Back in my early 20s (too many years ago now to recall!) I made my overseas experience trip to Europe. One place I visited was the famous Dutch amusement park, De Efteling, in the town of Kaatsheuvel. Even back then I was a modeller and wargamer, so for me the most magical exhibit at De Efteling was the Diorama, a 60 metre long showcase containing a fantastically rugged landscape with towns, villages, castles and churches, moving trains and automobiles and flowing water.
This highly detailed mountainous world was designed by the famous Dutch artist Anton Pieck, with contributions from De Efteling’s creative director at the time, Ton van de Ven. The distinctive influence of Pieck’s artwork shows throughout De Efteling, but nowhere more so than in the Diorama.
Recently I stumbled across a Dutch website called Het Wonderlijke WC Web that features a whole gallery of photos of the Diorama. Browsing through these pictures has brought back many pleasurable memories from my early 20s, spending hours staring through the glass at this atmospheric and entrancing Diorama.
The gallery also provides multitudinous ideas for making terrain for wargames. The fanciful architecture would be ideal in fantasy, medieval, rennaissance or 18th century settings. And the rugged scenery demonstrates how to make the most of the oft-forgotten vertical dimension.
I’ve been given permission by the site’s webmaster to reproduce a selection of these photos here on my blog. So let’s take a little trip through the Diorama (but if you want to see loads more pics choc-a-bloc with modelling ideas, pop over to Het Wonderlijke WC Web).
De Stad met de Prinsenpoort is a typical Pieck-styled town. Its name refers to the miniature of the fullsize gatehouse from inside De Efteling park itself. This model town reproduces aspects that are often found in Pieck’s artwork, such as the solid rough masonry, crooked roofs and quaint finials.
One feature of the Diorama that specially impresses me is its use of the dimension of height. So often our wargames tables are flat – which is probably the result of terrain having to be changeable and portable. But for demonstration games, the Diorama shows how portraying height can really add to the look – and maybe to the gameplay as well.
The clock-tower is without a doubt the eye-catcher in Klokkenstein. The green onion dome on the tower, and repeated on the church, form a distinctive style to this village. The variety of ornate gables and sagging roof-ridges on the houses are typical Pieck.
There seems almost a Tolkieneske agreement between Minas Tirith and the Diorama’s pretty mountain town of Pretterdam, with its rising city levels, and perched far above it, the mighty Hemelburcht (Sky Castle), a huge and ornate castle proud with slender towers. De Hemelburcht is the finest castle in the whole Diorama, with towers and spires in a forest of elongated cones.
The vast majority of the Diorama is a Pieckish view of the fantasy world that we know from Germanic and other North European folk tales. Dense, dark forests, castles on high peaks, and walled cities full of half-timbered houses: we see them everywhere in fairy tales and legends. However, by some strange quirk, this urban enclave is rooted more firmly in the reality of a small Italian water resort.
Visitors often regard the town of Duisterstee, the night section of the Diorama, as the most charming. Tiny lamp-lit windows provide yellow beacons of homeliness in the greeny-blue night.
In latter years the diorama began to show its age, and there were fears it would have to be permanently closed. Fortunately the park management realised what a gem the diorama is, and have spent money on a detailed restoration, repairing cracks in the scenery, repainting, and adding more small figures.
So if you’re ever in the Netherlands, make sure you don’t miss De Efteling, and particularly its wonderful Diorama. But if you can’t get over there, don’t forget there are tons more photos on Het Wonderlijke WC Web with loads of modelling ideas.
Photos © 2001 – 2003 Het Wonderlijke WC Web, reproduced with the kind permission of Friso Geerlings.
In my next posting I’ll be featuring another amazing Dutch diorama. This one will be totally different from the diorama at De Efteling, but every bit as well done and just as useful to wargamers for gleaning modelling ideas. So bookmark my blog and drop back soon!