A taste of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Travel Blog

 › entry 13 of 23 › view all entries

If Paris is style, Amsterdam is cool. And not cool in the high school manner of the kid who gets into trouble and bullies others around, but the authentic "I don't give a damn what you think about me" style.

Lydia and I caught the train here from Ghent via Antwerp on Friday night. I was burnt out from my week of interviews, so we just crashed in our miniscule hotel room on Damrak in medieval Amsterdam. The next morning we started by walking through the streets and over the canals of Amsterdam, seeing the beautiful old buildings, built leaning forward and with a hook at the top so that residents can use a pulley system to get furniture into their houses without navigating the tiny steep stairs.

The city is so quiet, with hardly any cars and everyone zipping about on old bicycles (they use old bikes so they don't have to bother locking them up, and in a country below sea level there are no hills to require decent gears), Amsterdam has 600 000 bicycles for a city of 750 000 residents.

Our destination was Anne Frank Huis. The story of Anne Frank is devastating. Her father, Otto Frank, saw where Hitler was leading Germany and moved his family to Amsterdam in 1933 (he tried to move to America but was denied a visa). Unfortunately, in 1940 it took the Germans only five days to conquer the Netherlands, and the anti-Jewish laws started going into effect. In 1942 he decided to move his family into hiding, and constructed a secret annex in one of his warehouses, relying on his Dutch employees to provide for and hide the family.

They spent two years in the annex, without fresh air or sunlight, too frightened to make any noise, living in a climate of fear. It is horrible just how natural this existence comes to Anne, being only 13 when she entered, who gets hurt the most by the people around her and the prudish upbringing she was given. They were so close to surviving the holocaust when they were betrayed just weeks before the city was liberated. They were split up and sent on the last train from Amsterdam to the concentration camps. Anne's father, Otto, survived Auschwitz, but seven months after he had been freed, and just weeks before Anne's camp, Bergen-Belsen, was liberated, Anne died alone after watching her mother die of starvation trying to feed her daughters and her sister Margot die of typhus.

Just one case among the more than 100 000 who died in the Netherlands, a number so great that it includes three other "Anne Franks".

I think Primo Levi describes our reaction to Anne Frank perfectly: "One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did, but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way: If we were capable of taking in the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live."

With the museum is an exhibit Free2choose, which challenges visitors to consider the rights of the individual.

After Anne Frank Huis we visited the Amsterdams Historisch Museum, where we got to see a brief history of Amsterdam from its origin as reclaimed farm land from the fens, through to its trading might and current life.

Our next stop was another museum, this one the Hash Marihuana and Hemp Museum, dedicated to all things marijuana.

The Dutch are very proud of their logical approach to drug control, and the fact that it works so well – despite marijuana being decriminalised and available in 300 coffeeshops around the city, the youth use is the lowest in Europe (and far lower than America), as is the use of heroin (the legalisation of marijuana takes away the distribution base of drug dealers) and their drug-related violent crime, incarceration rate and associated criminality are all far far lower than in America or other more "zero tolerance" countries. It is staggering to think that so many countries follow America's failed policies on drugs when the alternative Netherlands approach works far better.

In the evening Lydia and I went on a cruise around the canals of Amsterdam. It was a pleasure to see all the old buildings and sit back and watch the city bustle around us.

I especially enjoyed the fact that the cruise included unlimited beer (and unlike some places they were filling up your glass the second you finished) and stopped to pick up Domino's Pizza and Ben and Jerry's ice-cream for us half-way through.

After our Pizza Cruise we walked through the Red Light District to see the prostitutes standing in their booths (around 360 booths line the Red Light District). Some where actively trying to attract customers, while others seemed extremely bored and sat there doing crossword puzzles or text messaging. It is very interesting, sex and prostitution is not only legal but it is also not taboo – the Red Light District is not a seedy area, but a vibrant night spot, where people go about their business, find a restaurant or a bar, or watch the kayakers move through the canals in a congo-line. A very different feel from Las Vegas, for example, where the "sinfulness" of the site is part of the titillation.

Adrian_Liston says:
At the time I was doing a course in drug addiction and public health responses which was very "metric" orientated - no morality lessons, just simple measurements of the level of drug use, drug-related crime, health outcomes, etc under different public health policies. The Netherlands was just so much better on every single front, less drug use, less drug crime, better health outcomes and less money spent, that I think all governments should really consider why they are sticking to an ideological stance that just doesn't work.
Posted on: Jul 04, 2009
ik-ben-10eke says:
Wow, you sure are positive about Amsterdam's liberate policies on drugs. BTW, Amsterdam local government is more tolerant than the rest of the country. Drugs ofcourse is still a problem, but as you said, not as big as in other countries.
Posted on: Jul 03, 2009
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
photo by: pearcetoyou