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‘Berend Botje ging uit varen met zijn scheepje naar Zuidlaren, de weg was recht, de weg was krom, nooit kwam Berend Botje weerom’ ("Berend Botje went out sailing, with his little ship to Zuidlaren, the route was straight, the route was twisty, never did Berend Botje return"). The famous children's song is hundreds of years old and was first written down in the year 1894 - but it is thought that the story is much older. The song consists of several verses, each of which has different translations and adjustments depending on the region.
Many speculations exist as to who Berend Botje could have been. First, there is mention of a Botje from Oudeschans who was trying to evade military service for Napoleon Bonaparte. It could also have been a farmer from Borger, who sailed his boat across the Hunze to Zuidlaren, or maybe it was the town's saw miller's son who emigrated to the Americas?
Lodewijk van Heiden
The story of Berend Botje is most commonly connected to an individual named Lodewijk van Heiden. He comes from a family that used to live at the homestead Laarwoud in Zuidlaren. His father was the bailiff of the area. Lodewijk van Heiden became a Lieutenant Commander at a young age, and after wandering at sea for some time, he returned to Zuidlaren in 1794. After that, he went back in service as Captain Lieutenant Commander for the Russian Tsar. He became known for, among other events, the historic Battle of Navarino, in which Greece gained independence and was freed of the Turkish repression.
Eventually, he worked his way up to become a commodore and was given responsibility for the Russian fleet in 1826. Together with the English and the French, he was sent to the Mediterranean Sea to end the war between Turkey and Greece, which would lead to independence for Greece. This made him a celebrity. To this day, the Greek town Pylos still has a grand monument for him, and he is also depicted on a Greek stamp from 1927.
He returned to Zuidlaren for the last time in 1832, and could occasionally be spotted on the Zuidlaardermeer. Afterwards, he left Zuidlaren and travelled first to the Americas and later to Estonia. He became lonely and passed away from the consequences of hydropsy.
Today, Berend Botje can be found in Museum de Wachter. His original statue has been there since 2009. The statue was designed by Willy van Son and was revealed on July 1st, 1967.
A copy of the statue has been erected in the Stationsstraat in the centre of Zuidlaren. Apart from the copy of the statue, the monument also shows a book with the text of the famous children's song.