Amsterdam: City as Work of Art

Amsterdam Water Pump

These last two weeks have been a whirlwind of studying art, exploring Amsterdam and the surrounding cities, analyzing architecture, making new friends, and relearning how to both bike and walk 10+ miles a day. Throughout the trip I fully immersed myself in the city of Amsterdam, taking note of the buildings, art, landscape, roads, people, and learning the stories they tell. Firstly, I am incredibly grateful for such a wonderful class of unique individuals and for the greatly helpful, insightful, and supportive guides we had throughout the trip. In our walking tours with Joppe, we hit the ground running (going for a 6 mile walk immediately after landing an international flight) and observed the buildings and canals that make up Amsterdam. I have traveled cities quite a bit but I don’t think I have ever taken the time to really observe how a city’s history is reflected in the buildings, streets, overall existence, until this trip. Joppe, alongside Mark and Mo, pointed out how the brick lay and building designs are reflective of various schools of thought and their respective historical context. Each building and street block tell their own history – even if today they are often used to house shopping centers and fast food joints.  

              I am also thankful and grateful for the opportunity to meet Pascal and that he was kind enough to invite us into his world. You can tell that he genuinely shared a passion for great conversation and debate about his community, city, art, and the future, etc.. Not many people would offer to open their lives (private social club) to twelve students, however, he did not hesitate to do so and encouraged further open discussions. Our bike ride with Pascal throughout Amsterdam and outside of the city limits was one of the highlights of my trip. We read a lot about polders, dikes, water pumps, but it’s hard to understand how much water really plays a role in Amsterdam’s society until you see in person how these things were built, operate, and function. Watching the water locks operate and let the ships come in and out of the canals makes you think about how many decisions went into creating the Netherlands as a whole. Furthermore, the experience of biking throughout the city and the outer areas really allows one to get a first hand understanding of how well planned the bicycle routes are and how important this becomes. Prior to this trip I hadn’t ridden a bicycle in nearly 10 years. I now hope USA urban planners can take note of Dutch bicycle infrastructure and adopt their clean air mentality. I live in NYC, and it’s apparent that biking would make commuting quicker, more efficient, and lower pollution throughout the city (not to mention the health benefits of biking). I would urge city politicians to promote bicycle lanes and infrastructure conducive to biking.

              Lastly, this course has reinforced the significance of storytelling and active listening in life and in history. Our tours with Jennifer and Jessica revealed that museums accounts of events and artifacts are strongly influenced by those telling the story. Prior to this trip to Amsterdam, I had not realized how much of the Dutch culture, society, wealth, etc. had been tied to colonialism. Our guides helped me realize the importance of asking questions, such as: who was involved? How did this come about? Where did this come from? And how much of the story is missing? For instance, on a solo trip Joe and I toured the Diamond museum. Although it was great to see how the Netherlands produce much of the world’s diamonds and it has in turn made them very wealthy. The museum does not discuss who mines the diamonds, how they are procured, and the violent history involved in the diamond trade. This course helped me to dig deeper when approaching art, architecture, and history – not everything is as it appears.   ff

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