The Amsterdam Museum

I worked for several hours this morning and headed out around one for a late lunch and a visit of the Amsterdam Museum, which is all about the history of the city.

I made sure to pack everything I needed for my excursion, including my pretty (but obviously very cheap) new Museumkaart bag that I’ve been using to bring home my supermarket purchases. I regretted not packing such a bag when I left home all those months ago and am impressed with how much use I’ve had out of it so far.

It folds up into a little pouch.

I went across the street to throw out the trash and found that someone did some serious clean up. Yes, that’s a bag of VHS tapes.

I’m slowly starting to orientate myself and could get most of the way to the museum without needing a map. This meant I could notice things I’d missed on previous trips, like my life motto on the wall of this canal: “Memories are souvenirs too.”

I made a withdrawal and was pleased to pay only 145CAD for 100euros. A few months ago in Montenegro, I paid 155CAD. My money is going further!

Google Maps once again failed me, which is no surprise, but I managed to find the museum on my own with a minimal amount of wrong turns. Then, I wandered around the Dam for a bit and found a restaurant that had a good burger deal, so I went in. I ended up waiting 20 minutes to be served a beer and be told that they were out of burgers and only had omelettes left! I felt like telling them to just keep the beer, but it was a small one so I decided to treat it as my appetiser. This enormous waste of time was almost worth it for an exchange I had with a little girl at the table next to mine. She was reading the menu and asked her father about four times, “Papa, c’est quoi un ‘Italian roll’?” (Daddy, what’s an ‘Italian roll’?) I took pity on her, leaned over, and said, “Un Italian roll, c’est un pain italien!” (An Italian roll is an Italian bread!”) She looked at me wide-eyed as a grin took over her features and gave me a very grateful, “Merci!”

By the time I was able to pay and leave, it was two and most restaurants were done serving lunch. Yes, I appreciate the irony. So thank goodness for finding falafel, and some of the best I’ve had outside of the Montreal-Ottawa corridor at that! And since lunch was fairly inexpensive by Western European standards, even with the beer, I had an ice cream after. Let me tell you, Ben and Jerry’s is very disappointing after months of gelato! It’s very popular here, but having had it twice now, I think that’s it for the rest of my life.

So back I went to the museum. Its entrance is very crooked!

The main part of the museum is about the history of Amsterdam. It was a lot of talking from the audio guide and reading from the signage. I’m just going to make a few general notes of what I learned, but, really, I cannot do justice to a whole museum devoted to the topic.

One of the questions I didn’t realise I had about Amsterdam, but which is obvious in retrospect now that I have the answer, is how the heck did the city come to be?!

Let me share two illustrations to make my point. Here are some major cities of the world. The dotted line is sea level.

Now, here is Amsterdam. Notice that most of it, including the airport, is well below the dotted line.

Well, Amsterdam started like many cities do, as a village in the mud at a strategic location. Buildings were on piles and, over time, more land was drained, canals were built, the dams were constructed, etc. I saw lots of period maps showing how the city grew over the years and much of the development and plans for expansion were carefully calculated.

Amsterdam is built on mud and it’s its millions of piles that keep the city from sinking into that mud. Excavations into the mud often reveal interesting artifacts, like this perfectly preserved shoe from the late 13th century!

It was after two major fires that the city was finally rebuilt in brick and stone. Can you imagine how much weight that is on piles?!

Amsterdam was once a Catholic city, but broke away from that faith and moved to Protestantism. Catholicism then had to be practiced in secret and Catholic nuns and priests were driven away. But as long as Jews stayed away from Christian women, they were welcome because of their positive impact on the economy.

I still dream of a home with a dark panelled library and such a wonderful old globe. 🙂

Amsterdam was the home of the Dutch East India Company and claims to have been the centre of the world for at time. The company went bankrupt in 1799.

The city was governed by a group of men called burghers. I love how contemporary this picture of a group of burghers feels. Take away their period clothing and I could see them talking about the latest gadget.

Looking down to the psychedelic carpet I photographed on my walking tour.

I learned that Napoleon’s forces invaded Amsterdam and that the city was under French control for a time, which is when the town hall became the Royal Palace.

Bust of Napoleon.

