On Sunday mornings most of not-church-going Holland is asleep. With a borrowed bike from a neighbor we biked into the quiet city of Emmen, hoping that the gate to the old abandoned zoo would be open, but it was not. Nothing was open. My friend called someone she works with as a volunteer and asked if she could come by for a visit. Unlike the rest of Emmen the couple was awake, and to my surprise, elderly. We had coffee and talked about religion, mostly or exactly because they have turned away from religion. And here I sat with a nice Muslim girl who volunteers through a Humanistic Society. In Holland everything is possible. I had a lovely time getting to know this active and activist couple in their 80s who had become friends of this young Afghan woman – they are part of a network that she had created around herself to help with a difficult transition. I was proud of my fellow Dutchmen and women.

We left to find the gates to the old zoo open. The new zoo is now a little outside the town, rechristened WildPark and based on the American model of a zoo with a whole lot else to do, hoping to attract crowds from all over Western Europe. This poor city, in economic decline, could use a few visitors with money to spend.

We peddled around the sad old zoo that was the destination of countless school trips in the 50s and 60s. I posed in front of a large photo of a class with their teachers made in 1957. It could have been my class. I have a picture just like that. Of course for us in the west the Northern Zoo was too far away – we went to Artis, Amsterdam’s city zoo, or maybe to Rotterdam’s zoo although that one was already too far away.


We biked along the meandering paths, past empty spaces that once housed monkeys, elephants, giraffes, bears, and other exotic beasts that are now, presumably, roaming more or less wild in the new park.

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June 2016
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