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A Letter from Amsterdam (Netherlands)

The Author: DCW, a New Cross resident, recently returned to Amsterdam 7 years after leaving the Dutch city....




Squatting, Snow & Cinema

Having lived there for almost 2 years until 1998, I know my way around Amsterdam pretty well. At least I thought I did til I went back a few weeks ago. Since leaving the place 7 years ago, I’m not sure why, but I never returned. Not even for a weekend break.
I didn’t expect to see much changed in Amsterdam, even after 7 years, but as I rode a tram from central station I recognized just about every shop, café and restaurant along the main roads. Nothing seemed different at all, apart from the modern trams. And later, as I walked about town, I spotted plenty more familiar places and spaces. I still know the place fairly well - I’ve been very stoned, pissed, sick, mad, and happy in Amsterdam. I have great memories and can’t understand why it took me so long to go back. Although most everything seemed immediately familiar, it took a couple of days for me to really get my bearings, even though I wasn’t pissed and stoned (well not everyday).

It was damn cold when we arrived and it was already late in the day. Unlike a lot of visitors to Amsterdam, we weren’t in a hurry to hit the coffee shops and bars to get trashed. We went straight to a friends place, a 6-story squat just outside the center of town. The next day we picked up a bike for 10Euros from someone on the street and 2 of us wobbled our way around town ‘Dutch-style’ – me pedaling and my friend side-saddle on the back rack.
The day after that we woke up to about a metre of snow on the streets! The bike wasn’t much use in the snow but I had a whole heap of fun in the park where loads of people were making snowmen and lobbing snowballs at each other. On the tram ride from the park, every time the tram stopped at a stop and the doors opened, a barrage of snowballs would rain in on us from random groups of kids lurking behind walls and bushes.

When I lived there years ago we’d lived in a squatted block of flatlets and this time I stayed with friends in squatted homes. We basically hung out in squatting circles for the week we were there. I ate, slept and partied in occupied buildings, including some great info shops and social centers. AfricaHuis being a good example; a huge warehouse/hangar now fitted out with a live music venue, café/restaurant, and cinema. Great cheap food and booze and good music. After watching a few short films in the cinema, which has real, tiered cinema seating, we all sat around the big solid fuel burner in the middle of the café to chat n chill…and get warm. Another day I ate a lovely 2-course vegan meal for free upstairs in a tiny café bar with activists and squatters (aren’t squatters activists, actually?) and re-learnt some useful Dutch words and phrases…that I probably needn’t repeat here.

And, yes, I made the predictable trip to a coffee shop to have a wee smoke. Par for the course really. After 5 days of alternative living in Amsterdam I wasn’t in a great hurry to get back to south London, but luckily I had a few days in the south west before heading back to New Cross.


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