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The surreal break from Soesterberg is almost over. Now go and enjoy it.

Even if war breaks out today, fighter jets will no longer land there. 200,000 visitors a year is the minimum they need now, at Soesterberg. The former air base in the heart of the Netherlands, where until 2009 a squadron of F15 jet fighters stood ready to teach the then enemy, the communists, a lesson, is coming into the hands of the public. The developer is putting the finishing touches to the Military Aviation Museum there. Small parts of the five-kilometre-long runway are being ploughed over, and a few hangars are being put to use as repositories of art.

The area of a few hundred hectares has been cut off from the outside world for decades. Now that it no longer serves as a Navo base, more and more ordinary people will take possession of it. Museum visitors, residents of the new housing estates planned there, nature lovers, seekers of Navo nostalgia and art lovers.

[Tweet "The art has been made there in recent years by all sorts of clubs that have since been cut back or disbanded"]

The art, in recent years made possible in part by a variety of clubs that have since been cut back or disbanded, such as the Centrum voor Beeldende Kunst and De Vrede van Utrecht, is housed at five venues, all quite a bit of cycling apart. There is a nature library in an underground bunker complex, there is an alien plane in a bombproof aircraft shelter. The former control tower is a mini museum.

All this art is best enjoyed in small groups. The vast expanse of the airbase makes you feel insignificant anyway, but climbing the stairs of the old control tower just the two of you feels more exciting than standing in a line with 10 others.

The four floors are decorated by the artist duo Kaleb de Groot and Roosje Klap, operating under the exciting name 'De Receptor'. There are showcases with memories of life at the airbase, there is modest art and the floor covering refers to the camouflage motifs of the NATO armies. And to the blur the area was for years on Google Maps.

[Tweet "How many bottles of gin could fit in the barrel of a Leopard tank"]

Top of the list is the top floor, now converted into a two-person lounge. On headphones, you can hear the sober recounting of accidents and near misses in the history of the base. Planes that did a cartwheel, landed on their backs or shot through their brakes. Meanwhile, you look out over the vast emptiness of the runways. Lovely, but not with 10 people around you.

The guides are a story apart. The veterans, the people who lived or worked around the base, give it that extra touch. The stories about the liquor smuggling that was common in the army are delightful. How many bottles of gin could fit in the barrel of a Leopard tank, for example.

The intimacy offered by the now largely enclosed base makes you realise best how loud, big and bizarre was the war machine that ruled here throughout the 20th century. The silence makes you realise how unreal peace really is.

Especially now.

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4 thoughts on “De onwerkelijke rustpauze van Soesterberg is bijna voorbij. Ga er nu van genieten.”

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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