Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day 19 - Anne Frank House, Het Schip, WWII and the Holocaust walk, dinner at Bussia

Saturday 14th April 2012
Dreadful night’s sleep. Thank god we went to sleep fairly early because noise outside our window woke me several times and from about 3 am was fairly consistent until morning.  Every time you think they  have shut up and gone away, up it starts again.  Oh well, it’s an ill wind and all that. I did manage to make some progress on the journal.
Hubby did manage to get back to sleep so I rouse him just after 7 so we can have some brekky and get to the Anne Frank House in time for our 9am time slot.  This is our first breakfast here at Hotel Fita and we’ve been looking forward to it.  There’s a good array of cereals, yoghurt, nuts, dried fruit and juice and across on the other table there is a basket of pastries… and… well I don’t really notice because I’ve been mesmerized by the evil pastry hypnotism fairy.  I decide to sample just a teeny bit of yoghurt and fruit with a little muesli and nuts.. and just one pastry.. just one…I know the dutch pancakes here are reputed to be good. Got to save room. Oh yes. The dutch pancakes are yummy.. and the pastries… mmm delectable.  But I rouse from my trance with a start. We’ve got to get out of here.  I leave hubby to take his own time over the bacon and eggs he found in a bain-marie on the sideboard.  Just a teeny bit of work to do to nail another day’s report.
We’re off and walking to the tram stop by 8:30 and on the tram 8:41 rattling our way to Dam Square.  We’re rushing and I am inhibited in my appreciation of the little things.  As it is our first trip on this route we need to identify the correct tram stop, but Hubby has this sorted in no time. He’s proving exceedingly useful in this regard I have to say.  My sense of direction is still woeful.  He seems to be coping much better.  This I feel obliged to say is something of a role reversal. Always good to experience what life is like in the other person’s shoes.
I have been studying the map though and we rush across Dam Square without really taking anything in. Living embodiments of the travel adage.. less is more… less rush, more experience..or perhaps more retained experience at least.  It’s not long before we are relieved of the need to stand on street corners map in hand turning it this way and that and handing it from one to the other and back again.  Street signs to the various tourist attractions. Better still, they are street signs with encouraging distance estimations on them.  At this rate we might get there in time.
Our first visual inkling that we are approaching the appropriate place is the people.  There is already an immense queue.  A look at hubby.. aren’t you glad I booked online?  How was I feeling everyone?  Yes. That’s right. Smug and well prepared. But this time there’s also a good deal of pity in there.  Its cold.  If our host at the hotel is correct, if you didn’t pre book some time ago then your only option now is a 2 ½ hr long queue. He says that the Anne Frank House is booked solid for the next 5 weeks.  Now. The first challenge for the day, where among the throng of people is the entry… around the corner out of sight.  How to get through there.  We decide to travel in the slip-stream of an appropriately assertive woman coming through.  Hubby has our tickets in his hand ready to wave them at any official we see.  As we pass the crowd a thin drawn young woman clamours at me plaintively as we pass. … Do you have reservations?  Is it just generative memory that I see her in my mind with a pair of dark circled eyes? I nod.  An inexcusably smug and self satisfied nod.  I hope it’s not too visible.  She slips back into the crowd like a drowning individual in the sea of tourists.
We line up at the entrance for e-ticket holders.  We still have several minutes wait while a couple of groups are let in ahead of us. I drift across to take some photos. Then we slip into the warm cosy interior, have our ticket barcodes scanned, grab the guide book and follow the direction indicated to us.  The tour experience runs one way through a series of rooms that mostly contain quotes from Anne Frank’s diary. Initially you are walking through the premises were the secret annexe was located and the rooms that Anne wrote about in her diary.  There are some artefacts to see along the way. One of the elements I found very interesting was the brief video recordings of interviews with people who knew Anne including a close friend who had contact with her when she was in the camp.  After the introductory section you pass through the doorway and the bookcase that hid it, into the annexe itself.  Walking into the room that Anne shared you see her collection of pictures she had assembled from various magazines and newspapers. Movie stars such as Ray Milland and Greta Garbo and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.  My mind is thrown to the room at Blickling Hall that had collectible prints pasted to the walls.  The juxtaposition of the context of the creation of the two rooms serves to highlight the injustices that are so common to human experience.
I think perhaps the most affecting room of all is the room occupied by Peter van Pel with the ladder that rises through to the attic showing the window through which they watched the outside world, the blue sky and gulls and the beautiful tree (which is unfortunately no longer in the yard).  The gulls are still in Amsterdam.  Most of the Jews are gone, never to return.
