The exterior of the Dutch Pinball Museum
Museum owner Gerard Van de Sanden has been feverishly refurbishing the building and purchasing games so that he can realise his dream.
The Dutch Pinball Museum logo
Tonight, former Dutch Finance Minister and current CEO of recently-floated ABN AMRO bank, Gerrit Zalm, was the special guest to officially declare the Museum open.
Gerrit Zalm at the Museum
We arrived at the Museum around 3:30pm after a flight to Amsterdam Schiphol airport and a 25-minute train journey to Rotterdam Centraal station.
Arriving at Rotterdam Centraal station
From there it was a 10-minute metro ride to Wilhelminaplein station followed by a 10-minute walk along the south bank of the Maas River to the Museum.
Across the Maas River to the Museum
This part of Rotterdam is seeing plenty of construction, with new homes, offices and hotels going up alongside a number of historic buildings such as the New York Hotel.
Renovation and new construction on the way to the Museum
Meanwhile, the area around the Museum retains much of its historical heritage. Even the building in which it lives preserves much from its former life as a light industrial warehouse.
While it may present a public face which is best described as 'shabby-chic', inside it's a very different matter.
Inside the Museum before the launch party began
With the launch party coming up, Pinball News spoke to Gerard about the Museum. We started by asking why he set it up in the first place. He told us,
"The idea had been around, in the air. Somebody had to do it, and it had to be me!
I wanted to start this seven years ago, but I didn’t have the time for it, and I didn’t have the energy. But now it’s time. We started seven years ago with a group of guys. We wanted to have a museum about games, arcades, everything, and I was going to do the pinball. But it was too big to do.
So last year, Bert-Jan and I went to the [Pinball] Expo, and we went to the Seattle Pinball Museum. I walked in there and I thought, ‘This is the base for me to do it’. Not too big – 50 machines – all nice machines. And I think this is the base to start from. Then we went to Las Vegas and the Pinball Hall of Fame – that is not the way I want to do it."
Anyone outside the Netherlands might assume that the best place to be located to attract visitors would be the capital, Amsterdam. But Gerard says that's no longer the case.
"You know, Americans always say 'if you do something and want to make a living out of it, there are three things that are important; location, location, location'.
Rotterdam is currently the place to be. It’s hotter than Amsterdam and the spot where I am at is very much a tourist attraction… it’s a booming area."
The Museum is located in one of the units of a former dockside warehouse. It's a very solid, historical building which has been renovated and now houses a number of trendy artisan shops.
The former warehouse
There's an electric bike store, a circus school, a gym, and the popular Fenix Food Factory, where boutique bakers, brewers, cheese-makers, butchers and fruit growers bring their wares and serve them up for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The Museum is a good fit for that area, according to Gerard.
"I am renting it from the City, and they want specialist shops. They don’t want to have any more food stores. They want to make it interesting. The Food Factory is all 30- or 40-year olds - the hipsters. But the Museum can attract young people."
When he first moved in, the space the Museum now occupies was little more than a concrete shell. Gerard told us how the transformation into the Museum took place.
"We had nothing, no water, no electricity, no sewage. It was all friends, pinball friends. A lot of favours. There have been a lot of donations, financially. I don’t have the money to do it, so a lot of people donated money to me or they helped me with the construction, and still people are helping me with the technical stuff."
The reception desk with some of the free food and drinks for guests
A grey gorilla 'apes' the Congo toy and artwork
Unique game designs adorn one wall
While rare and prototype playfields feature opposite
Why, we wondered, did Gerard want to run a museum - an educational establishment - rather than taking the seemingly-easier and potentially more profitable route of opening an arcade or a barcade? He told us...
"You’ve know me for some years now. I’ve done a lot of things in the hobby, all kinds of things; built The Matrix and done the shows. When I put everything together, I think I’m a museum director. Because I have the stories, I have the know-how. I can play, but I really want to share the stories. I’m not a tournament player, so I don’t want to be a barcade or an arcade, I want to tell stories."
But Gerard doesn't consider himself a pinball historian. At least, not yet.
