It seems like Dutch culture is slowly disappearing from Paris. The Institut Néerlandais (Dutch Institute), founded by Frits Lugt in 1957 and active until its closure in 2013, was a non-profit institution in Paris that promoted Dutch art and culture. Despite being one of the earliest cultural institutions of its kind, it relied completely on the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for financial aid, and was eventually shut down. Epicerie and charcuterie DUTCH, established in 2016, was located on 104 Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, Paris. Though its Facebook page boasted a 4.8 rating and a cozy +1,000 likes on, this Dutch-inspired specialty food shop is now also permanently closed. The bar Klein Holland in Le Marais has a promising name but has received mixed reviews. One reviewer for Time Out questioned its authenticity: “The Netherlands? Nothing to do with it. This pub in the middle of the Marais kept its original name but not its menu”. Other than the twenty-odd Paris HEMA stores, and the Louvre’s popular exhibition on 16th-century Dutch art, it’s difficult to find Dutch – or Dutch-inspired – events, places, or culture in Paris, and even harder to find any tips online. So I went on a quest to compile a researched, tried and tested list, about where to scramble for even a modicum of stereotypical Dutchness.
- WATERMILLS AND WINDMILLS, PAST AND PRESENT
? Moulin de Longchamp, Bois de Boulogne
I first went on a little quest to find just one windmill that was not the Moulin Rouge mill. I was looking for a rustic old Dutch windmill, and thought I had hit the jackpot when mentions of a “moulin hollandais” in the Parc Monceau cropped up. Several websites, including the location’s own Wikipedia page, claim that a Dutch windmill can be found in the park by some ruins. Yet I scanned the park for two hours, and no such mill was to be found. “Lies,” I thought. Only to later discover that there had once been a mill that is now no longer visible. It’s quite difficult to find any evidence of this, but after rummaging around on the internet I eventually found a 1779 depiction held at a research library in Washington D.C (photo below). It also claims that the windmill is in fact a watermill. I guess the park had both – but not anymore.
Sadly, only a windmill’s horror can be offered by Parc Monceau. Luckily, I found another mill located in the Bois de Boulogne. After making sure I had up to date evidence before embarking on an hour-long trek involving two metro lines, a bus, and some walking, I ended up at a French mill with no sails. But it was worth it, because I found the Moulin de Longchamp, also known as the Moulin de Rouvray. Though the windmill no longer works, and has no sails, it is surrounded by beautiful foliage and water, as well as a horse-racing track.
BONUS ? The Parc Monceau includes streets named after Flemish artists, and the Bois de Boulogne has its own restaurant, La Grande Cascade, which sports an exterior not unlike that of the Vondelpark’s ‘t Blauwe Theehuis. Don’t be fooled though: inside lies one of Paris’ finest Michelin-starred cuisines.
- ALTERNATIVE TO THE LOUVRE’S DUTCH ART
? Fondation Custodia
Frits Lugt, who had founded the late Institut Néerlandais, is also the creator of the Fondation Custodia (1947) which now stands in lieu of the Institute. Lugt was born in Amsterdam, and was an art collector particularly interested in Rembrandt: he was, at one point, in possession of all the known etchings by the artist. He also cataloged the Dutch and Flemish art that can be found at the Louvre.
The foundation is free to visit for students, and photography is encouraged (provided it is without a flash). After receiving a little booklet upon entry, visitors roam the temporary exhibition that is open to the public: I visited The Pushkin Museum: Five Hundred Years of Drawing, which included an entire room on Dutch and Flemish artists, and some noteworthy Rembrandt paintings borrowed from the Museum of Fine Arts Pushkin in Moscow. The exhibition also contained a large book with detailed background information on all the works.
Try asking to see the Dutch paintings at the welcome desk, and you’ll be told that this is impossible. The French receptionist had apparently forgotten this part of the museum (in fact, she claimed that they were not even a museum), but with a little perseverance, I was told that there were in fact a few Dutch paintings in the current open exhibition. “Thirty”, I replied, to which she nodded.
