Amsterdam: Coffee, Anne Frank, and the Van Gogh Museum
As I type, I am on a train to Prague, Czech Republic. Colleen and I were in Munich for less than 24 hours, so to have time to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. There was so much more to see, but for now we’re on our way to Prague.
Now, let’s chat about Amsterdam.
After Berlin, Colleen and I took the train straight to Amsterdam. We arrived in the late afternoon and dropped off our bags at our hostel, which happened to be in the heart of the infamous Red Light District. This small part of the city was chalk-full of tourists. Many were window shopping, drinking beers on the canal, or sharing a blunt on the street corner. The streets themselves are quite narrow, thus exaggerating the fullness of space, as well as the ripe smell of weed. I’m not much of a partier, so I’m sure I didn’t appreciate the scene as much as someone who likes to smoke and drink, but walking the windy-narrow streets and maneuvering through the canals was very enjoyable. Also, seeing half nude women (and men) through the windows is something I won’t soon forget. Okay, enough about the Red Light District. There is so much more to Amsterdam than that 4-block section of the city.
Colleen and I had plans to meet our old high school friend, Lindsay, for dinner our first evening. We made plans to meet at a restaurant/brewery called Trost. Colleen and I decided to walk there, so to see a bit of the city. We took the long way there, having the canals as our trail guides (before coming to Amsterdam, I didn’t realize how many canals there would be). It was a treat to find narrows alleyways and house-lined streets overlooking the canals. Colleen and I noticed big window blockades and hooks on the top of the houses. Lindsay told us later that day that the hooks were used as a pulley system to bring goods from the canals. The hooks are still used today for goods, as well as pulling up heavy objects while people are moving in and out of their apartments!
When Colleen and I arrived at Trost, we were 15-minutes late due to getting a little lost and being very distracted by the beautiful buildings while walking around. Lindsay totally understood and then we enjoyed a tasty meal (and had the best beer I’d ever had: Belgium honey beer). After, we walked around the park with Lindsay, we meandered our way back home to the Red Light District. It was after dark when we arrived at our hostel, and it was evident that the that part of the city was only waking up by the time we got to bed.
The next day, Colleen and I woke up early to eat breakfast. I ordered coffee and yoghurt with muesli (with dates). I have to say that this small restaurant had the best coffee I’ve ever had and the yoghurt was also the best yoghurt I’ve ever had. The Dutch know how to make a tasty yoghurt and a good cup of coffee! After, Colleen and I explored more of the city, particularly looking for “secret churches.” Lindsay told us that in a previous century Amsterdam became mostly Protestant and its rulers decreed that persons affiliated with other religions must congregate in secret, as well as not publicly show their religious affiliations. This resulted in the creation of “secret churches and home churches.” Colleen and I found two Catholic secret churches while exploring the southwestern corridor and Colleen (on a different day) went on a tour of a home church in the northeastern corridor. I enjoyed learning a part of Amsterdam’s history that I’d never heard of before.
After, Colleen and I met Lindsay for lunch at Lindsay’s university. She’s working in the archaeological department, as well as working on her PHD, researching and studying the history of these mysterious stones that have been found all over the world. Very little in known about them and it’s her job to try and figure out a bit more about them. (I wish I could remember the name of the stones, but can’t at this moment). After lunch, Lindsay took us on a tour of the Jewish District. We walked through a flea market, she pointed out a few historic buildings, as well as her favorite museum: the Resistance Museum. While walking, I noticed gold plates on the ground in front of some of the houses. We read them and Lindsay translated that it was the names of the Jewish people who were expelled from these homes. The plates gave a year of when they lived in the home, when they were forcibly taken away, and some of the plates said where they were murdered (ex: Auschwitz, Buchenwald, etc). It was fitting to learn about these that afternoon because Colleen and I had already planned to visit the Anne Frank House later that afternoon.
