On the road with museum lover Jelte Liemburg: ‘I finally got to hold a mammoth tooth’
Former student of history at Leiden Jelte Liemburg, aged 29, has set himself the unusual challenge of visiting every single one of the 500 museums in the Netherlands that take part in the national museum pass scheme. We joined him for his 223rd museum visit. ‘I want to see the country from a different angle.’
We catch up with Liemburg in the restaurant at Naturalis, one of the few museums in Leiden that he hasn’t visited since starting his museum quest last August. ‘I've always loved visiting museums,’ he says. ‘The idea of going to every museum in the country that I can with my museum pass came about when somebody gave me the pass for my birthday. I realised that I’d spent so much time in Leiden and had seen very little of the rest of the country. This would take me to places I’d never have been to otherwise.’
At home in Leiden
Leiden is Liemburg’s home. Ever since his student days he’s loved living in the city, and has worked for various organisations in Leiden, including the university’s Alumni Office. ‘I took care of communications with young alumni and student members of the Leiden University Fund.’ Now he works at Centrummanagement Leiden, an organisation that represents the interests of entrepreneurs in the city centre. ‘Our aim is to make sure that Leiden is a vibrant, enterprising city that attracts visitors from all across the region. For example, we’re running a campaign that encourages people to come and spoil themselves a little in Leiden.’
The first museum that Liemburg spoiled himself with was also in the ‘City of Keys’: the Hortus Botanicus (Botanical Gardens). ‘That was a very deliberate choice. I’d actually been planning to visit another museum – the National Dredging Museum in Sliedrecht. But I decided not to put that first after all, as it could have given the wrong impression about my museum challenge. Not everyone is crazy about dredging...’
‘Basically, I’m trying to use public transport only. I’ve only visited five museums by car, and that was because friends wanted to join me.'
Twitter reviews and statistics
Liemburg takes the challenge seriously. After every visit, he writes a short, humorous review on Twitter, and gives the museum a rating of one to five stars. He also publishes statistics on his museum visits, including the time spent in the museum, the money he saved by using his museum pass and how far he has travelled in total. So far, he has covered over 12,000 kilometres by train. ‘Basically, I’m trying to use public transport only,’ he explains. ‘I’ve only visited five museums by car, and that was because friends wanted to join me. If I’m aiming to visit several museums in one day, I go on my own, but if not I’ll often ask a friend to join me. One of those friends is doing a similar mission to mine, but in his case he’s visiting every single railway station in the Netherlands.’
Expiry date looming
It’s time to go into the museum. At the ticket office, the museum worker informs Liemburg that his pass is going to expire soon. ‘I know, it’s all under control,’ he answers. ‘The pass expires in August. That will be one year since I started.’ After a quick chat about Liemburg’s unusual mission, the staff member wishes us a pleasant visit and off we go. First we enter a shadowy gallery with all kinds of stuffed animals on display – the Life gallery. ‘They have a vast collection here,’ says Liemburg, who has already seen many other natural history museums in the Netherlands. He stops to admire the puffins, one of his favourite animals. ‘I’ve seen them in the wild so many times in Ireland. It’s such a shame they don’t live in the wild in the Netherlands.’
After the Life gallery comes the Dinosaur Era gallery, featuring the museum’s highly prized T. Rex named Trix. The path that leads visitors towards Trix is illuminated in red, with small dinosaur footprints lighting up on the floor as we walk. ‘This feels just like Jurassic Park, the movie,’ says Liemburg. ‘You know the toilet scene? So scary.’ Liemburg takes the time to admire and take photos of Trix. 'You can't help but be amazed by a dinosaur like that.'
One unexpected highlight for Jelte is the Ice Age gallery, where visitors can touch and pick up fossils dating from that period of prehistory. He immediately reaches for a mammoth tooth, a type of fossil that he’s seen in many other museums. ‘All the museums like to show off their mammoth teeth, even though they’re actually quite common. But it’s fantastic to be able to pick one up and hold it!’ Right up on the top floor of the museum, in the Seduction Gallery, we come across something else remarkable: a black widow phallus magnified many times, which looks a bit like a willow tree.
At the end of the visit, Jelte explains what makes his museum visits so special. ‘The volunteers,’ he replies, without hesitating. ‘Especially at smaller museums, they’re often really pleased that you’re visiting their museum, and do everything they can to make it really special. For example, one volunteer at the Museum of the Dutch Cavalry in Amersfoort told me all about the Dutch army and, much to the dismay of the museum director, allowed me to sit inside a tank. That made my visit truly memorable.’
Text: Sabine Waasdorp
Images: Eelkje Colmjon