Seventy years of the Efteling in pictures

The Efteling, who didn’t grow up with it? The amusement park has been around for four generations and changed its appearance quite often. In a photo album in honor of the seventieth anniversary, that development is recorded. Childhood memories and nostalgia prevail.

Playground Gijs, better known as Holle Bolle Gijs, 1961. Image: Rees Diepen. Brabant Collection, Tilburg University

Four generations have now grown up with the Efteling in Kaatsheuvel. Who was not taken to the ever-expanding amusement park for the first time as a toddler or on a school trip? The first visitors returned as adolescents, as parents with children, and then as grandparents with grandchildren.

In May 1951, the Efteling opened as a nature park with a playground, swimming and rowing pond, and a teahouse. A year later, the Fairytale Forest opened; it then had ten fairy tales. Initially it was set up for parents with children up to about twelve years old.

Over the course of seven decades, the Efteling developed into a theme park for all ages with several roller coasters and so-called dark rides, through which people ride in carriages. The Fairytale Forest now has close to thirty fairy tales. Meanwhile, there are also two hotels, a theater, and two holiday parks. In the queues, we can still eat our picnic basket, but the typical Efteling food and drink is also for sale everywhere.

High slide, 1961. Image: Rees Diepen. Brabant Collection, Tilburg University

We put out a call to our readers to submit their own photos and memories. In the generous amounts we received, a few things stand out: childhood memories and nostalgia predominate. That means: lots of Fairytale Forest, Holle Bolle Gijs, and gnomes. Photos from the 1950s and 1960s still show the 1957 playground, ponds, and swimming pool, which eventually disappeared.

We see much of the evolution of the Efteling: new and vanished fairy tales, the steam carousel, the technical innovations, and the changes in atmosphere and style. The Efteling continued to constantly renew itself.

The magic of The Efteling

Last year, the Kaatsheuvel amusement park celebrated its seventieth anniversary. It prompted this contribution, previously published in the magazine In Brabant, year 13, no. 4 (December 2022), pp. 32-47. View the special photo album (in Dutch).

Currently on display at Het Noordbrabants Museum in ‘s-Hertogenbosch is Efteling: the Exhibition up to and including May 21, 2023.

Brabant photography is one of the focal points of the Brabant Collection (housed in the Tilburg University Library). The photographs of the Tilburg-based Rees Diepen (1925-2012) are managed here. Rees is best known for her reports on children’s photography. For many years, she was a regular contributor to the magazine Ouders van Nu. She gained national fame in the mid-1970s with her taboo-breaking photographs of disabled children.

Yet in the collective memory of our readers to the Efteling, the Fairytale Forest and the distinctive design of Anton Pieck (1895-1987) and Ton van de Ven (1944-2015) are clearly central. Van de Ven’s appointment as creative director in 1974 marked the park’s turnaround. Building on Pieck’s formula, he built the Efteling into a full-fledged theme park. The first indoor attractions arrived, such as the Spookslot (Haunted Castle) (1978), Carnival Festival (1984), Fata Morgana (1986) and Droomvlucht (Dark Ride) (1993). The first roller coaster followed in 1981: the Python.

Still, we received very few photos of these: apparently they are difficult to photograph. But perhaps they also represent less of what the Efteling represents for many people: the feast of recognition, coupled with ever new, exciting experiences. Anton Pieck also preferred to stick to the Fairytale Forest but understood that the “fast stuff” was necessary for commercial reasons.

Witch’s hat, 1961. Image: Rees Diepen. Brabant Collection, Tilburg University

With the renewal, things also changed and disappeared: Langnek (fairy tale of the six servants) was given a friendlier head and the fairy tale of the wedding garment of Genoveva of Brabant, loosely based on the legend of Saint Genoveva of Brabant, disappeared because the doves were no longer allowed to be dyed. Monsieur Cannibale and some parts of Carnival Festival were gradually perceived as racist caricatures.

The Spookslot (Haunted Castle) closed in 2022 because, supposedly, it no longer sufficed. Thousands of people came to say goodbye and the Loon op Zand city council had to have a serious meeting about designating the Spookslot as a municipal monument. A horror attraction called Danse Macabre will take its place, which, as is often the case at the Efteling, brings innovation to an already familiar setting.

Telling History

In the section Telling History, we take a dive into Tilburg University’s rich Heritage Collections. This time Jeroen Arts, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld, and Emy Thorissen look back at putting together a special photo album for a seventy-year-old: The Efteling.

Jeroen Arts edits historical image and sound material from the region, giving it a new life.

Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld is full professor of Culture in Brabant at Tilburg University.

Emy Thorissen is an art historian and works as curator of Old and Special Collections at the Brabant Collection and Tilburg University Library and is image editor and editor of the journal In Brabant.

Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel


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