Rust in Vrede: A Trip to Zorgvlied Cemetery

Take a trip to an historic cemetery just outside central Amsterdam and see where peacocks and Dutch celebrities reside hand in hand

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I’m in Amsterdam once a month nowadays and like any good cemetery enthusiast, I’m loving the opportunity to explore another city’s past and its dead. I took a tram to Amsterdam RAI and after a 15 minute stroll, I arrived at the gates of one of the most popular places to be buried in the Netherlands.

Zorgvlied cemetery is a  blend of the old and new; designed in the English garden style –  its mature planting, sculpture and atmosphere make this one of the nicest places in Amsterdam to take a leisurely stroll. So what’s there to see?

1. History

Originally opening in 1870 and catered to the upper class of Amstelveen, boundary lines were redrawn in 1896 so that it now falls under the municipality of Amsterdam. It was designed by urban planner Jan David Zocher. Zocher had already successfully designed cemeteries in Haarlem and Utretcht.

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2. Glass Headstones

Fancy an alternative to your usual headstone? Why not have one made from glass and perspex? Framed in bare earth and crushed seashell pathways, illuminated by the dappled sunlight of mature trees, what better way to have your last resting place marked than by having an eye catching marker for future generations to see.

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One such person who chose this form of memorial is writer Annie M. G. Schmidt. Referred to as the mother of ‘Dutch theatrical song’, she was the writer of popular children’s character Jip & Janneke, which was translated into ‘Mick and Mandy’ in the U.K. Like George Eliot Cross and Douglas Adams in Highgate cemetery, people leave pens at her grave as a sign of affection.

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Jip and Janneke

3. Rijksmonuments

In 2008 the National Cultural Heritage Agency added parts of the cemetery to the list of monuments of national importance – Rijkmonuments. Several of these monuments are in Zorgvlied, including the neoclassical mausoleum of Circus and Theatre director Oscar Carré, a German-born proprietor of the Royal Theater Carré (and whose tomb emulates his theatre, who share an architect), the hulking white mass of Elisabeth Otter-Knoll’s grave (four plots long and a statement at not being able to be buried with either of her husbands), as well as the paths and designs of the sections opened between 1869 – 1931.

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4. Paradiso

Flamboyance in death is nothing new and certain memorials to the people buried within this Dutch valhalla are stunning. The bohemian nature of these newer memorials  started with the death of iT nightclub owner and LGBT figure Manfred Langer, whose grave is marked with a life size statue of him holding a pint of beer.

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This opened the flood gates to others wanting similarly off-the-wall graves so the cemetery opened a special district, or wijknamen, called ‘Paradiso’ – where sculpted lions, gorillas and trees play consort to the central brooding angel standiing over the ashes of rockstar (and latterly, painter) Hernan Brood. Infamous for his drug abuse as much as his art and music, failing health because of his substance intake and failed attempts at sobriety led him to commit suicide by jumping from the roof of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel in 2001. He left a note, simply saying:

“Party on. I’ll be seeing you.”

5. The (Un)Hinged Tomb

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Situated on a crossroads towards the back of the cemetery is the bizarre tomb of artist Peter Giele, whose grave resembles a cape thrown over a skull. It appears to have hinges, which confused me until a quick bit of Googling revealed why.

Giele suffered a fatal stroke whilst riding his scooter to Het Gooi and at his funeral, flanked by Amsterdam’s Hell’s Angels, his body floated down the River Amstel in a mixture of fire and flowers. It turns out he wanted his grave to be interactive and welcomed people to climb inside it to ponder their own views on life and death: something cemetery management frowned upon – only close family and friends now have the privilege.

6. Art Deco

In a cemetery as old as Zorgvlied, headstones reflect the times with which they were made. Have a look at the Art Deco examples here – typography you’d more commonly see on a heritage cinema than a cemetery, but aren’t they gorgeous?

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7. Boney M

I am a massive, massive fan of Boney M, having been introduced to them by my late Aunt who teased out my inner homosexual by playing their music loudly as I helped her clean out her room in my youth. Bobby Farrell, or ‘Daddy Cool’ as he’s described on his headstone, was the only male member of the group created by Frank Farian, who also orchestrated (the rise and fall of) Milli Vanilli. Farrell was originally an exotic dancer from Aruba who had alarming dealings with Farian. Ironically, Farrell died on the same day as the titular Rasputin.

Ra-ra-rest in peace.

8. It’s different and it knows it

Peacocks and red squirrels weave in and out of the headstones here – this cemetery is the first time I’ve ever seen the latter. This is a place where people seem to want something more than a regular monument out of a catalogue – such as Lennaert Boost, whose metalic blue sculpture comes with the subtitle ‘I want to break free’.

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If you’re ever in town, hop on the metro, fire up Spotify, add Hernan Brood/Boney M to your playlist and pay a visit to this superb little place of remembrance.

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