Travel

Inside the Dutch Bakery That Doubles as a DIY World War II Museum

Come for a baguette, stay for the helmets that Tiësto's grandfather turned into colanders.

by Frederieke van der Molen, texte : Charlotte Simons and Frederieke van der Molen, Words: Charlotte Simons
Nov 1 2016, 5:00pm

Mathieu Sonnemans and his son, Rolf, in front of their bakery

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

Sonnemans is a small, picturesque bakery in Haamstede, Netherlands, where you can buy a fresh loaf of bread and also look at some original World War II helmets. That combination is not that surprising when you consider that the bakery's owner, Mathieu Sonnemans, is a baker as well as an avid collector of Nazi-related items from WWII.

The stuff Sonnemans collects and displays in his bakery mostly has to do with the Atlantic Wall—a coastal defense structure built by the Nazis. The Atlantic Wall ran along the coast of continental Europe and Scandinavia, and part of it was located in Burgh-Haamstede—the village where you'll find Sonnemans's bakery. Sonnemans dug up some of the items himself, in and around the bunkers in the woods and dunes of Burgh-Haamstede. The rest of his pieces found their way to him through word of mouth.

Sonnemans isn't a Nazi sympathizer—he's just fascinated with World War II. "When I was 13, my family moved to Zeeland, and shortly after that, I discovered the first bunker in the woods. That war has always intrigued me," he explained when I visited him. "The Atlantic Wall has had such a profound impact on Zeeland, as a local you simply can't escape it."

The inside of the bakery

The photo album on the left used to belong to a German soldier, and the book on the right was a Christmas gift from one German soldier to another. Mathieu tells us: "Many Germans still have family photo albums dating back to the war. Sometimes, when I've left my car windows slightly rolled down, I'll get to my car after work and notice that they've stuffed those albums through the opening. Many Germans still feel such a sense of shame when it comes to the war—they don't want to own anything that reminds them of it."

Mathieu in his bakery

Mathieu owns several lamps that were originally hung in bunkers—like this one.

"These colanders were made by Leen Verwest, a blacksmith who used to live in the village—and who's also Tiësto's grandfather. These used to be German helmets, but after the war, they were turned into colanders. What else are you going to do with them, right?"

A political cartoon by Leen Jordaan about the Dutch National Socialist Party. "During the war, these kinds of cartoons were illegal, so they were secretly circulated," says Matthieu.

The bakery

"Once, I found a tin from the war that still had some bread in it. They would have that down in the bunkers. It was rye bread in a tin, so it was still ages away from expiring. I tried it—it was a 75-year-old piece of bread, so it was hard as a rock." The bread in the picture is called bunker bread, another type of bread German soldiers ate. "We still sell this type of bread, using the same recipe as the bakers did back then. It's spelled bread."

Left: The engine of a British fighter plane. Right: A stove from a bunker

"I'm not sure where this motorcycle is from exactly, but it's likely German. It's been standing here for so long, it has basically become a still life."

An empty naval mine functioning as a plant pot

Left: A bunker toilet saying "Nur für Arier" ("For Aryans Only") that has been turned into a bin. Right: A bicycle used by the Germans during the war. "A farmer from around here had kept it. After the war, nobody wanted to get around on a Nazi bike," says Sonnemans.

"These are copies of blueprints from maps that were used by the Germans. These kinds of maps were divided into smaller parts, and you could put together one big map from the separate pieces. They indicated where to find the mines, the soldiers with machine guns, the bunkers, and how many people were inside those bunkers," says Sonnemans. The original blueprints were found in a henhouse not far from Burgh-Haamstede.

A fuse box from 1939—used by the Germans in the war and by the bakery after the war

"This used to be a very expensive instrument, with which the Germans calculated the distance from where to fire their cannons. After the war, the village blacksmith Leen Verwest [that would be Tiësto's grandfather again] turned it into a dustpan."