The Efteling: Whimsical Dutchness

With the winter slowly dwindling away we gain more confidence to go out out, seeing all the Netherlands has to offer. Last spring DutchReview suggested some eccentrically Dutch natural beauties for a visit, continuing this trend we’ll focus on another beautiful natural destination. Though this particular place presents Dutch eccentricity in a more imaginative and whimsical manner, and this place can only be the Efteling. Being one of the oldest theme parks in the world, the Efteling represents one field for which the Dutch laid the standards and continues to be a national treasure for the Dutch.

History of the Efteling

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The park started out as a nature park, which eventually started displaying various well-known fairy tales from Grimm, Perrault and Andersen based on the designs of famed Dutch illustrator Anton Pieck. This opened as Het Sprookjesbos (The Fairy Tale Forest) in 1952, three years before Walt Disney’s Disneyland opened in California (when Walt Disney visited the much older Tivoli in Denmark for inspiration some believed he might have also visited the Efteling). Today the fairy tale forest serves as the most nostalgic and accessible of the park’s areas. The park has been expanding ever since and continues to add more daring rides.

The ‘Dutchness’ of the Efteling

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The Efteling is a world devoted to the wondrous and fantastical, and despite the park’s  as a result, it also presents some very Dutch things in such a whimsical light. The most famous are the depictions of Holle Bolle Gijs, a figure from a Dutch nursery-rhyme who is known for his ability to consume things without limit. Naturally, he beckons visitors to dispose paper and other litter in his receiving mouth (an effective “Doe effe normaal” when you don’t listen to him would be a nice, typically Dutch addition though). And of course, a kickass rollercoaster based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman can’t possibly be missed, right? On the other side, there are also some things unclear to the unfamiliar visitor. Two years ago a reporter for the Wall Street Journal wrote a review praising the Efteling, but saw the figure of Monsieur Cannibale a racist throwback to colonial times. It is up for debate how this portrayal could be seen as typically “Dutch”, but the response to this sure was.
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But despite these obscurities the image of the Efteling is not one of tastelessness. Far from it, when plans were made to establish a Disney park near Paris the Efteling was consulted for accommodating the originally American concept to European tastes, and the result is a Disneyland unlike its American or Asian counterparts. The Efteling remains one of the most visited theme parks of Europe, after Disneyland and Europa Park. So if the coldness and cloudiness has finally faded and rains are a distant memory, you can bring life to your inner child, as long as it is young enough to not even get what ‘political correctness’ means, let alone to take a side.

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