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April 19, 2014

“Amsterdam, give Holocaust survivors their money back!”, says NIOD

Filed under: History by Branko Collin @ 1:39 pm

museumplein-jcm718What should a city do when its citizens survive the death camps and arrive home to find all their possessions stolen, even their homes (where now Nazi collaborators live)?

With possible answers ranging from “give them a hero’s welcome” to “do everything in your power to restore normality” to “charge them back taxes for property they haven’t had the use of”, after World War II was over, the city of Amsterdam chose the latter.

Three years ago university student Charlotte van den Berg stumbled upon 342 cases of retroactive taxes for Holocaust victims in Amsterdam’s city archives where she worked part-time. Toby Sterling reports:

Van den Berg notified city officials about the documents and received assurances they would be fully investigated. Now and then she checked in, only to learn that nothing had been done. [...] In desperation, she turned her findings over to Amsterdam newspaper Het Parool in March 2013.

There is a method that seems to be favoured by Dutch officials who wish to deal with the wrongs their predecessors committed long ago, whether they had assisted Nazis with persecuting Jews or killed civilians in the revolutionary Indonesian war, and that method is to let the passage of time finish what the evil-doers started.

Parool’s publication of Van den Berg’s findings in 2013 got the ball rolling though and the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies started its own research. NIOD’s report is due later this month, but in the meantime details were leaked to the press. The institute will allegedly recommend that the city repay 400,000 euro in fines and 4.5 million euro in back taxes. That’s just for one very narrow category of taxes, “fees for long-term leases when the city owns the ground a house is built on”.

(Photo by Flickr user jcm718, some rights reserved. Here you see the Van Gogh Museum on Museumplein in Amsterdam. Currently a prime real estate location, Jewish owners of a house in this location had to sell the land because they couldn’t afford the costs involved in making the house liveable again and partly because of retroactive taxes, according to Nieuw Israëlitisch Weekblad)

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April 10, 2014

The Anne Frank tree in Amsterdam is branching out

Filed under: History,Nature by Orangemaster @ 10:08 am
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Back in 2010 the world famous Anne Frank chestnut tree had blown over and broke. In an effort to save something of this tree mentioned in Anne Frank’s diary, branches were take in order to try and grow saplings.

Today, one of the saplings is big enough to be planted, and its prestigious destination will be the Capitol in Washington, DC, the seat of the United States Congress. This is not the first time the United States has planted saplings from the Anne Frank tree; in fact 11 have already been planted throughout the country.

The sapling will be planted on the Capitol’s west front lawn on April 30.

(Link: www.miamiherald.com, Photo: annefranktree.com)

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March 14, 2014

Dutch municipalities make 660 million euro from parking tax

Filed under: Automobiles by Orangemaster @ 8:00 am

The most expensive parking garage in the country is in Amsterdam under the Bijkenkorf department store and at De Kolk, both right downtown. Both parking garages charge a whopping 5,71 euro an hour, while the cheapest parking garage in the country not too far from Amsterdam in Hoofddorp asks for just 0,80 an hour in a city full of commuters and big international businesses.

Amsterdam rakes in a cool 162 million euro of parking tax from parking meters and permits. In 2013 Amsterdam made a record amount of money from parking tax, to the tune of 166 million euro. Back then the price of permits went up, the paid parking zones got bigger and more ‘meter maids’ were doing the rounds. What’s really funny is that in October 2013 the city claimed that parking was no longer their cash cow (in Dutch), but still made a record amount that year.

In 2009 Amsterdam had the most expensive parking on the planet. See also: Amsterdam parking rates slashed.

(Link: www.binnenlandsbestuur.nl)

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February 19, 2014

North Korean hostesses cover traditional Dutch song

Filed under: Food & Drink,History,Music by Orangemaster @ 5:29 pm

Two years ago, a North Korean restaurant (now closed) in the West of Amsterdam had caused quite the commotion having been accused of spreading propaganda and all that jazz. But at least there was after dinner singing.

Now in the East part of town restaurant Haedanghwa features North Korean food with traditional after dinner songs sung by North Korean girls in traditional garb. The fun part is, they sing their rendition of the Dutch standard ‘Aan de Amsterdamse Grachten’ (roughly, At the Canals of Amsterdam) that they apparently worked very hard not only to sing, but to understand. They practiced for a few weeks and now you can enjoy the video.

