Women behind the Wire – The Will to Survive

Dee as a young woman

Dee as a young woman

Today’s blog is dedicated to an amazing woman, Dee (pronounced Day) de Smalen, my mother-in-law. Today she turns 90! Happy Birthday Dee, Hartelijk Gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag!!

Celebratory meal at the best toko in Amsterdam!

Pre-birthday meal at the best toko in Amsterdam, Betawi!

She grew up in the former Dutch East Indies, on Java. Her parents, pictured below, worked for the Dutch government and ran two orphanages for a mixture of Dutch and Indonesian children. These schools were set up as part of the Ethical Policy in the region which was introduced by the Dutch to improve living conditions for the indigenous population. In March 1942 their lives changed irrevocably when the Japanese invaded West Java.

Mr&Mrs Kiesling

Mr and Mrs Kiesling in Java before the war

Family photo taken on Java during the occupation. Dee Kiesling on the right in a bibbed gingham dress.

Family photo taken on Java during the occupation. Dee Kiesling on the right in a bibbed gingham dress.

Published in Herstoria, this article is an account of the bravery and resilience of Dee, her sister and mother during their internment in Japanese POW Camps. 

I was sixteen when we had to go into the camp. We spent the first night in a monastery. We were all in shock. My mother was reeling from the trauma of being separated from father. We stayed there a few days and then we were moved to Bandoeng, the capital of West Java province. Camp Karees was a collection of houses in the European section of Bandoeng, fenced off with gedek (plaited bamboo sheets) and topped with barbed wire. The Japanese guarded the circumference. The camp held 6000 internees. We moved into houses that had been recently vacated by the Dutch. My mother, sister Ems and I had to share a house with seven other families. Within that house each family was assigned a room.

There was a camp kitchen which served one warm meal a day at first and later on, after the poorly constructed ovens collapsed, we were given raw ingredients which we had to prepare ourselves. My sister and I cooked over a charcoal fire and became very adept at making meals from our rations. Our speciality was ‘Crème de Trasi.’ Trasi is shrimp paste which we used to fry and mix with rice.

To get extra protein we hunted frogs after sundown.

The three of us sneaked out together, using a pillowcase to put our catch in. We usually caught about seven or eight and back at camp mother chopped off their heads and skinned them. Their little torsos with their broad shoulders and thin hips looked just like a man’s body. When you salted them their nerves twitched and made their legs dance. We boiled them in water and they tasted like chicken. After a while the Japanese forbade it as the frogs kept the insect population down and mosquito numbers were turning into plague proportions.

My mother helped in the hospital, nursing the sick. Asides from the lean rations conditions were fairly good at this stage. We made friends with a woman from the Jordaan (Amsterdam old neighbourhood), equivalent to a London Cockney. A young newlywed she had a beauty salon and because she lived in Bandoeng before the neighbourhood was ghettoised she still had a lot of potions and creams. She was loads of fun, always ready with a smile and a joke. She helped keep our spirits up. We traded cooked meals with her in exchange for beauty treatments.

Camp Karees and the organisation of tasks

Camp Karees and the organisation of tasks

Ando-san, a Japanese guard was about eighteen years old. He confided in my mother that he hated the war and the way the women were being treated. They communicated in Malay. Every so often he would smuggle us treats, a tin of sardines or an egg passed through the bamboo fence. Mother won Ando’s trust enough to ask if he could find out where my father was interred. A few days later Ando came and told us that father was in Tjimahi, a men’s camp in Bandoeng. Mum wrote him a letter and because of her work in the hospital she was able to get him a pair of specs from a patient that had died. We were all over the moon when Ando brought a letter back from father. He wrote that he was well and thanked mum for the specs. He weighed 65 kilos by then, hungry all the time, but still in good health.

Once I remember, Ando asked us to meet him at the sentry box after dark. Ems and I were totally without guile and went to meet him without considering possible dangers involved. Our trust in him was rewarded. He had brought us a Chinese takeaway! It was the first decent food we had eaten since entering the camp. The last time we saw him he was in tears, devastated by the news that he had to go and join the fighting. We never knew what became of him.

some women exchanged ‘favours’ with the Japanese in the hope of getting better treatment.

