Amsterdam is a city trapped in the stereotype. Red light district, prostitution, marijuana, mass tourism, bicycles everywhere, Anne Frank, canals … but the most fascinating things about Amsterdam are not the obvious ones. Some are visible, others invisible.
I find it difficult to choose the ones that interest me most and surprise me, but I have tried to restrict enthusiasm to only eight. They are the following. I hope that they end up making an impression on your next visit, because Amsterdam is much more than the average tourist.
1. Intimacy in question
If we look closely at many ground floors facing the street, we will notice that there is a Dutch tradition with regard to privacy: the central window does not carry curtains and, therefore, leaves the living room in full view of the public, as if the family live there you will consider that your life is worthy of a museum. Or that, in reality, there is nothing to hide.
2. Facades as works of art
Nothing in public furniture is randomly placed on the streets of Amsterdam . Everything pursues a certain aesthetic sense, warmth. Especially in neighborhoods like the Jordaan. Walking through it is like being on the set of a movie. Everything is perfectly placed by invisible elves.
Although the facades of the buildings and houses are brick, and little else, all have an infinity of whimsical variations: corners with rounded towers, sculptures embedded in art deco style, decoration reminiscent of a forest, a cruise or a wedding cake and a long etcetera.
3. House as good for all
Despite being an example of extreme citizenship, in Amsterdam there are laws that treat real estate not as personal property but as something scarce that everyone should be able to access … for the good of the whole world. For this reason, in 1971, the taking of buildings was legalized, which consisted of entering by force a property that is not one’s and inhabiting it, as long as the place has been vacant for at least one year.
Although that law was modified in 2010, it is still relatively common to see dilapidated facades with posters proclaiming the resistance of its inhabitants to authority.
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4. Regulated madness and chaos
Coexistence and order is not only pursued with rules and laws. In fact, according to the Dutch, the excess of them can be counterproductive. That is why in Holland there are towns where it has been experimented with the elimination of all traffic signals to avoid accidents.
In addition, the Dutch are very conservative in general, but at the same time the culture of the city prides itself on its traditional tolerance. So it applies the logic that it is better to legalize and regulate the activities that are going to be carried out anyway. Therefore, Amsterdam is in many ways the most liberal city in the world (open, free and permissive). Often, it is so liberal that it causes grace or generates disbelief. For example, notice that most cyclists do not wear helmets, but also those who drive motorcycles, and that all cross everywhere when there is often no crossing of zebras, no traffic lights, no yield or anything. That has not made Ásmterdam be characterized as a city where there are many accidents.
5. Laboratory of ideas
Because it became one of the most populous ports in the world and that to establish business relationships with foreigners requires empathy, flexibility in ideas and continuous interactions, the city became a laboratory of new ideas that came from all the corners of the world.
This also allowed many thinkers, philosophers and scientists who had constrained their freedom of expression in other nations, to move here, nourishing still more the breeding ground for new ideas that had never been wielded, such as free love, gay marriage, the legalization of drugs and a long etcetera.
Amsterdam thus forged its principles of tolerance, of the priority of secular powers over religious, and of a true modern culture of free trade, as Rusell Shorto writes in his book Amsterdam …
The foundation of the world’s first stock market with the development of secular art in the figure of Rembrandt and his contemporaries, the development of an official vanguard policy on tolerance, the promotion of a climate of intellectual freedom capable of attracting thinkers from all over Europe and create the most dynamic publishing center in the world, and the physical transformation of the urban space through the excavation of its famous canals. Moreover, one could even say that the modern idea of ”home” as a personal and intimate space dates from the first houses that were built there, on the channels, at that time.
Although the country’s cuisine is rather poor, its arrival of people from all corners of the world allowed to open many other gastronomic lines, such as Chinatown. In addition, in general Amsterdam pastry is spectacular, especially if you ask for a cake of any kind. Nor can you leave Amsterdam without trying the Poffertjes, some small sweet crêpes that can be found as a dessert in restaurants and in many street stalls. There are also sweet accompaniments for poffertjes such as molasses (stroop), whipped cream (slagroom), or strawberries, one of the favorites of the Dutch.