Madison Worthy and I are not on vacation here. Yes, we’re having the time of our lives biking across Europe, but we’re also making a documentary, setting up the film equipment, breaking it down, schlepping it around. We’re connecting to some impressive characters, individuals who have been involved in the maker movement before anyone was even calling it that. We’re exploring towns and cities that we would never otherwise have set foot in. But we’re not on vacation.
This is a faux-cation. We’re not getting paid to work overtime; in fact, we’re paying for this experience. But we’re learning every day and we’re pursuing something important, neither of which can be quantified. This is going to be a damn good documentary.
Our expenses are actually quite minimal, thanks to all of our unbelievably gracious hosts. While in Amsterdam, we decided to take a 36-hour long holiday from our bikes, and hopped on the train to Utrecht. Bart Bakker, generally viewed as the grandfather of the Dutch maker movement, had invited us to visit him, where we visited the Mini Fab Lab in his garage, the world’s smallest fixed Fab Lab at 6×3 meters.
After meeting his wife Rozemarijn, eating a delightful lunch, and drinking approximately twelve cups of coffee, we loaded Bart’s Prius and drove out to Fab Lab Amersfoort, famous amongst the Fab Lab community for sustainability initiatives. We spoke to Lab manager Harmen Zijp outdoors while surrounded by the Lab’s urban garden. They’re experimenting with different soil treatments, observing the growth of several edible plants over the next few years. Thus far, the biochar-treated garden has shown the most outstanding growth.
Fab Lab Amersfoort began as an artists’ collective in the building next door, De Spullenmannen, and Harmen envisions an entire creative compound composed of Fab Lab, urban garden, and artists’ collective. Diana Wildschut led us to the rooftop where she keeps bees. Bees are essential for pollination, of course, so their presence will assist the growth of the urban garden. She facilitates a team that worked with the Fab Lab to develop a sensor to monitor the bees’ health during the winter, when the insects are less active and it’s hard to tell if they’re alive. Her bees are thriving in their rooftop environment and Diana has added more hives as the population increases.
Madison and I returned to Bart and Rozemarijn’s home to eat a salmon dinner and borrow their canoe. Bart popped up at irregular intervals to snap photos as we paddled all the way around the heart of the city. Inspired by Fab Lab Amersfoort, we endeavored to leave the canal a bit cleaner than we found it, and almost tilted the canoe over a couple times as we grabbed at plastic bags and bottles that drifted close enough. We also befriended a couple local madults as we paddled past, who tossed us each a beer. Faux-cation, indeed.
The next day was chock full of filming. After breakfast, we visited the Utrecht historical center, where Bart’s self-built Ultimaker is on loan. A graphic artist named Daan Claessen is working with it to reconstruct medieval scenes from the city. In our twenty-first century age of experimentation and change, technology can (and should) be integrated into almost every discipline.
We interviewed Bart in the Mini Fab Lab, where he demonstrated his model trains, the hobby which got him involved in the maker movement in the first place. In the afternoon, we drove to ProtoSpace Fab Lab Utrecht, which Bart helped found, and where he was involved in building the first ever Ultimaker, arguably the world’s leading open source 3D printer. ProtoSpace focuses on the realization of ideas. We spoke to an intern who is 3D printing Nivea cream, which simulates the printing of cartilage. In a not-too-distant future, this technology will integrate into the medical field, cutting costs and limiting the need for donor tissue.
After ProtoSpace, Bart accompanied us to the Ultimaker factory, where each line of production creates twenty 3D printers a day. 3D printing is a radically growing field, and open source devices such as the Ultimaker make it simple for anyone to have a 3D printer in their home. Perhaps because their original machine was created in a Fab Lab, Ultimaker continues to support the network, especially in the Netherlands.
From the Ultimaker factory, Bart very kindly returned us to our bikes at Monique de Wilt’s apartment in Amsterdam. The next morning, we cycled to Den Haag, where we celebrated Madison’s birthday by enjoying our first days off since bike tour began. Madison and I both have good friends living in Den Haag, so we were able to relax and recharge our personal brain batteries a bit.
A few days later, we were back on our bikes en route to Rotterdam, where we filmed students from the University of Rotterdam at Stadslab Rotterdam. We interviewed Professor Peter Troxler and Lab manager Manon Mostert-van der Sar. Peter’s is a name I’ve been hearing since I was in Trento, Italy, and meeting him at last felt like yet another degree of integration into this exciting culture of invention. Manon is interested in transforming education and sees the Fab Lab as a highly effective way to incorporate all disciplines.
Lab manager Arnold Roosch also interviewed with us before inviting us to spend the evening in his home. Our bikes spent the night in Stadslab, and we rode the train to Arnold’s place in Gouda, where we made many cheesy jokes. Arnold is incidentally one of the coolest characters we’ve met, and because of his attendance at two Burning Mans, we dubbed him The Burning Dutchman.
He treated us to breakfast in the morning, and we wandered around the historic center of Gouda a bit before returning to Rotterdam. The two cities are starkly different despite their geographic closeness. Blame Germany; Rotterdam was flattened during WWII and as a result all the buildings are new.
I could never have imagined when we biked across the border into the Netherlands that I would experience so many new places. We’re incredibly grateful to all the people who shared their ideas and projects with us. My brain is practically leaking out of my ears from all the thrilling things I’ve learned. To everyone who’s hosted and fed us: Thank You. I’m pretty sure this is the greatest faux-cation anyone has ever been on.