Capital of the Netherlands and home to over 1200 bridges, Amsterdam is a city full of charm and character and several museums, including one on medieval torture. The museum that most interested me, however, was the Anne Frank Huis museum. Like most of you I was forced to read her diary in junior high, and back then it had little, if any, impact on my life that was already full of Nintendo and shyly talking to girls that had no interest in me. It wasn’t until my adult years that I went back to reread her diary that her words spoke more to me than ever before. Although I could not relate to her circumstances or the time and era in which she wrote, I did connect with the deep emotion and insights most kids her age simply are unaware of, at least I know I was at her age.
“We’ve been strongly reminded of the fact that we’re Jews in chains, chained to one spot, without any rights, but with a thousand obligations. We must put our feelings aside; we must be brave and strong, bear discomfort without complaint, do whatever is in our power and trust in God. One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews!”
Entering the building that was her father’s workplace and progressively moving toward the secret annex where Anne Frank and seven others, including her family, had hidden in secret from the Nazis for just over two years in near darkness, her words came back to me, her story coming alive before my eyes. We entered through the very bookcase that had obscured the secret entrance to the annex, ascended the neck-breaking staircases and room after room we moved in rows and totally in awe of the living history we were experiencing. Anne’s room had several photographs of famous celebrities of her time plastered to a wall of insipid color, making it more comfortable and inviting for her long seclusion from the rest of the world. It was the Annex’s attic window that was the highlight for me to see. The same window that Anne Frank looked out of for hours hoping, praying, wishing to be released from her cage, like some wild bird willing itself to be free again.
“I go to the attic almost every morning to get the stale air out of my lungs… Whenever you’re feeling lonely or sad, try going to the loft on a beautiful day and looking outside. Not at the houses and the rooftops, but at the sky.”
Afterwards we left the museum and went to a little café where continued to talk about Anne Frank and her experience, and the legacy of her and her father’s ongoing message of persecution of others based on irrational misconceptions. You can say it was an impactful experience. To cheer us up a bit we ate delicious pancakes, which the Dutch seem to separate into two categories: savory or sweet. I choose savory, which included spinach with ham, tomato, and cheese, whereas my wife went with sweet and enjoyed an extremely rich pancake that was similar to a flat, spongy apple pie. Later we went to the Heineken Brewery.
The Heineken Brewery marks the third brewery we have visited since living in Europe; the first was Smithwick’s in Kilkenny, and the second was Guinness in Dublin. After visiting Heineken it has become very apparent that each brewery, through huge marketing endeavors on their part no wonder, project a particular image, style, and even personality that goes along with their beer, and the brewery tour is designed as a reflection of that personality. Smithwick’s was a quaint, comfortable, and personal type setting, where one feels almost at home the moment you walk into the door. You had a host that walked you through the brewery and answered every question as if it was the first time he heard it. Smithwick’s is the friendly beer. The beer you hang out with on the weekends and go fishing. I don’t fish but you get the point. Guinness is an institution for the every man. It’s the perfect beer after a long day at work, and when you need to revitalize your body with its rich dark flavor. Their brewery tour is self-guided, but makes up for the lack of personal attention through amazing attractions; including a small waterfall. Heineken is none of these. Heineken is a party, a club, a young, wild twenty something year old looking for the time of his/her life. Heineken is all about “yolo,” and what ever comes tomorrow can wait for tomorrow. And Heineken projects this through its club like atmosphere, music, games, and a small ride where you the audience personify the beer making process – bubbles included. A couple of beers at the end of the tour are always a nice touch as well.
I wish we had a week in Amsterdam to explore everything there was, but as always, we never have enough time. We meandered the streets avoiding the hundreds of cyclists, trams moving back and forth along the roads, and crossed dozens of little bridges that span the network of canals dispersed throughout the city. We visited the floating flower markets and ate at a vending machine fast food place where you insert some coins then pull out a deep-fried delight from behind a glass door. We even saw the famous windmills the Dutch are famous for, but that was on a bus ride into the countryside on our way to Brugge, Belgium, and that is another blog for another time.