While mostly known for its Red Light District, Amsterdam is full of carefully hidden treasures and lesser known charms. Started in the 1000, a fisherman’s village was built on the Amstel dam. With the sailors and business though came prostitutes. The government tolerate the sailor’s lifestyle because they brought in a lot of business. Because of the city’s tolerance policy, the city quickly evolved into a very successful and influential port city. Home to Unilever, Heineken, Shell Oil and Philips Electronics, Amsterdam keeps its tradition of global influence. During its Golden Age in the 1600s, the Dutch East India Company created the first large stock exchange, in 1602. (The NYSE was founded in 1792.) Ever wondered where NYC got its liberal ideas and business ambition? In the 1700s, the Dutch East India Company hired Henry Hudson to set up a trading post in North America. Moreover, the names in the current New York City area have their roots in Dutch history: Bronx after a Dutch immigrant named Jonas Bronck; Brooklyn after Breukelen, Netherlands; Harlem after Haarlem, Netherlands.
The Dutch have three main guidelines:
Don’t disturb anyone.
If we have to tolerate something, we might as well make money.
These guidelines are the reasons and explanation for the way the city functions. The Dutch have always tolerated, and generally accepted, diversity. If it wasn’t for their acceptance of the Jews, the Dutch East India Company would not have had accurate maps to use for their international business, which was the catalyst of the Dutch Golden Age.
Note: I tried (unsuccessfully) to keep the post short and have thus not included even half of the interesting facts about the city. Amsterdam has plenty to offer and I suggest to those who love to travel to go visit (and spend about a week there).
Sint Antoniespoort, or Saint Anthony's Gate, was one of Amsterdam's city gates. In the early 1600s, the walls were removed. At that time, the city's market was moved to that square as it had outgrown Dam square. It was named Nieuwmarkt square, or new market square. The building has served as various things from weight house to fire station to museum. Currently, it's a restaurant.
Tulip is derived from the Turkish "turban" as the flower resembles the head covering. The tulip originates from central Asia. Before coming to the Netherlands in the late 1500s, the tulip was viewed as a holy flower by the Turks. The Turkish word for Tulip literally means Flower of God and the spelling is very similar to that of Allah, the Muslim god. Today, the Netherlands are the largest flower exporter in Europe.
Built in the early 17th century, the Oost-Indisch Huis served as the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or "VOC"). Even though it is now owned by the University of Amsterdam, the letters of the company, VOC, are still inscribed above the door (above the brown circle). The Dutch East India Company created the Amsterdam Stock Exchange in 1602 as they were seeking to expand their operations. Having started with three ships, the first trip took three and a half years with 75% of the crew members dead upon return. The company decided to expand its operations to 100 ships to be better able to ward off pirates and to be less vulnerable to losing everything in a storm. To fund its project, the company issued shares. After the first trip, shareholders received up to a 400% return (compared to a current normal of 3%). The Dutch East India Company was the first Multinational Corporation. With 2 million workers from all over the world, the company's employees far exceeded Netherlands population of 1.5 million, at the time.
Houses in the Netherlands are built on top of long stilts on account of the swampy area. While some houses are starting to lean left and right because of rotting stilts, houses that lean forward were designed that way. At the top of almost very house, you will see a pulley. Since houses were built on stilts and regularly got flooded due to their proximity to the canals, food and other perishables were stored in the attic. Whenever wind blew, the crates would bump into the house when hoisted up and damage the windows. So, the Dutch began designing their houses to lean forward to minimize the destruction. Moreover, you'll notice that the houses are very narrow. When they were being built, they were only allowed to be up to six meters wide. Rich families would try to go around the rule by buying two neighboring lots and building twin houses. Moreover, because of this law, many houses were built deep with a front and a back house. This allowed for many Jewish families to hide in the back house without having suspect anything for a while.
