What started life as a wild idea now seems to be taking serious shape. The plan to build a mountain in the Netherlands can count on support from a battery of experts, each and every one of them infected by the mountain virus. And they show every sign of persevering.
Building firms, architects, engineers, sports associations, an energy company, students and assorted others all descended on the city of Utrecht to brainstorm about the idea of creating a Dutch mountain. The man behind the initiative, journalist Thijs Zonneveld of freesheet De Pers describes it as "people with expertise in all kinds of fields coming together to think about something that has never been thought about before."
The plans for a mountain in the Netherlands have been attracting attention from abroad. The meeting in Utrecht was attended by journalists from countries including Germany and Britain. There have also been plenty of reactions on the Radio Netherlands Worldwide websites, particularly from Arab countries.
Many of them are clearly positive. “The Netherlands built the province of Flevoland. Creating a mountain should be much easier” responds one reader from Morocco. A visitor from Iraq reckons “For the Netherlands, nothing is impossible. It’s a wonderful country. If you have a strong will, everything is possible.” A reaction from Algeria is more critical: “A mountain in the Netherlands? Who needs it? There are enough mountains in neighbouring countries. The Dutch can go there to enjoy the mountains.”
Interestingly, the reactions from the Dutch are far less enthusiastic. “What a lot of nonsense. It’s completely impossible. You’d need at least 12 billion cubic metres of soil. Where are you going to get that from?” asks a Dutchman in Thailand. Another argues “This strange idea has only one point of departure: supposedly making money for the few while many others and the Dutch landscape will be the ones to suffer.”
Living up to their reputation, many of the Dutch focus on the cost of the project. A Dutch expat from Malaysia comments “They would appear to have forgotten the major cutbacks being made in the Netherlands, including Radio Netherlands and plenty of other things.” But she also sees a brighter side “At least the Royals won’t have to go as far for their skiing holidays.”
The sporting opportunities on the imaginary mountain are said to be huge: skiing, cycling, climbing, abseiling, to name but a few. But there are also business opportunities aplenty, with room for hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping centres, sports grounds, a theatre, a golf course and goodness only knows what else.
The first presentations are buzzing with visual appeal: a hollow mountain, a solid mountain, a table mountain, a craggy peak, a crater, on land and in the sea. Anything goes at this stage and everyone is working for free. The key is to think 'out of the box' and try to capture the imagination of society at large.
"We’re now looking at a blank sheet; we can still take it in any direction. And slowly but surely we need to move towards a final concept. That’s bound to take months because this is such a gigantic plan. But today’s activities represent the first push."
Skiing close to home
Walter Wildhagen of NRIT Research, whichis geared towards tourism, recreation and leisure activities, illustratrates the feasibility of the plan from a marketing point of view. He sees the mountain as offering groups of Dutch people the chance to engage in leisure pursuits they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. “Skiing closer to home will be cheaper and therefore within reach of broader sections of society,” he explains.
Not everyone attending comes from a renowned company or institute. Teun Sweere is a fifth-year chemistry student at Leiden University. “I didn’t have much on this summer and so I started doing some calculations.” He sees great potential for storing energy in the mountain. “You can generate electricity by pumping water upwards for example, but then you need to store the energy. A hollow in the mountain could provide the answer.” That kind of money-spinner could make the mountain a more attractive business proposition.
“Dutch racing cyclists just can’t wait,” says Anne Loes Kokhuis of the Royal Dutch Cycling Union. She is keen to contribute her ideas as to how the mountain is built and its possible uses. As far as she’s concerned, developments can’t proceed rapidly enough.
"A mountain here in the Netherlands where top cyclists can train at altitude and enthusiastic amateurs can express their passion for cycling: there’s no time to waste, let’s get on and do it!"
Obstacles along the way
It’s clear that the idea of a mountain in the Netherlands has fired up plenty of people’s imaginations. But it’s also clear that the project will cost billions, even if it does end up raising billions too. According to Thijs Zonneveld, finance is one of the two major obstacles along the way. The other is the bureaucratic mindset of the Dutch planner.
"Just look at building permits in the Netherlands. If your home extension is one metre out, all hell breaks loose. Never mind a mountain two kilometres high."
Obstacles or not, the project is well and truly on the map in the Netherlands. A website has been launched (diebergkomter.nl) and the people behind the initiative show no signs of stopping. The next meetings have already been scheduled.