20 - Cultural diversity and identity: the polder as a melting pot

People from everywhere settled in the Noordoostpolder. With them they brought their culture, faith and dialect. The attempts of the authorities to forge a unity through cultural activities seemed successful at first, but failed in a second instance due to the desire to express these activities from one’s own worldview. Neither did the dialects mix into a joint, polder-style variant. Instead, standard Dutch has become the common language, which is unusual for a rural society.

With leisure activities the Board stimulated solidarity among the pioneers who drained the polder from their work barracks. In the evenings theatre, cabaret, music and film provided leisure for the workers in the canteen. As soon as the first houses were inhabited, a village society was created that aimed the build-up of a village community through cultural activities. It is remarkable that solidarity among the first inhabitants was the strongest where new villages developed near and from the labour camps. This was evident, for instance, in the harmonious distribution of government posts over the various denominations and the organisation of activities running more smoothly.


From the village societies sprang the musical societies, which according to the Board contributed to the living together of the various groups of inhabitants. This justified funding by the government. Unfortunately, in practice this was not so simple. The non-religious musical societies fell apart as protestant and Catholic musicians disagreed about which pieces to play, or because the audience stayed away. The musical societies that had been founded from 1950 in Marknesse, Ens, Creil, Bant, Rutten and Nagele merged or disappeared after twenty years of existence.

As musical society Valerius from Urk could not gather enough members to play on Herring Fleet Day, members of musical society Melodia from Luttelgeest were asked to play together in Vlaardingen, dressed as Urkers (early 1960s).


Spontaneously, without interference of, for instance, village societies, theatre firms sprang up. In Emmeloord the first non-denominational theatre company Onder Ons was founded in 1945, merging into Rederijkerskamer Lely in 1950. Two years later a theatre company for protestants was founded and in 1951 the Catholic theatre company. In the first villages, such as Marknesse and Ens, non-denominational theatre firms soon appeared. Stimulated by the sexton or father Christian theatre firms mushroomed between 1950 and 1953. And in 1955 a socialist theatre company was founded in Emmeloord. These relatively small firms usually didn’t last long, partly due to the arrival of television. Besides, the productions of these amateur firms tended to lose their audiences to the emerging professional performing arts.

Theatre 't Voorhuys was completed in 1953, after a design of A.D. van Eck, as a multifunctional building including a theatre and exhibition hall. Here we see the entrance to the theatre in 1955 with the bronze sculpture The Three Muses by J. Bons.

Theatre ‘t Voorhuys

In December 1953, Theatre ’t Voorhuys was opened. In this theatre professional performing arts could be watched. The theatre’s programming had to be to everyone’s taste, according to the Board. Charged with this task the board of the newly founded General Art Circle Noordoostpolder set to work.

Audience for the concert of the Overijssel Philharmonic Orchestra in the exhibition hall of ‘t Voorhuys in Emmeloord, 1954.

Interior of the auditorium of 't Voorhuys, 1991.

There was opposition from various sides. The members of the Society for the Promotion of General Welfare, which had a branch in the Noordoostpolder, indicated that it was up to them instead of the Art Circle (appointed by the Board) to take care of the theatre programming

Drama performance in Hotel-Café-Restaurant 't Voorhuys, 1954.    

Next, Catholics and Protestants also weighed in on the discussion with their plea for their own art circle. In November 1954 the Catholic Cultural Federation was created, which brought large performances by Toneelgroep Amsterdam and Toon Hermans to Emmeloord. Due to lack of members to keep programming going financially and organisationally, this Cultural Federation soon collapsed.

The representatives of the Protestant pillar did not want to separate programming from the Gospel. Performances had to be reviewed before they could be shown in ‘t Voorhuys. But the performances that were approved attracted few spectators. All in all, big crowd pleasers were the plays that were also popular in the theatres in Amsterdam.

The stained glass window by artist Jan Meine Jansen was salvaged from demolition in 1995. The piece was renovated and hangs in the Exhibition hall of Theatre ‘t Voorhuys since 6 October 1995. The eight panels of the stained glass window represent the emerging Noordoostpolder: fishes, lands and shipwrecks.

In 1995 the people were presented with a fully renovated Theatre ‘t Voorhuys. The theatre has a special history, even having been in private hands for a while, but was bought back by the local authorities in 1991. After this purchase a municipal work group was commissioned to investigate the possibilities of realising a new theatre accommodation. The renovated theatre was officially opened by Mr Pieter van Vollenhoven on 16 November 1995.

View of the current entrance to Theatre 't Voorhuys, with a food&fashion event on the Culture Square in front of it.


The Board also tried to stimulate solidarity by subsidizing the public library (from 1949 onward). But the local library system could not escape the separation of opinions and faiths. From 1955 onward the Noordoostpolder had three Protestant libraries and one Catholic one.


Little is known about the development of spontaneous folk culture, apart from associational life. This unfamiliarity does not apply to language. In the 1930s the Amsterdam phonetics expert Louise Kaiser was the first to point to the unusual situation in the Wieringermeer, where people with widely differing dialects came to live together (Kaiser 1936). She started a large-scale research there. During the settlement years, linguistic research was carried out in the Noordoostpolder as a continuation of this (Meertens 1958, Van de Ven 1969). Of course the question what the mixing of dialects had led to could only be answered after the settlement phase.

Film: ‘Dutch dialects fragments’

Polder inhabitant Harrie Scholtmeijer carried out linguistic research in the Ijsselmeer polders to that end. Regarding the Noordoostpolder, the conclusion of his thesis (1992) was that the generation that was born there spoke accent-free Dutch in general. Regionalisms are there, but do not originate with the parents (although they tend to speak with a noticeable accent). Only influences of the surrounding ‘old country’ have managed to penetrate into the polder language, and rather on the level of ‘alleged Dutch’ than of genuine dialect. Examples are: ‘De deur staat los’ instead of ‘De deur staat open’, ‘Waar mkom je weg’ instead of ‘Waar kom je vandaan’, ‘Hij is druk met hooien’ instead of ‘Hij heeft het druk met hooien’ and ‘Zij heeft het naar het zin’ instead of ‘Zij heeft het naar haar zin’. Some Dutch people who moved to the Noordoostpolder as an adult, that it was easier for them to blend in thanks to the absence of the barrier of a local dialect.

The market as a meeting place 1957.

The ideal image of building up the polder together that developed in the camps, independent of faith or worldview, faded as soon as the new inhabitants in the villages started building up their lives. Then it became evident that they had not only brought their household goods, but also their ideas and faiths from their old place. Everyone lived together in their own group, separate from other views. The local authorities encouraged more collaboration, but was not very successful despite all efforts.