Woooow. It has been forever since I sat down to write. The past month has been a whirlwind, full of fun and lots of traveling. Over that time:
1. Kirstan and I traveled to Amsterdam
2. I went to Prague
3. It was our last week in Leipzig.
3a.We were busy finishing things up in the studio, were packing and cleaning;
3b. had our end-of-residency Open Studio.
4. Moved to Berlin for the week and did so many amazing things
5. Flew back home!
So I have about 4 days at home in Princeton before my Watson year officially begins and I leave for Bolivia. It finally felt like summer in Leipzig, and was warm every day. It’s definitely summer here in NJ and I have lots to do! We will see how much time I can spend blogging… jet lag has it’s benefits! I’ll be updating more about the past three weeks soon, but today is devoted to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam was one of the top cities on my list to visit while I was in Europe, for many reasons. First, I only ever hear good things about the city, it is where both of my parents studied abroad, and there was a special exhibition at the Rijksmuseum called “Art Is Therapy” I had to see. Looking at all there was to do in the city, Kristan and I planned a rather long trip – we needed it! Every day was full of different kinds of things, foods, and places. I don’t think we would have been able to do it all in less time.
When Kristan and I arrived, we walked to our AirBnB apartment which was in the perfect location. It was in a neighborhood outside of the city center, but very close to Rembrandtplein by tram. I wouldn’t realize it until later in the trip, but it was really nice to stay in a not so touristy section of the city.
There was a canal just outside of our door, and I instantly fell in love with the city. We decided to venture to Rembrandtplein for dinner and to walk around a bit – the weather was gorgeous! We found this cute little cafe on a side street where I enjoyed traditional Dutch sausage and mashed potatoes with arugula in them! Yuuum!
The morning of the first full day we had in the city, we decided to go to the Anne Frank House. We thought that getting there right when it opened (9:00am), there would be somewhat of a line, but nothing too crazy. We were wrong! When we got there at 9:00, the line was already an hour and 45 minutes long!
I had no reservations about waiting though – this was one of the most important things on my list while we were in Amsterdam. Luckily, it was a beautiful and warm day, and the line moved a little faster than predicted! We were soon in the building.
Reflecting on my time in the the house, annex, and museum, I realize that my short time there left me with surprising insights and questions. It was incredible to pass through the hallways of the house, then past the original bookcase that hid the annex, up the incredibly steep stairs to the rooms whose windows had been blacked out by the sun. The annex is left empty, as per Otto Frank’s request – to keep the space as it was after the Nazi raid. In the darkened rooms, I filed along with the other tens of visitors allowed in that hour. It was a strange kind of parade, passing from relic to relic – a book Otto read, the scrap of wallpaper that marked Anne and Margo’s growth over the years – I got this strange sense of acting in a pilgrimage. All of us there that day, and basically everyone who visits Amsterdam goes to the Anne Frank House. We all make our way, stand in line, and file through the spaces where she lived during years of hiding, where she wrote the diary each of us read at some point in middle or high school. I was surprised by how I felt about all of this. The story of Anne Frank is the story of one girl; one among millions of others with stories like hers that will never be known. Why is she the one that millions of visitors make a pilgrimage to?
I think that I had a hard time with all of this after learning that while she and her family were still in hiding, Anne had intended to publish parts of her diary. Once the Allies arrived, there was a call for stories of those who had been persecuted, that would be collected and published after the war. Anne heard this on the radio they had in the annex, and began to re-write and edit some of her diary. For some reason, this fact made The Diary of Anne Frank lose some of its innocence, and magic for me. I had always pictured her words as ones she only wanted to tell Kitty (the name of her diary); as personal insights and thoughts she needed to express, but did not want to speak. I am sure that some of what we know as The Diary of Anne Frank is that innocent and magic inner workings of Anne’s mind. But knowing that some of it was edited for a larger audience, it made me feel differently about the whole thing. I am not sure if I am explaining it well, or if I can correctly explain it at all. I was just very surprised by this feeling I had as I was leaving the annex and museum.
