Joost Schokkenbroek, Chief Curator of Het Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam; Professor of Maritime History and Maritime Heritage, VU University, Amsterdam
It is my great wish and firm conviction that the Netherlands Institute in St. Petersburg will be granted a long life.
Loosely adapted from Marsman I see, thinking of St. Petersburg, the NIP proudly standing in the middle of a quiet residential area of St. Petersburg. For those of you who know where the NIP is located, this comment will raise some eyebrows. Surrounded by buildings, all taller, the two-story institute, which is divided equally between two countries (the Netherlands and Norway), seems somewhat lost in the streets. My statement is therefore primarily intended to be metaphorical. The NIP is a beacon for the distant traveler; a quiet, inspiring place in a metropolis with all the hustle and bustle that comes with it. I have been able to enjoy the hospitality of Olga Ovechkina and her staff a number of times - all very dedicated people who on the one hand wholeheartedly try (and in my view fully succeed) to make the guest very happy, on the other hand master the art of connecting people to each other by initiating, stimulating and facilitating collaborative initiatives. In that sense, Olga is not exactly the female counterpart of the W.F Hermans, whom she so admired and about whom she wrote her dissertation.
I have now been collaborating a number of times with the European University and the Higher School of Economics. This collaboration expresses itself through giving lectures, organizing expert meetings and visiting museums together. Coming from my field of expertise, my activities focus on maritime history, maritime heritage and the importance of material culture in the interpretation of historical phenomena. Although some of these activities stem from initiatives by researchers involved from both countries (the Netherlands and Russia), for me, Olga and her team are 'the eyes and ears in the workplace' - they keep me informed about new developments on maritime relationships in (and outside of) the city, they initiate conversations.
It is my great wish and firm conviction that the Netherlands Institute in St. Petersburg will be granted a long life. Here, the staff follows in the footsteps of Peter the Great. Full of what he saw in Amsterdam (and other cities in Europe) in 1703, Peter had the city on the Neva modeled after the city on the Amstel and thus formed a crucial link between East and West. The NIP forms this connecting link just the same. Full of the new ideas and contacts the Netherlands Institute always provides me with, I try — and I suspect many others as well — to (partly) align my activities in the Netherlands with, or to redirect them to, the opportunities that Russia offers us through this important Dutch window.