When you have made your way through the rooms of the secret annexe you move beyond to the building next door where additional exhibition space is located.  The final space has an interactive display. Various modern day scenarios relating to prejudice and persecution of innocent people are outlined and the audience is requested to vote yes or no to questions posed at the end of each scenario.  The different screens display the text in different languages. They don’t ask the questions audibly however, they are only printed on the screen, so you do need to find the screen that is displaying the text in a language you can read.
When I read the reviews on the Anne Frank House online a common comment was that it is very moving to visit there.  Those are the best words to describe the experience.  I was glad that I re-read Anne’s diary before visiting. This made it easier for me to picture the people there in the annex, but also in the more recent editions of the published diary content that Otto Frank had edited from the diary was reinserted and you get a much more complete picture of a young teenage girl.  Her concerns and thoughts are much as any girl of her age in any era.  This helps to bring the tragedy even closer to home. I would encourage anyone to reread the newest edition if they have only read the book a long while ago.  Exit is through a gift shop which mostly stocks books and other material directly relevant to the hiding place and the diary. We make a few purchases and head out into the street, feeling pretty sombre and quiet.  I notice that true to the advice on the museum website our visit has taken an hour once inside.  It seems almost like an obscenity to observe that as far as hiding places or experiences go the people hiding in the annex were lucky.  As appalling as it is that any person should have to live in the dark for two years in close confinement, others had an even rougher time of it on their way to death under the Nazi regime.
Our next commitment today is at Het Schip.  We have booked places on the 11am English language tour.  It’s now 10:15 and I have calculated that this will give us time to wander down through the Jordaan on the way over there.  No particular agenda in mind for the wander we mosey down quite streets in a fairly direct route towards our ultimate destination.  We come to Lindengracht and we decide.. well actually I decide and Hubby follows.. to walk through the market that lines the entire length of the street.  It’s an extraordinary market.  The range of things on sale is quite remarkable and there is no “zoning” applied so while in one stall there may be clothes, the stall next door could be a cheese vendor or soaps and shampoos.  You could satisfy most of your common household needs in the market.  It’s frustrating not to have more time here to stop and perhaps select a small picnic for lunch but we’ve a way to go yet.  We do stop and buy a couple of little trinkets along the way though so our wandering wasn’t completely without result for the vendors along the way.
We emerge from the market and conduct our map gazing ritual before heading on.  Nearby a small musical ensemble is setting up as we walk away we hear the band striking up some pretty reasonable jazz.  Great market!  We decide that our simplest route is to head down Haarlemerdijk.  Good decision. Haarlemerdijk is like an upmarket version of the informal tent arrangement in Lindengracht.  Fashion shops, bakers, cheese vendors, hardware, this traditional shopping street beats Westfields hands down.. though I might change my story if it was snowing or something. 
From the map it’s not clear where we need to go to get across the railway lines other than a couple of major roads with an underpass. Fortunately from Haalemerplein Amsterdam’s handy tourist attraction direction signs pick us up and our mapguide can be retired for a while.  Haarlemerplein is dominated by a large ornate gateway that looks quite old.  It is marred by graffiti and litter.  I wonder what it is. It certainly isn’t treated with any kind of respect.  I’ve no time to linger. We’re in a desperate rush now to get to Het Schip in time for the tour departure.
The signage bids us walk down through Westerpark. It feels like we’re getting out into the “real” Amsterdam out here. Lots of people jogging or riding along with the kids. Walking dogs. We pass a puppy training class where puppies of all sorts are sitting comfortably on little blankets provided by their owners to save them from the cold bare ground.  The leader of the glass says something in Dutch and the group laughs. I rush on.  Just before a change of route is required another sign directs us to a pedestrian underpass and then down Zaanstraat.  As we walk I notice that buildings all along the way look pretty ornate.  In an open square in the sunshine a little dark skinned boy is playing on a nifty double swing. His dad is sitting over against the building in the sun looking on.  I must get a picture of that on the way back. It would be nice to have a picture of the boy, identity unclear from the back, but I don’t know how his dad would feel about that!
