An Introduction to the Hague and the Dutch Government
We began our first day in the Hague on our bicycles (which, little did we know at the time, would become our primary mode of travel while in the Netherlands) and set out from our hotel in a long line following our professor Cor Rademaker. We made a few stops on the way to our destination in order to become better acquainted with the new city, including a look at a small part of the Hague’s extensive canal system which is currently under renovation and one of the city’s underground tram stations.
We eventually arrived at the Binnenhof (a Dutch word which translates to “Inner Court”), a collection of buildings that house much of the Dutch government, including the office of the Prime Minister as well as the meeting place of both houses of the Dutch parliament, the States General of the Netherlands. Among these structures is the façade of the Ridderzaal, an old hunting castle built by Count William II during the 13th century. William II was a Count of Holland and crowned as a roman king, and was even considered a candidate for the next emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, though he was ultimately assassinated before he could assume the role. A fountain in the center of the Binnenhof features a golden statue of William II.
Today the Ridderzaal is still used for mostly ceremonial purposes. The former reception hall of the Count, the Hall of Knights, is now used for the Dutch monarch’s annual “speech from the throne” which outlines the government’s agenda for the following year. The speech is given on the third Tuesday of September each year on Prinsjesdag (which means “Prince’s Day”) during a joint session of the States General, which includes both houses of parliament, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The ceiling of the hall is adorned with somewhat intimidating wooden heads, “eavesdroppers” who listen vigilantly to whatever is being said by an assembly member to the presiding authority in order to dissuade them from lying.
After visiting the Hall of Knights we were led on a guided tour into the meeting chamber of the Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal (the Lower House of the States General). Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures while inside as the security around the building is very intensive, but we were allowed to get a relatively close look at the environment within which the Dutch government conducts its business. Like the United States, the Netherlands has a bicameral legislature; however, because the latter is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system, the roles of Head of State and Head of Government are divided between a monarch and a Prime Minister, whereas in the US both roles are assumed by a President.
As we departed from the Binnenhof to get lunch we passed by the Hofvijver, a large pond adjacent to the Binnenhof as well as the Mauritshuis, a state museum housing the works of many prominent artists including Vermeer and Rembrandt. On the pond I saw the first of many displays of the art style of Piet Mondriaan, a Dutch painter known for combining the colors red, yellow, and blue in an array of four-sided shapes. Mondriaan’s art can be seen all over the city; I also noticed it in the cafeteria of a gift shop near the Binnenhof, on a storefront in a shopping center we passed through, and even on the façade of a building.