• Hans Faber

Women of Anjum or One Night in Anjum

Late in the afternoon, December 28, 2018, one of the Frisian bastards arrived at Anjum after a hike that had started at Holwerd. A walk of 30 km along the coast. It was exactly 21 years ago that the villagers were shaken by the national news. The discovery of two bodies, buried in the garden of guesthouse Het Station. The killer was a woman, and she was owner of the guesthouse. The bastard had made reservations at a different lodging, named Hotel Wad Oars. Just to be on the safe side. However, this hotel turned out to be flooded with women the whole night. In fact, the bastard encountered only one man during his one night stay in Anjum.

Anjum, or Eanjum in Frisian language, is a terp village east of the village Morra, in the very corner of northeast province Friesland. It has about 1,100 inhabitants. The terp (i.e. an artificial settlement mound; read our Manual Making a Terp in 12 Steps to learn more about these mounds) on top of which Anjum is built, is more than 2,000 years old. The oldest written reference of the village dates from the tenth century, when it was called Annigheim or Annegum, meaning 'hiem' (home/yard) of a person named Ania or Aninga. During those Early Middle Ages, sheep farming was a main activity of the people of Annigheim (Prummel & Van Gent, 2010). Besides wool, meat and dairy, other economic activities we can assume the people were engaged in, was sea trade and peat cutting/salt production. The latter in the nearby peat areas, west/southwest of the village, an area now known as De Kolken. Lastly, in Anjum used to be the stronghold of the Holdinga and the Thoe Schwartzenberg families: the Holdingastate. It has been demolished as nearly all of the many hundreds of staten 'small castles' in the northern Netherlands have. The crypt of the Holdinga family, however, has been preserved, and can be seen in the vaults below the twelfth-century Saint Michael church.

inland sea Lauwerszee, ca. eleventh century (www.landschapsgeschiedenis.nl)

The location of Anjum is on the outer rim of land, bordering both the Wadden Sea and the Lauwersmeer (Lake Lauwers). The Lauwersmeer used to be an inland sea, the Lauwerszee (Lauwers Sea), until it was sealed off from the Wadden Sea by a big dike in 1969. For a while it looked like the Dutch central government would not close the Lauwerszee, despite it was part of the Delta Plan of 1953. The government tried to cut budgets. But after heavy protests of the Frisians in 1959 under the slogan “De Lauwerszee moet dicht!” (‘The Lauwers Sea must be sealed off!’), and with signatures of 135,000 petitioners, the central government gave in and kept its promise. That might give hope for home owners in province Groningen for compensation of their damaged houses.

At first, there were no plans what to do with the new sweet-water lake that was created by accident when the Lauwerszee was sealed off. Today, however, Lauwersmeer is one of the national parks of the Netherlands. It is full of wildlife, especially all kinds of birds and plants. Including the white-tailed eagle. It turned out to be a glorious accident. Furthermore, National Park Lauwersmeer is listed by the International Dark-Sky Association. The mission of IDA is to preserve night-time environments of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. Great initiative we think. So, when the Frisian bastard arrived late in the afternoon, when it was getting dark early anyhow this time of year, know that in Anjum and its surroundings it really, really gets dark. Wicked dark.

It was around 17:00 hours when the bastard entered Hotel Wad Oars and was welcomed by a woman. The name Wad Oars is a wordplay of 'Wadden Sea' which can be abbreviated in Dutch as Wad. Wad has the same pronunciation as wat 'what' in English. The word oars is Frisian and means 'other/different'. So, wad oars means 'something different'. The building of Hotel Wad Oars at Dorpsstraat st. always has been a place for lodging. Originally, a century ago, it was called Logement (see below). Later names, annex owners, are Hotel Visser, Hotel Minneboo, Hotel Pestman, Hotel Vogel and Hotel Lauwersmeer. Before closing of the Lauwerszee in 1969, the ferry to island Schiermonnikoog departed from the little harbor of nearby Oostmahorn. Staying the night in Anjum could be practical.

Hotel Wad Oars before (check out the roof)

Hotel Wad Oars also has a restaurant. Logically, the bastard asked to have dinner that evening. “That is possible,“ the woman taking care of the restaurant said, “but I would like to ask if you can eat early, because we play bingo this evening. That starts at seven,” the woman explained. “The whole restaurant will be crowded by then,” she added. An early meal was no problem for the bastard. The bastard was directed to his spacious room at the second floor. After a quick shower and change into less sweaty clothes, he sat at the table in the restaurant at 17:30 hours sharp. He was the only guest in the restaurant, possibly the only guest in the hotel at all. The bastard published a post on Facebook that he had checked-in at Anjum. Immediately he received as reply:

“Be careful there, with the killer women!”

