‘I have to try to tell it well.’

Dutch election campaign advert (Dutch only) from 1966 featuring the late Hans van Mierlo. Not only does it have a great last sentence but it also features  Amsterdam playing a rainy, melancholic side roll… Now stay tuned for today’s election results.

Posted: June 9, 2010 at 3:16 pm.

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Squatting Declared Illegal in the Netherlands


Squatting has been declared illegal by the national government. Is it really the end? My friend Lennart Vader of Nepco, who I used to hang out with in squats building UFOs (long story), wrote an excellent editorial last week in Het Parool newspaper where he argued that the ban was a blow against creative culture. Read it here (Dutch only). It’s simple really: free space begets free thought which begot all the things that make Amsterdam great. Including some really freaky UFOs. Below I’ve pasted my long-evolving Squat Time Line which has been published in various forms over the years.

~1000 AD – First inhabitants (i.e. fishing squatters, homo squatus) come to the boggy mouth of the Amstel to settle what is to become Amsterdam…

1275 – By granting toll privileges for beer to the hamlet, Count Floris V establishes a viable business climate.

1342 – With the building of the first city walls, the economically-challenged must now squat outside the wall’s perimeter. This establishes the trend of the poor ever moving outward as the city expands.

1613 – With the Golden Age in full effect, the canal ring is being dug and built for the housing of the prosperous. Squatters are pushed outward again…

1965 – The first squatting (in the modern sense) occurs when a young family moves into an empty living space on Generaal Vetterstraat. The general populace — not sympathetic to the way speculators held on to their (empty) properties to drive up rents and property values — begin regarding it as a viable way of dealing with the housing shortage.

1966Provos introduce the ‘White Housing Plan’.

1969 – ‘Handbook for Squatters’ becomes national best-seller

1970 – May 5th first national Squatters Day

1971 – The High Council determines that squatting does not conflict with the law — namely, entering an emptied house is not trespassing on private property. May the squatting begin… but with the extra danger of property owners now doing the evicting themselves with the aid of knokploegen (‘fighting groups’).

1975 - Ruigoord is squatted as an artists’ village of eco-hippies. Even though it was threatened to be submerged as part of the new Africa Haven, it exists to this day as a kind of snow globe for a lost age.

1978 – Groote Keyser (Keizersgracht 242-52) was established and became the focal point for the city’s 10 000 squatters.  

1979 – The establishment of Radio De Vrije Keyser (who continue to broadcast  40 years later)  occurs at the height of the squat movement.

1980 – Regarded as the most violent year since World War II. In February, hundreds of by now highly organised squatters retake Vondelstraat 72 by constructing barricades — until tanks deal with the situation. On April 30, the date of Queen Beatrix’s inauguration, huge riots break out — until tear gas deals with the situation. Squatting becomes yet more highly politicised with as a result, factions emerged and infighting occurred — just like in the real world. The beginning of the end…

1981 – A bailiff who had regularly tipped off squatters with the ‘removal’ dates of squats (so they could be ready and barricaded…) receives a gilded crowbar as thank-you.

1986 – The heyday of hard-core squatting considered over.

1998 – Two mega-squats who represented more the cultural/artistic side of squatting are emptied. After 10 years, De Graansilo, with its bakery, cafe-restaurant, dozens of artist residents and 100 000 visitors per year is emptied for high rent housing. The 1994-established Vrieshuis Amerika — home to regular parties, the largest indoor skateboard park in the country, and 75 artists and businesses — is emptied and destroyed in the name of the Sydney-fication of the harbour front…

1999 – The former Film Academy, OT301, is squatted and granted a sense of permanence as the city belatedly realises that there are no affordable inner-city spaces left for artists. The concept of establishing broedplaatsen – ‘ breeding grounds’ of the arts — enters local politics. Tax money is found to basically rebuild what had already existed at no cost…

2000 – The concept of broedplaatsen establishes itself over next decade with NDSM in Amsterdam North as poster child. Some keep the political squatting dream alive. While other more culture-oriented squats such as ADM,  Societeit de Sauna, Service Garage and Schijnheilig continue to do wacky things in wacky places.

2010 – Squatting declared illegal by national government of the Netherlands. Meanwhile most city governments (the ones who actually deal with squatting) will likely just ignore this ban for the short-term anyway.

Posted: June 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm.

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Unfolding Election





For those who want a, um, concise view on the national Dutch elections, my pal Floris Dogterom is writing a series of reports on the still very-BETA website of Unfold Amsterdam. This web/paper  publication is a very welcome endeavour to fill the void left by Amsterdam Weekly‘s demise and includes a lot of Weekly alumni. They won’t be truely kicking off until 1 September but meanwhile the website already features a savvy choice of what’s going down in town. Check it out! It will rule! Support!

Posted: June 3, 2010 at 11:53 am.

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Left Hobbies















A great campaign: ‘Linkse Hobbies’.

A while ago the Dutch populist politician and amateur film-maker Geert Wilders stated: ‘The cabinet must start cutting deeply into all those leftist hobbies that are just wasting billions on the European Union, development aid, subsidies for the environment, art and housing, citizenship courses and all the rest of it. ’

So a group started to wonder what the Netherlands would look like if all these ‘hobbies of the Left’ would disappear… Order your stickers at Linkse Hobby and start marking! And don’t forget to upload a photo! The above picture features the work of inspired artist Serge Verheugen. Don’t disappear Serge! Don’t disappear!

Posted: April 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm.