My sister and I, although in our late teens, were naïve and had no idea that some women exchanged ‘favours’ with the Japanese in the hope of getting better treatment. The Japanese whores they would later be labelled. After the war we heard of the appalling treatment of the inaccurately named ‘comfort women.’ The Japanese handpicked single women aged 17 – 28 and took them from the camps to work as prostitutes for their officer elite. They were raped systematically every day. Many of these women were virgins. There were accounts of older, married women asking to be taken instead of the younger women who were innocent of sex. They thought they would be able to handle enforced prostitution better.

We spent eighteen months in Bandoeng and then had to make a 36 hour trip by train to Amberawa in central Java. The train’s windows were blocked off and we were all huddled together like cattle. There were no toilets. My sister had diarrhoea and she had to go out onto the carriage balcony to do her business and then wipe it off with a broom.

We had to walk from the train to Banjoe Biroe, our next camp, with our few possessions and a rolled-up mattress on our backs. We had no separate rooms anymore. This camp was a prison before the war. We slept in a barrack on a raised platform which ran the length of the building. My mother took us into the corner which she anticipated would offer some cover from the Japanese when they checked in on us. We had 45 centimetres per person. Here we had to forgo any ideas of privacy. We washed in full view of the guards. After a while we became immune to their gaze. Toilets were a long plank with holes where you defecated into an open sewer. Dysentery soon became rife.

Camp Karees was cushy in comparison with Banjoe Biroe. Young healthy women such as myself were put to work. In pairs, we had to carry big metal drums containing hot food from the kitchen to the barracks. It was a precarious task. One either side of the barrel, we lifted it off an un-mortared brick furnace with a bamboo stick placed through two handles at the top.

We had to work outside the camp as well. Chopping trees down for firewood. As we worked Indonesian kids would watch us from behind another outer fence. Every so often we had a chance to trade with them. We would give them a piece of textile we had managed to salvage from our former lives in exchange for an egg. We smuggled it back into camp inside the leg of our baggy knickers. Every time we entered the camp we had to bow three times in deference to the Japanese sentry. We were never discovered. Some women were caught and got punished for similar misdemeanours.

Women would be punished at roll call or Tenko. They had their hands tied behind their backs and their arms suspended from a purpose-built beam.

Women would be punished at roll call or Tenko. They had their hands tied behind their backs and their arms suspended from a purpose-built beam, lifted up high enough so that their toes just touched the ground. The Japanese guards would scream at them, administering the occasional whiplash. They were left like that for hours in the blistering sun.

Sometimes in the evening, to stave off hunger pangs, we would get together in our barrack and fantasise about food. Writing down our favourite recipes on little scraps of paper and exchanging them. Sleep was a good way of avoiding hunger but that was difficult because of the bedbugs. The Japanese gave us a thick tarry substance which was supposed to repel them. My mother saved that though and with a few bits of rice my sister and I managed to smuggle from the kitchen we cooked a few extra handfuls in a tin using the tar as cooking fuel.

In the last six months in the camp we worked in the kitchens. This was a privileged position and perhaps looking back on it meant the difference between life and death. We had thin tapioca for breakfast. Rice and watery sayor (green vegetable mix) for lunch and sometimes a piece of swede in the evening. People were dying every day from malnourishment and dysentery. Our periods stopped which had its upside as we no longer had to bother washing out the cotton towels that we used to absorb the flow.
We caught snails outside the camp and it was our job in the kitchen to prepare them. When they boiled they turned into a grey viscous substance and when we added some vegetable stock the mixture turned a foul shade of green. We gave this to the women in the sick bay in the hope it would build them up. On average there were three or four deaths per day. On a bad day that could go up to seven.

August 1945 the Japanese capitulated. When our Japanese sentries disappeared our first thoughts were of escape. But where could we go?

We had no news of the outside world and the way the war was progressing so it was a shock to us when we heard that in August 1945 the Japanese had capitulated. When our Japanese sentries disappeared our first thoughts were of escape. But where could we go? Our former home was miles away and leaving the camp was dangerous because of the hatred of the local people towards the Dutch.

