Amsterdam’s Coat of Arms

Amsterdam has an emblem with a bold design, and it’s used in a flag. 
It might be a surprise to learn that in this secular, even sin-filled, city that the crosses
 have religious significance. It’s the cross of St. Andrew, but no-one is sure how it ended up on the Amsterdam flag, it may have been part of the arms of the Persijns, a landowning family. The black centre stripe may represent the Amstel, the river after which Amsterdam is named, or not. The 
flag passes the Roman Mars design criteria and gets a nod in this TED talk on flag design (at about 10 minutes in).

The same design is used in an escutcheon or shield shape, and is applied to tourist souvenirs from key rings
to clogs, to beer mugs.

The shield forms part of the city’s arms, it “wears” a crown, which 
is the Imperial Crown of Austria, and the right to use it was granted to
 Amsterdam by the Emperor Maximilian I  in 1489 as a reward for the money lent in the 
Hook and Cod wars. The same crown sits atop the Westertoren, and turns 
up on the Blauwebrug.

Amsterdam emblem on Westertoren

Sometime in the 16th century two golden lions were added flanking the shield. I can’t find any particular reason for them being added, but it did bring the city’s coat of arms in line with the national coat of arms where the lion comes from the family arms of Nassau – one title still held by today’s Dutch royal family.  This version of the coat of arms is common around Amsterdam on older buildings.

The most recent addition to the coat of arms is less than 100 years old, and it’s 
the city’s motto “Heldhaftig, Vastberaden, Barmhartig”, meaning “Valiant, Steadfast, Compassionate”. It was granted to the city by Queen Wilhelmina in 1947, in recognition for the bravery and compassion shown by the city in the General Strike of 1941. So on older buildings you won’t see the motto. Here’s today’s coat of arms for Amsterdam.

So this secular, liberal, anything goes city has a coat of arms that features the crown of a
 Catholic monarch, the cross of a Catholic saint and a motto recognising a very humanitarian protest. It tells you a lot about the city.

The image of the city’s coat of arms is in the public domain, but its use is restricted within 
the city, however there are variants of it created and appearing on buildings around the city, and in local art. Including this by Amsterdammer street artist Hugo Mulder.

Images;

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Anne Frank House – Annual Advice 2017

Riding my bike along Keizergracht last night I noticed a very long queue and decided it’s time to issue my annual (well, almost annual) advice on visiting Anne Frank House.

Here’s the queue – at least 250 people waiting in line to visit.

They have changed their system since I last wrote about this so here’s the up-to-date advice.

You can buy tickets for a specific time-slot online, the entry time will be between the museum opening and 3.30pm. These tickets are released two months in advance.

If you can’t get an online ticket you can queue for door ticket, these allow entry from 3.30pm until 30 minutes before closing (10pm from April to October).

The ticket price is 9 Euro for an adult and 4.50 Euro for a child between 10-17 (and free for the under 10s).

You can find more details on the Anne Frank House website. If you can’t manage a visit to the annex, there’s a wonderful 3D version online that you can explore.

The museum is going to be extended in the coming year so be prepared for some disruption as a new entrance and facilities are built.

Good Hope at the Rijksmuseum

There’s an exhibition on at the Rijksmuseum that documents the relationship between South Africa and the Netherlands, which goes back to 1600. The exhibition is titled; Good Hope. South Africa and The Netherlands from 1600. I went, I was very curious about how the Dutch national museum would present their history.

It starts with the “postal stones”, which were stones used by passing ships as a safe place to leave mail by passing ships in the pre-colonial times, and moves quickly into the colonial period. Here’s Deed of Purchase from 1672, by which the Dutch acquired the Cape Peninsula. To Europeans it makes sense, to the local Khoekhoe the contract meant nothing – in their minds no-one owned the land, water or sky.

Initially the colony started by Jan van Riebeeck was tiny, and confined to one bay on the Cape of Good Hope, but it soon grew. The colonialists traded tobacco and alcohol for the cows of the local Khoekhoe people, this eroded their financial independence. The colonialists also imported slaves from Indonesia, India and Madagascar, the locals being considered too likely to run away. On display is a slave bell – the bell by which slaves would begin and end working in the fields. Also on display are pieces of furniture and clothes that seem European but in fact owe much to Asian connections. This colony might have been small but it was right in the middle of trading routes and connected the world.


In the 1770s the colony was mapped and documented, largely by Robert Jacob Gordon, a Dutchman of Scottish descent.

