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Madurodam: A Miniature City That Tells Big Stories

As The Hague’s miniature theme park opens a new multi-sensory attraction, we learn about the park’s history, and its revitalisation.

In the month that the Hague’s miniature theme park, Madurodam, opened a new multi-sensory attraction, the Court of the Netherlands, (Hof van Nederland), Madurodam’s Caroline Riemslag and Jora Vision’s Robin van der Want spoke to Blooloop about the Park’s history, its revitalisation and the full-sized new attraction, created by Jora Vision for Madurodam.

Madurodam comprises a miniature city which covers an area the size of a football pitch with buildings that are faithful replicas of their full-sized counterparts on a scale of 1:25.

It consists of three main areas: City Centre, Water World and Innovation Island, as well as the playground, ‘the Waddenzee’.

Interactive activities allow visitors to take on the role of dyke guard, pilot or lock keeper, and the buildings, streets and squares all have their own story.

The park, created in 1952, is a memorial to a Second World War resistance fighter and national hero, George Maduro, born in Curacao, who died in Dachau months before peace was declared, aged 29.

“It’s a sad story, but also one of a brave young man who fought for our freedom, ” says Caroline Riemslag (above right). “He died just before the war ended. His parents wanted to do something in memory of him. They didn’t want a statue, but something vibrant, living, where people could have a fun time while experiencing the great Dutch stories.”

Madurodam: A Miniature City That Tells Big Stories

As they were considering the nature of a memorial to their son, they met Bep Boon van der Starp, founder of the Haagsch Committee for Refugees, and member of the board of the Dutch Student Sanatorium. Having seen something similar in the UK, she suggested building a miniature city to raise this money for the sanatorium. Maduro’s parents donated the initial capital; a partnership was born and Madurodam opened in 1952.

“They thought it would be an ideal way to tell the big stories of Holland in miniature.”

To this day, all revenue goes to charity, and the Support Fund donates to projects for children.

In 1993, a scale model of Maduro’s birthplace in Curaçao was built in the park.

“When you enter the park, the first thing you see is the birth house of George Maduro, and you can watch a short movie on a digital, interactive screen which tells his story.Madurodam logo

The next thing you see is the new attraction.”

In November 2011, as a step to combat dwindling visitor numbers, the Park closed for a major reconstruction. The attraction, essentially static, needed to be updated.

On reopening the following year, in 2012, it was to record visitor numbers of 739, 694, an increase of 36%.

“The big change in 2012 was the interactive perspective that was added…”

“…so that the stories being told came to life through movies and interactive attractions where the visitor can do something themselves.”

She adds,  “For children, there is so much more to do: formerly it was a passive experience: a case of simply walking through the park and watching. Since the renovation they have been able to experience the stories for themselves and be a part of them.”

Digital, interactive display screens bring the stories of the Netherlands to life in a way that is both fun and informative, so visitors can explore in a matter of hours the great stories that make Holland so special.

In 2013, the second phase of the renovation added a number of new interactive attractions, digital display screens and improved the facilities for visitors.

Riemslag says,  “That was the biggest change. And then, this year we decided to have not only miniature and interactive attractions and stories to show the audience, but also multisensory, indoor experiences. We have an open-air Park which is open all year round, so it’s also good to have indoor capacity.”

One activity – which includes an interactive zone where visitors can test their football skills – celebrates Holland’s 1988 2-0 triumph in the UEFA Euro Final during which Van Basten’s goal would later be described as one of the greatest goals in the history of the European Championships.

“And, you really experience our elation at our Dutch football accomplishments. We had never won anything, and then this was really big, and we won it. The whole city of Amsterdam was really crazy – the canals were full of boats and lined with people dressed in orange, and this is all portrayed in this attraction.”

She says,  “This summer we put in a new attraction called Hof van Nederland.”

This, too, is an indoor attraction, marking a significant historical point in the creation of the Netherlands when, in Dordrecht in 1572, at the First Free State Assembly, the Dutch states came together in secret and decided to get rid of Spanish oppression, marking the creation of the democracy of the Netherlands as we know it now.

It is a 4-minute multi-sensory immersive experience where, by means of special effects and projection, visitors are transported back in time to that turning point in Holland’s history.

Madurodam: A Miniature City That Tells Big Stories

Its creation is a collaboration between the creative team at Madurodam, and Jora Vision, who were instrumental in the art direction, design and development of visual and audio content, project management, story development and artistic direction, and who had previously designed and built Madurodam’s themed playground.

Riemslag explains,  “We decided to put this attraction at the beginning of the Park, because it represents where Holland began.”

She adds,  “Holland’s stories can be told in a number of ways. The multi-sensory attractions are a different way of storytelling; a creative application of different ideas and technologies, and a great way of illustrating historical happenings. The new Court of Holland is particularly exciting – I’ve been in there with children and families, and everyone is saying: wow – what’s going to happen here? They can feel things; the air becomes sometimes cold, sometimes warm. It’s exciting – people don’t know what to expect. You can even feel running mice at your feet. And, the stories are new to them – they say, wow, I didn’t know that.”

“The new Court of Holland is awesome – it really feels like you’re there.”

Robin van der Want (right), project adviser at Jora Vision, spoke about the collaboration with Madurodam, and went into Robin van der Want,  project adviser at Jora Visiondetail about the new attraction, stressing the significance of the First Free State Assembly in Dordrecht in 1572.

“It was during that secret meeting (attending which was punishable by death) that the 12 states of the Netherlands agreed to rise against the Spanish and fight for freedom, marking the creation of the Netherlands and our values as we know them today. The values of freedom to think, believe and be who you are. Although they date from 1572, these values are still not accepted everywhere in the world, making them still of relevance today.”

