<Fair City Amsterdam> Joost de Vries: My Amsterdam is being un-created by mass tourism (The Guardian)
patrice at xs4all.nl
Mon Aug 13 17:00:37 CEST 2018
FYI. Met dank aan Virginie Mamadouh.
My Amsterdam is being un-created by mass tourism
By Joost de Vries (The Guardian 08-08-2018)
As the stag parties flood in, the Dutch flood out. Tourism’s changed not
just the way we feel about our cities, but Europe
The word on everyone’s lips is “Venice”. It starts as a whisper, some
time in early spring, when the lines in front of the Rijksmuseum get a
little longer, and the weekend shopping crowds in the Negen Straatjes
begin to test your bike-navigation skills. By the time it’s July those
streets are flooded. You don’t even try steering through the crowds.
You’d be like Moses, except that God is not on your side, the Red Sea
will not part in your favour, and the crowds will wash you away: the
middle-aged couples from the US and Germany, here for the museums; and
the stag parties from Spain, Italy and the UK, here in their epic
attempt to drink all the beer and smoke all the pot.
You crash into a distracted tourist, and the whisper becomes a curse:
Fucking Venice! (We like to swear in English)
So you learn to take the long way round to your destination and skip
entire areas of Amsterdam – which nevertheless means that, perhaps once
every summer, you’ll be down on the pavement after crashing into a
distracted tourist who walked in front of your bike, and the whisper
becomes a curse: “Fucking Venice!” (The Dutch like to swear in English.)
“Venice”is shorthand for a city so flooded by tourists that it no longer
feels like a city at all. In the famed 2013 Dutch documentary I Love
Venice a tourist asks: “At what time does Venice close?” It’s very
funny, except, of course, that it is not funny at all.
In his 1998 Booker-winning novel Amsterdam, Ian McEwan describes his
protagonist walking down the Brouwersgracht thinking: “Such a tolerant,
open-minded, grown-up sort of place: the beautiful brick … apartments,
the modest Van Gogh bridges, the understated street furniture, the
intelligent, unstuffy-looking Dutch on their bikes with their
level-headed children sitting behind. Even the shopkeepers looked like
professors, the street sweepers like jazz musicians.” Well, once upon a
This year Amsterdam’s 850,000 inhabitants will see an estimated 18.5
million tourists flock to the city – up 11% on last year. By 2025, 23
million are expected. Last week the city’s ombudsman condemned the red
light district as no longer under government control at weekends.
Criminals operate with impunity; the police can no longer protect
citizens; ambulances struggle to reach victims on time. The narrow
streets on the canals are simply too crowded. But at least, as McEwan
noted, our street furniture remains understated.
There are several ways to react. One is to leave town. A study shows
that in the past five years 40% of couples relocated to smaller towns
after their first child. Many feel this is no longer a city to raise
kids. Another response is to try to make as much money off the tourists
as you can. And so anything remotely connected to the city gets branded
as such: the coastal town of Bloemendaal is “Amsterdam beach”
(Bloemendaal is way outside Amsterdam); the 14th-century Muiderslot
“Amsterdam Castle” (Muiden isn’t at all part of Amsterdam). It’s like
calling Canterbury “London Cathedral”, Liverpool “London Harbour”, or
Oxford “London Hogwarts”.
It is not just about the logistics of managing a crowded city. Mass
tourism challenges the way we live. The Dutch have always been proud of
their liberal laws, allowing the use of soft drugs and the legalisation
of prostitution. We truly believed ourselves to be the “tolerant,
open-minded, grown-up” people McEwan describes. But those ideas of
personal freedom are under strain. And one reason is that activities
connected to the tourism boom have grown to such an extent that they
appear uncontrollable. The red light district is filled with women
forced there by traffickers. The soft drugs market is so large that some
legal experts describe the Netherlands as a de facto narco state, where
one can produce and sell drugs with only the slightest chance of ever
being apprehended. It’s Venice vice.
The soft drugs market is so large that some legal experts describe
the Netherlands as a de facto narco state
And then, in the midst of it all, comes this week in early August. There
is no proper name for it, but all of a sudden it’s much easier to get a
table in your favourite restaurant, and the best place to park your bike
is no longer occupied. It feels like people are missing – and as it
turns out, they are. More than 2 million Dutch have gone on holiday, all
at the same time – fleeing the flood of tourists in Amsterdam, and
becoming a flood themselves, and someone in the south of France will be
writing the exact same article I’m writing now (bonjour!).
That’s the whole point of complaining about tourism. Are you staying
home this summer? If not, you are someone else’s tourist.
But 21st-century mass tourism comes with a twist. In his 1958 essay
Theory of Tourism, the German philosopher Hans Magnus Enzenberger
contemplated the industry’s paradoxes. The tourist wants to find
something new and unique, but will find only places already found, and
mapped, by other tourists. So every tourist is a competitor: “The
untouched can only be experienced by touching it. It is important to be
the first,” he wrote, asking a pivotal question: “Did we create tourism,
or did it create us?”
Sixty years on, the question is no longer what tourism creates, but what
it un-creates. Ever since budget airlines and Airbnb made travelling so
much cheaper, and with Asia’s rising middle classes starting to holiday
here, we’ve watched the industry claim large parts of our city, changing
its social fabric, opening shops and restaurants that serve only
visitors, not residents. Throughout Europe the same stores sell the same
stuff to the same visitors. Tourism is the Great Equaliser, replacing
national identity with global uniformity.
Riding my bike, I don’t feel Amsterdam is being taken over by tourists:
I simply don’t feel I’m in Amsterdam at all. Tourism’s changed not just
the way we feel about our cities, but the way we feel about Europe. You
can go to Paris or London and get a sense of repetition. Yes, the
buildings are a bit different – and look, there’s the Eiffel Tower – but
you are used to the shops, the coffee bars, the constant flow of
visitors like you. An optimist might say: barriers are lowered,
Europeans feel more alike, more at home in different countries.
But you can argue the other way round: differences are fudged and
camouflaged between countries, between regions. Just as Brexit shocked
us, the electoral successes of political parties across Europe with
plans for a Frexit or Nexit keep on surprising us. Weren’t we part of
the same family? Aren’t we awfully alike?
The great paradox of tourism is that it brings us closer physically, but
that doesn’t always encourage us to connect with others’ culture,
identity, or political debates. At high season we criss-cross each other
in our millions: but is that enough to understand each other better?
• Joost de Vries, a Dutch novelist, is author of The Republic
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