When Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast was to name his preferred postings as a Dutch diplomat, the Slovak capital was high on his list.
“Bratislava was one of the centres of classical music,” the Dutch Ambassador said on the podcast. Van der Kwast played the piano and the organ as a child, and is learning to play the alto recorder today. He started playing it in Geneva, but the "best lessons" are in Bratislava, he said.
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The man who knows Bratislavan composers
Big names such as Mozart, Franz Liszt and Beethoven visited the "Beauty on the Danube" in the past. Well-known composers were born in Bratislava too and Van der Kwast probably knows about them more than a native of Bratislava.
In addition to Ján Albrecht, the founder of the ensemble Musica aeterna, the ambassador had the opportunity to learn about the works of Pezinok-born composer Eugen Suchoň, creator of the first Slovak opera Krútňava [The Whirlpool], Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ernst von Dohnányi and Franz Schmidt.
As a lover of classical music, he often attends classical music concerts and festivals, including Konvergencie and Bratislava Music Festival. People can meet him at the Albrecht House on Kapitulská Street and at the concerts of the Slovak Philharmonic in the Reduta building as well.
Bratislava did not disappoint the Dutch Ambassador and in the podcast, he also says one of the concerts he went to here was "one of the best things I've ever heard".
Apropos of the Slovak Philharmonic, Russian Daniel Raiskin, who has lived in Amsterdam for many years, became its principal conductor only recently.
Peninsula of modern art in Čunovo
An undoubtedly significant Dutch footprint, situated 20 kilometres from the capital, is the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum in Čunovo. It was founded by entrepreneur and art collector from Eindhoven, Gerard Meulensteen.
“He had two quite successful factories in Slovakia and wanted to give something of his success back to the country,” said Van der Kwast.
In fact, it was Slovak Vincent Polakovič’s idea of an art museum on the Danube River that steered Meulensteen to having Danubiana eventually built.
Today, in the gallery on the Danube, which resembles a ship, and its adjacent park, visitors can find colourful pieces by artists from different parts of the world, but mainly from the Netherlands and Slovakia.
“New York has Guggenheim, Bratislava has Danubiana,” said Van der Kwast proudly.
His favourite paintings include works by Dutchman Karel Christian Appel. The ambassador comes to the Čunovo gallery quite regularly and by various means of transport, including by ship or bicycle.
Tulip and cycling diplomacy
Van der Kwast also acknowledges that Bratislava is not perfect.
“When I have visitors over, I tell them it’s a nice place,” the ambassador said, “but then, there is a pothole. It looks very bad.”
That does not discourage the ambassador and proper Dutchman from cycling and promoting the sport in Slovakia in a really unconventional way.
“I cycle with the mayors of Slovak cities.”
So far, he has cycled the most with the mayor of Trnava, but he also completed several bike trips in Bratislava, including a cycling trip to Danubiana. Although the cycling infrastructure of the capital is not perfect, the ambassador appreciates the progress made so far.
Apart from the museum of modern art in Bratislava, but also in other Slovak cities, people with an eagle eye can come across another Dutch footprint: tulips. More than 2,000 of them were planted in the garden of the Presidential Palace in 2018, and the Dutch Embassy has no intention of giving up on this tradition.
“The red and white tulip named Slovakia is more resistant compared to the ordinary tulip, as the winter here is colder than in the Netherlands,” Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast concluded.
This podcast, created by The Slovak Spectator, was supported by the Bratislava Tourist Board and implemented with the financial support of the Ministry of Transport and Construction of the Slovak Republic.