One of the most interesting facts I learned in this early part of the museum is only just how recently Amsterdam has been easily linked to the rest of the world, considering it was the home of an international trading company. First, a North Sea Canal in 1876. Then, the Central Station for trains, built on three artificial islands in 1889. The first cars appeared in 1900 and, get this, 1916 is when the original Schiphol Airport opened! Yes, 100 years ago! It was originally a mud field for military aircraft, but in 1920, regular service began with an Amsterdam-London route that was flown by 440 passengers. More on Schiphol in a bit.

There was not much about why Amsterdam is such a bicycle friendly city, as though they take that mode of transportation for granted. But I can gather that much of modern Amsterdam grew at the same time as the bicycle came into fashion and it was just the most logical way for folks to get around.

You could ride this bicycle in front of a screen playing a scene from 100 years ago and one from today.

Anne Frank is the face given to the thousands of Amsterdam Jews killed in the Shoah. Amsterdam claims to be the only city that held a protest against the treatment of its Jews. The city ultimately “lost” 66,000 of its 80,000 Jews.

Anne Frank

There was a whole section about how tolerant Amsterdam is and that it was the site, in 2001, of the first same-sex weddings in the world. This section also described how ethnically diverse the city is. I have to say that I couldn’t help but notice upon landing at Schiphol and going to the attached train station that almost all the employees were black. I saw a lot of black people in southern Spain, which makes a lot of sense with Africa being as close as it was, but I didn’t see a lot of non-white people in the Balkans. I’ve also seen a lot of Asian people here. It’s refreshing. I’m still not used to living in Canada in an area where everyone looks like me, having grown up in a part of the country that is truly a great big tossed salad of human diversity.

Here is the very first map ever drawn of Amsterdam. If I recall correctly, it dates back to the 1500s, before the rings of canals were built. North is down, to highlight the harbour. That harbour is now the area of Central Station.

There was an exhibit about Dutch cruelty at its Suriname plantations. Looks like Americans and the Brits don’t have an exclusive monopoly on that sort of thing.

Waterland Plantation in Suriname.

Bunch of armour.

From the main part of the museum, I moved to exhibits about the 100 years of Schipol Airport’s history. The original site was expanded until it was completely destroyed during World War II. It was rebuilt a few kilometres away and has been expanding ever since. The airport is almost a city as it has restaurants, stores, a museum, and many services. It is so much below sea level because it was built on a drained lake.

Modern Schipol Airport came into being in 1967, with four runways facing different directions so that planes can land and take off  in whichever direction the wind is blowing. The new terminal had travelators, tax free shopping, and is more functional in design.

Did you know that one of the biggest robberies in Dutch history, a diamond heist, happened at Schiphol?

Today, Schiphol is connected to the entire world. Compare those original 440 flights to the 58 million in 2015, of which 23 million were connections.

There was a fun booth where I got to play the role of a passport control officer. 🙂

2003 saw the opening of a sixth runway, Polder, which is the airport’s longest. It exacerbated noise problems in the area, so the debate about environmental norms is ongoing.

There was a series of panels about the future of travel and how we will stay safe. I was struck by this phrase, “The sky is not the limit.”

The Amsterdam Museum is a bit of a maze and exhibits overlap. I found some interesting information about the city’s coat of arms. The three crosses are actually of St. Andrew’s, supposedly because the apostle was tortured to death on such a cross. The origins of the rest of the design are unknown.

There was a brief exhibit about how Amsterdam is dealing with the influx of Syrian refugees: by welcoming them with open arms.

The exhibit about the squatters’ riots of the early ’80s had a lot of dramatic photographs. These riots led to the creation of a lot of affordable housing in the city.

This tram hit an oil patch from a truck accident and derailed.

You can read more about the squatters’ riots:

There was an in-progress exhibit about the creation of a city and a home that made me think of all the homes I’ve lived in and viewed over the years. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a hut with a dirt floor and no power or a luxury mansion with all the modern conveniences, you will have a place to cook, a place to wash and t0 use the toilet, a place to sleep, and a place to live. Sometimes, it all occurs in one room, sometimes there’s very little furniture involved, but, ultimately, human needs for a home are the same the world over.

This is a kitchen from the Jordaan part of Amsterdam in the early 1900s. The toilet bucket was right in the kitchen.

Around 1275, Amsterdam had a single neighbourhood, one line of houses along the Amstel River, which gave the city its name. More neighbours emerged as the population grew. The first canal rings were built in the 17th century.

