Lunch today has a poignant flavour. My friend is leaving the Netherlands in a couple of weeks to move to Asia. It’s mid September, cooler and the autumn tinge matches my mood. The cafes on the Noordermarkt will still set their tables out under the trees for another week or two, we choose a table and check the menu.
The Noordermarkt is the triangular open space around the Noorderkerk, bordered on two sides by typical Amsterdam gingerbread houses and on the third side by the Prinsengracht. There’s a farmer’s market here on a Saturday, and a flea market on Monday mornings, but it’s the simple daily life that appeals to me.
There’s a small playground on the square, with swings and a small adventure playground, golden haired children are palying some invented game while their mother watches from a distance. There’s also a basketball court although I think it’s more often football that the kids go for in this neighbourhood. In March of this year it snowed, heavily by Amsterdam standards, and three or four snowmen were built and then slid slowly away. It was a dangerous time, not all the paths were salted and the snow quickly hardened to treacherous ice. I bought a rather fetching pair of gumboots to stomp my way to work, but it was still risky; there were serious snowball wars across the Noordermarkt.
The Noordermarkt has seen more serious conflicts, it was here that the general strike was announced on 24 February 1941. This was a distinctly grass-roots protest against the antisemetic activities of the Germans who had invaded Amsterdam. The strike was short-lived, just two days, and obviously unsuccessful, but it remains a source of pride and the strike is commemorated every year at the Dockworker statue on the other site of Amsterdam. There is also a plaque on the Church here.
You’d never guess at its past looking at the peaceful area today. Cats sleep stretched in windows, hugging the sunshine. The light filters through the trees, and the hum of a tour boat engine floats up from the canal.
“Last time I was here” I tell my friend, “it was for a Salsa party! There were lights strung up in the trees, a barbecue and a Cuban band playing. It was a hot hot night but everyone was dancing”
She smiles but she’s staring into the distance. Ah, our lunch is here.
Next Street: Prinsengracht