(Link: www.vice.com, Photo of Pyongyang restaurant by Comicbase, some rights reserved)

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February 7, 2014

Banning weed smoking legal despite weed being illegal

Filed under: General,Health by Orangemaster @ 2:27 pm

In 2011 Amsterdam challenged and eventually won in high court the right to designate certain areas as as non-pot smoking zones. Rotterdam recently challenged the law as well and has also won its case. If smoking pot in these areas is deemed unsafe, then it becomes a matter of public order and can be legally enforced, as long as the cities take this up in their local public ordinance.

The reason why this wasn’t cut and dry was that the Opium Law governing soft drugs basically states that marijuana is illegal, again something many people still don’t know because the law is willfully ignored. And since marijuana is illegal you can’t forbid it again, as that would be crazy talk.

However, due to the oddness of the Dutch situation both cities now have a workaround. Stopping people from smoking altogether is often enough, but in many places people are allowed to smoke outside, regardless of how funny their cigarette smells.

(Link: www.nieuws.nl, Photo of No-blow (and no drinking) sign by Erik Joling, some rights reserved)

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February 5, 2014

Tourist film about the Dutch keeps it white and cheesy

Filed under: Art,Film,Food & Drink,History by Orangemaster @ 2:49 pm

The tourist video ‘Going Dutch’ premiered in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam last November and yes, it is well shot. I very much like the voiceover with its impeccable pronunciation, as it has the right tone for that in-flight video feel. In fact, if you wanted to convince some friends and family abroad to visit the country this video wouldn’t be a bad place to start. The film does focus heavily on Amsterdam, which is often the first place people visit and then unfortunately associate with the entire country. Although you may learn something, I mostly saw stereotypes being reinforced like a dam with a leak in it.

Some 5 minutes into the film when basking in the past glory of Dutch football accomplishments, they actually mention that ‘women’s football has been given a boost in recent years’ although let’s face it, nobody here gives a rat’s ass about it. At about 7 minutes in we get into Dutch art, which again relies on the classics, but that is to be expected.

We continue on to 10 minutes in and ‘Dutch craftsmanship’ pushes top Dutch brands Philips and Bols — music and booze if you will. About two minutes later at 12 odd minutes, the ‘Dutch water’ bit focuses on in and around Rotterdam, with dams and shipping containers. At around 15 minutes, it’s about Dutch food and it shows herring and haute cuisine side by side, which doesn’t reflect reality at all. However, the cheese tour makes up for it and the white blonde Dutch narrator dares call himself a ‘cheese head’.

The testosterone-induced business atmosphere of the Zuidas, where a few wannabee skyscrapers are clustered, doesn’t work for me at all, but then it is often forced into every business film to make it look like we have a proper financial district. Speaking of getting down to business, Dutch music gets its bit at 20 odd minutes in after having used a picture of internationally famous singer Caro Emerald but completely ignoring her and skipping to classical music on the one hand and Dutch dance DJs (all men) on the other. By then I’ve seen three visual references to Tiësto, then finally a female DJ is on screen, but oh no, she starts praising the success of her male colleagues abroad.

In the end, the narrator is in what I think – and I am guessing here — Monnickendam, giving two blonde women passing by a badly acted once-over, as he says “come see for yourself what the Netherlands has to offer.” [Insert facepalm here].

Don’t get me wrong, we wouldn’t be writing this blog if we didn’t think the Netherlands (the entire country, not just Amsterdam) had tons to offer, but giving the impression to foreigners that everything is mostly done by white men in 2013 is scary and unrealistic. The only time ethnic minorities are shown on screen is when they plug the tolerance cliché and the muliticulti one (filmed in Amsterdam) because ethnic minorities don’t seem to be of any use otherwise, not even in the food part.

It’s safe to say that history is basically repeating itself.