The Indonesians started attacking the camps. The British allies and the Ghurkas had arrived by then and were appointed to guard us from the Indonesians. Before that time though, there was a chaotic period when many civilians were massacred by the native people.

Eventually lists of missing people were distributed around the camps by the Red Cross. We searched for father’s name.

He was not on any list but we received a postcard from the hospital in Batavia (modern Jakarta) informing us that daddy was very sick. A Sister had written that he desperately wanted to see us. Camp security warned us against leaving the camp. But my mother was a very determined woman.

We got a lift from the camp to the station on the back on an ox wagon. It was chaos on the station platform with hoards of people squashing onto the train. My sister and I and managed to squeeze through the crowd to get on the train but mum was crowded out and left on the platform. We had to haul her in by her arms though the window. God knows what would have happened if we had got separated then. It took three days to get to Batavia. The train stopped at night. The rails were broken and had to be repaired in places. By the time we reached the hospital in Batavia we were told that daddy had died a week before of starvation. The professional care that the allied doctors gave him, came too late. We had missed the last chance to see him alive.
We did not know what to do then. Going back to camp was not an option and we needed to be safe. Mum asked around in the hospital and she found some old friends that we could stay with in Batavia. We stayed there for a month and put our names on a list to get a ship back to Holland.

After a few weeks of waiting and hoping, a handsome young man walked up the garden path. Dressed in a white sailor’s uniform. Everything about him was fair, his skin, hair and clothes. I had my hairpins in and looked a total sight. He had sailed over as First Mate on a Dutch ship bringing allied forces to Indonesia. The people we were staying with were relations of his. He was looking for surviving family members.
Mum said ‘Rob de Smalen, you’re the spit of your dad!’ She was a friend of his father’s. I had forgotten by then, but Rob and I had known each other as kids and had played together. He had three days leave before his ship returned to the Fatherland. Fate took over from there. We heard that we could sail back to Holland on his ship! During the journey back to Holland we fell in love. In 1949 after a long engagement, we got married and a year later I gave birth to my first son.

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More places to be cool – Amsterdam School

My last blog I complained about the general over-crowdedness of Amsterdam’s tourist hotspots but it’s easy to find other places of interest outside the city centre. So if you’re having an Amsterdam staycation, or are visiting the town and looking for something different, why not follow an Amsterdam School architecture trail?

The Amsterdam School is an architectural style which flowered in the Netherlands from 1910-1930. It is similar to the German Brick Expressionism movement which used bricks, tiles or clinker bricks as the main visible building material.

In the Netherlands this architectural style was often used in social housing projects, its jewel in the crown being ‘het Schip’ in Amsterdam Westerpark neighbourhood. The apartment building on the Spaarndammer-plantsoen is by Michel de Klerk. The building consists of bright orange bricks, decked with minarets and other unusual features. Designed in 1919, the building contains 102 dwellings for the working class, a small meeting house and a post office.

Het Schip is open to the public from Tuesday through Sunday, from 11am-5pm. Entrance fee is 7,50 euros which includes a 45-minute tour (so you can look inside the building) starting on the hour.

Museum Het Schip
Spaarndammerplantsoen 140
1013 XT Amsterdam

Discover more Amsterdam School buildings via this detailed map which also shows architect’s details.

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Cool Places

Urban annoyances
The centre of the city is noisy, dirty and heaving with tourists so I try and stay away during the summer months. I think you’ll agree it makes sense to avoid encounters with mooning stag parties that block up Amsterdam’s cycle paths on their ubiquitous pub bikes! It’s tropical in Amsterdam this week. Temperatures are set to soar above 30 degrees. Cities are warmest of all so why not head towards the psychologically and physically cooling effects of trees, grass and water?

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Urban Oasis
One peaceful, shady sanctuary where I recently went foraging for elderflower is within a stone’s throw of the city centre. In Amsterdam Zuid-Oost there’s a lovely nature reserve called de Ruige Hof. The volunteers run all sorts of nature activities for children and adults. List of activities here. On the last day of the summer holidays, Sunday 5 July, children can make art from natural materials. Modern kids spend too much time indoors surveys have shown whereby they miss that contact with the natural world. So if you live in Amsterdam and want to let your children play and be creative in a safe environment why not head down to de Ruige Hof? Even if the club house is shut it’s a lovely place to walk and picnic throughout the summer.