There was an exhibit about Amsterdam’s policy of turning a blind eye when it comes to the use of soft drugs while being tough on the hard drugs. This has led to the number of junkies in the city staying around the same level as in the ’70s and the junkie population is getting older since young people don’t have access to the hard drugs. The current estimated population of junkies in Amsterdam is 5,000. There are about 850,000 residents in the city.

There are lots of rules regarding Amsterdam’s coffee shops, which are a place to smoke marijuana.

The Netherlands, in 1988, was the first European country to launch an open Internet connection. Compare that to a certain country that shall remain nameless that just decided to meet within the next many years norms that are already obsolete in most of the rest of the world.

I learned more about the Dam, which is the most famous square in the Netherlands. Since the ’50s, it has increasingly been the scene of protests and demonstrations.

There was an0ther exhibit near the end about the occupation and subsequent liberation of the city during WWII. I saw some great archival videos of Canadian troops marching in. No matter how much my country embarrasses me today, I recognise that much of Europe still sees us as the badass warriors we once were. Canada and the Netherlands are particularly close, not just because we liberated the country, but also because we sheltered the Dutch royal family during World War II and Princess Margriet was born at the Ottawa Civic Hospital. All of this is the reason why Ottawa has its wonderful Tulip Festival every spring.

It was only upon exiting the museum that I learned that its building was once an orphanage. Children played in this courtyard.

The building was the Civic Orphanage, one of the oldest and best known children’s homes in the Netherlands. Tens of thousands of children grew up here between 1580 and 1960 (WOW).

The courtyard is now a seating area for the museum café.

In the 17th century, 1,000 children might have lived there at one time, with four children sharing one bowl. They drank “small beer” every day. That is, a beer with a low alcohol content, which was safer than drinking water.

In 1960, the orphanage moved to a modern complex and after a massive renovation project, the museum opened in 1975.

This was an interesting set of exhibits. The bottom windows are about the orphanage and the upper windows are about other museums in the city.

I liked the contrast of the worn stone step with the worn wooden floor planks.

It was almost time for the museum to close by this point and I still had work to do, so I headed home, pleased that I could get there without any help. I’m really learning my way around my parts of this compact city. By the way, I’m really liking Amsterdam. It would be lovely to live here one day for a bit longer and I can actually see a way that that could happen — if I ever get to a point where I could afford the cost of living here, of course!

The only negative thing I can say about the city is that it’s really crowded now that the holidays are done! So getting around isn’t as much fun as my first couple of days, I’m afraid, and I’m getting tired and cranky a lot more quickly. 🙁

I passed an English language bookstore with a sign that made me laugh.

I went in since I had something on my list I’d been meaning to look for.

The title of this book reminds me of one my favourite sayings: “Every time I make ends meet, someone moves the ends.”

I wanted a 2017 diary and found exactly the perfect thing (pink one on the right). It looks rather nice next to the Moleskine notebook that I bought at Harrods in London! You’d never guess from how it still looks so pristine, but that notebook has gotten a lot of use!

I headed back out into the throng and found the Le Creuset store. I really want one of their Dutch ovens! Maybe once I settle in Mexico…

This is the halfway point of my stay here. I have exactly eight days left. My work for the next couple of days is pretty heavy, so I will probably just explore by immediate neighbourhood. There are still a couple of museums I’d like to see and I really want to go back to the Rijksmeum, but I’m really pleased with how much I’ve been able to do within walking distance of my flat. Some of the museums left on my list may require the use of the tram, if only to save me some time.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the history of Amsterdam. I find it a fascinating city!

6 thoughts on “The Amsterdam Museum

  1. We were told that if actually try to pronounce Dutch words we would often find they tell us something. For instance, we were told Schiphol airport said out loud sounds like ship hole. And its location is a place where whirlpools damaged ships.

    And rijsttafel is rice table, an Indonesian treat best taken part of with friends so you get a wide variety of foods to try.

    • Linda, the “ch” in Dutch is pronounced very close to the ch in “loch” in Scots and the X in Serbo-Croatian or Bulgarian. The closest I can get is the J in Spanish, but it’s not quite right. Very guttural. I actually find that the real pronunciation is more confusing than just reading a word in English with a French pronunciation. 😀 There are SO many French words in Dutch!

  2. Hi Rae, missing you on the Isla this year… Looking like you are having a great time..Merry Christmas and all the best in 2017
    Rus arrives on Dec 30th we have a month here together then the world… lots of love Sue

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