Based on recommendations, we had intended to visit Alkmaar on Friday for the cheese market (suggested by Arnold van Veen) and off to Haarlem for the psychiatric museum, Het Dolhuys as suggested by our two retired psychologist home exchange women. Once we seriously looked at the logistics, we found the cheese market had ended the Friday before our arrival in the Netherlands.
Back in my pre-teens, because my father worked for the railroad, everyone in our family had a train pass for free transportation along the entire line. Wanting to show my parents how grown up I was, I took the hour and a half train ride to New York City. Having been to NYC a hundred times up to that point with family, I had unwarranted self-confidence. This was the first time I realized how geographically impaired I am. Within an hour of arriving, I found myself walking the streets of Harlem. Back in the late 60s it was far from being gentrified. An older black man approached me to ask why the hell I was there. When I told him I was lost, he firmly stated “Boy, you had better get your white ass out of here and fast.” He then directed me to return to the station. Each time I see Haarlem, though spelled differently, I remember that event and praise that man’s kindness.
This put the psychiatric museum at the front and center for our exploration outside of Amsterdam. Both of us having been social workers and having worked with many clients over the years it seemed like the psychiatric museum would be of particular interest. It is also kind of a quirky topic from museum, so our curiosities got the best of us.
Taking the train to Haarlem from Amsterdam is a short and breezy trip. We have been to Haarlem before, making the Museum our primary focus for this trip. It is only a few short blocks away from the train station making it easy to find.
Our Dutch ladies had mentioned that if we had smart phones we could get an English translation on our phones for free. However with that you failed to mention and I failed to think about was that you needed a Wi-Fi connection to make this possible.
The museum does not offer Wi-Fi, but another obstructing factor was I had yet to download a QR reader on my new smartphone. If you don’t think you are familiar with QR, chances are you are seen them all over, but don’t recognize the term. QRs are those funny square boxes that look like a child’s black crayon drawing or a maze on steroids. These have inherent coded information which turns into something recognizable once it is scanned.
Presenting my International Press Pass, which generally gets me discounts at museums, the clerk looked at me like I handed her freshly sacrificed chicken parts. Clearly, she had no idea what it was. When Ron said he qualified for the senior discount, she was still in her private Twilight Zone. Perhaps the inmates are running the asylum? She had to call for assistance.
Finally, we had to refer to the old-fashioned pre-technology days: reading the translated information printed on paper. How very prehistoric this was, but we were not traumatized; although this would be the perfect place to have a breakdown.
As the English booklet explains statistically “One in four Dutch people are affected by a mental problem. This does not mean we are any crazier than the rest of the world.” When one considers the scope of mental problems to include depression, psychosis, sociopathic behavior, and burnout, it is easy to comprehend how inconsequential one in four actually happens to be.
Going from room to room we read as we attempted to relate what was printed to the displays. The first room required us to open closet doors in order to display articles of one person’s personal life and history. Each individual has different issues as well as very different lives. One person was an immigrant from Turkey while another was a housewife from another town in the Netherlands. This part of the exhibit was not terribly meaningful for us; however, it was well put together.
The next room was quite large, but at first it took us by surprise. There were numerous headless mannequins representing various people, but instead of having a head there was some object representative of that person. For example a famous musician who suffered from psychosis had sheet music in place of his head. The artist Van Gogh had a copy of one of his famous paintings.
An adjoining room offered the various ways that mental health has been diagnosed and treated through the centuries. Many of them we would look at today, thinking how primitive they are while wondering how anyone could believe this could possibly be a solution. Hindsight is 20/20. A century from now, we may look back and think the same.
Perhaps the room that I found most interesting was one filled with artwork. Because there was no one to ask and because there was nothing in our booklet to guide my thinking, my best guess was that these were previous or current psychiatric patients’ work of art. Some of the pieces were incredible; if we did not have to travel, I would certainly consider purchasing one or two. All of them were for sale.
Walking back to the train station, we passed a tranquil lake with weeping willow trees hanging over the water like their branches want to reach out to tickle the ducks. It is such an idyllic setting; it provides a perfect mental respite after spending a couple of hours at the museum.
If you should ever get the chance, the museum is located at Schotersingel 2 in Haarlem. Their hours are Tuesday thru Friday 10am to 5pm; Saturday, Sunday, and public holidays noon to 5pm.
By the way, the QR code in this post has a message for you!