Everyone wants to visit Anne when they come to Amsterdam. I’m not sure why; she’s never home. That doesn’t seem to bother the friends and couchsurfers who arrive intent on trekking to the tilting four-story merchant’s house on the Prinsengracht that was slated for destruction 50 years ago. It’s a straight shot up Rozengracht (literally Rose Canal, although the 17th century canal has been damped since 1890) from my apartment on the western edge of the Jordaan to the canal-side home. On this bleak February afternoon, I’m stepping out of winter hibernation to walk there.
As the elevator descends five floors, I pull my woolen hat over my ears and yank my puffy jacket down low over my hips. Stepping into the lobby, my second-hand Relay boots—purchased at the vintage shop on Elansgracht, seemingly owned by a gaggle of Dutch dogs—clack over the black tiles. Past the stairwell, I heave open the stainless steel entry door bearing a notice, in Dutch AND English (the latter mostly for my benefit, since most of the other building residents speak Nederlands) about pulling it shut when leaving. Posted after the Boxing Day robbery in my building, it reminds me my adopted city is an edgy place.
I suck in the frosty air that bites my cheeks and cools my lungs like nothing I inhaled over a half-century spent in Southern California. Remnants of recent snows have melted, but I still mince over the cobblestones on Groenmarktkade like a penguin intent on maintaining balance. It’s lunchtime at kitschy Moeders restaurant next door, where a handful of diners savor stamppot and rijstafel (the latter prepared Dutch-style, substituting potatoes for rice), against a background of photos depicting guests’ moms. In the window, antique lamps, vintage scales and eclectic kitchenware exude nostalgia. Rounding the corner onto Rozengracht, the sticky-sweet scent of spare ribs assaults me with savory goodness.
Past Moeders, Asian girls in tank tops and shorts slouch on the sofa at Salon Mei, laptops perched on their bare knees. Friends have bets on what actually happens in the dimly lit establishment proffering full body or feet massages for €20. A sign framed by ceramic buddhas invites customers to “Revive, Refresh, Relax.” But on this frosty afternoon, the girls are alone. A frantic cat paces in the window of adjacent Ben Cohen Shawarma Grillroom, eager for attention.
On Rozengracht, dozens of bikes lean against the centuries-old brick buildings. Cyclists swathed in hats, scarves, coats, mittens, boots and a few stilettos peddle against the winter chill, some riding side-saddle in the way only Dutchies do. A tiny red car sits on the pavement like a squashed tomato, tempting fate. I wait for the light at Marnixstraat, wondering if anyone ever wanders into Lucky Jack Casino on the corner.
Across the street, the pace picks up as I head closer to Centrum. Sleeping buddhas lounge in the window of Waries Thai Food, gesloten as usual. Past the odd artifacts at Raw Materials, I resist the urge to dive into Sabina’s to buy more colorful knickknacks from the Far East. The Flower Power coffeeshop is barren of customers, as are most of the establishments on the street. Beyond the odd urn winkel with its designer caskets, I notice a poorly choreographed ballet taking place in the middle of busy Rozengracht—a cyclist dodging cars and trams, aiming to get to the other side. Happens every day, leaving the cyclists victorious. .
I turn left on Prinsengracht and walk along the canal. It’s not long before I spot the line to Anne’s house—a long queue of pilgrims waiting patiently to embrace the legacy of the courageous pre-teen who hid with her family in the 17th-century canal house, hoping to outwit the Nazis. But it was not to be. With her parents, sister and four other occupants of Prinsengracht 263, Anne was arrested on 4 August 1944. As was their custom, Nazis stripped and confiscated the contents of the Secret Annex behind the moveable bookcase once its Jewish inhabitants had been arrested and deported. Of all the contents in the Annex, only Anne’s diary was saved.
Melissa, thank you for this snapshot of A’dam. Like everyone else, I’d love to visit Anne when I come to A’dam, but I think your portrait of walking through the streets of the city is the most beautiful part of this post. Can’t wait to visit!
What a nice sketch of Amsterdam, just a walk along the canal to Anne’s house could certainly embodies the allure of the city. I wish I could wobble down the pavement with pouring sunshine and chill breeze over the water when I pay a visit there, and maybe sitting back in the antique restaurant for reminiscing the good old times…
Cats in windows…I must say that could draw me in as I’m a sucker for the feline genus. Maybe I’ll see you, and the cat, when I’m there.
I didn’t understand everything because of my poor English, but I just learned that Anne Frank’s house is in Amsterdam… I shall like to walk there too when I go to Amsterdam.
thanks for this nice picture you drew with remarkable words. As a matter of fact we are too going to Anne’s house. And i bet i am going to enjoy my way there now somewhat more. Really looking forward to our trip there soon.
I really like your writing style…
I heard that you have to make reservations to visit the Anne Frank house, but the walk there sounds interesting enough, even if you don’t venture inside. My roommate just broke his arm after his bike tire slipped into a tram track – glad to hear the Amsterdam cyclists usually fare better!
I heard you have to reserve a ticket to see the inside of the Ann Frank house, but the walk there sounds interesting enough even for those without a means to venture in. My roommate just broke his arm after his bike tire got caught in a tram track… glad to hear the Amsterdam cyclists usually fare better!
I myself want to visit Anne Franke’s house but I’ve never understood why? So we can stare at the living conditions once lived by bravery? So we can imagine the turmoil minutes after being discovered? I truly do not know. But maybe it’s the unknown that challenges us to go to places like that
I’m with you, Michael. I’ve read Anne’s diary and boatloads of other books about her + her family, but I’ve never been to her house. Why stand in line to see an empty shell where innocent people were caged like animals? There are plenty of interesting sights in A’dam that are higher on my bucket list to visit than the Anne Frank Huis.
Thanks for letting me know how to explore and appreciate Rozengracht apart from just going to Anne Frank’s home. True that you mentioned Anne Franck was hardly home. Yet I was in Auschwitz last summmer, so I still want a look of Anne Frank’s house.
I’d like to take a look at Auschwitz. Not sure why…no one’s home + the ghosts could reveal horrors, I’m sure.
Melissa, such a beautiful description of Amsterdam! You really have a way with words. I myself visited the Anne Franke house the last time I came to Amsterdam, which was also my first time in the city. I could recall reading about her in grade school and it felt so unreal to be inside the building where her family was hiding. It was truly an emotional experience.
Oh I red the diary of Anne Frank when I was a kid in school! It’s funny i read it cause I had a totally different image of the place she hid in.
Guess it changed a lot since 1944.
Anyway this article awoke nostalgia in my heart.
It hasn’t really changed, Ossama. They just turned it into a museum. I think the book is better. Then again, I’ve never actually been to Anne’s house.