On some occasions, or upon request, it is possible to visit the Frits Lugt collection located in the Hôtel Turgot, which is otherwise closed to the public. There is also an ‘Atelier Néerlandais’, a shared workspace which allows for collaboration between creatives and entrepreneurs.
BONUS ? The Fondation Custodia has a lovely little gift shop with some funky postcards!
It costs €1 for one, and €10 for twelve.
- A FRENCH STROOPWAFEL
Funnily enough, Méert is a French confectionery company from Lille that claims to have invented its own gaufre lilloise (waffle from Lille). This gaufre looks a lot like a stroopwafel, though it is advertised as “the authentic waffle from Lille.” After sleuthing the web, I found out that they’re referring to a gaufre fourrée lilloise, which is in fact baked. It has most likely been around since the 19th century, and was popularized in 1894 by Maison Méert who were also the official waffle-makers of Leopold I of Belgium.
They differ from the late 18th century to early 19th century stroopwafel in that they are almost boat-shaped, the two layers of baked dough are thicker, and the traditional filling seems to be vanilla and not caramel (though Méert also offers fillings with flavors including speculoos, praline and puffed rice, rum and raisin, pistachio, and chestnut). I waddled up to the register to give it a try anyway. “I heard you had something that closely resembles a stroopwafel,” I asked the Méert employee. She was utterly confused – “a what?”. “The gaufre”, I whispered. Something clicked, and I was proudly presented with various options, sizes, prices, flavors and boxed or unboxed.
Ten minutes later, I walked out with a very fancy box of ‘original’ vanilla waffles, and €17.50 less in my wallet.
BONUS ? The very fancy box comes with a very fancy bag. Be sure to also look up at the ceiling in Méert – it’s covered in drawings of oblong stroopwafels.
- SWAP YOUR OLD GRACHT FOR A MODERN CANAL
? Canal Saint-Martin
The Canal Saint-Martin isn’t exactly an unknown location, but most visitors come for the famous Pont d’Amélie, not to be reminded of the Amsterdamse Grachten. On a good day, you might catch a little sailboat drifting off in the sunlight in front of a manageable crowd. It’s cosy for a picnic meet-up, and is not overwhelmed by a plethora of padlocks.
BONUS ? When following a map to get directly to the bridges, aim specifically for Pont d’Amélie. The Canal Saint-Martin is a comfortable twelve-minute walk from a Méert shop. Add a gaufre to your canalside picnic!
- DUTCH-INSPIRED CONCEPT STORE
? Lekker Kkoncept
I also chanced upon Lekker, which is a concept store headed by two University of Amsterdam graduates from France. I was hoping to meet Solène and Sophie to hear more about their story, but instead I was greeted by a nice young woman who was happy for Lekker to be covered in The Amsterdammer. Lekker is sort of like a shop, bazaar, gallery space, and canteen all in one – though she despondently explained that the latter was now closed and had become a small storage space for personal belongings. Despite the unfortunate closure, the store has kept the area looking like a small kitchen, which is neatly tucked behind a cool American-looking pastel blue fridge covered in magnets and polaroid pictures.
The shop revolves around a concept rather than a brand or a category of products. Blog posts describe the store’s theme as trendy and affordable, which rang true. For a Dutch-inspired concept store in Paris with a vintage vibe, prices were affordable, even more so during their 30% off sales.
BONUS ? Photographers will feel at home in Lekker, where every corner of the shop has a different character, each one as aesthetic and thematic as the next. Lekker is also a five-minute walk from the picturesque Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre.
Hopefully, more Dutch cultural institutions and establishments will open up in Paris, and shops will continue to ‘Dutchify’, whether knowingly or not.
Flo McQuibban is a Masters’ Student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
- Columnist (Winter 2019)