Today has been a lot about understanding the history and the culture of Amsterdam. The history was part of a walking tour but also included a visit to the Anne Frank House.
We read of the atrocities visited on the Jews by the Nazis in World War Two, but we can’t begin to fathom the unbelievable inhumane nature of it until you face the reality physically. The story unfolds before you as you walk through the secret passageway of the hidden annex. It is striking in the sacred aura of its cramped areas and the desparate mood of forebodding that still saturates the visitor’s senses. As you listen to her story, read to you from the pages of her diary, you cannot help but feel both pity and anger. I left with a heighten sense of anger towards any that would still today support the Nazi beliefs or simply try to deny that this period in time and the crimes committed ever existed.
Going back to the history walk, I found it interesting when the guide mentioned that ironically, while the Dutch suffered so severely by the Nazi occupation and slaughter of the Jews, her own country was guilty of atrocities against Indonesians as part of their world colonization. She went on to remind us of their involvement in the slave trade. As I listened to this confession, I thought of our own history of slavery and our inhumane treatment of an entire race of human beings. Every country seems to have its period in history that we can chose to bury or remember so as to never repeat it.
Lest you are thinking this was a dark day, it really wasn’t. We saw marvelous architecture and art, visited the public market and learned fascinating pieces of Dutch history. Fun fact, we forget that it was the Dutch who gave us New Amsterdam. Ceding it to the British changed its name to the one we recognize, New York.
I promised you a little bit of beer as well. The Dutch will tell you that they do not really have a unique cuisine, unless you count their frites, but rather offer flavors from all over the world. This is part of their heritage as the market traders of the world, see Dutch History 101. To that end, I decided I would be sure to explore their selection of beers. Last night was Heineken and today it was Amstel. I still have Stella Artois to go, likely tonight, and then I will have savored the known Dutch offerings. Well not so fast. Remember, I said I would try to be on the other side of the camera lens. After a discussion or two or three with locals, it became clear that all three beers are really just tourist choices. In one of those conversations, I was given a list of craft beers, mostly unpronouncable, that one MUST try. There is a lesson here for the traveler. When you stay close to the city centers, you will be offered the tourist fare. It is only when you venture farther out that you will begin to savor the true tastes and flavors of the culture. Strike up a conversation, learn a few words and terms, seek out the tucked away spots and you will begin to feel less the tourist and more the visitor. Try hard enough and you may even begin to feel like a citizen.
But now the night beckons and we must go explore.