I remember Scheveningen’s coastline as a stark and uninviting, right-angled boulevard with a busy road running alongside. No longer so. A three-year comprehensive renovation project in this seaside resort has resulted in an elegant, curved boulevard with separate lanes on different levels for walking, cycling and motorized vehicles (one-way). Some 195 stylish streetlights running on LEDs contribute to safety at night. The architect of this major project is the Spaniard Manuel de Solà-Morales.
The beach is Scheveningen’s main attraction, but that’s not why I am here. Lined along the boulevard are 23 groups of bronze sculptures by Tom Otterness. They are part of the nearby Beelden aan Zee Museum (‘Sculptures along the Sea’ Museum). I’ve seen images in a book and want to see these fairytale figures in real.
Fairy Tales and Sea Legends
The Tom Otterness’ sculptures are close to the luxurious Kurhaus Hotel. All around me parents and grandparents pointing out to the youngest generation sculptures of fairy tales many of us grew up with, or explaining the sea legends that come with Holland’s age-long history of fishing.
And then there are many like me, who not only enjoy admiring the funny figures that bring a smile to your face, but who stand, sit, squat, crouch and even lie down in search of the perfect angle to capture them on camera.
Easy to identify are the two boxes with bars: one housing two emaciated children – Hansel and Gretel just captured – and the second with two bulky figures pushing aside the bars: Hans and Gretel fattened up. Other fairy tales and stories I recognize are Gepetto and Pinocchio, the Tin soldier and the ballerina, Moby Dick, the frog prince. Thanks to a Dutch book about these sculptures I learn about the Crying Giant, a modern tale about the giant (the US) crying after 9/11.
Gulliver and the Herring Eater
According to an explanatory panel on a wall, each sculpture should carry a QR scan, which will explain each fairy tale or sea legend. The panel displays a map indicating which sculpture expresses what story. A folder with this map is also distributed by the Beelden aan Zee Museum.
The story of Gulliver’s Travel to Lilliput is prominently present. Gulliver, with incredibly long legs, is chained to the ground by the tiny inhabitants of Lilliput, but your eye is automatically drawn to a tiny naughty figure sawing open a lock that holds Gulliver’s foot in place.
These cheerful, ten-centimeter high figures are everywhere – on the shoulder of a larger sculpture, climbing out of a bowl, checking out a hole, sitting on the edge of a stone, holding the toes of the Herring Eater. The Herring Eater is by far the largest sculpture of the collection, reaching 43 feet into the air, and based on Scheveningen being the Dutch center of the herring industry.
Beach life, the Old Harbor and Fish Restaurants
From the sculptures I continue my walk south along the beach. It’s too cold for a swim. Kids play in the sand, the bars and restaurants are frequented by guests who enjoy a cup of coffee, an elaborate meal or sunbathe in one of the sun loungers.
The beach ends at the entrance to the new harbor, characterized by humongous monsters that empty our seas. I prefer strolling about the old harbor just behind it, nowadays equipped for yachts. Along the harbor front are several fish restaurants: the perfect place for a glass of wine and a splendid meal in the late afternoon sun.
Tom Otterness’ Works in the World
By the way, there’s no need to travel to the Netherlands to see Tom Otterness’ sculptures. His best-known work is probably in New York: his Life Underground installation in the 14th Street / 8th Avenue subway station (2002). Other works by his hand have been exhibited in Puerto Rico, Valencia, Madrid, Münster and numerous cities in the United States.
- You can see Tom Otterness’ outdoor fairytale sculptures day and night, 7 days a week, free of charge.
- For practical information about the (indoor) Beelden aan Zee Museum, which is a stone’s throw away from the sculptures, check out their website.
- Nearby places worth a visit: the Kurhaus Hotel, a former health spa known for its grandeur and still Scheveningen’s centerpiece, and the old harbor. Not too far from here lies Madurodam, a miniature model of the Netherlands.
- Dutch book about Tom Otterness’ sculptures in Scheveningen: SprookjesBeelden aan Zee by Marijke Bouwhuis and Martine Letterie, ISBN 978-90-400-8307-5). Find it here.
- For tips on other interesting places in Netherlands, check out Insight Guides; find a copy here.
- For more sightseeing tips, see here.
All photos by Karin-Marijke Vis
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