We said goodbye to Lindsay and followed the canals northwest to The Anne Frank House Museum. We learned online that after 3:30pm, the house opens up for walk-ins only (since morning tours book up months in advance). We waited in a line starting at 2:30pm and found ourselves in the door by 3:45pm.
(On a side note, I went to get coffee before entering the house and had a hard time finding any because the one coffee shop near the museum only sold weed. I learned then that you can’t publicly sell weed in Amsterdam, but the country tolerates it if it is sold within a shop that sells other things, such as coffee).
First, a brief introduction of who Anne Frank was and why there is a museum named after her. Anne Frank, a 11 year old girl, and her family were Jewish and during the rein of the Third Reich, persons who were more than 1/2 Jewish by blood, Roma, homosexual, or a political radical were persecuted and sent to concentration camps (or “work camps” as they were called). The Franks went into hiding when it was stated that persons of Jewish decent would be taken to work camps. So, the Frank’s and a second family hid in a “secret annex” of Anne Frank’s father’s workshop for over two years, hoping to evade the hands of the Nazis. They were helped by their colleagues and friends and during this time, Anne Frank wrote in her diary about the daily routines of life during her time hiding, as well as her thoughts on humanity. The museum we visited is the very same place Anne and her family hid for two years.
As for the museum, it is split into three floors: the ground floor (the workshop), the second floor (the offices), and the third floor (the secret annex). There were quotes, photos, historical documents, and visual reproductions of what the house looked like while the Frank’s worked there, as well as when they hid there. There is no furniture in the building because Otto Frank (Anne’s father), decided it would be best to leave the house as it is, without any reproductions. The second floor has the original entryway for the secret annex (hidden behind a bookcase, specifically designed to hide the entryway). Walking up into the secret annex and entering the rooms of where Anne and her family hid for two years was unbelievably difficult. It was difficult not to think of the ghosts of the past, walking silently through the corridors, trying not to make a sound, so to not be found by the Nazis. Also, seeing where Anne must’ve written most of her diary entries and only peering up for a moment to the attic space, which is where Anne (and Peter) spent their long days of solitude, listening to the nearby church bells was eery, sad, and oddly insightful.
The last portion of the museum brings you through rooms with video/audio accounts of Anne’s friends and her father (the only Frank who survived the Holocaust). It takes you through how they were taken, where they were taken (Buchenwald, Dachau, etc), and how they died (if known). Anne’s original diaries are showcased and the final room is a room for remembrance and a room to share about your feeling about the museum in the computerized guestbook. There wasn’t enough time in the museum to really soak in everything, since there was a consistent push of viewers behind you, but I would still recommend the museum to anyone who is interested in learning more about Anne Frank and the Secret Annex.
On our third and final day, Colleen and I went to the Van Gogh museum. To be honest, I would say this is the best curated museum I’d ever been to. It not only showcases some of Van Gogh’s most celebrated paintings, but it also shares Van Gogh’s story through informational signs, personal letters he wrote, and audio reenactments of letters written to him from his family and friends. I learned so much about his life that I never knew. Did you know that Van Gogh only started painting earnestly when he was in his late twenties? He started by painting farmers, but eventually became famous for his sunflower paintings, as well as his Stary Night. He was also a talented writer, which was only found out after his death. Did you know that his closest friends also became famous painters? And, lastly, did you know he had a mental illness, most likely Borderline Disorder, which instigated his famous cutting off his own ear and his eventual death by shooting himself in the stomach at the age of 37? All of this I learned while walking through the museum galleries, thanks to the amazing curator and Van Gogh Association that kept all of his writing, sketches, and paintings in good condition. I would encourage everyone to visit this museum if you find yourself in Amsterdam.
To end our time in Amsterdam, Lindsay joined us for dinner and then gave us a hug goodbye at the train station. We waved goodbye from the window and then Colleen and I prepared our train beds for the overnight ride to Carlruhe, which is where we would transfer to our next destination of Freudenstadt, Germany.
All the best,
*Will edit my posts later. Hope there aren’t too many mistypes!