Silent Listening Walk
The Hague is a very unusual urban landscape. I’ve always been intrigued by its discretion. So much is hidden from the public – there is a secretive aspect to this city of politics and walls and diplomats and nobility and discrete wealth. Let’s take a walk together through the centrum, and listen to the city, as if it were a musical composition – it’s a great way to discover more than meets the eye. This ‘silent walk’ is also a ‘slow walk’, and lasts one hour.
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This is a silent walking tour created for KABK photography students on September 3rd.
We will walk through the city quietly, listening to the sounds around us, for about one hour.
Turn off your phone, and focus on your senses. Of course the visual, because the architecture is varied and interesting. But also the sound, and the smells…sometimes just close your eyes, and stand still, and LISTEN to the city.
Most places in the center of Den Haag share certain sounds: auto and delivery traffic, lots of bicycles, pedestrians, the sounds of trams and their bells. Then there are sounds that are periodic, such as the bells and the carillon which ring on the hour and quarter hour. And there are weather sounds, such as the wind and the rain, and the rustle of trees and leaves. And there are the new covid sounds, like the air-conditioning systems which now run day and night at maximum speed.
But some spaces also have their own sounds, such as the lapping of water from small canals, or the sound of fountains, the openness of a few large spaces, and the discretion of many small courtyards.
What do these sounds say about power? …about segregation between public and private? …about walls, about government, about finance?
- MAP of some places we will visit
3. PLACES OF INTEREST THAT WE WILL VISIT
Kabinet van de Koning
This is the elegant mansion that houses the King’s Chambers/royal offices. Behind it is a hidden courtyard which you can usually walk into. We will try to go there if we can. Otherwise go there during the week, in the late morning when the light is nicest. The King receives ministers and announces governmental decisions here. The building was begun as a private house in 1635, and is known as the Huis van Pauw. The facade was redesigned in 1724 by the architect Daniel Marot.
The vijfer, or pond, has been this way for many centuries. It’s the largest open space in The Hague, except for the Malieveld, I guess. The sunsets are exceptional from here, and you often see photographers setting up their cameras for that perfect pic on summer nights.
The Houses of Parliament form a wall to one side of the vijfer, resembling a medieval castle, though many of the buildings are more recent. I find it strange that all the buildings are turned inwards, to their courtyard. The Mauritshuis is a private mansion with a colonial burden, which now is public and houses one of the world’s impressive art collections. Normally it’s crowded, but during the covid crisis, it’s been a treat to see the art without all the tourists.
The pointless Island without a Name (but with a history!)
This island has no name, but has been used by protesters over the years for various causes. There is no way to get there, and nothing to do if you did. Often it looks very overgrown and messy. It’s in plain sight, but kind of doesn’t exist. Why is it there at all?
This allée was inspired by Berlin’s famous Unter die Linden park. I find that the trees are elegant all year round, even when they’re bare in winter. But there is also a lot of traffic. There used to be a cute little tramline which came along here, as far as the Hotel des Indes. Too bad it’s gone now. During the Vietnam War, this was the place for anti-american protests. Unlike Paris or Berlin, the allée doesn’t really go anywhere, and there are no visual focal-points. So it’s oddly static. The best time to walk here is early on a Sunday morning, when it’s really peaceful.
Like most medieval Dutch cities, The Hague has made a big effort to keep cars off the streets, and this is part of it, one of several new underground parking garages. But there is a counter argument that these enormous spaces also encourage driving, because they make it so easy to park near shops and restaurants. On weekdays the garage is full of expensive Mercedes, BWMs, and Lexus’, driven in by the bankers and lawyers and politicians who work in this area. On weekends, the brands are more democratic, with visitors to the shops and theater.
former US Embassy
This building was designed by Marcel Breuer in 1955. It’s a famous example of the ‘brutalism’ style of architecture. Originally the structure was open to the public, and Dutch people could come here to watch American movies and eat hamburgers. But gradually it became fortified against terrorist threats and protected against demonstrators. I have a studio on the third floor, along with a group of other artists. The bottom floors of the building are managed by Museum West. If you have a museum card, you can visit their exhibitions for free. (otherwise it’s 10 euros). There’s a student discount.
Ministry of Finances (fountain)
Thousands of people walk by this subtle fountain every day, and no one notices it. You have to get really close to appreciate it. It’s a shame that the bikes are in the way.
Ministry of Finance (courtyard)
The courtyard is also called the Platanenhof, after the trees. The building has a winter garden (which you can’t visit unfortunately) with a soaring atrium. The public garden has planters shaped like ovals, each with grass and a light and a tree.
[GuyLivingston is a pianist and podcaster, specializing in the history of the avant-garde]