Deventer, The Netherlands

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Enschede is never going to be at the top of any awards list for architecture. The buildings are bland and functional, reminiscent of Scandinavia in their austerity. Visitors should not expect to find a city built in the grand Dutch architectural style of skinny, many-windowed facades, and stepped gables of Amsterdam and Utrecht. The reasons for this are many: multiple city-wide fires during the Middle Ages, an industrial past, bombings by Allied forces during WWII, its proximity to and influence by Germany, and a horrific fireworks explosion in the 21st century. The city has rebuilt itself and grown in such a way that it can only be described as modern European provincial. Or Germanic.

The nearby villages in Twente are similar. Therefore, imagine my glee when walking the historic, architecturally beautiful streets of the nearby city of Deventer for this week’s local exploration. Located approximately 40 minutes from Enschede by direct regional train, Deventer combines the charming styles of western Netherlands with the friendliness and open city centers of the east.

Located along the river IJssel Deventer grew up as a port city and important center of trade due to its status as a member of the Hanseatic League. Its former importance as a merchant city is obvious within minutes of entering the city: Crowing its main square, the Brink, is the impressive former weighing station, now a visitors’ center. In the weigh station I purchased an English language walking guide of the city, a popular idea judging by the number of other people, guides in hand, ambled along the same route.

With perhaps the most elevation I have seen in any Dutch city, Deventer is crowned by a hilltop church. Even here the Dutch fight against the waters is omnipresent, as the hill upon which the church sits is but only a former dam built to hold back the water from the city center. The streets are narrow and winding and the houses gabled in typical Dutch style. Here, too, they lean drunkenly, while far below the city the boggy ground shifts.

In contrast to Enschede the downtown square is wider and, thus, not as overflowing with chairs and sun umbrellas. The crowds seem more tame though the Dutch children are just as rambunctious, hollering and charging at each other with their bikes cross the open space, their parents, as usual, no where to be seen. While the market square of downtown Enschede can seem like one huge open-air shopping mall at times, the stores in Deventer are small, home to many galleries and artisanal shops selling horse hair brushes, hand-knit sweaters, books, and antiques. Deventer even has its own regional specialities, including a famous Deventer gingerbread cake and a delicious-but-acidic mustard soup.

Breaking blogging rules of posting too many photos here is a glimpse into a walk around Deventer. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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