Natuurvereniging de Ruige Hof
Abcoudestraatweg 77
1105 AA Amsterdam Zuid-Oost

Metro 50 towards Gein, get out at Holendrecht
Parking at the golf course ‘De Hoge Dijk’

More nature reserves in North Holland.

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Queen of the Gymkhana -Then and Now

When I was a gal I was pony mad and during summer weekends went to horse shows to compete in gymkhana and show jumping competitions. My sister, Christine Hardinge was the first one to get the horsey bug and aged about four I followed in her slipstream. She has made a career from horsemanship alongside her husband, Colin. Her career boasts major successes at top three-day-events and she has competed and won prizes at Badminton Horse Trials which most riders can only ever dream of achieving. See her impressive eventing credentials here.

Recently, I’ve felt very nostalgic for those bygone, halcyon days of the gymkhana and have taken up show-jumping again. I have weekly lessons at the Hollandsche Manege and my sister, Chris recenly let me have a little jump around her school at home on the lovely, Crown Meteorite aka, ‘Rocket.’ See film above.

When I was in my teens I was very brave and the height of the jump never bothered me. In fact the higher the better. Nowadays, I’m quite a bit more cautious and riding-school horses are a whole different ball game anyway. The secret to show jumping over bigger fences is establishing a relationship of mutual trust with your horse and this is difficult with just weekly contact. The horse and you need to know each other so well that you become one unit. When that trust is established, the rider feels the sensation of flying over fences which makes show jumping such a satisfying and thrilling sport.

Below a photo of my old 14.2 h.h pony, The Baron XI. After competing in the juniors I went on to compete in seniors with the love of my life, Red River V, a 16 h.h bay thoroughbred, pictured right.

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Ten Surprising Facts about Tulips

  1. The tulip originated in Turkey and was named after the traditional tulip-shaped turban.
  2. Sixty percent of the world’s bulbs come from the Netherlands and three-quarters of all global trade in flower bulbs passes through NL.
  3. Export value of Dutch bulbs is approx. 600 million euros annually.
  4. It takes 7-12 years to cultivate a flowering bulb from a seed. This slow growing process partly fuelled tulip mania in the 17th Century.
  5. In the early 1600s tulip mania gripped the Dutch. Bulbs were traded for extortionate amounts of money. Often the bulbs were ‘virtual,’ passing from speculator to speculator, but never physically changing hands.
  6. The much-coveted ‘broken’ variety (with striped petals) which fetched the highest prices during tulip mania were the result of a virus in the plant.
  7. The world’s first economic bubble burst in February 1637 in Haarlem, possibly triggered by the outbreak of bubonic plague in the city.
  8. Author Deborah Moggach wrote ‘Tulip Fever’ which will be released later this year as a film. I highly recommend this novel if you like your fact peppered with fiction!
  9. In WWII, many Dutch citizens were forced to eat tulip bulbs during the famine of 1944. This period is known in Dutch as the hongerwinter. Usual food supplies were either blocked or diverted to Germany. Eighteen thousand people died of malnutrition during the exceptionally hard winter.
  10. The Keukenhof attracts around 800,000 foreign visitors each year. You have till 17 May 2015 to visit this cornucopia of flowers covering 70 acres!
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Wellies or Flip-flops?

Yes, the festival season is upon us. I’m not usually one for muddy fields, improvised toilets and lots of hubbub but this year I have booked two literary festivals! Firstly, the legendary Hay Festival in the Welsh Marches. Growing up in the Wye Valley I remember Hay-on-Wye as a tiny market town on the verge of dereliction. In 1893 my grandparents’ marriage was registered in Hay so family connections in the border area run deep. But to me it was always a sad place where out-of-fashion Welsh Mountain ponies were auctioned for a knock-down price to the meat man.

