Called the “Venice of the North” this canal-built city has always seemed utterly idyllic to me…
…maybe it’s all the windmills?
…or that tulips is one of their main industries? Doesn’t it seem like a fairy land?
But after reading a bit on The Netherlands, I’ve come to realize that this city’s beauty shines in spite of its tumultuous history.
In the 17th century Amsterdam was considered the wealthiest city in the world thanks to its trading network. (In fact, Amsterdam’s stock exchange is the oldest in the world.) But wars with England and France led to its decline in the late 18th century–at one point Amsterdam was even absorbed by Napoleon’s French Empire. Through the industrial revolution in the late 19th century Amsterdam surfaced again as a formidable power–but World War II was on the horizon.
In May 1940, the German air force (Luftwaffe) set out to break the Dutch resistance by bombing the city of Rotterdam, which is located just north of Amsterdam. Worried that the Nazis’ bombing would come at too great a cost, the Dutch sent a message signaling a ceasefire. The message did not arrive in time and the now-infamous Rotterdam Blitz decimated the city. This is why Rotterdam’s architecture is vastly different from Amsterdam’s quaint style.
The Nazis invaded The Netherlands and took over Amsterdam. Meanwhile, Dutch families were hiding hundreds of thousands of Jews in their homes–the most famous probably being Anne Frank. (Like many preteens around the world, I treasured The Diary of Anne Frank). Frank’s family and more than 100,000 other Jews were discovered and deported to Nazi concentration camps.
Although Amsterdam would regain its independence after the war, the city had suffered greatly. The Netherlands had the highest per capita death rate of all Nazi-occupied countries in Western Europe. Its citizens suffered famine and most of the trees in Amsterdam were cut down for fuel.
Today, much of Amsterdam’s Old Town is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city has reemerged as a global center of culture. Amsterdam is one of the most popular destinations in Europe and receives more than 4.63 million international visitors per year.
As far as packing, my dream Dutch suitcase would be:
For now, Tot ziens (“see you later”) and check out these links on Amsterdam:
- 24 Hours in Hipster Amsterdam (Design*Sponge)
- The Ghosts of Amsterdam (New York Times)
- 10 Favorite Books Set in Amsterdam (but the list didn’t include my latest–The Goldfinch)