The Gatekeepers Guild of Wester-Amstel

​René Spoelsta and Nicoline Boon are regulars when it comes to opening Wester-Amstel’s gates to visitors. Here you find out how they got started and what they are up to when on “gate duty”. A liberal translation of what was said and left unspoken…

(Photo T. Blades)

Do you want to introduce yourselves first?


Nicoline: I’m Nicoline, a friend of Wester-Amstel. I only just recently started opening the gates. I open and close the gates about once a month. This is my second time doing it.


Rene: I’m the husband of Wester-Amstel’s manager, or its steward... as we often call it.


What motivated you to become gatekeepers at Wester-Amstel?

Nicoline: In 2005, when my mother turned 90, we were in search of a venue to exhibit her artwork. We looked here and there… and that's how we ended up at Wester-Amstel. We were too late to reserve exhibition space. I think we made the request in May and we wanted to have the event in September. So of course, it was already booked. Luckily, the person who oversaw the bookings knew my mother and that she painted a lot and well. So, she said, ‘There’s one weekend without any exhibitions when the current one leaves.” In the end, we had a fantastic two-day exhibition – a day for friends and a day for family. I’ve been a friend of Wester-Amstel ever since!


Rene: I do this, more or less, because Søren asked me to. He does a lot for Wester-Amstel and asked me if I wanted to help out a bit. Before, we never had to open the gates, because the rangers of Groengebied Amstelland handled it. As I wanted to help, I made a schedule for Saturdays and Sundays, and it actually works really well. We now have six gatekeepers for Saturday and four for Saturday.

(Photo T. Blades)
(Photo T. Blades)

Do you ever come to Wester-Amstel to just walk around?


Nicoline: Yes and usually I end up going for a much longer walk than intended. I’ve always liked the gardens here, even though I have my own. In the end, being a gatekeeper is very easy to fit into my schedule. And it is reassuring that my fellow gatekeepers can stand in for me when needed.


What do you think is the most beautiful or special part about Wester-Amstel?


Nicoline: I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for many years and I’ve seen this area become totally run down and then blossom beautifully again. The fact that Wester-Amstel is open to the public is very special. It’s a wonderful estate and a great job is being done to maintain it.


Do you have a favourite spot at Wester Amstel?

Nicoline: Yes, here![circling her finger in the air of the historic ‘opkamer’ where the interview takes place]This is the heart of Wester-Amstel.


Rene [adds]:And the memories.


Nicoline [undisturbed]: I also really like that we’re restoring the vegetable garden.


Rene: Ik geniet ervan om waar dan ook in het park met andere vrijwilligers aan het werk te zijn. En ben ik, diep verscholen in het hakhout, in gevecht met bramenstruiken. Dat zijn prachtige plekken waar niemand komt!


Nicoline [innocently]: Did you know about these places before?


Rene: When I was still living in The Hague, I rarely came here. But now, for more than 12 years, I come here nearly every Saturday and work in the park. I see it as a kind of gym, a workout. I never used to do anything in the garden, but now I'm always here and busy. Perhaps that's just something that comes with age?


Nore-linn [wisely ignoring the reference to age]:I can also imagine that it’s a nice way to clear your head.


Rene: Yes, exactly! Especially if you know the people here well. With this nice weather we sometimes work till 17:30 and finish off with a few after-work drinks. Which is rather convenient as well for those late visitors who lose track of time and risk getting locked in.


How do you check that before the park closes? Do you walk around to ensure everyone’s left?


Nicoline: Yes, but I think it would be a good idea to put up a sign with a number you can call in case you get locked in. [laughs] Fortunately, that’s never happened before!{It happened right after this interview, with two ladies in distress being rescued by an attentive neighbour}].


Rene: I've also made a group app for the gatekeepers, so they can swap their times if it's not convenient for them. Maybe we should put this number up?


Article By: Nore-linn Movig