BREUKELEN, THE NETHERLANDS — The mayor of Breukelen doesn’t live in Breukelen.
And he’s seen plenty of other cities on the side — having been the leader of three other Dutch towns in his decades-long career as a servant of Queen Beatrix.
But Mayor Ger Mik has a soft spot in his heart for Brooklyn. So when I flew over as part of The Brooklyn Paper’s fact-finding mission to our tiny ancestral home, Mik showed me the sights of this 15,000-person village, took me to the finest restaurants (there are two standouts in Breukelen, believe it or not), and graciously allowed me to sleep at his home (which is in Utrecht, by the way).
First, the hospitality. Mik picked me up at the Utrecht train station and took me to Slangevegt, a waterside restaurant that is Breukelen’s version of our River Cafe. Not only was the food great (I had the sea bass), but the building itself is a piece of history, the former home of Kees Dudok de Wit, the legendary Dutchman who walked all over the world and loved flapjacks so much that on his birthday (Oct. 3), the town has a pancake party at City Hall.
I was jetlagged, so after dinner, we headed back to Utrecht for the night in the mayor’s guest room. Hours later, I awoke to the sounds of Breukelen’s first lady, Madeleine Mik, preparing what appeared to be an eight-course breakfast (see the full spread online!).
Next, the tour: Look, you may have your Londons, your Pragues, your Montevideos, but for my Euro, there’s no better place to spend a day than in Breukelen, Holland. Mik and I started out at the 18th-century Boom and Bosch, the town’s City Hall, with a cup of coffee and a slice of brugtopper, a sweet cake that’s unique to Breukelen.
Then he showed me the sights:
• First, we strolled through Downtown, a pedestrianized square lined with shops and restaurants. It’s no Fulton Mall (needless to say, that’s a good thing).
• Next, we took a walk over the Breukelen Bridge. Sure, it’s no Brooklyn Bridge, but I did enjoy the spirited eight-second jaunt over the River Vecht.
• On the other side, we came to the Gunterstein, a castle once owned by Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, a former prime minister whose beheading in 1619 led to the naming of our city, Brooklyn. True, he lost one of Holland’s notorious 17th-century power struggles, but his followers remembered him well, naming their colony Brooklyn.
“They would have named it Oldenbarnevelt, but that would have drawn attention to their loyalties,” Mik explained. “Calling it ‘Brooklyn’ was more subtle.”
• Finally, it was time to dive into 400 years of Brooklyn-Breukelen history at the town’s Cultuurhuis, which, roughly translated, means “Culture house.”
Inside, the city has curated an outstanding exhibition about our shared past that begins with talk of Oldenbarnevelt’s severed head and moves quickly to the seminal event in Brooklyn-Breukelen history: the airlift of 1948, when a Brooklyn Heights resident named Margaret Salomon organized a food drive that send tons of food to our impoverished World War II allies in Holland.
The best part of the exhibit is a glass case containing old cans of food — including a canned chicken — and letters from children from Mrs. Doody’s class at Brooklyn Heights’s PS 8.
• Finally, we headed to Zizi Bistro, which actually has bagel and lox (bagel met huisgerookte zalm) on the menu. It wasn’t bad, either (unless you mind mayonnaise instead of cream cheese).
“Bagels are very trendy in Breukelen right now,” said Mik’s Brooklyn-Breukelen aide, Bram Donkers. “We gave you civilization and freedom and you gave us bagels.”
It’s a fair trade, no?
©2009 Community News Group
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