Growing up in Indonesia, I was well aware about the tale of Mata Hari. But I did not realize she was from Leeuwarden till I came across her statue while doing my city walkabout.
Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born on 7 August 1876 right here in Leeuwarden, the province of Friesland in the Netherlands. She was better known by her stage name Mata Hari which means ‘sun’ or ‘eye of the day’ literally. She invented this persona of being a Javanese princess and honed her quasi-religious sacred dance, stripping down to her signature jeweled bra.
Mata Hari was an exotic dancer!
According to legend, Mata Hari worked as a double agent for the German and French during the early World War I period extracting military secrets from her many lovers in uniforms. She was eventually convicted of espionage and executed by firing squad on 15 October 1917 at Vincennes, outside France. She was not tied to the stake, refused the blindfold and defiantly blew a kiss to the firing squad. She was only forty-one years old. This was 100 years ago!
Mata Hari’s birthplace is located right here in Leeuwarden city center at Kelders 33. The building suffered smoke and water damage when a fire broke out in 2013. It was later reconstructed and restored to its original shop front as it appeared when her father Abraham Zelle owned a hat shop there. The Mata Hari statue is standing tall on a bridge in front of this building.
Mata Hari is often portrayed as a femme fatale; a dancer turned spy who uses her sexuality to manipulate men. Maybe she is a feminist defying male expectation? Or she was a victim of sexual politics? Was she really guilty? Whatever it was, Mata Hari short life was fascinating till her eventual tragic death.
“A courtesan, I admit it. A spy, never! I have always lived for love and pleasure.” – Mata Hari
>>The largest ever Mata Hari exhibition is opening this weekend at Fries Museum:
Mata Hari – The Myth and The Maiden from 14 October 2017 – 2 April 2018.
>> When Mata Hari’s father became rich on the stock market, the family moved to a huge corner house nearby at Grote Kerkstraat 214 where the family lived from 1883-1889.