He says,  “So as you can see, this story had all the ingredients for Jora Vision to create an exciting experience about the rise of a nation.”

The challenge facing them was to find a balance between entertainment, and getting the facts across “without boring or confusing the visitors with ‘death by details’. And, on the other hand, we wanted it to be entertaining: Madurodam is not a museum.”

However, they were wary of making the attraction so entertaining that the message became trivialised or cluttered. They were also determined the technology should not get in the way of the experience itself.

Madurodam: A Miniature City That Tells Big StoriesVan der Want says,  “In our opinion a visitor experience is always about the story. Theming creates the right atmosphere, and technology supports as a medium to communicate the story. You should hardly ‘see’ or ‘understand’ the technology being used. That is why we made sure that none of the technology is directly visible.”

Secondly , they felt vistors needed to be part of that specific moment in 1572. And, lastly, the experience needed to be a clear indication of a move in a new direction for Madurodam.

“Taking all this into account, we eventually created  a four minute historical multi-sensory experience, which takes visitors back to the moment when this secret meeting took place in the ‘Court of Dordrecht’”.

To create the right atmosphere, it was decided to recreate the ‘Court of Dordrecht’ as it was in 1572. Based on Jora Vision’s design, Madurodam created an evocative and fully themed environment with actual props from the period.

“The idea was that visitors should participate in that secret meeting; feeling like one of the representatives present.”

“So people sit at a large meeting table, facing each other, which creates in itself a certain uneasiness. We then simulate the night time with 30 flickering candles, making the total atmosphere even more mysterious.”

Madurodam: A Miniature City That Tells Big StoriesHe says, “We did not want to let the story be told by a voice-over, so we choose to film an actor, in the character of Filips van Marnix, Willem of Orange’s representative, to tell the story. His character is a projection which enters after the visitors and stands at the head of the table, then moves around in the room during the experience.”

The meeting is suddenly interrupted by the uproar of an approaching Spanish army, projected as a shadow effect through the windows in the wall. A series of special and sensory effects follows: a shot is fired in the room; rats run past the legs of the visitors; a cannon ball shoots through the room; a window opens and you feel the wind which puts out the candles, thereby leaving the visitors in the dark.

“Then our main character returns, making use of the impressive fire place in the room. A fire ignites as a pepper’s ghost effect spanning a width of 1.5 m. This slowly illuminates the room. We wanted the fire to interact with the emotion of our storyteller, so blazing flames occur when he speaks louder. The fire also brings a transformative final surprise at the end of the experience.”

There is a constant, bewildering barrage of effects happening all around, so that visitors can hardly take it all in.

“This means that every time you do the experience, you have something new to discover.”

Madurodam, with their own team of decorators, were responsible for the complete production of the ‘Court of Dordrecht’ themed environment, while Jora Vision was responsible for the concept, including the storytelling, design, art-direction, and the audio and visual content.

Madurodam’s future is about continuing to find “fun ways to educate people without being too scholastic”.

“Fun education is one of the big angles, and will always be at the centre of what we do, ” says Riemslag. “We have to show what’s new; where we’re going; why we’re doing it.”

“It’s really important to show we have a vision and that the reason the park was first begun should always be at the heart of what we do.”

An enthusiastic and compelling spokesperson for Madurodam, and a committed exponent of its core ethos, Riemslag says,  “I have been working in PR since 2000. I went into retail and decided I didn’t want to work for a bureau any more – working for clients is nice, but being part of a team is more interesting. I’m at my best in a fixed position where I can grow, share, be part of the team. And the job at Madurodam came up, and I thought, wow, that’s somewhere I hadn’t considered – and it’s interesting because it’s somewhere I know from my childhood, though I didn’t know what it was like to work for an attraction park. I speak six languages and thought it would be interesting to meet so many different people, because it involves not only dealing with tourists and visitors, but  also dealing with the causes that we support; the children – it’s a really broad spectrum of audiences that we deal with. And from my first interview I felt, this is so cool: I’ve got to do this! I got the job, and that’s how it went.”

Madurodam: A Miniature City That Tells Big Stories

In conclusion, she says: “It’s really important to think about the reason the Park was constructed: not that somebody died, but because his memorial was created to help people learn Holland’s great stories in a fun way. I am the mother of an eight-year-old daughter, and I hope that she will one day bring her children to Madurodam. The most important reason to continue to improve the Park is so generations of people come as children, and then bring their own children, and that the cycle goes on.”

Madurodam is a unique attraction, and an interesting way to explore a country in an afternoon, showcasing Holland as a small country with some very big stories.

“If every year we add new projects or new attractions and stories to the Park, it makes it interesting for people to come back, ” Riemslag says

The fact that the Park is constantly adding new projects and attractions in a programme of dynamic reinvention, while contriving to remain true to its origins and core vision, is the secret of its success.

Speaking of the collaboration with Madurodam, Jora Vision’s Robin van der Want says,  “The new experience we created together with Madurodam is part of a new long term vision of the park. ‘Telling stories’ will become more important for Madurodam. By telling (true) stories we enhance the emotional involvement of the visitor.  For this experience, the choice was made for the second time to let go of the miniature scale of 1:25. Seeing Madurodam has been a miniature park for 62 years, this is a new way of thinking. Besides letting visitors experience the pride of The Netherlands through stories, the focus will also be more on letting vistors discover and develop their own talents. The ‘Hof van Holland’ experience essentially represents the core values that are necessary to make this possible (freedom to think, believe and be who you are).

What the future will bring for Madurodam…let’s just say that there are still plenty of great Dutch stories to tell visitors, stories from the past, present and future.”

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