We arrive at the entrance to the museum and the door is shut.  Hubby looks about at the signage and rings the bell.  The door is of course unlocked so we feel a tad foolish when a man opens the door for us. Doh. There’s a few people in the ex-post office. The young man behind the counter processes our entry and says he’s running the tour but is running a bit late on commencing.  Running late?  Thank God!  Take your time!  Our soon to be guide recognizes our accent as Australian and checks with us before marking the appropriate square on his statistical records. In due course it becomes apparent that all those assembled are here for the tour.  We start where we are. In what was until 1999 still a working post office.  We get the run down on the Amsterdam school and the architect who designed Het Schip.  We are fascinated as our guide, who is an architecture student, decodes the symbolism in the design around us.  It’s brilliant and unlike the symbolism in other architecture movements which drew it’s symbolism from classical or religious inspirations, at Het Schip inspiration was drawn from function. So, for example, the decorative border tiles represent postage stamps.  The room is full of clever references.  As is inevitable the social, legal, political and architectural context of the building’s construction and the motivations of the architect are critical to understanding the design and these are duly explained as we move outside to admire various features of the building and make comparisons to the other significant buildings nearby.  Oh look! Different hook style! The tour is simply fascinating. We are both enjoying it immensely.  Het Schip was built as social housing by the socialist housing association Eigen Haard which means “own fire” a reference to the objective for everyone to have their own “home and hearth” as it were.  As other entities like church groups also practice, Eigen Haard wanted their development to represent them and their beliefs. For example the bricks of Het Schip are red. This is not the local colour which is a brown colour represented on the nearby complex. These red bricks had to be imported from several hundred kilometers away. The many decorative features of the building also made it very expensive. Having worked our way around to the entry the next treat in store for us is an inspection of one of the little apartments. It is decorated with items of the period and the Amsterdam school. It is a very nice little apartment. The kitchen is particularly lovely.  It is precisely the sort of kitchen I absolutely adore with double french doors opening to a little courtyard.  The museum has also acquired the apartment upstairs and for access purposes has opened a new door into the hallway leading upstairs where further displays are located and there is access to look up inside the tower which has come to symbolize the Amsterdam school and this building in particular.  But wait there’s more.  As we emerge from the apartment we continue examining the details around the building and observe how the newer section embraces what was a newly constructed school that the architect was told had to stay.  And then its in through the museum cafĂ© to their little garden. The Amsterdam school designed everything for their developments including street furniture.  Electricity boxes and a public urinal, post and money drop boxes (whose scheme is explained).  When the tour is finished we head back over to the entry to browse the books.  If you can’t make an English language tour, there are a couple of very handy alternatives if you want to take an architectural tour of Amsterdam and/or the Amsterdam school.  For €2 you can pick up a brochure about a walk around Het Schip. This also includes a large illustration of the whole building as well as the various architectural features so this made an excellent souvenir.  Another, free option, is the leaflet for a bike tour of the Amsterdam school buildings in the city area. It is branded Iamsterdam so presumably you may be able to pick it up elsewhere in tourist outlets as well.  Highly recommended.  Our most expensive purchase was a guide to the Architecture of Amsterdam in English (€29.50 and hardcover) and even in the short time we’ve had to look over it (eg over lunch) we have gained some useful and interesting information about buildings that we’ve already noticed walking around.  It was a near run thing when I was planning whether to allocate precious time to visiting Het Schip.  We are both very glad we have done this tour. 
Now. On to the next item on the manifesto.  Today is about as finely tuned as we get. Our next commitment is at 2pm and for that we need to be back at the Anne Frank House. Meanwhile, we need to get some lunch. We decide that rather than explore new routes we will retrace our steps as that will be quicker. Back through Westerpark where we detour slightly to get a photo of the lake, fountain and birds.  Then back to Haarlemerplein.  I’ve already noticed in our architecture guide that the disrespected edifice is a “neoclassical gatehouse for the assessment and collection of local taxes…… It was restored and converted to dwellings in 1986”.
With a little more time to appreciate our surroundings I notice a cute piece of public art.
Then it’s back up lovely Haarlemerdijk and onto Prinsengracht by the canal where once again I take the opportunity to admire the features on the buildings and capture a particularly good aspect that captures the unlikely angles of the Amsterdam streetscape.
Ah yes. Have I mentioned the hooks?  Hubby and I read the book Amsterdam by Geert Mak.  In it one of the interesting little tid bits provided was an explanation of the hooks you see at the top of buildings.  These hooks are for hoisting furniture up so that it can be moved into the upper floors which are difficult or perhaps impossible to access via the usual routes.  We have observed that Amsterdam stairs tend to be very steep and narrow.  In many of the buildings the windows also can be completely removed….but I digress. Hubby has developed an intense fascination with the hooks. He’s on the look out for new styles all the time.
