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Koen Marijt is crazy about history: 'So much has happened within one kilometre of Rapenburg'

Anyone who has taken a walk through the centre of Leiden before might have come across him, an attentive group of tourists gathered around. After studying history, Koen van Toen, or Koen Marijt, started his own business. He now organises historical walks, among other things.

Koen Marijt
Koen Marijt

Marijt's love for history began at an early age. As a twelve-year-old, he saw a model of a Tin Snail car at his uncle's house and was hooked. ‘I liked building models so much that I went to Blokker to buy one myself. It was an aeroplane from the Second World War, which also had some historical information on the side of the box. That is how my interest in that time period started.'

Always busy with historical research

Twenty years later, Marijt is still devoted to the Second World War. He works as a historian and consultant at the Explosives Department of the IDDS consultancy and engineering firm in Noordwijk. Their most important task is tracing explosives from the war. Yet for Marijt, digging in historical sources and research is what makes the job fun. To the extent that he also has his own company in historical research, among other things. ‘During my studies I loved the lectures on the VOC and WIC. That's why I did my Master's in Maritime History, and after that I worked at the Public Services department of the University Library. I really enjoyed working in close contact with different people in the library, but I didn't do anything with history. That is why I started my own company: Koen van Toen. I do historical research, for example for people who want to trace their family history or I help foundations and companies who want to know more about their history.’

A kilometre full of history

Marijt also organises historical excursions with his company Koen van Toen, through Leiden and Noordwijk, for example. ‘I wrote my thesis on the development of Noordwijk from fishing village to seaside resort. That is how I became so attached to local history. The Rapenburg may be only one kilometre long, but so much has happened there. If you just look at the Second World War, that's where [Koen points to the building at Rapenburg 65, near the Academy Building -ed.] the German Ortskommandant and an NSB house were located, but Soldier of Orange lived just across the road. And then there was an assassination attempt.'  

‘I try to talk about such events during these excursions, although I also slip in which pub they should visit or avoid for dinner. There may be a hundred historians who know more about the history of Leiden than I do, but I am lucky that I am able to tell these stories it in an engaging way.'

Not enough time?

But Marijt does not want to stop at just telling stories. Together with three others, he is also working on a book series about the development of Noordwijk as a seaside resort, the first part of which is due to appear this year. ‘There is already a book about the origins of Noordwijk as a seaside resort, but it is quite old and much of the information is distorted or somewhat incorrect. That is why I want to go back to the sources to see how things really were, as I learned during my studies.’ On top of all that, he organises trips to Normandy, sits in various local history organisations and dreams of writing a book about the history of the Rapenburg during the war. 

It's a pity that a day only has 24 hours,' says Marijt. 'Fortunately, during my studies I learned to not only work analytically and critically, but also to quickly separate main points from minor ones.’

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