Holland and the Hanseatic

Rich history and plenty of pleasure, that’s what Doesburg, Zutphen, Deventer, Hattem, Zwolle, Hasselt, Kampen, Elburg and Harderwijk stand for. Each city has its own charm and character. All Hanseatic cities have beautiful and medieval city centers, modern stores, trendy pubs and excellent restaurants. This mix makes the Hanseatic cities attractive destinations just across the Dutch-German border. 2023 is the perfect year to visit the nine Dutch Hanseatic cities as they revive the old Hanseatic League and invite you to the first Hanseatic Year along the IJssel from April.

Hansestadt Deventer vom anderen Ufer der IJssel mit Blick auf Lebuinuskirche / © Foto: Georg Berg
Hanseatic city of Deventer from the other bank of the IJssel with a view of Lebuinus Church / © Photo: Georg Berg

The IJssel – link of an era

For four centuries, trade flourished within the European Hanseatic League. Already in the early Middle Ages, many merchants transported their goods on ships across European rivers and seas. The wealth that this cross-border trade brought is still visible today in the magnificent merchants’ houses, trade offices, churches and town squares. Around 1500, the center of the Dutch Hanseatic League shifted to the North Sea area. Amsterdam increasingly competed with the small towns on the IJssel, and after the artificial widening of the Rhine, it literally cut off the water of the IJssel and made navigation more difficult.

Der Deventer Koek, ein Honigkuchen, der seit 1593 als Markenprodukt hergestellt wird, wird in feine Scheiben geschnitten und mit Butter serviert. Das Orignal von 1593 besteht aus den Zutaten: Wasser, Roggenmehl, Honig und Gewürze. Der Kuchen enthält kein Ei und keine Milchprodukte und ist dadurch sehr lange haltbar. Dies machte ihn zu einer beliebten Ware im Hansehandeln über die Grenzen der Niederland hinaus. Bis nach Norwegen wurde der Kuchen mit dem Schiff transportiert / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Deventer Koek, a honey cake, has been produced as a branded product since 1593. It consists of water, rye flour, honey and spices and had a long shelf life. This made it a popular commodity in the Hanseatic trade. The cake was transported by ship as far as Norway / © Photo: Georg Berg

Hanseatic specialties

Some Hanseatic cities are still inseparably linked with a speciality today. What marzipan is to Lübeck, mustard is to Doesburg, balletjes are to Zwolle, and spice cake is to Deventer. The Deventer Koek originated in the Middle Ages and owes its spread to the flourishing trade of the Hanseatic League. To this day, it is made exclusively in Deventer according to the original recipe. Even in the days of the Hanseatic League, the cake, which keeps well, sailed on merchant ships as far as Norway. There were cakes for King Olav IV in exchange for Nordic stockfish.

Im Balletjeshuis in der Altstadt von Zwolle werden seit 1845 Balletjes, eine Bonbon-Mischung nach Originalrezept hergestellt / © Foto: Georg Berg
In the Balletjeshuis in the old town of Zwolle, balletjes, a candy mixture made according to the original recipe, have been produced since 1845 / © Photo: Georg Berg

Zwolle also has a sweet associated with the city’s name. In the Balletjeshuis on the Great Church Square in the middle of the old town, a candy mixture has been made since 1845. The store still has all the old flair of the 19th century. The candies are also still made in the basement of the house according to the original recipe and with natural flavors such as vanilla, cinnamon, licorice or fruit. In the old days, when sugar was rare and precious, the ladies would shove a balletje down their cheeks at tea or coffee time, discreetly sweetening sip after sip.

Wandmalerei in der Altstadt von Deventer. Motiv anlässlich des Hansejahres, das die neun holändischen Hansestädte 2023 feiern. Die Wandmalerei hat einen Bezug zur Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Hier in Deventer: Marktfrau mit Sohn verkauft Deventer Honigkuchen und Stockfisch, wichtige Waren im Hansehandel von Deventer. Der Junge trägt einen Fan-Schal des Fußball-Clubs Deventer Eagles / © Foto: Georg Berg
Wall painting in the old town of Deventer. Motif on the occasion of the Hanseatic Year, which the nine Dutch Hanseatic cities celebrate in 2023. The mural has a reference to the past and present. Here in Deventer: Market woman with son selling Deventer honey cake and stockfish, important goods in the Hanseatic trade of Deventer. The boy wears a fan scarf of the soccer club Deventer Eagles / © Photo: Georg Berg

Public Art and Museum Concepts

Giant murals have been produced by the Dutch artist collective ‘De Strakke Hand’ since 2022. It is a cross-border project, in the spirit of the Hanseatic League. There are first murals in Kalkar, Emmerich, Harderwijk and Deventer. The basis is always a photo of two people who are now citizens of their town. They wear clothes from the Hanseatic period with a subtle reference to the present.

1466 begannen die Dominikaner mit dem Bau dieser Kirche. Seit 2013 ist die „De Broerenkerk“ in Zwolle umgewidmet zu einer Buchhandlung / © Foto: Georg Berg
In 1466, the Dominicans began the construction of this church. Since 2013, “De Broerenkerk” in Zwolle has been rededicated as a bookstore / © Photo: Georg Berg.

Art in public spaces and modern museum concepts are also many in the Hanseatic cities on the IJssel. Above the former courthouse of Zwolle, in the Museum de Fundatie, an art cloud has been hovering since 2013, clad with 55,000 three-dimensional tiles. The Anno Museum, which will not open until 2022, reprocesses the city’s history. There are also two churches in Zwolle that have been repurposed and are now used as a restaurant and bookstore.

