Diarist Anne Frank should require no introduction. Visiting the house where she and six other people hid for more than two years during World War II was the number one thing I wanted to do in Amsterdam. Yes, the Van Gogh Museum was second.
Entry into the Anne Frank House can be a bit difficult. You can book a time slot until about 3:30PM most days, or else show up before then and queue for up to several hours in the hope of getting in without an appointment. All time slots for my entire time in Amsterdam have been booked for weeks, so I thought I was going to have to queue and hope for the best.
Well, today, Christmas Day, access was only with booked time slots and because I kept checking back on the site, I managed to snag a last minute cancelation for the first time slot! Talk about something being meant to happen.
It was a dark, cold, and bleak morning when I left home around 8:15 and I seemingly had Amsterdam all to myself. While I had purposely avoided passing the Anne Frank house in the the past few days, I had travelled other parts of Prinsengracht Straat, on which it is located, a few times and so I knew where to go.
Seeing the Westerkerk, which she so often references in her diary, was the moment of realisation that I had arrived.
And here’s the house. You can see the museum entrance space well lit up. To the left of it is a house with a pale foundation and stairs. To the left of that is a house with black doors. That was the location of Otto Frank’s business, with the offices above and the Secret Annexe behind.
I walked on the opposite side of the canal (to get a better view of the house) and had to double back. So here is a view looking the other direction to the Westerkerk.
And here is the view across the canal that Margot and Anne would sneak peeks of on their bathing day in the front office.
Here is the church tower that they could see from the Secret Annexe.
Daylight shot up close.
Here, I’m around the block in front of the Westerkerk, trying to get a glimpse of the Secret Annexe. This is when I understood just how they managed to be so well hidden. You cannot see the extension from the street and with all the buildings being stuck together, even if you can see it from another building, it’s not clear to which building it belongs.
The Westerkerk in daylight, from the other side.
I arrived around 8:50 and there was already a queue forming for those with tickets for nine. Anyone with a ticket for a later time, even 9:30, was told to leave and come back no earlier than five minutes before their turn. I had to queue for almost 10 minutes in needling rain. That felt exactly right.
I had no trouble gaining entrance once the line started moving, although I had to increase the contrast on my phone so that the scanner could read the bar code.
From the entrance, guests move towards the actual house, with pauses to watch videos and read informational placards. I did not feel rushed or crowded. The first space recognisable from Anne’s diary is the office where Miep Gies and other helpers would work and where Anne and her sister Margot would bathe on Saturdays. We then proceeded from there up a very steep staircase to the Secret Annexe.
I think the museum does a very good job of leading guests through the spaces in a fluid manner while still preserving some of the original flow between them. So I got a good sense of what it would have felt like to move between the office space and the Secret Annexe, up a very, very, very steep flight of stairs, although not the set of stairs that were actually used by the helpers, which are at the back of the house.
One thing that I was very pleased about is that we were able to go up behind the (reconstructed) bookcase and that it had been preserved perfectly, with the low door and giant step up that Anne described so clearly. This is a stock image of it:
The actual living space was much more spacious than I expected, although I can imagine it didn’t feel like that for seven people all crammed in with their furniture and belongings! The rooms are fairly empty, but traces of Anne and her family remain. She described how she pasted images on the walls to make her room cheerier and all those images were there. We can also see the marks on the wall where Otto Frank marked Margot and Anne’s growth. The incredibly beautiful toilet in its own room was a surprise and I wish I could have asked if it was the original:
Outside of the toilet room is a room with a sink, but there is no bath or shower. Upstairs, there was also a proper kitchen, with a stove and a sink with counter space.
We were not allowed up into the attic where Anne would sneak away for a breath of fresh air, but we could look up the very steep staircase there and get a glimpse of the church tower.
Here is a fantastic tour of the space that explains it better than I could with words or even a floor plan and it has the same flow as the tour:
(You step through the bookcase at about 1:10.)
At the very end, back downstairs in the modern museum space, you can see many of Anne’s diaries and original papers, including the iconic red and white checkered journal she got when she was 13. Her handwriting is very neat.
There were several videos throughout the tour. I heard in English testimony from Anne’s best friend Hanneli Goslar about encountering Anne at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp just before she died and managing to get food to her. Anne thought she was all alone. Hanneli, who is still alive, believes that if Anne had known her father was still alive, she might have found the strength to survive:
One of the final videos was a testimonial from Otto Frank, in English, talking about his first experience reading the diary. He said that Anne spoke about a lot of things and criticised much, but not to the depth he discovered in the diary. He was surprised by what she wrote and that despite being close to Anne, she was such a different person than he thought. His takeaway is that some parents never really know their children:
Finally, there was a video with various celebrities, authors, guests of the museum, and people in Anne’s life giving their impressions of her. One of her friends said, “She didn’t die. She was killed for being a Jewish girl.” A WWII soldier who fought to liberate Holland had this to say after learning about Anne, “Now I know why I fought.” And the title of this video comes from a speech Emma Thompson made at the Anne Frank House, “All her would-haves are our opportunities.”
The last object I saw was a surprise and added a bit of levity to the situation, Shelley Winters’ Oscar for her role in The Diary of Anne Frank. I was surprised by how cheap the statue looks! Ms. Winters had promised Otto Frank himself that she would donate the Oscar to the museum if she won and he told her that would be difficult for her to do so. Kudos to her for actually doing it.
In the last few weeks, stunning new evidence about the Secret Annexe has come out: that it’s possible that Anne and the others were not betrayed and were instead found by chance. I find an immense amount of comfort in that there is such a strong possibility.
Visiting the Anne Frank House was like going back to a place I’d been before and knew well. I cannot believe I had an opportunity to visit it. This year has been full of surprises.
I felt rather shattered when I came out an hour after entering. I’d thought of trying to find another museum that might be open, but I was done for the day. I wandered a bit around Dam Square, trying to clear my head, and then headed home.
I thought of stopping at a café for a second breakfast, but the few open ones that I passed were very expensive. When I came upon an open Albert Heijn supermarket, I popped in to see if they might have fresh baking to have with coffee at home, a genius idea if I do say so myself. For 9 euros, I came out of there with a chocolate croissant and mixed fresh fruit (apple, pineapple, mango, grapes!) for a second breakfast, as well as some prepared Japanese dumplings and a very nice tray of sushi for a late lunch! If there’s one thing I wish I could take home from my European adventures, it’s an Albert Heijn supermarket. With so many of them around, their low prices, and their offerings, I don’t even want to eat at restaurants!
I got in, had my second breakfast, and then started to pick away at a largish job due tomorrow night. My thought was that I could make large enough headway on it to be able to take it slow tomorrow, head out to do a museum or two, and then finish up in the evening. That wound up being a pleasant enough way to wile away the afternoon (the work was interesting) and I paused around two to have my dumplings and sushi, which were really good for being of the supermarket variety!
Just shy of four, I got a lovely present. I’m minding two cats here and one is an aloof grumpy old man who wants very little to do with me. Around four, he gets wet food. Well, I was just thinking that it was time for that when he came downstairs, rubbed his head against my legs, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Meow?” I gave him his food and before he ate, he let me give him a short scritch under the neck. Progress! 🙂
So I’ve done all that I really wanted to do in Amsterdam. I can now relax and take in all the wonderful bonuses the Museumkaart offers me. 🙂