a decent living here.

Kampereiland 0:59
STAPHORST, OVERIJSSEL: It’s especially on Sunday mornings that it becomes clear Staphorst’s kilometres-long dyke is really its lifeline. After leaving their farms on either side of the dyke, the villagers join a growing procession. The men walk together, and the women join their own separate groups. There is no talking, just thoughtful, almost solemn walking. Eyes largely locked to the ground while they stride on, upper bodies tilted slightly forward—especially those of the women, whose hips are padded underneath their skirts. This makes their entire walk to church look like the Staphorsters are determinedly fighting a headwind.

Zuid-Beveland, Centraal-Zeeland

Zeelanders are go-getters who don’t give up easily. Hardened by life on flat, open polders where strong winds have free rein, they set their eyes firmly on the blue horizon, waiting for ships to return with holds full of fresh fish or other valuable commodities. Destructive storms or enemy armies also appeared on the same horizon, but Zeelanders never allowed themselves to be rattled; they simply dug their heels even deeper into the clay soil.

Don't give up easy! 1:00

Enkhuizen, Noord-Holland

Enkhuizen’s early wealth was all due to a small knife. It fits snugly into the palm of your hand and has a very short, razor-sharp blade. With this tool, an experienced fisherman can gut and gill a herring in no time. This ensures that the catch keeps longer and its taste is less bitter. Though this process was invented by a Zeelander, it was elevated to a true art by Enkhuizer fishermen. Cleaning the herring on board allowed their ships to stay at sea longer and catch far more than the competition. This made Enkhuizen’s fleet so superior that it dominated international trade, and Enkhuizen became known as Herring City.

Herring City 0:59
SCHEVENINGEN, ZUID-HOLLAND: The first fishermen settled in Scheveningen in the 13th century, when the Counts of Holland founded the nearby hamlet of Die Haghe, which eventually became The Hague. The nobility had a taste for fresh fish, and the Scheveningers enjoyed earning a pretty penny from the high and mighty. And although they didn’t feel like they were part of The Hague, Scheveningen was never actually a village in its own right.

Friesland, North of the Netherlands

Long ago, before the Common Era even started, there was once a king named Adel. He reigned over a prosperous city on the river Ganges. Its population was exploding, however, and King Adel had to prevent the city from overcrowding. So he decided to force some of his subjects to emigrate by way of a lottery determining who would leave. The unlucky ones were put on a gargantuan ship captained by his son, Prince Friso. The vessel was so wide that it even got stuck between the French and British coasts. Only by royally slicking the sides with soap did it manage to squeeze between the rocks of Dover and Calais, which have been white ever since. Not long after, the prince landed on an uninhabited coast and proudly erected a temple there to one of their old gods, Stavo. That place later grew into Stavoren, and he named the new territory after himself: Friesland.

Price Friso 0:59
HINDELOOPEN, THE SOUTH WEST OF FRIESLAND: Hindeloopen is just a tiny dot on the map and is comprised of a mere few streets protected by a meandering dyke. Even in its heyday, it numbered fewer than two thousand souls. Yet the village was once a major international hub, and the locals—or Hylpers as they like to call themselves—were known far and wide for their cosmopolitanism.

Schouwen-Duiveland, North Zeeland

On 31 January, 1953, fate struck Zeeland in the dead of night. Gale-force winds and an exceptionally high spring tide battered poorly maintained dykes until they gave way. Caught unawares by the furious swirling water, dozens of Zeelanders died in their beds. Others took refuge in attics or climbed onto rooftops. Help was slow to arrive, however, so the survivors were still stuck there when a second, even more devastating flood swept in the following night, destroying their houses and claiming yet more lives. A total of 1,836 poor souls perished

31 January 1953 0:49

Huizen, North-Holland

Huizen was just a poor small village when a rich farmer arrived one day and decided to stay. He bought the biggest farm there was and moved in with his horse and three cows—a level of wealth that was beyond most of the villagers’ wildest dreams.

When the newcomer put a sign on his fence offering Fresh Milk For Sale, Huizeners flocked to the farm. But the outsider set the price so high that no one could afford even a small jug. Instead of lowering the price, the farmer preferred to throw his milk into the well; litres of nutritious milk went to waste while hungry Huizeners looked on enviously.

This routine continued until, one sunny summer day, the sky suddenly turned grey, and pitch-black clouds gathered over the house of the greedy dairy farmer. Lightning and ear-piercing thunderclaps followed, sending the farmer into a blind panic as he fled his fields. When the lightning cracked open the well, a young woman rose up out of the bubbling fountain of milk, surrounded by a golden halo. She glowered at the farmer, and he froze, terrified. His true punishment was yet to come: a second flash of lightning struck him right in the middle of his petty-minded little heart. He reeled for a moment until he collapsed and dropped down dead into the well.

The young woman took over the farm and carried her yoke and milk pails past her poor neighbours’ houses every day, delivering a daily serving of dairy. After a few months, everyone in the village had regained their strength—and the young woman disappeared as suddenly as she had arrived. The Milkmaid still lives on in Huizen’s crest

The Milkmaid 0:59

Noordwest Veluwe

Inhospitable, impenetrable and inhabited by magical beings you’d better avoid: for centuries, this was the commonly held belief about the Veluwe, where a dark, dense, age-old forest once led into boggy marshland, a veil of mist lingering on even the sunniest of days. The first settlers felled the trees and filled in the ponds, creating heathland and, later, sand drifts; their villages lonely islands in a sea of desolate land.

Noordwest Veluwe 0:57
RIJSSEN, OVERIJSSEL: Rijssen’s curfew has been ringing out at half past nine every night, announcing the closing of the gates and allowing the townsfolk to sleep peacefully. Not that they had much cause to fear robbers or bandits: not even vagabonds dared venture through the swampy marshes surrounding the town. The only people who ever came to Rijssen either lived nearby or were travellers who had gotten hopelessly lost!