So, lets talk about Amsterdam.
If you are reading this blogpost, chances are you probably read the earlier post that led to it. However, if you didn’t or haven’t, it might be a good idea to. The link is here.
Amsterdam was the first port of call on my European jaunt. I had never been to Amsterdam although I had flown KLM severally. I was therefore looking forward to seeing the city.
I took the NS train from Amsterdam Schiphol – an airport I’ve grown to love – to the Amsterdam Centraal station in the city center. The hostel I booked was a ferry away from Centraal across the IJ River. As I arrived Amsterdam in the wee hours and will supposedly not be able to check into the hostel until 3pm, I decided to have a shower at the station. I was going to hit town right away and there was no messing about. €18 that luxury cost me. A mugging especially since the hostel checked me into my room at 7:30 am when I got there.
What where my first thoughts of Amsterdam?
Why, the bicycles of course! The ubiquity!
There are close to 900,000 bicycles in the city. For a population of 1.1m people.
It’s just ridiculous.
And what dexterity too!
I am convinced Amsterdamers cycled right out of the womb. I was overcome with the epiphany that people in the city were born with two wheels instead of tibias and fibulas. Folks around here probably ride a bicycle from the bedroom to the toilet.
I chose to walk. I will not embarrass my ancestors among such aces.
And what will Amsterdam be without its canals. There are over 160 of them and over 1200 bridges. Amsterdam clearly doesn’t do small measures. My imagination ran wild. I imagined a bask of 30-foot Jurassic crocs haunting those waters. I didn’t walk close.
Amsterdam is pleasantly a multi-racial and diverse city. 49%of Amsterdamers are Dutch while 50% are of foreign ancestry. Folks of non-Western origin account for 35% of the city’s population and over 170 nationalities call the city home. Which is great because I loathe finding myself in a back street amongst ultra nationalists. But I needen’t have worried. I blended right in like angels in heaven.
If I was to describe Amsterdam in one word, it would be ‘chic.’
So, why did I chose to come to Amsterdam?
Amsterdam held special interest for me for two reasons. One, its light-handed treatment of topical moral issues is fascinating. Prostitution is legal and unionised in the city. The Dutch reckon that if people are going to pay for sex, there’s little you can do to stop them. So why not regulate and structure it instead?
Recreational marijuana use is also legal in the city. Marijuana is seen as ‘soft drugs’, like alcohol and tobacco. It’s all part of the social strategy called ‘pragmatic harm reduction’ ; accept that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and work to minimise their harmful effects through, for instance, safer and managed use, rather than simply ignoring or condemning them. Places that sell marijuana are euphemistically called Coffee Shops.
Coffee shops that sell no coffee. Quintessentially Dutch.
So yes, the Dutch believe morality should not be legislated. Live and let live.
Which sounds all nice and dandy. But where do we draw the line? Next stop bestiality, paedophilia, incest?
The second reason Amsterdam held special interest to me was its long tradition of welcoming the persecuted.
When the Netherlands won independence from catholic Spain in the 1500s, the Dutch government outlawed Catholicism. But Amsterdamers willfully gave Catholics a place to worship provided they kept a low profile.
The city also welcomed Jews from all over Europe when everyone else was throwing them out. They gave them a home and put their great business acumen to use building the city.
But alas, they could not protect them from the Nazis when Hitler rolled in in May 1940.
Stories of Jewish persecution in Amsterdam will inevitably lead to the story of Anne Frank and the Anne Frank House. Which was why I was in Amsterdam.
Well, that and photography and food.
Let’s talk about food a bit, shall we.
Many white folks gush about the street food herring.
“Oh, you must eat herring when you are in Amsterdam.”
“Herring is a dutch institution. It is delicious and healthy.”
“ You can’t go to Amsterdam and not eat herring”
Oh herring this. Oh herring that.
So I went looking for herring and tried it.
My advise to you: never listen to white folks!
As a matter of fact, never listen to anyone who finds raw fish, pickles and onions tasty.
But I did like bitterballen (which is not bitter at all), stroopwafel and some of the Indonesian cuisine.
