A sunny day in the holiday season is probably not the wisest time to visit Madurodam. I had no idea how busy it would be. After all, we live in an era of digital technology, and an open air attraction of miniature models of famous Dutch landmarks didn’t strike me as having mass appeal, particularly given the €17.50 price tag. I clearly underestimated the power of seeing the Netherlands in miniature, because Madurodam was absolutely rammed with people. Some of whom had travelled half way around the world to enjoy a form of entertainment that seems to be straight out of the 1970s.
In the same way that I’ve often wondered why people still go to wax museums to see dodgy statues of famous people, I found myself wondering who visits a miniature of the Netherlands when the real thing is just beyond Madurodam’s ticket booth. The answer, it seems, is everyone. Around 650,000 people visit Madurodam every year and, to be fair, it’s excellent. Even with the enormous crowds, it was hard not to suspend disbelief and become a child again.
As well as extraordinarily detailed scale models of the most famous structures in the Netherlands, both ancient and modern, there are mechanised boats sailing on canals, a functioning model of the Delta Works flood barriers, trains running around on tracks and model planes taxying to their gate at Schiphol Airport. The creative energy that has gone into making Madurodam so much fun is bewildering, and the artistry of the model makers is exceptional.
All the models are at a 1:25 scale of the originals, and bonsai trees add a further touch of realism. All of which means that you feel a bit like Gulliver in Lilliput – a giant who towers over a population of tiny people below. There are typical Dutch scenes being played out in almost every area of the park: you can see ‘people’ getting married in small churches, Alkmaar’s cheese market is watched by tourists, people read the paper sitting outside cafes in Amsterdam. All Dutch life is here, just in miniature.
The park is named after George Maduro, a Jewish member of the Dutch resistance. He was a law student at Leiden University, and a reserve officer in the Dutch cavalry, when Germany invaded the Netherlands. He fought in the battle for The Hague before being imprisoned after the Dutch capitulation. Upon his release, he joined the resistance and helped ferry allied pilots back to Britain. He was captured again and escaped, before being caught again. This time, as a Jew, he was sent to Dachau, where he died in 1945.
Madurodam was founded in 1952 by his parents to honour his memory. It’s privately managed by the Madurodam Foundation, which donates a sizeable share of its profits to children’s charities in the Netherlands. Maduro was from Curaçao, a model of the family home in the Caribbean can be found in the park.
We spent a fun couple of hours pottering around and counting the number of places we’d actually visited in reality. It turned out that we’d been to quite a lot of the places featured in Madurodam, but we spotted a few that hadn’t visited. Some have found their way onto the ‘to do’ list. I’d definitely visit Madurodam again, something I never thought I’d hear myself say, but it will be outside of the holiday season to avoid the crowds.