Our guided walk began at the Miniature and Dolls House Museum (Miniaturen- en Poppenhuis Museum) on Catharinastraat, where the finely detailed recreations include a fabric shop from the 1950s, a typical Breda ‘brown cafe’ and a library. Among these is the dolls house of Marjan Drukker, who was given the gift for her second birthday in 1931. The interior of the Amsterdam canal house is typical of the Art Deco style of the time, and includes everyday objects that would have been familiar to Marjan, including a menorah in the living room. The Drukker family lived a normal life in Alkmaar until the outbreak of the second world war. In 1941 Marjan was excluded from school, along with the other Jewish children in the city. A year later the family were put out of their house and fled from one hiding place to the next. In 1944 they were arrested, along with the farmer who sheltered them. They were sent to Auschwitz and never returned. Marjan’s dolls’ house remains as symbol of her family and a reminder of the fate of the Alkmaar Jews.
The Museum also holds a model of Mencia de Mendoza, third wife of Henry III of Naussau-Breda. She was an educated and spirited woman who determined to make the medieval castle of Breda into a Renaissance chateau, matching the art-loving atmosphere of the Spanish court in which she was educated. A widely-read woman who studied Greek, Latin and Dutch, Mencia was also interested in science and engineering. She designed the ‘automatica’, a device made from wood and leather which was intended to allow women who had never experienced it the feel of intercourse with a man. Whether Mencia used the ‘automatica’ herself is not recorded…
We continued our walk through to the Begijnhof, an historical cloister, also on Catharinastraat. The Beguines were single women who lived as part of a free lay community within the Catholic Church. They did not take perpetual vows but promised chastity and obedience to the elected head of the community. They were largely self-sufficient, growing their own provisions and made money by providing services to the local community including healthcare, teaching and prayers for the dead.The Begijnhof in Breda is one of the oldest in the Netherlands. It is a small walled community of individual houses with a herb garden, a small church and a rectory. The Beguines survived persecution through the 17th and 18th centuries and continued to be protected by the House of Orange-Nassau but the community waned in the 20th century, with fewer and fewer new novices. The houses are now rented to single women or widows.
On Veemarktstraat, through a plain door wedged between a bar and a shoe shop, is the Lutheran Church. In this simple space stands a sculpture of a Black Madonna, created by Lian Wass. The body of the Madonna is covered with painted tears, shed for the wars and conflicts in the world. The artist created a wooden stand for the sculpture and on its unveiling, on Culture Night in Breda in January 2015, visitors were encouraged to write their wishes for peace on papers that were then slotted into the base. It might be noted that a sculpture of Mary has been placed in a Lutheran church, symbolic perhaps of the growing together of two sides of Christianity that historically were at war in this city.
Our tour ended in L’Ago B on Veemarktstraat, where clothes designer Olga Buise showed her atelier and exclusive designs.
Although we covered just a small area of the city, we wandered through backstreets and hidden entrances and discovered parts of Breda that were new to many of us. It was indeed a day full of surprises!