It was pitch dark outside. Should he worry?

In 1996 a piece of mentally distressed driftwood stranded in Anjum. Her name was Marianne. She had drifted along the southern North Sea coast for years, from among other the city of Amsterdam, the town of Den Helder, island Texel and the hamlet with the charming name Moddergat 'mud hole'. Until she finally washed up at the corner of northeast Friesland. Carried to this backwater on the prevailing west to east current of the North Sea, as it were. A stranger. Once in Anjum, she started a guesthouse in the former train station at Skeanewei st. and gave it the name Het Station. It was the former train station of Anjum. The end of the line of a railway track between the city of Leeuwarden and Anjum. It would be the final destination of Marianne and especially of two men, as well. The railway track was known as 'It Dokkumer Lokaaltje'. A local track that was dissolved in 1998. Already in 1935, station Anjum had been closed down, by the way, because it was unprofitable.

guesthouse Het Station before - beginning of the twentieth century

At Christmas 1997 the remains of two men were discovered in the garden of Het Station. Marianne was arrested and convicted by court a year later. She was sentenced for six years in jail with additional detention under hospital orders (i.e. TBS) because of diminished capacity. In 2014 she was released. Till this day Marianne says not being guilty. Some people doubt whether she was the chief perpetrator and say she was merely an accomplice (Crombag & Israëls, 2008). A horrible and tragic story, it is anyhow.

Het Hounegât

In the vaults below the tower of the Saint Michael church is Het Hounegât. Translated it means something like ‘the hound pit’. It is a small room that according to tradition initially was used as a place where dogs were put when people visited the church on Sundays, or any other day. Later, around 1700, it was turned into a primitive prison cell with a heavy door. Here tramps, thieves, vagabonds, drunks, robbers, and other criminals were held up (Idema, 1977). It is still there to see. And no, it is not being used anymore, not even then in 1997.

Back to the restaurant of Hotel Wad Oars. Around 19:00 hours, the Frisian bastard had finished his dinner together with a few wines, when the room started to fill up with people to play bingo. It was all women. Women of every age, between 18 and 70. The bastard estimated it were about fifty. One of the women came to his table and said with a big laugh:

“We are the murder women. Saw your post on Facebook!”

Then she explained briefly that the whole murder thing back in 1997 actually meant they finally had some distraction and fun in the village. “Nothing ever happens here in Anjum,” she explained. “We enjoyed seeing our friends and neighbors on the national telly speaking terrible Dutch, because, in fact, we only speak Frisian properly. Hilarious!”

It was crowded house, and it was time for the bastard to move to a corner of the room near the bar, so the women could play their bingo at the tables. Somehow, you do not want to irritate women of Anjum. Especially, when you are heavily outnumbered. Everyone was dead serious. Silence took over. Like being in church. The only sound was that of the numbers being announced. And, the occasional: "BINGO!" The bastard ordered with a soft voice a whisky, and asked the waitress behind the bar, who turned out to be from the port of Harlingen and thus spoke no Frisian, if this evening was women only. “No,” she answered, “men just don’t come here these bingo nights.” All righty then.

At the bar there was the only other male person besides the bastard. After a while they made a little chat. The man did not speak Frisian either. He too was a 'stranger' and came from the city of Arnhem. That could explain why he was the only male in the room. He worked at the big, old windmill called De Eendragt (Concord) in Anjum, at the little museum annex tourist office there. “And I help villagers out when they need to correspond in Dutch writing with government officials,” he said.

The so-called miller saw the book the bastard was reading: De traanjagers ‘the whale-oil hunters’ of writer Anne-Goaitske Breteler. The book is about the many, young men of northeast Friesland who became whaler after the Second World War. She had documented their personal stories. A history which became a taboo when whale hunting was condemned. He said, whilst pointing at the book: “I know her father, of her, Anne-Goaitske. They are from this region” and he told some stories what they had experienced together. “What a coincidence this is,” the bastard thought, and he enjoyed the evening and the whisky.

Around 22:00 hours bingo was over, and all the prices had been distributed. Then the women started to have a few more drinks. By midnight everyone went home. The bastard felt safe, and went to bed as well. Two hours later he was woken up by enormous blasts. He heard a dog barking inside the hotel. Strange, because he thought he was all alone in the hotel. Soon, the bastard realized what it was: guys busy ‘carbidschieten’, i.e. igniting calcium carbide. Probably with big, iron milk churns. It was too dark to see anything outside. A familiar tradition in the countryside in especially the north and east of the Netherlands around New Year's Eve. The bastard fell asleep again.