Owning a bike in the Netherlands is a significant investment. Every year, about 7000 bikes are fished out of the canals. As college students are known for having the most decrepit bikes, a graduation tradition is to throw them in the canals and buy a new bike. Another reason for bikes ending up in the canal is if the owner had had too much to drink or because of sheer clumsiness. For this reason, locals make sure to always chain their bikes to railings in case someone pushes their bike over. Even so, bikes are stolen rather often and sold here on the black market for ten to twenty Euros. That black market is conveniently located on Grimburgwal, right in front of the University. For this reason, locals typically buy very simple bikes for about 70 Euro as their lifespan is generally less than a couple of years (sometimes even less than a couple of months).
Located on Grimburgwal, this building used to be part of a monastery. As many of the buildings are deemed historic monuments, it now serves as a building for the University of Amsterdam.
During the late 16th century, King Philip II of Spain tried to suppress the multitudes of religions springing up in the Netherlands. In 1568, the Dutch revolted against the King and started the 80 years' war. By 1578, the King was ousted and there was no more fighting on their land. The Dutch welcomed all religions except the Catholics. The five story building across the street housed a small Catholic Church in the attic. Catholics, very often well-off business owners, would go up the stairs in the alleyway and worship on Sundays. The story goes that the songs got so loud that neighbors would call the police to file noise complains. The police would say that Sunday is their day off and that they would check it out on Monday, when of course there was no singing. The neighbors and the police knew that Catholics were worshiping there but they were continuing their tradition of tolerance, given that it meant continued business with the business owners. The building to the right is now a museum owned by the church.
The two oldest buildings in Amsterdam are the Old Church and the New Church. Both of these buildings were built by the Catholics, who proclaimed Amsterdam a holy city in the 14th century after a miracle is said to have happened. The story goes that a devout Catholic was feeling very ill and called for a priest to administer last rites. During the process, the priest gave the ill man holy communion. The ill man then threw up and died. His vomit was cleaned up and thrown in the fire. The next day, the priest found the wafer in the embers of the fire still intact, even though all of the vomit had burned. The miracle then was that the body of Christ had withstood the fire. The Catholic church then recognized Amsterdam as a holy city, which brought in a lot more tourism due to the influx of pilgrims. Due to the new status of the city, the churches were built, several years apart. Being that they were the only buildings made out of stone at the time, they were the only ones to survive the fires that burnt the city to the ground several times.
Behind the row houses visible from the streets, there are entire mazes of houses. Take the Radisson hotel for example. While this ugly hotel seems to be spread over two buildings, it is actually connected behind the two houses that separate its facade. This situation occurred because the two row houses refused to sell their property so the hotel simply bought the houses behind them.
One of the few ways that women could make money long ago was through spinning yarn. These women were often unmarried and performed this task to earn a living. As can be seen from this gable stone, these women were often surrounded by cats. This is how the term "spinster" was derived for older, single women living with cats.
This spinster location in particular was actually a female prison. The inmates were taught this skill to learn work ethic and to learn to take care of themselves once they served their time. This aspect can be seen from the right section of the gable stone where a woman is being beaten for not doing her job.
The entrance to the Amsterdam Museum is located in the busy shopping street named
Kalverstraat. It depicts a royal gable stone, denoted by the city coat of arms and crown.
The Begijnhof, like most other things in Amsterdam, is very literally named. The courtyard, or
hof in Dutch, was created for charitable, pious women who have not taken a vow, or begijn in Dutch. Created in 1346, it sheltered women from noisy city and outspoken sailors. While the women lived a simple life dedicated to God, they were not nuns. They simply chose to lead a celibate life helping others.
English Reformed Church, built in 1420 and located at the center of the Begijnhof
Westerkerk, located in the West of the city center, is less than 100 meters from the Anne Frank house. Anne Frank mentioned in her diary that the church's bells gave her comfort during her time in hiding.
Cool mural in the Noord district
Like other ex-industrial districts, Amsterdam's Noord is being brought back to life my students and artists. In these shipping containers is located a trendy restaurant and club named Pllek.
The Heineken brewing process
The Brouwerij ‘t IJ Brewery started in an old bathhouse, located right next to the biggest wooden windmill in the Netherlands. It brews Belgian style beers and expanded to a larger brewery in 2013.