His maps and scenes were incredibly accurate and his sketches of wildlife are charming. (His whole collection has been made available online by the Rijksmuseum)

The colony was constantly at war, acquiring or defending land from the local tribes, and with the British who wanted to control the trade routes and later fought to unify and control the country including the diamond mines. At the time European colonisers from Belgium, Germany, Portugal were also expanding their influence. The piece of trivia that struck me about these wars was that the brothers of Vincent van Gogh and Piet Mondriaan fought there. It was to escape these wars that Dutch settlers, who by then thought of themselves as Afrikaaners, embarked on a series of internal migrations to found new states to the east, away from the British, this has become known as “the Great Trek” and is a cultural watershed for the Afrikaaners, in one room two flags hang, the one in the background belongs to the Orange Free State, the one in the foreground is from the South African Republic, also know as the Transvaal.

The last section of the exhibition bring us up to the present time, and looks at the period of apartheid, sometime in the second half of the 20th century sentiment in the Netherlands changed, moving from colonial pride to “sympathy with the black and coloured South Africans”. There are protests, fundraising, hiding of ANC leaders and more, but the feelings aren’t universal and one video of an interview shows that some colonial pride remained. The exhibition points to “post-colonial feelings of guilt and shame” among Dutch people even as the Dutch government took a position of non-interference. The exhibition features some of the Dutch protest signs, some call for boycotts against Dutch companies that I am a customer – or have been employed by.

The final images of the exhibition are from the post-apartheid era, one series features images of young people born in this era and seems hopeful. Those born in the year apartheid ended turn 23 this year, they’re the students, and new employees entering the workforce of a new country. But the colonial legacy remains troubling, this image is of a protest sign “I stole your land, so what?” being hung around the neck of a statue in Cape Town. The statue is of that original colonial settler, Jan van Riebeeck.

It’s a good exhibition, and is clear about the disturbing and painful colonial relationship between the two countries.The point of view is still largely that of the coloniser, but there are images of and artifacts from the local tribes, and the language is clear about who was colonising, importing and owning slaves. There is more to be explored about the Dutch colonial history, but this exhibition offers a beginning, and events around the exhibition explore in more depth the changes in culture and diversity in South Africa.

The Good Hope exhibition is on in the Philips’ wing of the Rijksmuseum until 21 May.

Tourists in the Netherlands 1956

Came across this old video clip of tourism in the Netherlands filmed in 1956, I’ve translated the text below the video. In those days you booked hotels by visiting the Tourist Centres – no Expedia, TripAdvisor, or internet to help you.

It is market day in Delft, a place that is still in the Netherlands.

[lots of languages]

Yes, many foreign languages are spoken in our country, particularly in summer, when around a million tourists stream into the Netherlands.

They cross the border at many points, and head in many directions. Some places are really popular, the souvenirs all too often give a strange impression of the Netherlands, but they find willing buyers.

Also on the north sea coast, where they haven’t seen the sun so often this summer, even so the foreign visitors look for bathing places.

There is great interest in our famous buildings, such as the Freedom Palace in the Hague.

Also in the miniature is there Madurodam where visitors can get a good overview of our country.

Every tourist takes a boat trip around one of our big harbours – here in Rotterdam for example.

Also the beauties of Amsterdam can be admired from the water.

One business that does really work in the summer months, are the photo shops. Tourists that don’t take photographs can buy images from the places they’ve visited on their holiday.

The Rijksmuseum has a Rembrandt exhibition (note car driving through the museum arches!) and has had 300,000 visitors, of which 200,000 were foreigners.

Finding somewhere to stay is not always easy for tourists, workers at the travel agencies must work a lot of overtime. Tourists who try to find their own room are often disappointed.

Recently there has been an increase in a new sort of accommodation; the Motel. A place where tourists can stay along with their car, under the same roof.

There are also tourists who don’t suffer from the accommodation problem – they bring their house with them. And they stay together in caravan parks such as this one in Zaandvort.

Every day Dutch businesses bring in large amounts of money, last year tourism brought in about 200 million guilders. That is 50 times more than before the war.

Tourism is therefore an important source of income for our country and so the border stays open for more tourists.

The Anne Frank House

annefrankhouse_bookcaseI’ve lived in Amsterdam for a long time, but despite living within a 10 minute bike ride I have only visited Anne Frank House once.

The museum encourages you to buy tickets online, in fact from 9am to 3.30pm you can only visit the museum with a ticket purchased online for a specific timeslot. From 3.30 onwards you can queue and by a ticket at the door, fair warning – the queues get long.

