"It was hard for me to believe that I was actually travelling to the Orient, fulfilling a wish that I had always cherished but not thought achievable..."
February 28, 1923 | Port of Genoa, Italy
Exactly a century ago, Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856 - 1934), one of the Netherlands' most renowned architects, saw one of his biggest dreams come true: finally, it was time to travel to the Dutch East Indies!
In Genoa, he boarded a steamer, the SS Grotius, bound for Batavia, which he reached in just over three weeks. He then spent the next three months traversing Java, Bali and Sumatra by train, car and boat. It truly was a journey of a lifetime: while travelling, the architect sees himself falling in love with the archipelago. He diligently jotted down his impressions and observations in a journal, which he would eventually condense into 147 pages and publish in 1931.
Titled Mijn Indische Reis ('My journey to the Indies'), Berlage's book is a remarkable publication filled with stunning sketches and even a dozen poems (!). It's also a powerful exhibit of Berlage's pronounced ideas on culture and society. He addresses his views on historic and contemporary architecture and his culture-philosophical contemplations and foresight, as is expected from the master builder and mentor. However, Berlage also offers the reader an intimate glimpse into his personality. He shares surprisingly candid statements and feelings on Western superiority, embarrassing compatriots, colonialism, tourism, and identity. His observations get bolder throughout his trip: wonder makes way for admiration, and astonishment finally evolves into bewilderment.
Apart from a single rave review in a trade magazine, little is known about how Mijn Indische Reis was received, whether or not it found a wider resonance, and if people actually managed to read it between the lines.
Decades later, there was a renewed interest in Mijn Indische Reis. Dutch architect Joris Molenaar retraced the trip and reprinted Berlage's travel sketches with commentary in 1991. In 1996, Max van Rooy, a Dutch journalist, architecture expert and Berlage's grandson, joined forces with filmmaker Ike Bertels to make a documentary. Titled De Hollandse Tropenstijl ('Dutch Tropical Style'), their film was guided by Berlage's journal. More recently, in 2011, Dutch architect Herman van Bergeijk spotlighted Berlage's trip in a meticulously researched book, Berlage en Nederlands-Indië ('Berlage and the Dutch East Indies'). Yet, these initiatives were primarily architecture-focused; other aspects of his journey were not or hardly touched upon. But not for long...
"Rarely has it been so hard for me to bid farewell to a country I shall never see again."
May 27, 1923 | Singaraja, Bali, Indonesia
It may have been hundred years since Berlage went on his adventure to the then-Dutch East Indies, but his observations in Mijn Indische Reis are again—or should we say, still—incredibly relevant.
We—an eight-strong bilateral team of professionals working in the cultural and creative sectors—strongly feel that reviving Berlage's 1923 trip is a great way to address today's hot topics in the Netherlands and Indonesia. These talking points include (de)colonisation, cultural identity and diversity, and sustainable building.
Tapping into a growing interest in (colonial) history and heritage in Indonesia and the Netherlands, Berlage's journey could also bring a fresh perspective to the special connection between our two countries and allow us to rediscover and enjoy this important piece of our shared (intangible) cultural heritage together.
So, high time to dust off Mijn Indische Reis and translate it, literally and figuratively: to Bahasa Indonesia and English and to the 21st century as Berlage di Nusantara.
Our 'Indische Reis 2.0' is not a summary nor a complete analysis of Berlage's trip: it is a carefully curated new edition of the old journal. We studied the diary entries in great detail and put together an abridged version where Berlage's most interesting quotes and thought-provoking passages take centre stage. We selected the most eye-catching and fitting out of the 64 (!) sketches and searched for photos, letters, postcards and other visuals of buildings, situations and places he writes about.
Yogyakarta-based illustrator Upit Dyoni further brought a travelling Berlage to life through gorgeous drawings. We also added historical context and commentary and dived into some compelling questions. Not to find all the answers but to continue Berlage's legacy. Our purpose is to continue spinning the threads of his thoughts where he left them.
Apart from publishing a new book, we also take Berlage's sketches and quotes as a starting point for a series of podcast interviews. We invite people from different walks of life and generations in Indonesia and the Netherlands to share their thoughts on Berlage's trip with us and you. We also ask them to contribute to our book by sharing their perspectives with us through their medium of choice.
And that's not all! A series of exhibitions and activities to further bring Berlage's adventure to life are also in the making.
Last but definitely not least, we invite you (yes, you!) to join Berlage's—and our!—journey by following us on social media, subscribing to our email updates and sharing your feedback with us.
And so, a century later, Berlage's journey continues. All aboard!
Buy the Book
"It’s interesting that 100 years later, the Indonesians think, ‘We have a Berlage!’; like you’ve found a van Gogh."
— Rizky Kalebos, urban influencer
"You read how he struggles with his moral values, and that means a lot to me."
