The Netherlands has long been known for its magical and magnificent houseboats across its vast network of canals, but there is a serious problem for young Dutch people who want to live aboard. With over 10,000 houseboats in Holland, the country is the houseboat capital of Europe. In Dutch capital, The Hague, boats have door steps, gardens, and nameplates.
A typical couple, Kris and Marjon, are in their late 80s. They live on the canal with their dog Gritje, and bought the boat in 1942. The two-bed boat with kitchen and bathroom is worth about £250,000 ($300,000) on the market.
As a professional timberman, Kris modified the boat and built rooms, bathroom, and a living area .
It worries them that thousands of younger people are unable to live a similar life until their generation dies out. “Buying a new boat is not possible anymore, they can only live on an existing boat. Young people in their 20’s are starting their careers and cannot afford a house boat. Partly reason being that you do not get mortgage on the boat houses, unlike land houses.”
According to the rules, one has to pay insurance in metres, also known as ‘water tax’, which goes up to about 800 euros per year. Much less than the taxes paid on land. Young people who manage to get a boat, tend to design their interior in a very modern way. Kris and Marjon have decorated their house with vintage possessions including an old telephone and a record player that still works perfectly well.
One aspect of living in a houseboat is to be more aware of the nature that surrounds you. Kris and Marjon reflected upon how knowledge has grown about eco-living and being environmentally friendly. They recall people pumping their sewage in the canal and throwing garbage in the water. But now times have changed. “Now, according to the municipality regulations, we have to pump everything in the sewage system. We are not allowed to put anything in the water” said Kris.
Caroline, a young woman in her late thirties is one of the exceptional young people who have managed to join the boaters.
She lives with her girlfriend is a well-furnished and spacious houseboat. She was spotted cutting wood near her shed. To her, the main reason why she chose to live in a boat since 2000, is to be as close as possible to nature. “Although it is in midst of a city, you are still in nature,” she explained.
When asked if it was eco-friendlier to live in this environment, she chuckled with the axe in her hand. “I think the way I am living is not so eco-friendly. I could do better. It is not easy because in a house boat, everything is easy to rebuild and restyle because it's all wood.
“Even though I have gas, I still like to warm my house with wood and cook with wood. You can’t compare the smell and feeling with anything. It gives you an aesthetic feel because when you use gas, you help save trees but when you cut trees and burn wood you feel much closer to the nature.”
She further explained her choice of cutting and using fresh wood surrounding her. “Human senses are not limited to smell. The crackling sounds of the wood burning and the vision of fire burning gives you a sense of relaxation and makes you feel complete – having a fire from the wood is meditation in itself.”
To her, the concept of using gas is boring. “They now have so much discussion over the smoke emitted from burning wood but my father and his forefathers cooked using wood, so I don’t see anything wrong with it”, said Caroline. Times have surely changed, so have views towards environmental responsibility in Holland. The houseboats are not only carrying on the tradition of nature loving beings, but also bare traditions passed on for generations. The contrast of old boats and young ones is visible on the canal because of different exterior and interior decorations. This is one trend that will continue to thrive in the future raising more questions on how eco-friendly and cheap can one live on a canal.
According to Caroline, “When you have adventure in your life and you have a free mind, and you want to connect with nature, houseboat is the perfect place to live for young people. But with the mortgage not being possible anymore, it will be more difficult for young people to live in a house boat.”
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