Peak of Insanity? Dutch Dream of Building Artificial Mountain

PHOTO: Dutch journalist Thijs Zonneveld proposed the construction of an artificial mountain in the flat Netherlands as a joke, and now some are taking the proposal seriously.
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The Netherlands is famous for being an extremely flat country. But now a Dutch journalist has attracted attention with a proposal for constructing an artificial mountain in the country -- and some people are taking the idea seriously.

Journalist Thijs Zonneveld became a household name in the Netherlands overnight with a short column that looked like something written to fill a slow summer news day. But his idea to build a 2,000-meter (6,560-foot) peak appears to have caught the public's imagination.

Zonneveld, a sports writer, wrote a few days later that, while the suggestion had initially been "een grap" -- a joke -- it had since turned into much more. "I have dreamed of having a mountain in Holland since I was 15," he says. "I drew mountains on our map."

The Dutch, says Zonneveld, are "obsessed" with mountains. "We spend all of our vacations there. We drive to Germany, France and Switzerland." They also go to the mountainous Sauerland region of central Germany to learn how to ski, sometimes making the journey for just a day. Given the effort and expense involved to make such a trip, it stands to reason that the Dutch would also pay to use a mountain in their own country.

"I didn't take it very seriously myself at first, at least until three weeks ago," says Zonneveld. But then came his July 29 column. 'We Can Do This'

The title of the small piece in which Zonneveld let off steam over the athletic and geographic handicaps of the Dutch could not have been clearer: "Mountain!" As a result of their country's natural disadvantages, Zonneveld argued, neither cyclists nor Alpine athletes would ever have the chance to win any medals. There are simply no mountains in Holland, he wrote. "The country is flat. Flat as a polder. Being flat is really useful for growing beets, raising cows and building straight roads, but it's a disaster when it comes to sports."

Take Flevoland, for example, the youngest and flattest of all Dutch provinces. The province, which was created starting in 1916, lies to the east of the IJsselmeer artificial lake, and much of it is below sea level. Cornelis Lely, an engineer, spent more than 30 years devising a plan to reclaim more land from the sea, in tried-and-true Dutch fashion. He wanted to drain the Zuiderzee, a bay with an area of more than 5,000 square kilometers (1,930 square miles). The megalomaniacal plan succeeded, creating the IJsselmeer and Flevoland -- and the Netherlands gained an additional 2,412 square kilometers of land mass. And it couldn't be flatter: The highest elevation in Flevoland province is just 8 meters above sea level.

Compared to the feat of reclaiming that land, is building a 2,000-meter mountain on the soil of Flevoland such a challenge, Zonneveld asks? "We can do this," he writes. "We created half of this country ourselves. We just did not practise our skills for a very long time."

Joker or Visionary? Zonneveld says he now seriously believes that all of this is doable and could also be attractive from a business standpoint. An artificial mountain could serve as a giant athletic playground for skiers and racing cyclists, kite flyers, mountain climbers and hikers. It could, in short, become a vacation destination, a beauty spot with a view, for people "from Paris to Copenhagen," a tourist attraction capable of generating healthy profits. And the region, he says, could use a mountain. Very much so.

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