After my play time in Malta I returned to the Netherlands where summer was still present, but it wasn’t as hot as it once was. Yet again, I spent several weeks in Amsterdam at my dear friends Rick and Louis, who are like family, and whose loved-filled households has been one of my main pillars of stability and belonging this summer. Amsterdam in particular and the Netherlands in general haven’t been my home for a long time, but this summer especially, I’ve noticed I’ve become a whining former local, who is feeling rather nostalgic about the Amsterdam that once was.
An Amsterdam of Yesteryear
I spent my college years in Amsterdam in the last century. A time before the introduction of the euro, when work was plentiful, everyone had money and life was just generally rocking. We were young, hot and the world was most definitely our oyster. In those days too, Amsterdam was visited by many tourists, but the city and especially the city centre, was still very much a living city catering for the local community. Gentrification was still very limited and due to the housing crisis, squatting was still a housing option. At squatted properties there often was room for left-leaning political activity, cheap accommodation for artists and other perceived fringe people and alternative parties and not-so legal raves. Amsterdam still had many rough edges at the time, too many and too rough for some.
In the last decade and a bit, we got a new currency (the euro), different neighbourhoods gentrified considerably and some people thought that Amsterdam needed to attract more tourists. I am not sure if there is a relation between these factors, but in some respect, it all went downhill from there. Some ad-people came up with the slogan I AMSTERDAM, which they even turned into a landmark. Due to some heavy campaigning and perhaps a general increase of global tourist activity, the flood gates opened and foreigners came to visit the capital en masse. Studying and working abroad became far more normal than it used to be in the last century, and the combo of visiting and residing foreigners seemed to have turned Amsterdam, and especially the city centre, into an entity that could be described as something between a sleazy fairground, an open-air museum and a human zoo. Nowadays it is not uncommon at all to enter an establishment like a shop or restaurant in the city centre where no one speaks Dutch. Or you just walk around town for an hour or so and don’t hear a word of the national language. AirBnB-ing has gone through the roof and residents in the city centre, many of which were already a whining lot, seem to have lost their neighbourhood to tourists, who misbehave and have no respect for the local community. As Amsterdam always had the reputation of a liberal and tolerant city where anything goes, some visitors can’t quite handle the perceived freedom and lose control to great annoyance of the locals. Back in the days you wouldn’t find any tourists outside of the city centre or the upmarket neighbourhood of Oud-Zuid (Old South). Now you find the trolley suitcase-pulling masses in neighbourhoods not even snobbish locals wanted to be found dead in in another decade. Most of my child-rearing friends I have known since my college days, are happy with the polish of the city. The tourist masses in the city centre might be annoying, but the gentrification of more socially-challenged neighbourhoods means they have become more child-friendly. Also, houses prices have increased significantly, which is all good for those who bought their mansion in the last century or the first decade of the new millennium. I, however, can’t help but feeling a longing for the Amsterdam that once was.
The Cool that lost its Cool
The edginess, the spaces for unpolished art, the grotty squats and warehouses north of central station, where you could have a good party or two, that all is no more. Neither are affordable accommodation or an inexpensive meal in a pub. A capital city with a village feel, that was cool, has become a city that has totally lost its cool and is prostituting itself to all and sundry. Although, much to my surprise, I still seem to move about as a local as I am often asked for the way, like I still know this city like the back of my hand. But I don’t; I just got stuck in time. I am not against what is considered progression. My home town too has changed quite a bit in the last decade and a half. As it’s a university town, there are a fair amount of foreigners, but as its not on the tourist trail, it hasn’t been tempted to sell its soul to the tourism-devil. As an ueber left-leaning, quite intellectual and culture-loving town, it still has its edge as much as a provincial town can be edgy.
If you plan on visiting Amsterdam for the first time, I am sure you would love it, despite my whining. Yet, in my opinion, being a tourist in Amsterdam was much more fun 15 years ago. Now there are probably more tourists than locals in the city centre and unless they make money from tourism, most locals are pretty fed up with visiting holiday makers. Visit at your own discretion and don’t say I didn’t warn you about that the place being like a zoo or the locals treating you like shit.