So, back to our afternoon’s program.  We pass on by the queue that is forming outside the Pancake Bakery and take a turn into Leliegracht.  We’re heading for number 60. Spanje en van Twist cafe.  People are sitting out in the sunshine, but I prefer to eat indoors.  We check that we will be able to eat in the short time we have left and settle in. Eventually our food arrives but time is now desperately close. We are obliged to wolf down our lovely quiche and salad and ravioli daily specials and hurry around the corner to meet up with Peter for the Holocaust and World War II walk.  We have the devil’s own job spotting Peter. He and our small group of fellow walkers look just like everyone else and it is only at the last minute, after lookin’ lookin’ lookin’ that I see the blue folder and we join the gang just after 2pm. The walk is set down for two hours, but we end up spending the next three hours wandering the streets of Amsterdam having holocaust sites and memorials pointed out with the added element of historical or war time photos or paintings compared to the current scene to illustrate a point being made. 
Again, I’m not going to give away all the things that Peter has pulled together for the tour, but I will just say that having the sights around Dam Square pointed out and the explanation of the huge memorial are highlights, but there is much more. Not to mention the enjoyment that is to be gained just by being in the group and having the opportunity to talk to a local with a particular interest and expertise in history and specifically WWII history. There is more than just WWII and the holocaust though. We also learn other fascinating things, like what the doorways marked with skulls are, and we have a look at some hidden places too.  It’s a very enjoyable afternoon. 
The tour ends by visiting some holocaust memorials (of which Amsterdam now abounds) up in the area of the Botanical Gardens.  At our second last stop, Peter mentions that to some people, including one of his Jewish friends, the memorial thanking the people who hid Jews from the Nazi’s is inappropriate and part of a whitewashing of the Dutch role in the holocaust.  This is a point of view that was also expressed by Geert Mak in his book.  As we walk the group gets into an interesting discussion and some hard questions are asked by some in our group. I am glad because I’ve been walking along thinking about the issues of the eye for an eye revenge that was perpetrated against ethnic Germans across eastern Europe but that seems to get very little publicity.  We have a very open and interesting discussion. The tour winds up and we head home for a rest before heading out to dinner.  Hubby and I chat about the war and the ethnic cleansing at the end and after the war and why people don't generally talk about it. 
Hubby rests, but no sleep. It’s pretty noisy in our room due to activity outside and this time inside as well, though they may not realize we are here.  I “fart about” not resting.  Well, at least I’m comfortably relaxing if not lying down.  By the way.. apparently the Cambridge notes “fart about” as an offensive term… well well. It’s common enough in Australia and no-one there seems to find it offensive.  It means  “to waste time doing silly or unnecessary things”.
All too soon it’s time for us to head out to dinner.  We hop on the tram and this time alight at Spui as instructed by the Amsterdam journey planner. Our destination for this evening is Bussia fine Italian Restaurant on Reestraat. Fine it certainly is. We are guided up to our table past a clear view of the kitchen at the downstairs tables and through several opportunities for hubby to bang his head. Warnings from our guide duly noted.  We make ourselves comfortable and in due course are given a run down on the dining options.  There is the a la carte option with choices on the printed menu or you can opt for the menu del giorno. Choose how many courses to include from a list provided verbally.  Mmm everything on the list sounds great.  We are given a few minutes to consider. As we peruse the menu I note that if you choose to just have one main you will be charged €5 for linen and silverware.  No risk of us copping that charge.  We go for the 6 course menu del giorno €58 pp.  It’s a long pleasurable evening of gluttony and conversation.  A bowl of never ending breads is provided. Oil and balsamic are on the table to help yourself.  Our first delectable morsel is, somewhat disconcertingly, delivered in a little petrie dish.  It’s a work of artistry and I couldn’t begin to tell you exactly what it was now despite the detailed description given when it was delivered.  “Yum” is all we can say now.  We savour our way through quail, conchi pasta, risotto, fish and veal before reaching the desserts well after 10 pm.  My favourite course was the quail which as best I could record it was something like Fillet of Quail breast with confit quail leg, two deep fried quail eggs, basil foam and some tasty cold stuff which hubby thought was sort of like mayonnaise but it melted as it sat.  The quail was very very good.  Mmmm… so was the fish.  Monk fish and red gurnard. I don’t usually like fish but this was very very good fish… mmm
As we await our bill, we observe the waitress knocking back any suggestion of a tip from some American ladies across at the next table.  “We do not do that here. We are not allowed” she says in a firm voice that brooks no opposition. The American lady looks like she thinks she has landed on Mars. 
It feels like a long walk back to the tram stop.  It’s been a long if awesome day.  Aagh. Better get off to sleep. We’ve probably only got about 4 hrs until the dickheads assemble to wake everyone up at 3:30am. 

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