As of this month and until the end of June 2016, The Netherlands will hold the presidency of the European Union. The lucky Dutch government is said to be working on “migration and international security, sound finances and a robust eurozone, Europe as an innovator and job creator and forward-looking climate and energy policy”, which sounds like a long wish list. In reality, they’re stuck with the refugee crisis and negotiating concessions to keep the UK in the EU.
Amsterdam firm DUS Architects has created the Mobile Europe Building made from 3D-printed bioplastic and a tensile fabric structure in order to create “a sculptural façade” for the building where serious EU meetings will take place, located in the marine area downtown. It has a ship and water theme to it as well – how very Dutch. Although built to host the Dutch presidency meetings, it will move onto Slovakia for the second half of the year as its name implies.
A recently published report by the Foundation for Traffic Studies (SWOV) on the use of bike paths in Amsterdam and The Hague has reached the major conclusion that bike paths aren’t wide enough, and extrapolates their findings to other big cities during rush hour. As well, 20% of cyclists fiddle with their smartphones while cycling, four out of five cyclists don’t look around them when passing others (something Dutch driving lessons hammer into you) and one of out 20 cyclists cycle the wrong direction.
The report points out that many bike paths are not wide enough to accommodate the flow of cyclists, although 90% of people cycle with a standard sized bike. It does say that scooters are bigger and tend to add to the traffic, but only account for a small percentage of bike path users. Half of the locations observed in both cities during rush hour are too busy and the risky behaviour mentioned above is not making cycling any safer.
In Europe The Netherlands is the king of ‘cycling usage’, with 84% of the population owning a bike, while Denmark takes top place for ‘cycling advocacy’. The legend of there being more bikes than people here – a unique occurrence in the world – is still true. The real threat to safety remains scooters because they go too fast. The effects of having moved them off the bike path in Amsterdam has not yet been observed and reported.
In this older video below, there’s a cyclist moving ahead of the green light, which is wrong but not a huge deal. There are people completely outside of the cycle lane going wide and that’s slightly annoying. And then there’s some freestyling that is risky and inconsiderate. I’ll admit to pulling some stunts while cycling, but I categorically refuse to do anything with my smartphone and don’t listen to music.
We’ve written quite a bit over the years about carnival music (here and here), but this year a carnival party crew has kicked up a notch, giving Amsterdam a carnival name.
And that name is ‘Gròòtgragtegat’, roughly ‘big hole with canals’, a name given by Alaaf & Kicking, a party organisation made up of people from Noord-Brabant living in Amsterdam who will be holding a carnival party on January 22. They actually held a vote for the name, as other contenders were ‘Amsteldonk’ and ‘Poalkesdurp’.
Pronouncing ‘Gròòtgragtegat’, with the typical hard gutteral ‘g’ sound of Amsterdam residents is tough even for Dutch people and great practice for anybody else. Here’s a whopping list of Dutch cities that get carnival names according to Wikipedia. Amsterdam isn’t on it – yet.
Filling in your gender on online forms for the city of Amsterdam has recently become a thing of the past, unless it is legally required. “All residents of Amsterdam should feel at home in the way in which the city communicates with them”, and addressing people with ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ just doesn’t work in today’s world. Amsterdam also claims to be the first Dutch city to have ditched gender in its communication.
In Dutch, authorities often write letters with ‘Dear Sir/Madam [last name]’, which already says they don’t care who or what you are, while some will argue that they are just trying to cover their bases. I often translate online forms into English, having to explain to Dutch clients that Mr and Mrs doesn’t work: there’s also Ms, Miss and if the world progresses the way it is, Mx could also be the next one at least in English. The concept of addressing women based on their marital status is archaic and obsolete.
As well, entering your gender only to get letters with ‘Dear Sir/Madam [last name], means it was unnecessary in the first place. Any time I’ve received letters addressed to me as ‘Sir’ I’ve chucked them out and anyone online who dares send me business letters with ‘Dear Sirs’ gets ignored. If you call me up from a bank and ask to speak to the man of the house or my husband, I will find you and hunt you down.
On 31 December the battle of the Christmas bonfires in South Holland was heatedly contested between Duindorp in the North and Scheveningen in the South, both on the beach. Current world record holder Duindorp ignited its fiery rivalry against Scheveningen to win by 50 metres in height, with a fire that was 4,000 cubic metres.
Duindorp took the win with a stack measuring 33.80 metres in height as compared to Scheveningen’s stack of 33.30 metres, which made all the difference, setting a new world record, confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records who I guess kept warm and took notes.
On January 3 in Amsterdam families and friends got together on the Museumplein with the Rijksmuseum as a backdrop to burn Christmas trees, a tradition that kicked off in 2009 and is now an annual event. Back then the pile of trees slowly being added to the bonfire caught fire and the fire brigade had to intervene. Nowadays there’s a fence around the bonfire and the police are there as well for crowd control.
