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<nettime> Klompenmania: Amsterdam’s oversized tourism and the need to me
Tjebbe van Tijen on Fri, 9 Oct 2009 13:31:44 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Klompenmania: Amsterdam’s oversized tourism and the need to measure

A rare saturday afternoon walk through the main tourist center of the  
inner town of Amsterdam on a nice and sunny saturday afternoon last  
week, triggered several years of observations, irritations and  
historical associations that made me write a call to reconsider the  
mass tourism, mainly oriented on sex and drugs, that overwhelms the  
inner city of Amsterdam.

I speak about the results of the emancipation of soft-drug users amd  
homosexuals - in the last fourty years - that has ended up in hard  
core commercial industry and I try to look back to discover how that  
could happen. There is is a litany oif complaints, but also a  
postive  look at the future.

The fully illustrated and captionez text with many links can be found  


Below a few excerpts from the text, you are invited to view and read  
the complete version:

The streets were bustling with tourists and their non-directional  
pace of walking: halting to study their maps without concern for the  
other pedestrians and cyclists – often in the middle of the road;  
whimsically crossing as if the streets were empty; framing their  
camera pictures while forgetting about the world outside their viewer  
– causing frequent near accidents; being absorbed in consuming their  
walk-about-lunch; trying to keep group cohesion despite the  
fragmented Amsterdam public sidewalks with their thresholds and anti- 
car parking poles. A mixed aroma of exhausting fumes, hashish and the  
smell of cheap pizza touches our nostrils as we manage to proceed  
slowly in the direction of our evening meal shopping market in the  
Jordaan neighborhood.


A bit further on, in the direction of the train station, many gay  
bars, hotels and ‘darkrooms’ (mainly male) have settled in the last  
two decades. A historical function one may say, as the Warmoeststraat  
has done the sexual catering for both the sailors and local  
inhabitants for centuries. What is different though – compared to the  
past – is the density of such facilities now, and the fact that  
homosexual services are openly promoted. House after house in the  
Warmoesstraat and surroundings have been taken over by a ‘troika’ of  
the recreational sex and drug industry combined with what we Dutch  
call ‘horeca’ (snackbars, restaurants, cafés). The ‘horeca’ is there  
mainly to supply the armies of ‘lurkers’ – those who are just  
watching – with an alibi to have a drink and snack, wander around and  
stare. Step by step this troika has pushed out services providing for  
the daily needs of local residents. I still remember the area as a  
mixture of cafés, restaurants, sex business, small workshops and  
family living. I have not seen statistics yet on the dwindling number  
of normal resident houses or apartments in the Red Light district and  
adjacent areas, but that it is strongly diminishing is something  
anyone “can feel with their wooden-shoes on.”


When emancipation of homosexuals ends up in a commercialized  
segregation of leisure and pleasure with expending specialized zones  
clustering around Amstel-Rembrandtplein-Utrechtsestraat- 
Reguliersdwarsstraat, Warmoestraat-Zeedijk, and Kerkstraat- 
Leidesplein,  I am tempted to ask what about “equality” as one of the  
important substances of my own idea of what emancipation is about?  
Why not have fun all together, beyond the tender and gender divide?  
Why this self-imposed social Apartheid? Also, what about the level  
of, say ‘homosexual’ emancipation and ‘tollerance’ of drugs in all  
the countries of origin of the hordes of sex and drugs tourists  
filling the Amsterdam inner town? Did they vote Berlusconi, Sarkozy,  
Merkel, Putin and thus can’t they smoke a joint at home or in a pub  
in peace? Is it the Pope, an imman, a rural evangelic fundamentalist  
that keeps them from doing or at least inquiring about unknown  
sensual territories? And … most important for us locals, is the blunt  
commercial exploitation through which the tourists are paraded in  
Amsterdam, – with some side-tripping to Anne Frank and Vincent van  
Gogh – something we should be proud of? Is that what we want to  
present to the world? Or is it this, what is most typical Dutch after  
all, only about making a good buck… on anybody using any opportunity?


Back from sidestepping and continuing our trip.. As we walked the  
streets and struggled through the tourist crowd, I had a short  
fantasy of my own, being a telepathic guide, able to impress my views  
of the town and its history on each of the leisurely wandering  
tourists that catched my eye:

“What you see is the product of Double Dutch standards, moral sermons  
at home, covering up far away exploitive practices. Like our prime- 
minister Jan Peter Balkenende who does not get tired to preach about  
the Golden Age and the ’spirit of enterprise’ of the Dutch East  
Indian Company (VOC) which we should try to regain today, forgetting  
to mention the black pages of history of the trading and maltreatment  
of black slaves, let alone the life of the 17th century poor in the  
Low Countrries. The historical ‘freedom of trade’, which found once  
in the city of Amsterdam one of its important bases,  was nothing  
more than the freedoms one can allow oneself when making bad deals –  
for the natives – backed up by warships with canons. Half the number  
of poor souls that were crimped into VOC service as sailors died on  
their voyage to the east. Recruitment officers would round up bums in  
taverns and on the street, even imprison them, till the moment their  
ship sailed away. The Dutch that nowadays like to praise themselves  
for their development aid to poor countries, still fail to recognize  
that they were fighting colonial wars up to 1961, officially called –  
to this very day – pacifying ‘police actions’ (”politionele acties”  
in Indonesia 1945 – 1949 against the Indonesian War of Independence)… “


Is there some hope in recent developments of  Dutch cities next to  
the Belgian border, that have closed all coffeeshops and organized  
even a kind of razzias against cross-border drug tourism? No, in  
spite of all my observations and negative appreciation of the  
Amsterdam drug tourist scene, I dislike this abrupt and oppressive  
option. Like the homosexual emancipation there has also been an  
emancipation of the drug user, from a persecuted criminal to a  
tolerated recreational consumer. The liberating mind expanding  
aspects of soft drugs as formulated by idealists of the sixties may  
have long faded away and turned into hard core business, but the  
basic assumptions remains valid: to be master of one’s own mind and  
body and decide by one’s own reasoning instead of external coercion.  
There are many options and levels of steering, controlling, and  
arguing which could bring the transborder soft drug users and the  
international leisure industry back to acceptable proportions and  
some sort of balance with the social environment they share with others.


Maybe it is time for the ‘emancipation’ of  city dwellers,  
recognizing their  ”equal rights” on the use of the city, not  
treating them anymore as Disney actors in their own town,  
appreciating them for their living knowledge of their house, their  
street, their neighborhood, their city. The first step toward a city  
dwellers emancipation is the recognition that injustice has been  
done, that it is time for measuring tourism, to let it fit the  
existing scale of a city and not the other way around.

Tjebbe van Tijen
Imaginary Museum Projects
Dramatizing Historical Information
web-blog: The Limping Messenger

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