But then in the 1970s entrepreneurial hippy (Oxymoron?) Richard Booth declared himself the King of Hay, and Hay an independent Kingdom of Books! Suddenly Hay became a destination. Hats off to the self-appointed King, he kept out corporate investors and big retail chains ensuring the town comprised independent traders that serve a lively community where sheep farmers rub shoulders with Y-generation idealists. And the cherry on the cake, the annual descent of the world’s literati each spring. My line up for Hay Festival includes; Michael Morpurgo, Meera Syal, Helen MacDonald, Marcus Brigstock and an African and Welsh harp concert.

Then, in the autumn, and I’m already quaking in my flip-flops, I’ve enrolled for the York Festival of Writing. A mind-exploding selection of workshops awaits me AND two ten-minute slots with agents where I can pitch works in progress. But which WIP to choose of my six Nano projects? Or a totally new idea altogether? My business English students have to prepare an elevator pitch for their homework and I’ve decided I need to join them. I found this short session by Michael Hyatt especially useful for writers. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-t1ar_IpmUU

So what’s on your festival agenda this year? Will you be donning silly footwear or slip on your old faithfuls and stay home?

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Do you live abroad and write fiction or poetry?

Expat writers’ group, Writers Abroad, is seeking submissions for our fifth anthology.

Writers Abroad will begin accepting submissions for their 2015 anthology, Kaleidoscope, on May 1, 2015. Our expat writers’ group is asking for submissions of short stories, flash fiction, and poetry on the theme of light. The theme is open to interpretation: your light might dispel evil, or reveal something unexpected in the darkness; perhaps your character ‘sees the light’ in a revelation; or light may have an important role in your setting. Firelight can destroy or warm and illuminate; or you may be inspired by the difference in light in other countries.

This year, Writers Abroad will be donating all profits made from the anthology to Room to Read, an international charity striving for a world in which all children can pursue a quality education, reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world. To achieve this goal, they focus on two areas: literacy and gender equality in education. They work in collaboration with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the life skills they’ll need to succeed in school and beyond.

Author Christopher Allen will be writing the foreword for this anthology. He is the author of Conversations with S. Terri O’Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations.

The anthology will be print published and later available as an e-book.

SUBMISSION DETAILS:

Expat Writers Wanted

Writers Abroad fifth anthology, entitled Kaleidoscope.

Open to entries: May 1 – June 15, 2015.

Entrants: Expat or former expat writers.

Fiction: up to 1700 words.

Flash Fiction: 500 words.

Poems: 30 lines.

Theme: Light.

Entry rules:

  • Contributors must be expat or former expat writers who are living or have lived outside their country of origin.
  • Word Count: Fiction – 1700 words; Flash Fiction – 500 words; Poems – 30 lines. Entries above these specifications will not be accepted.
  • All submissions must be previously unpublished either in print or online
  • Open for submissions between Friday 1st May and Monday 15th June 2015
  • Submissions must be in English
  • Manuscripts must be submitted via the link to Submittable on this page from 1st May
  • Queries can be made only via the contact button on the Submissions page
  • Entries are free
  • Only one entry per author
  • Each author should include a third person biography of a maximum of 40 words, which includes information about their expat status and website/blog address
  • Successful authors will be informed within two weeks after the closing date
  • We cannot provide feedback on submissions, but successful stories may be edited and authors required to make minor changes for publication purposes
  • Copyright will remain with the author and the stories will be published in an anthology in a number of formats
  • All entrants must be over 18.

For additional information, full submission rules and guidelines visit: www.writersabroad.com

 

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Parrots and Mermaids in het Stedelijk

The Oasis of Matisse is the largest-ever retrospective of work by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) to be shown in the Netherlands. The exhibition traces the multi-sided talent and artistic development of Matisse from his early work through to the dazzling cut-outs of his later years.

When I studied textiles at Goldsmiths in the eighties, Matisse’s work was very much looked down upon as merely decorative and lacking content and depth. Many textile students were accused of ripping-off his line drawings and two dimensional patterns in an attempt to cover up their lack of talent. Sexism was rife in those days, the largely male-dominated fine art department looked down on its poor, female cousins in the textile department. I admit to joining the anti-Matisse brigade in an attempt to appear cool and superior to artists who were only capable of making decorative pieces. Through the years though, I’ve mellowed and on Friday at the opening day of his retrospective in het Stedelijk, my soul soared with Matisse’s in his delight of pattern and colour. I felt emboldened by his refusal to give in to negativity and the physical restraints of illness and old age.

