What do Empress Elisabeth of Austria and the Dutch beach resort Zandvoort aan Zee have in common, you’d say? Why is the Empress, nicknamed Sisi, remembered here on the Dutch coast?
The Dutch doctor Johann Georg Mezger (1838-1909), whose parents originally were from Württemberg, Germany, studied medicine and graduated in 1868. He specialized in physiotherapy and worked in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and Bonn, Germany. After having treated a son of King Willem III of the Netherlands the king in May 1870 named him a specialist in treating joint diseases. Until 1884 he worked in Amsterdam, 1884-1888 in The Hague, and afterwards in Wiesbaden (Germany), Paris (France) and Domburg in the Netherlands. Soon after 1870 other European nobles and royals found their way to this doctor. Among his patients were the later King Gustaf V of Sweden, Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild, Empress Eugénie of France and Queen Elisabeth of Romania, as well as Empress Elisabeth.
In May-June 1884 Empress Elisabeth spent several weeks in the Netherlands to be treated by Dr Mezger. Se stayed in Amsterdam, but soon discovered the beach between Santpoort and Zandvoort. She loved to ride on her horse there or make one of her famous long walks. At the end of the third week she rented rooms in the Hotel Kaufmann in Zandvoort for 11 days. During that time she travels to Amsterdam by train to visit Dr Mezger. On 8th June 1884 she went to mass in the Parish Church of St Agatha in Zandvoort and writes her name in the registers of the church.
Empress Elisabeth returned to the Netherlands already in February-April 1885. During the day she often can be found in her hotel in Amsterdam, but this time the Empress mainly stays at the Villa Paula on the Boulevard Barnaart in Zandvoort. Again she walks and rides on the beach, makes boat trips at sea and visits the mass at the church. She was to visit again in 1888, but as Dr Mezger had left Amsterdam, she never came back to Zandvoort, but wrote a poem about the resort.
Noch ein letzten, langen Blick,(One last, long look)
Auf dich, geliebtes Meer! (At you, beloved sea)
Dann lebe wohl, se schwer’s auch fällt; (Then live well, even when it is hard)
Gott geb’, auf Wiederskehr! (When God wants, a return)
In Zandvoort Empress Elisabeth was never forgotten. She is remembered with a bust at the Boulevard Barnaart, facing the seaside. In August 2004 a bust made of stone by the Austrian sculptor Hans Annerl – on the occasion of the 700th anniversary of Zandvoort – was revealed by the ambassadors of Austria and Hungary, the Queen’s Commissioner in the Province of Noord-Holland and the Mayor of Zandvoort. Unfortunately the climate damaged the bust quite soon. In 2009 it was replaced by a bronze bust by Kitty Warnawa, a sculptress from Zandvoort.
Apart from the statue there is a tile with her name on it on the Walk of Fame in the centre of Zandvoort. I really needed to search hard, as unlike the other tiles, the one for Sisi is hardly readable anymore. I just discovered it as “Elisabeth in Beieren” (Elisabeth in Bavaria, her maiden name) is just readable. So I do hope they will replace it in the near future. There also is a pension called Sissi near the seaside and the railway station, funnily situated at the Dr Joh G Mezgerstraat (street).
If you decide to go to Zandvoort – just half an hour by train from Amsterdam – do it on a sunny day. Then you also can enjoy the beach and the boulevard. Follow the footsteps of Empress Elisabeth, and of Ferdinand Habsburg (Archduke of Austria), who as it turned out, has been racing on the circuit the weekend I was there. If only I had known …
- Unterreiner, Katrin, Patric Aalders, Anne-Dirk Renting, Sisi. Sprookje & Werkelijkheid (Sisi, Fairytale & Reality) (Zutphen 2015). Which gives a rather detailed report on Sisi’s visits to the Netherlands.