"I don’t know much about the early games – but I’m learning. I know everything about dot-matrix games. Dieter van Es [of operator Van Es Amusement], he tells me stories, I collect them in my head, I tell the stories again.
A lot of people don’t know pinball or only played pinball in their early years. I want them to renew… to reintroduce them or introduce them, to tell them some stories."
The choice of machines to go into the Museum is a mix of the historically significant, iconic titles which players might remember fondly, along with the very latest releases courtesy of Bertjan Postma of Ministry of Pinball, who is the distributor of Jersey Jack Pinball and sells games from all the pinball manufacturers. Bertjan has moved his showroom display of five or six brand new games into the Museum.
Ministry of Pinball's showroom
"The idea was, when people come in they have a certain age – 30s, 40s, 50s. I want everyone to re-live their youth, so when you come and you were playing in the ‘70s, you play Capt. Fantastic. So we decided that the machines which go into the Museum have to be rare or have a memory from your youth.
I have a time line. I have machines from 1900, 1910…'20…'50… I tell them stories and go to the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and the new machines."
Gerard said that there were currently 45 machines in the Museum, but the aim is to have 50.
The bank of machines on the left side: The Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Freddy - A Nightmare on Elm Street, Space Jam, Tommy, Dirty Harry, Indiana Jones, Batman Forever, Cirqus Voltaire and Cactus Canyon
More machines against the left wall:
The Matrix, Mini-Viper, Punchy the Clown and Safecracker
Machines in the centre of the room: Taxi, Doctor Who, Elektra, Fireball! Classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Robot and Mr & Mrs Pac-Man
Machines against the right-hand wall: Six Million Dollar Man, Pinball Pool, Q*Bert's Quest, Orbitor 1, Pinbot, Black Knight 2000, Bone Busters, Class of 1812 and Strange Science
However, fill a room with 50 pinballs and no matter how interesting the stories and the historical background might be, people are going to want to play them. So the museum has two different modes of operation.
During the week the Museum is open for tours or private parties. These can be corporate events, birthday parties or organised tour groups. Gerard starts the events by telling his stories and introducing the guests to the machines and their history.
"We have companies… Tomorrow I have a birthday party for kids, and the first ten minutes is mine. I tell them the story - I always do the funny stuff, like Capt. Fantastic with Adolf Hitler - and they like it. It’s educational, it's about the games, and after they can play them."
Stairs lead up to the electromechanical and flipperless games
Even the stairs tell a story
At the top
Electromechanical machines upstairs: Dipsy Doodle, Flip Flop!, Hi-Score Pool, Four Million BC, Stop Go, Capt. Fantastic and Wizard!
A display of pre-flipper games
At the weekend the Museum operates more like an arcade. The same historical information is available on request, but the emphasis is very much on playing the games.
Entry to the Museum is charged according to the time spent there. Three types of ticket are available. A one hour ticket costs €6 ($6.40/£4.25), while entry for three hours is €10 ($10.65/£7.05). For longer stays, a full-day ticket is available for €16.
The great majority of the games are on free play but play on the very newest titles is restricted through the use of tokens, a number of which are included with each ticket. Gerard explained how it works.
"Most machines are on free play, but Bertjan’s are going to be on tokens. So a one hour guy or girl will get one token and can play Bertjan’s machine. A three-hour ticket for €10 will get you two tokens. A day token is €16 you get three tokens. That’s the idea. People can buy more tokens, but we want to protect his games. The Matrix will also be controlled by a button, but the rest will all be on free play."
We asked Gerard about the tie-up with Ministry of Pinball and how that works, with Bertjan providing the Museum with the very latest games. Has Ministry of Pinball moved into the Museum?
"Just the showroom - five or six machines. I’ve got Kiss LE now, Star Trek LE,The Walking Dead LE, a ruby red The Wizard of Oz, and Medieval Madness remake.
It’s a win-win situation. When people want to buy a machine they don’t have to go to the showroom… they don’t have to put an hour's worth of effort in – he can do his job, and he can sell a game to me and everyone can play the machine. If someone is interested they can go to the machine and order one."