Kunstwolke in Zwolle. Das Museum de Fundatie trägt seit 2012 einen spektakulären Aufbau / © Foto: Georg Berg
Art cloud in Zwolle. The Museum de Fundatie has been wearing a spectacular superstructure since 2012 / © Photo: Georg Berg.
Auch das Museum Anno verbindet mit seinem Neubau die Geschichte der Stadt Zwolle mit der Gegenwart / © Foto: Georg Berg
With its new building, the Museum Anno also links the history of the city of Zwolle with the present / © Photo: Georg Berg

Hanseatic ambience and high enjoyment

Another unifying feature of the Dutch Hanseatic cities is the very good gastronomic offer in historic Hanseatic houses. In Doesburg, for example, you will find the oldest restaurant in the country. It is the Stadsbierhuis De Waag from 1478. Also in the former monastery from 1309 you can enjoy modern cuisine with local products in the restaurant Het Arsenaal from noon on.

Hansepracht auch in Doesburg. Rechts die Außenterasse des ältesten Wirtshauses der Niederlande, das Stadsbierhuis von 1478 / © Foto: Georg Berg
Hanseatic splendor in Doesburg, too. On the right, the outdoor terrace of the oldest inn in the Netherlands, the Stadsbierhuis from 1478 / © Photo: Georg Berg

In Zwolle, visitors can combine Hanseatic flair with fine dining. Restaurant De Librije, run by Michelin-starred chef Jonnie Boer, still bears the name from the days when it was housed in the old monastery library. Today, diners sit in the glass-roofed courtyard of the former women’s prison.

Restaurant De Librije / © Foto: Georg Berg
From 1739 to 2004 women’s prison today star restaurant: De Librije in Zwolle. The windows are still barred. Even the parked car seems suitable for prisoner transports / © Photo: Georg Berg

Excellent cuisine is also offered by Restaurant t’ Pestengasthuys. In the former hospital from the 15th century, Paul Stegman has been cooking at a high level for over 25 years. His wife organizes the service. A small, very personal restaurant with a historic ambience. Currently, the Pestengasthuys holds recommendations from Guide Michelin and Gault Millau.

Koch Paul Stegman, Restaurant t’ Pestengasthuys in Zwolle / © Foto: Georg Berg
Chef Paul Stegman, Restaurant t’ Pestengasthuys in Zwolle / © Photo: Georg Berg
Restaurant t’ Pestengasthuys in Zwolle lädt in die Räume eines ehemaligen Krankenhauses aus dem 15. Jahrhundert / © Foto: Georg Berg
Restaurant t’ Pestengasthuys in Zwolle invites diners into the rooms of a former 15th-century hospital / © Photo: Georg Berg

Thirty kilometers upriver in the Hanseatic city of Deventer, you can also get very close to the sites of the golden Hanseatic era. It was not until 2022 that the spacious church square around the Libuinus Church was redesigned. A dominant car parking lot had to give way and the square was given back to the people. The former Vermeer family bank on the Grote Kerkhof is now home to the boutique hotel Huis Vermeer. In the hotel’s restaurant, you sit in the former living quarters with lush old murals in the midst of Hanseatic luxury of the Hanseatic years. On the other side of the Libuinus Church is the restaurant t’ Arsenaal. This name also stands for history. The restaurant and courtyard border the side wall of the church, where weapons and ammunition were once stored. Today, only chefs sharpen their knives here and provide guests with upscale gastronomy.

Lebuïnuskirche in Deventer mit dem 2022 neu gestaltetem Vorplatz. Früher parkten rund um die Kirche Autos, heute gehört der Platz wieder den Bewohnern der Stadt mit Wasserspiel, Sitzbänken und Kinderspielplatz / © Foto: Georg Berg
Lebuïnus Church in Deventer with the forecourt redesigned in 2022. Cars used to park around the church, but today the square once again belongs to the town’s residents, with a water feature, benches and a children’s playground / © Photo: Georg Berg

Hanseatic accommodations

Overnight stays are possible along the IJssel in so-called “Hanzelogies”. Whether in a splendid merchant’s house or in a peasant bedchamber, whether in the middle of the narrow streets of the old town or on the banks of the IJssel, the choice is wide.

Das Hotel Pillows liegt am Ufer der IJssel gegenüber der Altstadt von Deventer. Mit der solarbetriebenen Fähre setzt man an der Stelle über, wo einst der Mönch Lebuinus um 806 über den Fluß ruderte. Wo heute die Lebuinuskirche steht, errichtete der Mönch eine kleine Holzkirche / © Foto: Georg Berg
Hotel Pillows is located on the banks of the IJssel opposite the old town of Deventer. The solar-powered ferry takes you across at the spot where the monk Lebuinus once rowed across the river around 806. Where today the Lebuinus church stands, the monk built a small wooden church / © Photo: Georg Berg

Recommendations with Hanseatic flair

Restaurant Pestengasthuys in Zwolle

Restaurant t’Arsenaal in Devente

Restaurant Huis Vermeer in Deventer

Restaurant and Hotel Pillows on the IJssel in Deventer

Restaurant Het Arsenaal 1309 in Doesburg

Stadsbierhuys de Waag since 1478 in Doesburg

Travel information for all nine Dutch Hanseatic cities

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