Anyone saying a city is not like Amsterdam and implying that it can’t possibly have bike paths like a Dutch city has no clue what Amsterdam fought for and went through to get the world-class cycling infrastructure it has today. When I saw the bike lanes in London where people could get run over if they didn’t have eyes all around their heads, I was reminded of what we often take for granted in Amsterdam, despite it not always being that stress-free to get around, especially in the city centre.
In Brussels you need to wear a high visibility vest and except cyclists in both directions. In London and Paris, cycling is mostly done on the street and you need to take up your rightful space, which discourages many people from cycling. I’ve cycled in Munich and it was OK if you’re not travelling large distances. Although it may have changed, cycling in Barcelona was done on the sidewalk, which meant unwillingly terrorising pedestrians. Most of my experience comes from cycling in Montréal, which consistently makes the list of the world’s most bicycle friendly cities, but then I biked before the advent of bike paths and got hit by cars a few times.
The argument of ‘but there’s no hills’ is true, but then there’s wind and rain so bad that we get weather warnings with trees falling and people going to hospital. There’s scooters speeding by and hitting cyclists, wobbly tourists who don’t look where they are going and irresponsible parents with kids cycling while on the phone endangering everyone around them. However, we can get around everywhere without a cycling map by following proper road signs, and in many places we cycle separately from cars.
Bike parking is still a problem, but then there’s cities like Utrecht who will show The Netherlands how it’s done.
A new school building in South Amsterdam, the Kindercampus Zuidas completed in October 2014, was pushed 30 metres further before the holidays to its proper place next to the first part of the same building in order to become one, as originally planned.
The first part of the Kindercampus was built at the right place behind a sports hall, so that children could have their urgently needed school and day care. Once the sports hall was destroyed, the second building was pushed into place 30 metres further, a tough task that required a specialist. It took 20 hours to move the one million kilo building 30 metres. The move was delayed due to high winds at one point. Depending on the sources below the fastest speed was either 2 or 3 metres an hour.
Nothing was removed from the school when they pushed it. The kids (click and scroll until you see them) were given a complete explanation by the director of the operation and were able to watch some of it from a higher nearby building. I like how the Dutch called him the ‘school-pushing director’.
Why didn’t the city destroy the sports hall earlier to avoid all these extra costs? Because the temporary sports hall, the ‘bubble hall’ where coincidentally I trained at for a few months, was only ready in September 2014 and the Kindercampus had to be delivered by October 2014.
Here’s a time lapse video of the unusual operation:
During a run through this year’s Amsterdam Light Festival, I came across the green BMW used to collect Lego for Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, located in front of the FOAM museum, Amsterdam’s photography museum.
After Lego refused to sell him Lego for an upcoming exhibition, Ai created an international network of collection points. Since 4 November drop-offs of Lego bricks have been accepted though the sunroof of a BMW car located in front of the Foam building at Keizersgracht 609, Amsterdam. It looked quite empty, but then again filling up a car with Lego probably takes a while.
“On October 23rd, Ai Weiwei posted on Instagram: “In September Lego refused Ai Weiwei Studio’s request for a bulk order of Legos to create artwork to be shown at the National Gallery of Victoria [Australia] as ‘they cannot approve the use of Legos for political works’.”
“With the aim of raising awareness about bike theft and how to prevent it, Czech cycling website We Love Cycling set out to find the answer by organising the European Bike Stealing Championships 2015.” Amsterdam nailed it, as we have “quality Dutch bikes in demand all over Europe”. The running commentary is very sporty, so grab a beverage and watch the video, it’s funny.
The unknowing contestants were Rome, Amsterdam and Prague, three great European cities apparently notorious for bike theft. And We Love Cycling is sponsored by Czech car brand Škoda for added humour. Try and guess who comes in second!
Does the Dutch-Moroccan ethnic group speak ‘street language’ (urban slang) or just a modified version of standard Dutch? According to postdoctoral researcher Khalid Mourigh of Leiden University, it’s an ethnolect, or what he likes to call ‘Moroccan Flavoured Dutch’ (MFD), a term coined by two linguists Jacomine Nortier and Margreet Dorleijn back in 2006. Interestingly, other ethnic groups and the native Dutch use words and pronunciations from this ethnolect.
Mourigh explains that Dutch-Moroccans often speak Berber and Arabic at home with their parents, but since Berber isn’t taught formally and Arabic is more for the mosque, Dutch is what young people speak with each other, albeit with an accent, sometimes a heavy one. Urban slang is more something for the ‘native’ Dutch and Surinamese youth. However, Dutch-Moroccans of the second and third generation choose to have an accent when they speak to distinguish themselves, according to Nortier and Dorleijn. On the other hand, if they want to put their best foot forward in a job interview, standard Dutch is usually preferred.