But these are the only machines for sale.
"I get a lot of questions asking if people can buy one of my machines. No!"
Work on the Museum is far from complete. While teaching pinball's history himself is a fun part of running the business, Gerard wants to expand that part further.
"The education part still has to be evolved, with signs. I don’t have a big budget, but I really want to do an audio tour or something using iPads.
It’s in the future, but first, in my head, I want to be open [to the public] for five days [a week]. It’s not do-able now. Why? I have to make money – the rent is very high – but I don’t want to be a play hall, an arcade. So when I’m in the Museum, on Saturday and Sunday people are coming in and they want to play, and I can’t tell them the same story 30 or 40 times.
But that’s OK. I’m going to be open at the weekends for the public, but then schools, tours, companies, who let me tell the story for 20-25 minutes, and then play."
Almost every inch of the Museum's wall space is taken up with something pinball related. There's no respite, even when you visit the toilets.
The corridor to the toilets is lined with playfields and backglasses
Take a seat, courtesy of Creature from the Black Lagoon
The seat is located in front of a wall of pinball playfields
A display case packed with pinball artefacts
There is a second upper floor above the reception area. This provides more seating as well as some spectacular views, and naturally the spiral staircase leading there also has a message to relate.
The front upper floor
The spiral staircase
Cinema-style seating upstairs at the Museum
The view across the harbour
The Museum started to fill with invited guests and people from the media. Reporters and camera crews were soon milling around, taking pictures, interviewing guests, shooting video and recording the in-game sounds.
Soon after 5pm, Gerrit Zalm arrived. Gerrit is the longest-serving Finance Minister in Dutch political history and a pinball fan. He has an animated playing style, and all the media teams wanted shots of him playing an Indiana Jones machine.
Gerrit on Indy
The timing of his arrival was rather unfortunate for us - just as we were one shot away from starting Lost in the Zone on Twilight Zone. What to do? Abandon the game to get the picture, or carry on playing? Obviously we carried on, made the shot, played the mode, and got the Grand Champion and LITZ Champion scores, all while everyone's attention was focused 10 feet to our right. Ah well, no fame this time.
Having done his turn for the media, Gerrit went to the upstairs area with Gerard and Peter Homan - who has just released a new pinball DVD entitled Same Player Shoots Again (review coming soon) - to officially declare the Museum open.
Peter, Gerrit and Gerard
Everyone on the Museum's main floor watches the events on the balcony
Gerrit receives a copy of Same Player Shoots Again
Earlier in the week, Gerrit's bank - ABN Amro - has finally come out of government ownership and was floated on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. On that day Gerrit declared the start of trading by banging a gong at the Exchange. Tonight, he repeated that gesture to officially declare the Dutch Pinball Museum open.
Gerrit strikes the gong and the Museum is officially open
Celebrations lasted into the night as we made our way back to the train station.
All the machines were on free play for the launch party
Food and drink was provided inside, while a burger van produced meatball sandwiches outside
However, there was one more notable event to take place. Throughout the evening, a box had stood in the centre of the floor.
Gerard with the 'mystery' box
This was actually a new-in-box Williams Hurricane machine from 1991. It had remained in its box for 24 years, but tonight it was to be opened for the first time.
The game with its owner
(picture: Rens Hooijmaijers)
The boxed game is placed on a table
(picture: Rens Hooijmaijers)
The box is opened
(picture: Rens Hooijmaijers)
The Hurricane is set up and powers up successfully
(picture: Rens Hooijmaijers)
The evening provided a fitting launch for the Museum and generated plenty of media interest both about the Museum and about pinball in general.
Getting to the Dutch Pinball Museum is pretty easy. There are express trains from Amsterdam Centraal Station and Schiphol Airport, from where it only takes 25 minutes. Then it's four or five stops on the Metro (D Line southbound) to either Wilhelminaplein or Rijnhaven, and a ten minute walk.
The view across the city from the Museum
Full details of the machines available, travel instructions, opening times and more are on the Dutch Pinball Museum website, although at the time of writing it is only in Dutch. Click here for a translated version.