(Link: www.rtvnh.nl)

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February 3, 2014

Witkar, a car sharing project from the 1970s

Filed under: Automobiles by Branko Collin @ 4:30 pm

A computerised car sharing system from the 1970s was way ahead of its time and a product of the Dutch precursor of the hippie movement.

witkar-instituut-beeld-geluidThe video shown here from the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision contains a short news item about the Witkar (literally White Car) invented by famous provo Luud Schimmelpennink. Witkars were battery powered and available to members for a small price. A PDP-11 computer acted as a central control system and swipe cards gave you access to one of the two-seater Witkars. Their action radius was limited, making them suitable mostly for urban areas. Originally 1,000 vehicles were planned, but the project never got beyond the first 35 cars and 5 charging stations.

A problem that plagued the Witkar was that the battery drained quickly and had to be charged often. As a result not all of the Witkars were always available, as they were busy charging. Another issue with the Witkar was that some destinations were more popular than others. The project ran until 1986.

The Witkar was the product of one the White Plans, a series of plans by provos from Amsterdam that tried to improve daily for everybody. White Bicycles were a bike share project, White Housing promoted squatting, White Kids tried to tackle the daycare problem and so on.

A recent car sharing program called Car2go by Daimler (which had Witkar 2.0 as a working title) tries to prevent these problems by giving bonus minutes to people who actual bother to park the car at a charging station.

Somebody made an English translation of a part of the video.

(Photo: crop of the video)

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January 31, 2014

Amsterdam’s new street names will be named after women

Filed under: General,History by Orangemaster @ 11:05 am

Local TV station AT5 tells us that only 7% of street names in Amsterdam are named after women, and that the mayor has promised to change that in the future. Of course, Amsterdam’s streets are named after a whole bunch of other things like bridges and canals, but we do live in 2014 and it wouldn’t kill the city to make this kind of upgrade.

A Master’s thesis by Rob Koolos on Street names in Noord-Brabant and Holland — this includes Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague — explains the situation when it comes to streets named after women:

Except for the Royal Family (and the wives of William of Orange), before the Second World War, streets named after women were very, very scarce. Aagje Deken and Betje Wolff (writers) and Thérèse Schwartze (painter) were the only women that appeared in more than one of the researched cities. [...] After the Second World War, with the second feminist wave and a rapidly growing list of important women, this situation did improve slightly. Leiden and Alphen aan de Rijn for example decided to use only women to name the streets in their new quarters.

I’ve seen street names in Amsterdam named after women like doctors, the wives of famous men, artists and even fictional characters. And if Leiden and Alphen aan de Rijn can do it, so can Amsterdam.

(Link: www.welingelichtekringen.nl, Photo of Warmoesstraat by Olivier Bruchez, some rights reserved)

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January 15, 2014

Bookshop owner to go to court for selling Hitler’s memoirs

Filed under: History,Literature by Orangemaster @ 8:42 pm

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Michiel van Eyck, owner of the Totalitarian Art Gallery in Amsterdam was questioned by police for an hour recently on the sale of Adolf Hitler’s memoirs Mein Kampf.

You see, the sale of Mein Kampf is banned in the Netherlands under anti-discrimination laws. Sure, you can just score it online instead, which is legal and makes the ban absurd and not very useful.

Van Eyck feels that selling the famous memoirs is not inciting hatred, as he also sells books written by Stalin, Mao and the likes. He hopes to go to court to have what he feels is an outdated ban overturned.

(Link: www.amsterdamherald.com)

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December 14, 2013

Poorest citizens Amsterdam made rich by accident, for now

Filed under: Weird by Branko Collin @ 11:18 am

About 9,000 citizens of Amsterdam received an unexpected Christmas bonus yesterday, Parool reports.

The municipal tax office accidentally floated a comma the wrong way and instead of paying out a housing benefit of 155 euro it transferred 15,500 euro and sometimes even 30,000 euro into its clients’ bank accounts.

The annual benefit is paid on top of a similar federal subsidy that is intended to help the poorest Dutch people make ends meet. The tax office is frantically trying to retrieve the money. Parool says the office fears “most recipients will be unwilling to see a mistake in this”. In total the city has paid out 188 million euro.

“We want to deal with this in a nice way”, a spokesperson told Telegraaf. But one of the accidental recipients who called the tax office was told that if he touched the money, he’d be in trouble, AT5 reports.

Although it is funny to think of the poorest of society being ‘rich’ for a few days, I fear that for some this mistake may only mean more problems in the end.

(Photo of unrelated costume jewellery by GlitzUK, some rights reserved)

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