Every journey begins with a single step/stumble.
and what a stumble it was. an eager, doe-eyed bibliophile just strolling down the windy streets of The Hague, searching searching for Holland’s most secret library (painfully unaware of this little fact). she tries each entrance of the Tweede Kamer and like an intruder is denied access time and time again. despondent, dejected, despaired—turns out you need to be accompanied by a member of parliament to enter this treasure cove.
with the help of my newly established and very supportive Humanity in Action network, I got in touch with Fatma Koserkaya, the chair of HIA and a representative of the D66 party in parliament, with very little hope that she could be accommodating with such short notice.
~several minutes of unnecessary suspense later~
she responded to my email! the next morning! having dragged all 37 kilos of luggage and survived some major struggles with the train station lockers, I proudly marched through the Binnenhof doors that had turned me away less than 24 hours ago. my eyes caught the same guard who had disregarded my pleas to enter yesterday, and he smiled.
“you really don’t give up when you want something, do you?”
official badge in hand, I strutted through security and met the lovely Zulmira, the secretary for Fatma and Alexander Pechtold (the chairman of the D66 party), who offered me a private tour of the entire second chamber of the Dutch parliament! wow, I was not expecting this! for the next hour, Zulmira and I strolled through the conglomeration of buildings that together held together the Dutch government. the rooms--vast and small, old and new, decorative and practical—were situated in a maze-like layout, yet Zulmira navigated through them with simple ease.
eventually we descended into a wing where the lights were dimmer, the archways more abundant, and light fixtures less industrial. my eyes rested on an unassuming door with a little sign above it Handelingenkamer. we enter.
Zulmira swung open the thick door, and just like the scene in Mary Poppins when they jump into the sidewalk chalk art and enter the land of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, I was also transported to a strange world. it felt like walking into a crisp, high-definition photograph that you already had etched into your mind. I smelled the leather and dust that radiated from the rows and rows of books mixed with the musky and worn scent of the wooden shelves that lined and lined the walls, and gleefully smiled.
the library itself is inspired by chinese design, specifically that of a dragon. in addition to the gleaning red of the wood, you can find several dragon heads that protrude out. the vertical posts that hold the shelves together are meant to symbolize the dragon’s legs, manifesting themselves in the claws and feet near the bottom. the glass mosaic ceiling, curved and slanted overhead, is the dragon’s hunched back. last but not least, the most impressive part of the dragon—the tail. the iconic spiral staircase of the Handelingenkamer, represents the dragon’s strong and imposing tail.
the library, celebrating exactly two hundred years since the first book was placed on its shelves, mostly houses bound transcripts of the parliamentary meetings. as tradition goes, one shelf remains empty to commemorate those lost during world war ii. parliament members often used the library as a secret meeting spot, as it is so stealthily tucked away and journalists can neither find it nor hear the discussion from the outside. today, it’s mostly a secret site for the lucky few who are able to stand in its wondrous walls.
I left the library feeling hopeful and accomplished. I had done a thing! I set out on a mission, and by George I did it! the biggest thanks and gratitude go to Zulmira and Fatma, without whom I would still be feeling despondent, dejected, and despaired.