Quite early in the morning the bastard had breakfast. Today he would continue walking to the old fishing port of Zoutkamp in province Groningen, about 20 km. At the mouth of the river Lauwers. It would rain, promised the weather forecast. A different woman than yesterday was serving breakfast. It was great food. She asked the bastard where he lived. “The Hague,” the bastard explained. She responded with: “Aren’t there a lot of, euh, non-Dutch people living there?” The bastard was afraid this conservation could turn awkward. "Yes, indeed. About fifty percent in the city is of foreign origin," the bastard replied. Then she continued: “In our village we have a foreign family too. Afghans. Refugees. I drive them each Friday to the city of Groningen because here in our village we have no mosques. But sometimes I cannot help thinking that the distance to the Dutch culture is so big for them. I also once tried to answer those questions for their integration exams. I really found them difficult to answer. And believe me, I’m not really stupid because I did the HAVO (i.e. higher high school) when I was a girl.” The woman and the bastard came to talk about the ‘world’ and she also told her son was in military and currently stationed in Iraq.

The bastard could not help to see the existing disconnect between the city, the urban world, and that of the countryside. In the city, people decide and talk about war, but it are the sons of the villagers who actually fight their global wars. Also, people from villages reason from the concept of community sense. With mutual ties, shared values and traditions. Out of this concept they wonder what that means for not only absorbing persons from distant cultures, but also what it implies for the ‘strangers’ who settle within such a foster community. A ‘global community’ is something fictional for them. A theoretical concept. Her elementary way of thinking was right in a way. The global challenges of world politics do not pass by the villagers. There is no ignorance there. Instead, the countryside is actively part of those challenges, but from and with a different angle and perspective. The bastard was happy to be out off the city bubble for a while. A reset button.

‘carbidschieten' (igniting calcium carbide)

Then, when the bastard almost had finished his breakfast, it turned out there were two more guests. He was not the only guest, after all. It was an elderly couple and they had a little dog with them. When they were seated at a table near the window and the woman asked for their choices for breakfast, the couple started to complain about the noise that night. Their accent was that of the city. They said the dog was in distress and they really had considered calling the police. The woman, in a tone like she was having a regular conversation about the weather with her demented mother, commented that it had been very wise indeed of them not to call the police. “The boys only would have liked it. You would have given them what they want. It is a local tradition here, during the short days,” she said. No sorry, nothing. “So, it was orange juice and fresh mint thee with ginger you wanted?” and off she was. The couple had difficulties finding the reset button. They started to pat the little dog.

The Frisian bastard paid his debts and left. To drift further along the coast. There where Marianne's journey had ended. Following the prevailing sea current toward the east. On his way out the village, he walked via the old church on the solid terp and via the old windmill De Eendragt. Both were closed. Just before he walked out of the village, at the crossing with Skeanewei st. where guesthouse Het Station once was located, there was a woman. It had started to drizzle in the meantime, and everything had turned calm, grey and hazy. Again the bastard wondered: "Where are the men of Anjum?" The woman was walking with her little daughter, and pushing a baby carriage. She halted at the crossing at great distance to let the bastard, a stranger, pass by. No traffic, no noise. Total silence.

In the wheat field just outside Anjum the bastard spotted a lone deer in the distance. Not a typical brown one, this time. It was black. Or was it a demon goat?

"I can feel the devil walking next to me"

Note 1: Want to know more about the women of Frisia, check out our blog post Frisian women: free and unbound.

Note 2: If interested in photos of this two-days hike, check here.

Suggested music:

It Dockumer Lokaeltsje, Mummies (1990)

Murray Head, One Night in Bangkok (1984)

Further reading:

Breuker, P., Het landschap van de Friese klei 800-1800 (2017)

Crombag, H. & Israëls, H., Moord in Anjum. Te veel niet gestelde vragen (2008)

Idema, H., Van Anigheim tot Anjum (1977)

Koen, W., Pensionhoudster maakte Anjum in één klap beroemd (2017)

Koning, de P., Het ontspoorde leven van Marianne van der E. (1998)

Mik, de K., Anjum schudt het hoofd na vondst ‘house of horror’ (1997)

Nicolay, J.A.W. (ed), Terpbewoning in oostelijk Friesland. Twee opgravingen in het voormalige kweldergebied van Oostergo; Prummel, W. & Gent, van J.T., Dieren van de middeleeuwse terp Anjum-Terpsterweg (2010)