The exhibition comprises two parts. On the ground floor Matisse’s work is placed in direct dialogue with notable works by van Gogh, Picasso, Cezanne, Delauney, Chagall, Sluiters and many others. The top floor is devoted to his later cut-outs which he created when he was confined by illness at home. I particularly love his monumental cut-out piece, The Parakeet and the Mermaid.

Matisse has pinned cut-outs all over the walls of his home. When he opens a window, the shapes tremble in the breeze. Matisse says: “I have made a little garden around me, where I can walk.”

On the mezzanine floor there’s a workshop area where you can have a go at creating cut-out pictures yourself. Suitable for children aged 8 to 88 years. :)

The exhibition at the Stedelijk runs until August 16th 2015. Timed entry possible with pre-booked, online tickets. Entry fee, 20 euros or supplement to Museum Card, 5 euros. DO NOT MISS!

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Ladies & Gentlemen, March 19, 2015

susancarey:

So pleased to be selected to have my story performed on March 19th in Leeds. Go if you can!

Originally posted on Liars' League Leeds:

Liars’ League Leeds is delighted to present another night of marvellous storytelling. This Thursday, our Ladies & Gentlemen event takes you behind the scenes at the Coney Island freakshow, into the inner sanctum of the mysterious Cimmerian Club, to a romantic dinner-party for, uh, six, and up on stage for a stand-up’s worst nightmare…

For your entertainment and edification, we will be reading…

A Sideshow Story by Joe Saxon
Grim by Liam Hogan
The Comeback by Rosalind Stopps
The Cimmerian Club by Susan Carey
Knights Round A Table by Elizabeth Hopkinson

Also, FREE BOOKS! (if you are clever enough to triumph in our almost-famous half-time books quiz.)

You can find us at the wonderful Crowd of Favours pub on Harper Street, Leeds: https://www.facebook.com/TheCrowdOfFavours

Entry is FREE, FREE I tell you! Roll up on Thursday, March 19 from 7pm and – once we’re all sitting comfortably – we’ll…

View original 15 more words

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Getting in a Pickle!

On 14 and 15 March an Iamsterdam event is taking place called, 24H Amsterdam. All sorts of enterprises and entrepreneurs are opening their doors to public who might not usually get a chance to sample their services or wares. One of these events was the opportunity to sniff around the local pickle factory. Kesbeke have been pickling onions, gherkins and piccallili in Amsterdam since 1948. It’s a family-run enterprise. They started small, selling their hand-bottled products as street traders; taking their pickles on wooden handcarts and selling them in all the neighbourhoods of Amsterdam. The Kesbeke logo incorporates the three crosses which are part of Amsterdam’s coat of arms. The business is also run under the triple-p concept which means making a profit but also taking into account peoples’ needs with respect for the planet’s resources.

Kesbeke+logo+2

With the current trend for locally-sourced products, Mr Kesbeke and his crew were overwhelmed with the amount of visitors wanting to learn more about their factory on the 24H Amsterdam open day. Fortunately our group also had about 10 minutes with Mr Kesbeke himself who still has a passion for sharing his extensive knowledge of the pickle trade.

Only ten people work on the factory floor but in one day they can process a mind-boggling 100,000 jars of pickles! Their signature product is pickled gherkins. Gherkins grow in sub-tropical climate and are all picked by hand and then shipped to Holland for processing. First they are washed, then potted, then vinegar and sugar are added and finally the product is pasteurised to kill all bacteria. They then go to the warehouse where they are labelled and eventually delivered. There is also a shop opposite the factory entrance where they sell more artisan products as well as their usual fare; Fijne Tafelzuren b.v., Adolf van Nassaustraat 2-8, 1055 RP Amsterdam

Kesbeke pickles is a national product, only sold in the Netherlands although there is a growing market in Saudi Arabia?! In the old days there were ten pickling companies in Amsterdam but now Kesbeke is the only remaining one. Nice to know there’s a thriving company employing local people on one’s doorstep. So the next time you spice up your meal with some picallili, spare a thought for all the people who have worked hard to bring it safely and tastily to your plate.

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