In the middle of the city at Lange Beestenstraat 49 – 85 is a beautiful ‘hofje’ or courtyard with almshouses surrounding it. In fact, the Netherlands is known for these kinds of buildings (many of which are hidden across cities and can easily be overlooked due to the high walls around them). The Hague is equally no stranger to ‘hofjes’ and there are a great number of them around. However, most are closed to the general public. So when I got an opportunity to visit the Hof van Wouw (at one of the few annual openings) I jumped at it.
The Hof van Wouw is a tranquil setting – you’re almost transported back to the 1600s (or 1647 for that matter – the year when the building was constructed). It certainly doesn’t feel as though you’re in a modern city centre. To me, I felt like I was in some suburb far from the city itself or perhaps a small town in the middle of nowhere.
During my visit I managed to chat to some of the locals living inside the hofje. One man of over 55 was keen to tell me about his time living in the hofje as the only male amongst 14 ladies! He also told me about the kind of lives these ladies live as pensioners part of a community in the midst of this the glorious setting.
Moreover, the ladies (and gentleman) who live in the hofje tend to the plants and partake in communal activities such as the Orange Apple Day (which was the reason of my visit today) whereby they sell homemade goods, food and drinks all with the intention to raise extra funds for the upkeep of the place.
We also got to participate in a tour of the lovely gardens and Tuinhuis. In fact, we even had the opportunity to peek inside one of the apartments (which was really pleasant). Inside, the little lounge and combined kitchen appeared small almost like a bachelor apartment. However, it got me thinking about the fact that I wouldn’t worry too much about the space inside, especially having such a grand outdoor area and a community of other ladies and their own apartments too.
Upon seeing these little flatlets I too imagined myself as a pensioner living there – right in the heart of the city almost as though one is on holiday in a completely foreign locale. And so I immediately enquired about the heating system (a priority as an African). To my delight I was told that it was recently renewed, so too were the window frames. Ahhh…beauty and functionality all in one. Unfortunately, if you want to retire in a place like this you need to sign up years in advance in order to get a spot there. Where do I sign? And do they have wifi?!?
Even more fascinating is the fact that they grow vegetables and fruits all year long – in the winter they move the smaller trees into the greenhouse at the back. What more do you need?
The Hof van Wouw is an absolutely marvellous building complete with immaculate gardens. It is really quaint and something truly unique in the heart of the city. I feel that it is really representative of Dutch history and a must if you want to learn more about architecture and meet some lively pensioners, keen to tell you their stories and crack a joke or two.