Sunday, February 20, 2011

Around Amsterdam and Anne Frank's House

Yesterday we explored Old Amsterdam and tried some local specialities including "Bitterballen" in a local pub, which was basically fried meat and potato balls that were VERY hot! The beer was good though. Not as thick and dark as German beer, but still quite tasty.
The weather was crisp and grey but at least the rain held off. We also toured a traditional canal house boat and were surprised by how big the living areas were inside.
I am really glad that we chose to stay in a "local" place rather than a hotel, because I feel that we got a true sense of what it is like to "live" in Amsterdam rather than be surrounded by the "touristy" Amsterdam. This is a picture of the apartment that we stayed in and below you can see the steep stair case leading upstairs!
All the houses are very narrow and tall as land is at a real premium here! We learnt on our canal house boat tour that some canal boats cost as much as a house, and they need to be refurbished every 4 to 5 years!
This morning we got up early and headed down the street to Anne Frank's House. We tried to visit the museum yesterday but the line was so long that we decided to get an early start this morning and head over there. We are both so glad that we went. What an incredible story, and incredible museum. To actually walk through the factory that Anne's father used to manage and then walk through the "hidden annex" where the family hid for 2 years is just incredible. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, but it was really amazing to walk through her old bedroom and see picutres of movie stars that she had posted on the wall.
What was even more amazing in my opinion, is the strength, innocence and intelligence that Anne displayed through her words in her diary. She was a very intelligent little girl and had a gift for capturing the sights, sounds and experiences of her life on paper. Zev and I stopped in a little coffee shop next door for a coffee and bagels and we both felt rather overwhelmed and touched by our experience at the Anne Frank House. Although on the one hand it seems so incredible and outrageous to imagine how so many people could be systematically exterminated and tortured, it is not that far-fetched to see how a culture can develop an attitude of hatred and feart against another culture. The Jews were segretated, humiliated and eventually tortured and exterminated. Although it may be easy to think "that was then and this is now," one really only needs to look at world politics and events to see that mass killings still occur to this day around the world and that there is fear and contempt for other cultures in every day society. Below is a picture of Anne Frank's father, Otto. He was the only member of the family that survived the concentration camps. When he returned to Amsterdam and found Anne Frank's diary, which had been preserved by one of the Dutch workers at the factory, he worked to keep the house they were hidden in and have it turned into a memorial, as well as to spread the message of peace and tolerance for all of humanity.
At the end of the Anne Frank tour, there was a video showing a school teacher in France talking about the ban on wearing burkas in public schools. This is a controversial issue in Europe, but it made me reflect on my own attitudes towards other cultures. There is no denying the resentment today that a lot of people have against Muslims, illegal immigrants...the list goes on. Even though the Holocaust seems like such a long time ago, it really only happened less than 70 years ago. There are people still living today who experienced first hand the horrors of that time. We never want for those horrors to be repeated and yet I know that discrimination against other races, religions and cultures still lives on today. Anne Frank wrote about how she could not comprehend how her family and other Jews were so hated and vilified. They were made to wear identifying badges and made to live in the "Jewish Quarter." They had their cars and bicycles taken from them and then rounded up in the street and led off to concentration camps. She felt like an outcast and indeed was one. Zev remarked how amazing it is that such a little girl could have such a big impact on the world. Anne Frank became the face of the Holocaust but is still a representative today of the effects of oppression and hatred against our fellow man. I learnt or rather re-learnt some important yet basic lessons after visiting the Anne Frank House. The simplest lesson perhaps being that we are truly all equal and that we are called to tolerate one another and show respect, even if we don't agree with each other's opinions or religions or culture.

Amsterdam left an indelible mark on me. It is a curious and intriguing city. There are some beautiful parts, especially in the neighborhood we stayed in with the gorgeous old apartment buildings and canals and bicycles, and there are some not so beautiful parts, like any city I guess. We are off to Brugges in Belgium this afternoon. I hope that you have a lovely and warm Sunday!
Much love, Fi xo

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