Several years ago, I lived in Amsterdam for awhile. And I lived at the Amstel, a huge old historic building that had been squatted by some people that I came to know. A really magnificent place. Anyhow, I returned this summer after so many years away to find out that an eviction was immanent. I borrowed a key to the now-empty building and went through to photograph what was left of the place. The last two of these shots are panoramas, and really need to be seen a bit larger to be truly appreciated.
Sorry, I’m really shit about short-notice posts about events I’m doing. Tomorrow night I’m speaking at the MKZ about anarchism in the United States. It’s at 20:00, and it’s free. I might even have visual aids, but I’m not certain about that yet. This was a special request from friends here in Amsterdam that I speak on this subject, and I hope to do justice to the actually really vibrant and diverse scene that I hail from.
May Day is my favorite holiday. Actually, it’s kind of my only holiday. I celebrate christmas with my family, and my dad calls me on winter solstice to wish me a happy new year, but May Day is the one I really feel a connection to.
This year, I took a train to the city of Nijmegen in the east of Holland to attend an anarchist demonstration there. The Dutch haven’t had much of a May Day tradition in something like 50 years, so it was wonderful to be part of the largest such event in decades. Anyhow, the local anarchists had even gone ahead and gotten a permit for the event, since May Day is intended as a celebration, and they wanted the event to be as kid friendly as possible. But the police simply cannot be trusted to keep their truncheons to themselves.
It started of nice enough, with a bunch of speeches I couldn’t understand. The crowd was decently mixed: mostly younger punk/squatter anarchist types, but there were a fair number of older folks and children as well. We left the station and paraded about, with a few younger kids putting up stickers and some folks wheatpasting. We told the police they would not be allowed to enter the march itself. At one point, a cop started walking inside the crowd. He was confronted and then left. We stopped at a beautiful squatted building with a fantastic mural. Then we marched to another neighborhood that was going to be entirely demolished to make way for gentrification. All along, the police horses were skittish, and the police clearly had poor control over them.
We marched through a tunnel. Once again, the police tried to get into the march. We didn’t allow them. Some stencils, stickers, spraypaint, and wheatpaste went up. On the other side, a police horse knocked an unaffiliated woman off her bicycle and sent her to the hospital. Shortly thereafter, a police horse trampled a man right in front of me (who I was both unable to help or photograph, so much for that cliched dillemma). After this, they started attacking the crowd. It’s almost a joke: we always say “the police started it” and the media always says we do. But honestly, we rarely start in with the violence. Here, the police trampled someone, then started freaking out about losing control, so they began to attack with sticks and horses. People defended themselves, with flagpoles and bottles.
After awhile, things calmed down a bit, and the police started marching us around. I got out and watched as people were forced towards the police station. The police station, though, was right next to the train station, and the remaining crowd was put into the station and told to leave town. Regardless of where they lived.
But in the end, only three people were arrested, all of whom were let out later that night. Most people eventually left the train station and reconverged for dinner and conversation.
Today is queen’s day. It’s like the oppossite of May Day. In fact, it’s conveniently celebrated the day before May Day, despite it not being the current queen’s birthday at all. Essentially, it works like this: the monarchy grants the peasants one day of freedom of the year, throws a huge party in Amsterdam, and everyone gets all misty-eyed and patriotic. Okay, no one gets misty-eyed. Everyone just gets shitfaced. Everyone from all over the country pours into Amsterdam and gets drunk and chants things and generally trashes the city. One of the lessons of the day was a reminder that random destruction isn’t necessarily a liberating thing. Sometimes it’s just hooliganism, or hell, patriotism.
It seems like the anarchists who don’t need the money mostly head out of town. Those who’re broke either hawk stuff, work bar, or collect cups for the deposit.
In the last photo, below, you can see an entire street covered in piss that is leaking from an overflowing portable urinal. And still, folks are lining up to use the urinal as it streams out directly onto the pavement.
Continue reading Koninginnedag – Queen’s Day
I arrived in Amsterdam a few days ago, and a friend picked me up from the train station. It would be simplest to say that it felt good: for the past four years since I left this place, I’ve had constant reoccurring (pardon my spelling: the browser is set to underline everything that isn’t dutch) dreams about coming back to Amsterdam. In most of those dreams, I can’t find my friends, all the squats I knew were gone, everything was changed and I was a stranger.
That stuff is only partly true. The scene here is a lot more divided than it was four years ago, and an anti-squatting law is looming over the country like… like something bad that looms. Like the threat of Voldemort. Squatting is only legal here because the squatters fight tooth and nail for their spaces. In the 80s, some ridiculously large percentage of Amsterdam was squatted. Now it is a fraction, but it is a vibrant and wonderful fraction.
Anyhow, that first night, I woke up at dawn and went up on the roof of the place and took pictures. The cat was kind enough to join me.