February 26, 2014
Illustrator Valesca van Waveren came to our meeting straight from the ceramics class she’s attending, carrying a beautiful and huge vase with her she had been working on for 5 months. That is persistence! It is impossible to stop listening to her when she talks about her hometown Amsterdam, a city that she describes -paraphrasing Shakespeare- as “small but fierce”. Just like her.
Amsterdam is a really tiny capital. In fact, calling Amsterdam a village would be more appropriate. The longest you can travel by tram is about 45 minutes. By then you’ve crossed the whole city. This small ‘worldvillage’ is the capital of the Netherlands, which is one of the tiniest countries of Europe. But as Shakespeare put it: “Though she is small, she is fierce”. (I recently put this sentence on a birth announcement for someone!)
The best way to travel through Amsterdam though is by bike. Since everything is so close by, it’s the easiest and most fun way of discovering the city. You can stop wherever you like and you can stay as long as like, and don’t need to worry about missing the last tram home.
The only two things that will bother you, are: The rain (cycling with an umbrella is really inconvenient) and scooters (they are allowed on the cycling paths, and keep popping up from behind, driving way to fast).
But wearing a nice raincoat and knowing some streets where there isn’t so much traffic makes it a really nice experience. But even so, I do love cycling over the bridges at night with all the lights shining over the water of the canals. That’s when I feel proud and happy to be a born and raised ‘Amsterdammer’.
Now let me give you some clue as to why Amsterdam is small but fierce. I could tell you about way, way back in the golden age, but I think the more recent history tells an interesting tale as well, and reveals much of the indestructible soul of Amsterdam.
Growing up here, I’ve seen many changes to the city. The Jordaan used to be full of real Amsterdam people. People who loved the Dutch ‘Levensliederen’ (songs about life), somewhat stubborn and no nonsense, always glad to help a neighbour and knowing everyone since childhood. Amsterdam had it’s pride in being the most open-minded city towards softdrugs, gay people and cultures from all over the world. But in the 90’s, the hippies made place for the yuppies. The typical Amsterdammers moved out of the city to cheaper suburbs. Amsterdam houses turned really expensive and the atmosphere got less tolerant. When the 3 big museums closed for restauration (Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Stedelijk Museum), everyone noticed that what once had been a vibrant city lost its charm.
BUT – and this is how fierce Amsterdam is – Amsterdam is reclaiming it’s mojo! Very inspiring niches are now sprouting out of the ground like mushrooms or like we say in Dutch ‘onkruid vergaat niet’ (weeds won’t perish). This means something like ‘A bad sixpence always turns up’. What I mean to say is that creative people who didn’t leave this city are tough and find new ways to stick around, earn (just enough) money to be happy and take time to search and fulfill their dreams at the same time. It’s by fulfilling their dreams that they inspire others and make the city a vibrant place again.
New initiatives arise now: There is this whole village-like community which is growing, with a lot of handcrafting, independent artists and producers who want to make honest and heart-driven stuff that sells. Artists are inspiring and motivating each other and are finding new ways of commerce. There are many pop-up stores were you could find these really original products. Hutspot, Jan Eef pop up store in de Baarsjes are good examples of this. A local grocery chain called Marqt sells food made in the nearby neighbourhood. Honest, ecological food, which is good for people and the environment. They are doing very well, and keep opening up new shops. There’s the Sunday handmade market at the Westergasfabriek, where you find lovely handcrafted stuff.
In Amsterdam Noord (to be reached by a tiny boat, going from the back of Central Station) lots of new, lovely places are popping up too. There you can find the incredible EYE Movie Museum, the Berlin-like Café Modern, and the Tolhuistuin, a free space for arts and culture.
Coffee Bru in the East of Amsterdam, which has undoubtedly the best coffee, friendly staff, and makes you feel like you are in Williamsburg, New York. And…. did you know that New York was actually founded by the Dutch and was called New Amsterdam at first? Sorry, this must be my typical ‘Amsterdam arrogance’.
If you like to rock ‘n roll it at night, in the West of Amsterdam, you can find the little cosy and homely bar called De Nieuwe Anita. Mostly open on Tuesdays and Saturdays, with nice new singer-songwriters, cheap cocktails, and nights you couldn’t imagine.
For a sophisticated lunch, check out the stunning and stylish café Harvest and Company at the Tweede Helmerstraat 90. From there it’s a short walk to a really nice living- and housestyle shop called Friday Next at the Overtoom 31. Or (when you like to walk just a little bit more), go and pay a visit to Ari. The kindest guy on earth, with a really lovely second hand shop at Overtoom 532. Here you can find amazing treasures (and nice souvenirs from real Amsterdammers!).
Last but not least, I’m proud to say: we finally got our three big museums re-opened last year! This absolutely made the final mark: we’re back!