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Routes Award 2009














Thanks to  the  European Cultural Foundation,  I interviewed two very  inspiring folks:  Borka Pavicevic (pictured) and Stefan Kaegi. They  were the winners of  the Routes Award for Cultural Diversity 2009  for their work in theater championing the voices of  the “other”.

Borka, in particular, has long been a hero of mine ever since I first visited ex-Yugoslavia. As the founder of  Belgrade’s Centre for Cultural Decontamination, she has fought the good fight against a steady stream of nationalists, gangsters and populist pricks.  The Centre was one of the first places I went when I felt dirty  from sitting behind  Mira Markovic, wife of Milosevic, on a flight between Amsterdam and Belgrade in 2001.

I went to  the awards ceremony in Brussels a couple of weeks ago and certainly had a couple of culturally diverse moments. It was at the Royal Flemish Theater and when we arrived early,  my friend and I went to the  next door  cafe  to kill some time. The waitress  refused to talk  Dutch with us — which we thought ironic since we were at a Dutch-language theater for an award’s ceremony dedicated to cultural diversity.  

After the ceremony I went over to introduce myself to Borka and she greeted me very warmly thanks to some  common friends (ah, I do miss the Balkans sometimes…). She asked me if I had  ever met Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. I hadn’t so I shook  the princess’s  hand. Then Borka wanted to introduce me to   some Belgrade journalist — “you actually probably  know him, he’s the one that they tried to blow up with not one but two bombs.” But just as I was about  to shake his  hand, a plate of oysters came by and the crowd — royalty, journalists, etc — swooped in.  It was a moment of true diversity. The oysters were dang tasty as well.

But really, read the interviews:
Borka Pavicevic
Stefan Kaegi

Posted: February 12, 2010 at 9:36 am.

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NDSM Open Day

hotdocks-voorThe former shipyards of NDSM in Amsterdam Noord is a post-industrial wonderland which features the biggest “breeding ground” for the arts in the country with over 200 artist studios. This Saturday 14 November, they are having an open house. I love this place: it’s got the free ferry ride from behind Centraal Station, lots of apocalyptic eye candy and a great cafe/restaurant. I’ve written about this place a lot – here for instance – because I saw it as a microcosm of Amsterdam (or even the world) where the battle between arts and commerce is playing out. But since the credit crunch, the commerce part has stepped backed and the area seems to be reverting back to its more purely arty roots. Hell, they even found a new place to squat: the former pumping station…

Posted: November 12, 2009 at 10:56 am.

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On Wall and Currywurst

berlin1My feature on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (and the 60th anniversary of the rise of Currywurst) is published today in the Globe&Mail. It was a hard one to write mostly because it is such a dense and telling tale. I   visited Berlin a few months after it happened and the images that still stick was of children playing in the watchtowers and the big bales of collected barbwire —  forming  5-10  meter high tumbleweeds of rusting iron. So anyway  I had to leave a lot of wacky facts out of the article in the name of readability. Luckily I have no such constraints here. Oh, and if you want more on ostalgia just check out my previous  Globe&Mail feature on the 15th anniversary….

berlin2Funniest story I heard was from my esteemed hosts Mr and Mrs Cameron (who have been living the revolution in Mitte quite a few years now…)  who told me of a group of West Berlin friends who  found a hole in the wall and went for a look in East Berlin. When they returned they found the hole had been closed up — they were stuck! But luckily, for them the Wall properly fell the next day.

There are a few tricks for the visitor to  differentiate between former East and West halves. East Berlin has much more animated and jaunty figures in their crosswalk lights. Linguists now also know that it just takes 29 years, the time the wall existed, for distinct dialects to develop.

By 1980 an estimated 100,000 West Berliners were living life in a subculture — via cafes, communes, squats and generally radical lefty politics. (Today the most affluent of this generation support some of the largest organic supermarkets in Europe.)

You know you are buying an authentic GDR postcard by its flimsiness — and by the fact that you are overcharged for it.

And in the world of currywurst:


I had some earlier thoughts on sausage. The mighty currywurst is apparently called the “white trash plate” in Cologne and Dusseldorf but “chancellor’s plate” in Hannover. Also interesting: Gerhard  Schroeder was known as the “currywurst chancellor”.  And Volkswagon developed their own recipe  that can only be bought in factory canteens. In 1982, the singer Herbert Groenemeyer sang passionately of his nightly desires for the mighty wurst  (this YouTube clip is not for the queasy of stomach but boy does Herbert sing from the heart).

berlin4Now for something completely different:

After all that heavy street food (especially since you’ll also have to pay tribute to the Turk, Mahmut Aygun, who invented the now universal Doner Kebab here in 1972), there’s nothing like Japanese noodles. Cocolo (Gipsstrasse 3, 0172 3047584, ) serves some of the best Japanese noodle soup on the planet. Owner Ollie not only cooks but also built everything — from the furnishings to the  service to the kitchen — from scratch. Inspiring! Also, Restaurant Schoenbrunn is a lovely and  fancy place to dine in Volkspark Friedrichshain. Aid digestion by climbing the  nearby hills which were  built from the debris of WWII.

For dessert, one can pop into a baker for a Berliner (more commonly known as a Pfannkuchen in Berlin itself), the pastry JFK accidentally referred to in his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech to half a million bewildered Berliners in 1963.

But  to conclude:
Mir ist alles Wurst!
Es geht um die Wurst!
Sei keine beleidigte Leber wurst!

Posted: October 24, 2009 at 10:16 am.