This tour was originally created during the winter 2021 Covid-19 restrictions in Amsterdam. By the spring, the Netherlands was still in a strict lockdown where museums and galleries remained closed. The following locations were imagined within the scope of possible activities that could still be carried out legally following Dutch health protocols. With gyms and all cultural venues closed, meetings outside of a household limited to one other person, and a 9pm curfew in place, public parks and other outdoor spaces have become typical places for getting together. During this tour public sport locations feature prominently as social meeting spaces, as well as urban architecture, a supermarket, and a food takeaway. I hope this tour gives an alternative vision of Amsterdam and will serve in the future as an indicator of our current times.
THE TORENSLUIS Built in 1648, this is the widest bridge in Amsterdam. The initial plan had the ambition to be similar to the Rialto Bridge in Venice, but due to the lack of finance it ended up less flamboyant. Underneath there used to be a dungeon for criminals and outcasts (because it was at the edge of the city) and later became a squat where parties and screenings took place. The access to it is now closed but the canal side can be a quiet spot for a coffee.
KINDERBOERDERIJ DE DIERENCAPEL Located in the Westelijke Eilanden neighborhood, De Dierencapel is a tiny petting farm, and the most central one. It is home to three sheep (Veronique, Dotje, and Noortje), eleven chickens, two pigs, five Guinea pigs, six ducks, eight rabbits, and two goats (Alana and Maya). On our way there, we will say hi to Kees van Gelder from the windows of Galerie van Gelder, one of the oldest and most interesting contemporary art galleries in Amsterdam.
PLANTAGE PARKLAAN This outdoor sport spot has several squeaky workout machines and it is hard to notice because it is sandwiched between a wall and the fence of a football pitch. Every time I walk past, I use the hip spinner and hang out with the elders. As sports places are closed, and the time that can be dedicated to making art has warped—for example, I cannot access my studio at night—these public facilities act as an outlet for leftover energy. For me, sport brings aspects that I miss in art: direct group interaction and a clear reward and penalty system. During my first year at the Rijksakademie, I started a BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu) club where I invited all the residents to come train together on mats that I had in the studio. It was a way to put in parallel the blurry competition and intensity of the residency next to the controlled and playful violence (and care) of this martial art—using our bodies instead of theorizing about them.
PONTANUSSTRAAT Another outdoor sport place, in the Dapperbuurt neighborhood. The exercise machines point towards the street so it is more suitable for extroverts or carefree seniors. It is also more sociable because it has a pingpong table and a basketball court. The neighborhood is an example of a very Amsterdam-specific mix of Caribbean, Indonesian and north African cultures, in addition to a gentrifying hip population. While younger people might book an outdoor crossfit session with a coach via an app, the chibanis (“white hairs,” older Maghrebi immigrants) come to use this public sport place because it’s free, accessible, and doesn’t need any technology.
LIDL, EERSTE VAN SWINDENSTRAAT A freshly renovated Lidl. As opposed to Albert Heijn or Mercadona, Lidl supermarkets exist in most countries in Europe. It has a unique and nostalgic non-place feel that gives a sense of shared home. It is a microrepresentation of Europe where pasteis de nata, croissants, appelflapjes, and böreks are bound together by cheapness. In these pandemic days, Lidl is a comforting portal to European cities and a time travel to my student years.
BOULDERWAN MEERPARK Since indoor climbing walls are closed, this is one of the few free outdoor alternatives. This one looks like a chicken cordon bleu. As opposed to the public fitness parks, this boulder is for niche users. One good thing about the pandemic situation in Amsterdam is that it made us aware of the public space the city offers. Yet there are no free public toilets in the city, for example, and really that should have been solved before a professional climbing wall.
LALLA ROOKH Situated at the end of the Dapper market, this Surinamese-asian restaurant and take-away has delicious food and a beautiful logo of a ship splashing out of a wok pan. The name Lalla Rookh (“rosy-cheeked” in Farsi) is taken from the title of the orientalist romance by Irish poet Thomas Moore, published in 1817. It is an unusual mix of influences that makes one wonder how it was all pieced together. The answer goes through forced migration and the expansionist plans of the Dutch in the 17th century. What remains as a binder is the food.