James had a Giant Peach and the lovely Dutch town of Zwolle has a Giant Egg. It sits glinting in the sun on top of the town’s major cultural landmark, the Museum de Fundatie. We visited because the museum currently has a Turner exhibition, although the Barbara Klemm photography exhibition was equally interesting. Then there’s the giant egg…
The museum is quite small and the egg turns out to be a visually striking extension to it, adding space for another gallery and a coffee shop. Like all modern architecture grafted onto an historic building – in this case a former courthouse dating from 1838 – it’s proved controversial and has plenty of detractors. It may be a snub to traditional architecture but it’s rather beautiful.
The ‘egg’ is sometimes referred to as the ‘cloud’, and disgruntled locals refer to it as the ‘UFO’ or ‘zeppelin’, but since a golden bird perches next to it ‘egg’ seems more fitting. Once you’re inside it there is a large window in one side from which you get glorious views over Zwolle’s historic centre.
Zwolle’s city charter dates back to 1230, meaning it was a place of some importance by that time, but the town first appeared in written records a couple of hundred years earlier. Things really took off when it joined the Hanseatic League in 1294, and went on to become the foremost Hanseatic town in the Netherlands.
It’s position on the Zuiderzee gave it access to the North Sea, growing rich on trade to the Baltic and beyond. Like much of the Netherlands, Zwolle’s Golden Age came in the 15th and 16th Centuries when trade made it fabulously wealthy. It still feels wealthy today, and a walk around the town takes you past beautiful historic buildings and magnificently large houses.
Zwolle boasts so many historic buildings – including the 600-year-old Sassenpoort – thanks to the remarkable exploits of a Canadian soldier, Private Léo Major. Canadians fighting to liberate the Netherlands from German occupation during World War II reached Zwolle in April 1945. Large numbers of German soldiers meant Zwolle was scheduled to be bombarded with artillery, that is until Private Major was asked to reconnoitre the town…
Instead of reconnoitring he took it upon himself to launch a one-man assault on Zwolle, killing and capturing German solders as he went. Private Major had a hectic night of single-handedly storming the city, causing so much death and destruction that the Germans thought the entire Canadian army was attacking.
Morning arrived to reveal that German forces had evacuated and retreated north. Private Major returned to his own lines to receive the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Zwolle was spared widespread destruction. To this day Léo Major is considered the liberator of Zwolle. He clearly enjoyed warfare as previously he’d single-handedly captured 93 German soldiers, and he went on to gain a second Distinguished Conduct Medal for more homicidal heroics in the Korean War.
If this piece of history wasn’t bizarre enough, the people of Zwolle are famous in the Netherlands for their thriftiness and are known as Blauwvingers (Bluefingers). This unflattering nickname was gained in the 17th Century when the tower of St. Michael’s Church collapsed. The town council decided to sell the church bells to their neighbours in the town of Kampen to pay for the repairs.
They asked a high price for the bells, which the good folk of Kampen agreed to pay. Upon delivery though the bells were clearly too damaged to be played. To take revenge Kampen decided to pay with small denomination copper coins, which the townsfolk of Zwolle had to count individually. The copper turned their fingers blue and a double-edged nickname was born.