— Amara van der Elst, spoken word artist
"I think the trip to the Indies was an unexpected surprise, like a warm shower. He found here what he had been searching for."
— Huib Akihary, architecture historian
Our ‘Indische Reis 2.0’ is not a summary nor a complete analysis of Berlage’s trip: it is a carefully curated new edition of the old journal, comprising three parts:
1. My journey to the Indies
We brought a travelling Berlage to life in 1923. We selected the most interesting quotes, thought-provoking passages, and eye-catching sketches from the original travel journal. These take centre stage in this new edition of the diary. His writings are about so much more than just architecture; we get to meet the person Berlage as he explores the country through different lenses: as a traveller, an architect, a thinker and finally, a critic. We added historical context and commentary and dived into some compelling questions. Not to find all the answers but to continue Berlage’s legacy.
2. Berlage en Route
Berlage’s itinerary was meticulously planned with talks, visits and meetings in different cities. His arrival was eagerly awaited, and he had the chance to meet fellow architects, family friends, colonial officials, and Indonesian aristocracy. He even went out of his way to see like-minded spirits and linger a bit longer in places he liked. We searched the archives for photos, letters, postcards and visuals of buildings, situations and places he writes about to reconstruct his journey and the people he met on the way.
3. Your journey to the Indies
The purpose of this project is to continue spinning the threads of Berlage’s thoughts where he left them. That’s why we invited twenty great minds in the Netherlands and Indonesia - from singers to street artists and architects to ambassadors – to ponder Berlage’s thoughts and provide their reflections so we could relive his journey in 2023.
With Berlage’s original sketches, historical photographs and new hand-drawn illustrations, the 200+ page book makes for an eye-catching coffee table book or a thoughtful gift. But perhaps more importantly, the Indonesian edition will provide students in Indonesia with a unique opportunity to learn about the old master, his Indonesian architectural legacy and his personal testimony to the artistic tradition and culture in the former Dutch colony. Maybe his century-old viewpoints can fuel today’s debate about cultural identity, inclusive society, sustainable building and even (de)colonisation.
Join Berlage's journey and pre-order our book
for yourself, your friend, colleague, grandparents... or a student in Indonesia!
Meet the team behind Berlage di Nusantara:
Editor-in-chief, Architectural & Historical Research
Ester van Steekelenburg
Initiator, Creative Concept & Project Management
Annemarijn de Boer †
Loes van Iperen
Editor, Social Media (Content Creation & Design), Website
Editor, Project Management Indonesia, Translation & Social Media Moderation
Editorial Support & Sourcing Visuals
Lea Pamungkas & Taalcentrum VU
Translation Berlage Quotes
Dutch to Indonesian
Dutch to English
We invited a group of remarkable individuals, from artists to ambassadors, to revisit Berlage's adventure in the then-Dutch East Indies. The result? Two (100% free!) podcast series, one recorded in Indonesia and the other in The Netherlands, in which we touch on a wide range of Berlage-adjacent topics. Expect fresh insights, personal stories, philosophical ponderings, and even our very own dedicated song.
Listen, watch, and join the conversation: we would love to hear your thoughts!
Taking entries from Berlage's travel journal Mijn Indische Reis as conversation starters, director Raymon Hilkman talks to renowned and lesser-known creatives, experts, and enthusiasts about how Berlage wonders and wanders and what we can learn from his observations and bewilderment in 2023.
A production of #BerlagediNusantara with support from Dutch Culture.
Mission & Vision
#BerlagediNusantara is the literal and figurative translation of Hendrik Petrus Berlage’s 1923 travel diary. We build on the statements the famous Dutch architect penned in his hundred-year-old journal to bring a piece of intangible heritage to the present time.
Instead of pondering what ‘the East should and could learn from the West’, Berlage turns it around: he searches for what we in the West could learn from the East. The famous architect wanted to share a different perspective about ‘The East’, which we take as a starting point for a conversation about colonial history and cultural identity in The Netherlands and Indonesia. Through activities such as a podcast series, travelling exhibitions and an interactive mural, we want to make Berlage’s original travel diary accessible to an international audience, find the common values in traditional concepts of culture, architecture and heritage and add new perspectives that are relevant for today’s generation and can perhaps inspire a future generation.
Do you have a question about Berlage di Nusantara? Would you like to collaborate or be involved in some manner? Have ideas you want to send our way? Anything else you'd like to tell us?
Please feel free to reach out; we love hearing from you!
The historical photos, sketches and other visuals featured in Berlage di Nusantara, on social media and our website have been sourced from the Berlage archives at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Royal Tropical Institute and private and public collections in The Netherlands and Indonesia. All efforts have been made to trace the owners of the images used. Yet, there may be cases where we have not been successful. Anyone who believes they may have a copyright claim should contact us.
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