The weekend: Part One

It was a long and interesting day on Saturday. Piet Stolk drove me all the way to Friesland, one of the twelve provinces in the Netherlands and the north part of the country.

We had two destinations, or maybe four if you count looking for the Chinese Restaurant and stopping for coffee at the J’Oude Waegh Restaurant in the quaint town of Hoorn. Hoorn, situated on the large lake, Ijsselmeer, was established in 1357, and still has many of the original buildings, including J’Oude Waegh, which was in it’s heyday a place where cheese was weighed. The weight apparatus’ are still hanging down from the ceiling.

Piet asked the young waitress about some writing on what looked like cupboard doors high above and close to the ceiling. “I don’t know,” she said, and added, “We’re not allowed to touch them.”

I often praise Europeans for how wonderfully well they preserve and protect old buildings.  Hoorn is a great example of building preservation. Many unique and very old buildings have survived through the years. You can walk among them in the old village. Many of the old buildings are inhabited and some used as shops.

Later we were in the town of Franeker to see one of the main destinations, and I found it an amazing product out of a gifted mind.

The old house (on the right) of Eise Eisinga where the Planetarium Museum is opened to the public

Eise Elinga, was educated only through a few years of schooling, worked as a wool comber, but had an eye for the planets.

He took his scientifically and mathematically mind in his spare time and built a complex mechanism. The amazing mechanism, that was built in the years 1774-1781 – and is the oldest working planetarium in the world –  is situated on the living room ceiling of his family  home, which is now a museum and opened to the public. The mechanism shows the current position of planets and the moon, and still works with perfect precision as it has throughout the centuries.

Eise Eisinga's model of the solar system as seen on the ceiling of his home that is now a museum

Imagine being his wife with weights, swinging pendulum’s in front of your face where you sleep, and where you try to keep a house running. Not much is written about Eise’s wife, but she must have had an understanding heart. I learned that she did once protest the swinging pendulum near the bed where they slept, and Eise made adjustments to that.

A partial view of the mechanism at work

Why was this man so motivated to complete such a phenomenon? The story goes thus: People were spreading false stories that he thought were just plain ignorant, such as what was to happen on May 8, 1774. On that day planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Moon would be found in Aries. People were scared that they would collide and that would be the end of the world.

You cannot fool a brilliant mind. Eise thought it was time to teach ignorant people about orbits and distances in space. He left all of his drawings and his instructions so what he taught would not be forgotten.

Some of the instructions that are followed today, are to set the date ring correctly on the leap day, check the speed of the clock during sudden temperature changes, adjust the orbit of Saturn every year because of a small miscalculation, and paint new year numbers every twenty-two years in a particular space reserved for that.

The planets orbit the sun at the same speed as the real planets, with energy provided by a gear mechanism that uses 10,000 hand forged nails as teeth. Pendulum clock and nine weights control the mechanism. As you tour the house, the mechanism can be seen doing the heavy work.

I’m not a student of the planets, and probably considered ignorant if Eise were alive, but I found the museum fascinating, and delighted that he was such a forward thinking person to keep notes for the future. Just like time and space, the  model of the solar system he built has never failed.



Lake Ijsselmeer near the City of Hoorn


The City of Hoorn, in Friesland

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