<Fair City Amsterdam> Joost de Vries: My Amsterdam is being un-created by mass tourism (The Guardian)

Patrice Riemens 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 
time, perhaps.

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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