And everybody say cheese! What is Amsterdam without cheese?
I visited the Henri Willig cheese factory in Zaanse Schans outside Amsterdam. I have never seen such variety of cheese in my life. Baby Gouda, Goat Cheese, Sheep Cheese, Baby Goat, Baby Cheese, Herbs & Garlic, Pepper, Red Chilli Pepper, Fenugreek. My face lit up like a Nigerian politician at the sight of bullion.
And eat I did. I was shameless with the generous free tasting. Snigger not. I wanted to be sure what cheese to buy.
One of the nice cheese maids proceeded to teach us cheese lovers the right way to pronounce ‘Gouda’. It is pronounced ‘hak-ouda.’ You pronounced the ‘hak’ as if you were summoning phlegm from your gut.
Just let me have the cheese, thank you.
And the weather!
If you thought London had the worst weather in civilised Europe, then you haven’t been to Amsterdam. It will always rain in Amsterdam. If you are happy, it will rain. If you are said, it will rain. If your life depended on it not raining, you will die. Because it will rain in Amsterdam. And it was cold and windy. Yet this was June.
Not cool, Amsterdam. Not cool.
Right. To Anne Frank and the Anne Frank House. One of the reasons why I was in Amsterdam.
Jewish girl Anne Frank was 11 years old when Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940. She lived with her father, mother and sister in Amsterdam.
As Jewish people began to disappear all over Europe, killed by the Nazis, Anne’s father, Otto, began building a secret annex in his office to hide the family from the Nazis if things came to a head in Amsterdam.
It did. In 1942, when Anne was 13 years old, the family moved into the secret annex. They were joined by four other people. It was very cramped in the annex.
They lived there for two years until they were discovered in 1944. Possibly ratted out. The Nazis deported them all to the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp in Poland (Which I was to visit).
Anne and her sister, Margot, were later moved to the Bergen-belsen concentration camp. Condition at Bergen-belsen were no less worse than at Auschwitz. The prisoners were overworked and many died from sheer exhaustion. Communicable diseases were also rife in the camp and Anne and Margot contracted typhus to which they eventually succumbed.
What broke my heart was that they died in February 1945. British forces liberated the camp in April 1945.
Sweethearts, if only you knew help was around the corner. If only you could have kept going for two more months.
Peeps, no matter what, keep on fighting. Fight everyday. Fight every night. Victory might be 24 hours away.
Anne’s father Otto was the only survivor from the secret annex. Anne’s mother had also died at Auschwitz.
But while Anne was in the secret chamber, she kept a diary. She wrote about life in the secret annex and her hopes and aspiration. She wanted to be a writer and a journalist and had intended to publish the story of life in the secret annex.
The diary somehow escaped the clutches of the infernal Nazis. Otto Frank was moved by her daughter’s story. On encouragement, in 1947 he published the diary into the now popular novel, Het Achterhuis (The Secret Annex). He hoped that readers of the diary would become aware of the inherent evil in discrimination and racism.
The book has since been translated into over 70 languages. The house in which Anne and her family hid is now a museum, the Anne Frank House. More than 1.2 million people visit the museum every year.
I had intended to add to this number and scratch my Jewish-persecution itch.
But due to the not unexpected frazzling of cells in my brain for no apparent reason, I somehow forgot to book the guided tour of the Anne Frank House until it was too late.
You see, tickets to the Anne Frank House are sold out up to 2 months in advance, especially during summer. A limited amount of tickets are released online at 9 am every morning on each day of visit. But the queue of people waiting to snatch them up stretch from Amsterdam to Babylon.
I kicked myself over and over again. How could I have forgotten? How could I have been careless?
Well, I was in Amsterdam anyway and I might as well make the most of it. I should fare better in Berlin, my next stop. So I set about taking pictures.
But it rained. My two days in Amsterdam was a cold, wet and overcast one. Not ideal photography situation for an amateur like me. But I was never letting a great picture get in the way of a bad story.
1-0 Amsterdam. But there will be a return leg. You will not get the better of me! I will be back like a creditor.
Right. On to Berlin then.
Please click here for my Berlin account.