Will “2021” be in your mind as the survival number?
After such a strange and certainly unforgettable year, you decide to welcome the first day of 2022 with a walk on the beach.
The Northern Dutch coast has a special cinematic charm.
You put the leftovers from last night’s dinner in the Tupperware.
You grab a bottle of good red wine & pick on the map one of the most fateful and unfortunate villages in the history of this state.
You think you might understand something about the fate of humanity.
What responsibility do we bear for choices that seemingly are not our own?
Where do we choose to be born?
In which country?
Under what conditions?
With what dreams?
But I also wonder, how wonderful will it be in 2022 when three friends, A British, an Australian, and a Greek, on the first day of the year driving to discover a Dutch village, that one terrible night disappeared …or rather was sucked away by the tide of the sea?
If you like wind and wide views, then Petten and its surroundings are just right for you.
This Dutch polder landscape offers peace and space in the truest sense of the word.
The dunes that once protected Petten from the sea were destroyed in a storm and since then they have been replaced by a dike.
In 1421 the inhabitants ran away from their village to save themselves.
They took all the things that were important and fled away.
Some did not make it.
In the St. Elizabeth flood, Petten has completely washed away and the dunes were damaged.
Can you imagine not being able to go home because the floods destroyed your house?
But the Dutch, who have always struggled with water, did not give up and built a dike behind the dunes.
They created an active coastal defense, with pile heads from beams from Norway and Sweden and stone from Vilvoorde in Belgium.
Neighbors and friends are always there to help.
But even that was not enough. In a new deluge in 1625 more than 100 houses were swept away.
The villagers saw the church of Petten disappear and maybe the priest (if he survived ? I could not find information about him ) said a phrase that when I hear it I want to laugh at: “It was God’s will”
Τhe Dutch of course (whose relationship with God is somewhat special) did not give up this time either.
They made a very solid dike!
The “Hondsbossche zeewering”
For the next 150 years, the village will not face another calamity. Its inhabitants will ride their bicycles on the whole monstrous coast even during the first world war since the Netherlands was neutral (I’m really looking for sources to understand how it is possible to stay neutral in world wars, but let’s not discuss that now).
But Adolf Hitler had other plans for this ..unknown little neutral innocent place.
During World War II, the entire town of Petten was dismantled in 1943 by the command of the German Wehrmacht.
The destruction was once again absolute.
Due to the construction of the Atlantic Wall (the most insane plan of the Nazis) areas like Ostend, Antwerp, Boulogne, Le Havre, and others were completely or partially destroyed.
The church of Petten was demolished in 1944.
(The priest would again repeat the phrase: It was God’s will)
In 1946 the town (it was not a village anymore) was rebuilt by two famous Dutch architects.
On the beach exactly where it was destroyed for the first time, there are some wooden beams pressed into the sand that symbolize the foundations of the village.
Since then it remains in place. Its inhabitants hope (and perhaps pray) that nothing bad will happen again. They are calmly watching on their TV sets the devastating war in Syria and the refugees’ attempt to save themselves and remember the survival stories of their ancestors.
In the seaside town of Petten aan Zee, the 26-meter-high panoramic dune offers a delightful view of the North Sea. The panoramic dune and the other dune areas around Petten can also be easily explored.
My Dutch friend Annemie told me that riding a bicycle in April among the tulip orchards and sand dunes is a truly special experience. Of course, surfing/windsurfing in the waters of this land when the wind is too strong is more than impressive.
If you are lucky enough you may come across a small juvenile shark.
Don’t be scared.
On 11 December 2004, a three-year-old basking shark, was beached on the coast near Petten.
This cutest fish was really small: 3.65 m long and weighed 250 kg.
On the New Year’s Eve beach walk I saw Dutch people taking their first swim of the year.
It is a tradition that winter swimmers around the world have. The wind was quite strong and the cold felt like 0 degrees Celsius. As I watched them running happily in the water I thought about the need for people for safety. The desire of all of us to be able to have a roof over our heads that would provide us with warmth.
Welcome 2022, bring with you more peace. Give us the light to choose what is best for us and our fellow human beings.
May the coming months be a joyful fresh cold swim in the ocean waters. A journey of discovery, search, and reclassification .