The museum has been developed around the Annex where the Frank family was in hiding, and my visit takes me through the rooms they occupied. The annex has been carefully preserved and the famous bookcase entrance has been reconstructed.

You do get a feeling for the claustrophobic lives of the attic’s eight inhabitants, as you go through the Frank’s family room, Anne’s bedroom, and the Van Pels rooms. It was interesting seeing the “real thing”, including the pictures Anne chose to put on the wall and the notes in her own writing.

After you’ve been through the family space there is an area for more exhibitions where you can learn more about the occupation of Amsterdam and how Jews hid around the city to stay safe. There is a movie playing that includes an interview with Miep Gies – one of the Dutch people who helped supply the families with food.

If you can’t make it to Amsterdam you can take a virtual tour of the house online, complete with close ups of various artifacts and details of each room.

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-17-08-41I’d read Anne Frank’s diary as a child, and I’ve seen numerous images of the annex. I think the familiarity of the story and the annex meant that it didn’t have the emotional impact I’d expected. However as I was leaving the museum there was a glass case, and in the case was one of the yellow stars that Jewish people in the Netherlands had been legally required to wear, and I caught my breath. In the grand scheme of things this is perhaps the least of the wrongs, but as a symbol of all the injustice it remains powerful. Any time the government tries to make one group “other” we should be concerned.

The other thing that got me, but in a more hopeful way, was a glass bookcase showing the versions of Anne Frank’s diary in all the translations, there were about 40 different language represented (apparently it’s been translated into 67 languages). And suddenly I saw why Anne Frank’s memory is so important.

There’s a famous quote, often attributed to Stalin,

The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.

It’s very hard to comprehend the sheer scale of the holocaust, the total death toll is usually given as 11 million; that’s Moscow, or Greece, or New York + Chicago, or 3 times the population of my home country. We can’t empathise with a statistic. But when we read the story of one young woman, who happened to be born of a certain religion in the wrong place at the wrong time, then we can understand the tragedy.

 

Images;

Anne Frank bookcase  |  By Bungle (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Holocaust badge for the Netherlands |  Holocaust memorial

Old Stones

The city council has been working on the the Singel, an old Amsterdam canal, for ages. I walk past the worksite frequently and wondered what was taking so long.

Turns out there has been an archeological project, as part of Amsterdam’s medieval city wall was discovered when the 19th-century stone layer was removed revealing 27 large stones. It’s the first time that any of the city wall has been discovered in its original state.

There’s a short article on the City Council website, only available in Dutch .

The wall appears on the oldest map of Amsterdam by Cornelis Anthonisz which dates from 1538.

screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-23-07-33

Here’s an extract from the city council’s article (translation mine);

The site involves 27 large stone from the medieval city wall from the year 1480. These stones were below the water and were only visible after a layer of 19th century stone was removed during the restoration. This wall is also mentioned in the oldest city map of Amsterdam by Cornelis Anthonisz… It is the first time that a portion of the city wall has been found in original condition. Although there are a few loose stones known to have come from the old city wall built into the wall of the Geldersekade.

The medieval stones remain in place. Experts will examine how the area can be preserved. The demolition of the rest of the 19th century quay continues. City Archaeologist Jerzy Gawronski is in consultation with central district and Engineering Amsterdam on how to preserve these special stones. ”

The Dockworker

2016-05-18-12-29-28Amsterdam isn’t big on statues, most commemorate not the great and the good but the people. In this case the statue represents a dockworker. Amsterdam is harbour city and has a long maritime history, the building housing the Maritime Museum dates back to 1656 and was built for the Admiralty. But the dockworker’s history is more troubled and more recent.

He commemorates a general strike held in Amsterdam from the 25 – 27 February 1941, known as “The February Strike” and that date should give you a clue to what they were striking about. The location is another clue, he stands in the middle of the old “Jodenbuurt” or Jewish Quarter, the building in the background is the Portuguese Synagogue – still in use today. The general strike was to protest the Nazi actions against the city’s Jewish community. Two weeks earlier the Nazis, helped by Dutch police, had encircled this neighbourhood with walls of barbed wire and declared it off limits to non-Jews. The city rose up and fought this, culminating in the strike on 25 February which became more widespread throughout the day. It was the first direct action undertaken against the anti-Jewish measures of the Nazis in occupied Europe.

The Netherlands surrendered to the Germans in May 1940 and remained occupied until 1945. Just seven years later the statue of the Dockworker was unveiled by Queen Juliana to acknowledge the bravery of the city’s citizens. There is a commemoration on the anniversary of the strike every year.