A Dutch Desert

In the interior of the country in the Province of Gelderland there is a strange landscape, seemingly out of place in the Netherlands – a desert. The northern area of Kootwijkerzand contains Western Europe’s largest active drift sand area, over 700 hectares.  In this area of poor soils, early farmers around 1000 AD used the area for grazing sheep. The animal droppings in turn were used for fuel and fertilizer. However, as the population grew, the nutrient rich humus layer was used for the growing of crops. Yet the extended areas of deforestation and overgrazing resulted in large areas being exposed to forces of wind and rain resulting in the top nutrient rich soil layer to be blown or washed away exposing the underlying sand deposits. As a result of even vegetation being unable to hold the soil layers, the sand drifted and covered watering holes, pastures, fields and even whole settlements in the Veluwe. Obviously this manmade desert was what we would now call an environmental disaster. In the landscape now the dunes have sand forms as a direct outcome of wind erosion. On a windy day, the sand drifts can look different in the morning from the evening with shifting forms and colors. Until the 19th century, there were over 79,000 hectares of drift sand. Only at the end of the twentieth century, with the reclamation of the moors, did drift sands on such a large scale come to a halt.

In the early  Middle Ages, excavations brought to light remains of the ancient village of Kootwijk. The name of the village, which in various documentation is also called Coetwijc, Kaetwick, Kaitwijck, Caetwyck, Koitwyck en Koetwyk, is a composition of the words: koot, kaat, kot (a small farm) and wijk (residence).

Radio Kootwijk
designed by Jules Maria Luthmann 1890 tot 1973

The radio transmitting station was built in the twenties of the last century for making radio telegraphic contact with the Dutch Colonies in the East Indies when in 1923 the Dutch Post Telephone and Telegraph company (PTT) began to transmit through long waves. The imposing tower building contrasts beautifully with the empty, desolate area. In the immediate vicinity of the station, workers’ residences were built because no accommodation was available. The village became a unique gathering of various regional, religious and cultural identities, which culminated in a community with an exceptionally rich life in a unique social context. Building A, the transmitting tower in the Art Deco style, is an historical monument, with sculptures made by the sculptor Hendrik van den Eijnde. The building served as the backdrop for the US film Mindhunters (released in 2004) and the Dutch film Far from Family (recorded in 2007).