David Bronkhorst is a freelance travel journalist, photographer, blogger and writer. He crossed the Negev desert on a donkey but never came loose from the south of Amsterdam. Five tips for his beloved neighbourhood.
“Amsterdam is it for me, especially South Amsterdam. Every time I come home from a trip abroad, a great feeling of love for this neighborhood overtakes me. Obviously, because I grew up here and live still here. Dutch journalist Ischa Meijer once sang:
South of Amsterdam, streets named after rivers
Streets run through my head
Paper boats of desire
Sail towards youth
Artists & writers
Nowadays, South is known as a mecca for celebs, expats and rich families from the Gooi area with three children and a tricycle. But fortunately artists, writers, refugees, elderly and madmen also still live here. there are . One talks with typical r, in a kind of Dutch that nowhere else is spoken.
Previously, there was still a distinction between Old South and New South, now it is one large district. It is an area scarred by the war, Jews were deported from here and German officers inhabited their pretty villas. For me the neighborhood evokes a constant feeling of nostalgia, it is a neighborhood full of stories and striking personalities, unique in the Netherlands.
Here are South Amsterdam, five tips by David:
Martyrium is one of the best bookstores in the world, across from café Wildschut. Intimate, messy, with islands of book and crowded bookshelves. Here you can still find a real book. Their ramsj department is legendary, for a few euro’s there is always something to find. Due to my e-reader I have to admit, I stop by less often. South is rapidly changing but some things remain the same.
Beethovenstreet, (straat in Dutch), was nicknamed Broad Jewish Street because so many German Jews lived here. Famous Dutch writer Grunberg lived around the corner, as did singer Herman Brood, who always rode his scooter through this street. When I was young, there was still a division between good and bad shopkeepers.
Bad shopkeepers were the ones whose shop you did not enter because they had done bad business during the war. That did not prevent us from entering the toy shop. Around the corner is the Gerrit van der Veen school, the former Gestapo headquarters.
Tram 5 was used to transport Jews during the night to Central Station. From there they were taken to the camps. Many Dutch writers wrote about this stop. ‘Tram stop Beethovenstraat’ by Grete Weil is about this. Grunberg’s “Blue Mondays” is set partly in the Beethoven Street, Herman Koch also ventured this street in “Save us, Maria Montanelli.”
The strange story about the former owner of Van Rossums bookstore you can read in the novel “The lover ‘ by Hester Carvalho. The bookseller was addicted to crack and in desperate need of money. The cash register showed growing deficits, which made his business partner end the cooperation.
To be able to finance his addiction, he became a drug trafficker. He was caught and eventually ended up in jail in Guadeloupe. Beethoven Street certainly still is a street with style and with a hidden tragic twist to it
3. De Churchilllaan
A walk on Churchill Avenue (laan in Dutch), formerly called the Northern Amstellaan. It is a wide, elegant avenue with large houses, tall trees and lots of green. Here you find many statues. It was the scene of the invading Germans and a few years later of Canadians liberating the city,
Upon entering the avenue you are greeted by the statue of the first Dutch feminist, Wilhelmina Drucker. There is a also statue of Mahatma Gandhi. On the bridge you find statues in the style of the Amsterdam School; a boy with rabbits and a rearing horse.
From here you can walk to the Apollo Avenue where annually Art South, the longest sculpture trail of the Netherlands, is being held. It takes 15 minutes from Churchill Avenue to Apollo Road. It’s a fine walk, many Dutch writers like Gerard Reve walked here. A good place to organize your thoughts in the shade of the trees.
4. Hilton Hotel
Originally there should have been a National Academy of Art, but it ended up being the Hilton Hotel. Singer Herman Brood killed him self by jumping from the roof. John & Yoko had their famous Bed-In.
You can even spend a night in their suite and stare at the ceiling where you find an enlarged cover of the album The Plastic One Band / Live Peace in Toronto 1969. In front of the Hilton you find a copy of the statue The Thinker by Rodin. A bit further in the Minervalaan, you find another one. They make me happy.
5. Cafe Wildschut
I don’t go there anymore since they rebuilt it. It used to be a household name. Art deco lamps on the ceiling, a glass cupboard with cakes in it. Oddly enough it was at one point named Mussert pub, after the family of the fascist leader Anton Mussert. Journalist Ischa Meijer used to go there during the nineties in his tracksuit always yelling, dying to shock people and to be seen.
He always smiled when you looked at him. Nowadays the cafe is hip, the interior painted gray. The large terrace is always full of people when the sun shines, but when the nearby law firms are having their breaks it gets very busy. The view on the Roelof Hart Library is beautiful. In the library they threw out the pretty old books to make way for gleaming bestsellers.
If you want to experience how Wildschut was in the old days, go to Cafe Schiller on Rembrandt Square, here everything is still authentic with nicotine and paintings on the walls.