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At Home in Amsterdam-West

The city of Amsterdam is built on peat, and every house rests on piles. This is what happens when there are not enough of them: the weight of the building is too great, and the house moves a bit into the ground. My neighborhood was developed at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century, and the builders of the housing blocks were not always very interested in building good houses. I am happy to live in a well-founded building, but many houses in the block are not. At the moment, they are all renovated, which means that they are evacuated, that the ground floor is removed, new piles are rammed into the ground, and that a new floor is laid. It is terribly noisy and there are months during which I hardly have a decent sleep.
This photo is from the Da Costakade, called after a forgotten nineteenth-century cultural critic. (Old West is sometimes referred to as "the forgotten poets neighborhood".) During the night, it can be beautifully quiet, and I love to make short walk before I go to sleep. I always meet the same people, like a bearded man with the dalmatian dog. I don't know his name but he looks like Tintin's friend Captain Haddock.
This is the Ten Kate Market, called after a nineteenth-century minister and poet who is now best known because his style can easily be parodied. Actually, it is a pity, because his translation of Milton's Paradise Lost is excellent. The market is a pleasant place for shopping; I buy my groceries over there once a week and usually buy some Surinamese rotis as well. One of the people on this photo is Henk Bakker, a local politician.
My neighborhood is pretty international. After the independence of the Dutch Indies in 1948, many people from what is now called Indonesia came to Holland, bringing with them their customs, faith (Islam), and food. In the late1950's, the first Italians, Spanish, and Portuguese arrived, soon followed by Greeks, Turks, and Moroccans. People from Surinam and Ghana arrived in the 1970's and 1980's; the latter are almost absent from my neighborhood, but all in all, the people of Oud West are cosmopolites. (In fact, Amsterdam has for about a decade been the city with the world's most varied population: in 2007, there were 177 nationalities.

I am personally quite happy with the many kinds of food we have. This shop is specialized in Mediterranean fish that can not be found in other shops, which are specialized in herring and other North Sea fish. My friend Annelies used to live on the first floor.

Fast food; a comics store; an Italian boutique
An Iranian from Mashhad selling spices
An Indonesian take-away restaurant
The small entrance of a large supermarket
A Turkish grocery
An Indian night café
A Turkish tailor
A Rumanian café
A Turkish shoeshop
Chinese take-away food
Syrian butcher
Moroccan fastfood
The blue sign reassures us that all food in the Moroccan fastfood restaurant is prepared according to the dietary laws ('halal'). Not every native Dutchman is reassured. During the past years, tensions have been growing between many Dutch people and a Moroccan minority that refuses to assimilate. Racist bigotry and the abuse of religion are no longer absent from the Dutch political landscape, and my quarter is no exception. When terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York, Moroccan school children around my corner were very enthusiastic.
Statue by the Unknown Artist. Photo Jona Lendering. However, a teacher who wrote articles on the this incident said that there was a substantial element of macho acting in it; these were boys of fourteen years old, and the sons of Berber peasants. Still, many autochthoneous people are worried about the changing ethnic composition of the Netherlands, especially since the movie director Theo van Gogh was assassinated by a man of Moroccan descent. I have a feeling that many cultural misunderstandings will gradually disappear once people get an interest in each other's culture, and my neighborhood is, in spite of the 9/11 incident, not a bad meeting place. This is one of the most beloved monuments in the neighborhood. I don't know the name of the sculptor. Nobody does; that's the fun (more...)
This is the "Havelaar", one of the community centers, in the Douwes Dekkerstraat. The center is called after the titular hero of a novel by Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820-1887), who called himself Multatuli, and is the only author in "the forgotten poets neighborhood" who is not really forgotten. Max Havelaar, or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company (1868) is the story of a Dutch civil servant who in the Dutch Indies discovers how the peasants are exploited, but it also offers social satire, and is primarily a political pamphlet. In modern Indonesia, this dazzling novel is sometimes called "the book that killed Dutch colonialism", and that is hardly exaggerated. Douwes Dekker is shown on the round sign. The words around his head state that, seen from the moon, all people are equally big. © Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2006
Revision: 22 August 2007
Livius.Org Germania Inferior Culture of the Netherlands Photos of the Netherlands History of the Netherlands