Thinking more about this kind of fall from grace I had experienced, I realized that I need to visit the Anne Frank House, and I need The Diary of Anne Frank. Through compartmentalizing insane and horrible tragedies that happened to literally millions of people into the experience of one young girl, the unfathomable reality of living through that time and under those circumstances becomes much more relatable. I can recognize with Anne, we all can. Each reader or visitor to the museum can much more easily recognize, identify with, and possibly sympathize with a single person, than with millions or even seven people (the number of people living with Anne in the annex). The Diary of Anne Frank, and the Anne Frank House are entry points; they are footholds into an attempt to understand. I realized later on that Anne’s story, while seemingly incredibly personal and intimate, is representative and large. I am thankful I was able to visit the Anne Frank House.
Later on that day, after a really beautiful walk across the city along the canals and lunch outside, Kristan and I decided to try out the Heineken Experience. We were unsure if we were going to go. We had heard online that the lines tended to be really, really long, but when we got there… no lines! The whole thing was kind of ridiculous. It was a little gimmicky and over the top, but it was cool to get to learn about the history of Heineken and to sample some beer along the way.
The best part about the whole thing was that there was a “free” canal boat we took back to one of the more central squares of the city! I wasn’t sure we were going to get a chance to travel by boat on the canal, and was really glad that this opportunity came up! I loved being on the water and seeing what canal traffic was like – it was really hot so there were a lot of people!
Much of our time in Amsterdam was spent wandering around, looking for places we had looked up on the internet, or that friends had recommended. Brynn, who spent a semester studying abroad in Amsterdam, had some great advice for places to go and hang out. One of my favorites, was the windmill bar we walked to later that day. It is a bar in the bottom of an old wooden windmill! They had really great beers on tap, I had my first IPA since leaving the Pacific North West. We sat, ate cheese, and enjoyed a really great afternoon.
That night, there were World Cup matches on so we went to watch at one of the more crowded bars in Rembrandtplein. It was really fun to be in a crowd of excited and energized people. Leipzig loves soccer as well, but they are a little lacking in enthusiasm. (I’ll explain a little more about soccer culture in Leipzig when I talk about the World Cup Finals!!) Standing in a crowd of cheering people and talking to random other people you were squished in with was so much fun! We luckily had great weather in Amsterdam, so decided to walk around the canals that night – the lights against the water are absolutely gorgeous. I’m not sure if there is something better than summer in this city.
The following day, Kristan and I spent our time wandering through the Rijksmuseum as well as the Van Gogh Museum. I was especially excited to visit the Rijks because of a special exhibition that is running there this summer. It is titled “Art asTherapy”, and directly applies to my interest in the intersection between art and psychology, and directly has to do with my Watson project. Unfortunately, it will stop running before my Watson year begins, but I was so excited that I got to see it now!
Throughout the museum, there were these giant sticky notes next to selected works. The writings and the entire exhibition was inspired by the work of Alain de Bottom and John Armstrong. The writings on the sticky notes are partially taken from de Bottom’s book Art as Therapy, and do not approach the art from an art historical context, but rather how the themes, messages, materials, etc. of the work can be applied to contemporary lives. Each one makes you think about something within your own life, whether it is a struggle you are having with a person who is close to you or your own self confidnce. Because the source for these insights and questions are world-famous artworks within one of the largest museums in the world, some of the sticky notes addressed the audience’s relationship with art. For me, it has always been fun and easy to be in a museum; I want to be there. But I know for a lot of my friends and most people, art museums are boring or intimidating. What’s the point? I don’t know anything about art or art history so why should I go? All of this is way too over my head, I don’t understand. A lot of the sticky notes addressed these feelings, pointing out that it is O.K. not to like art or museums, and that you don’t have to feel guilty for not liking it. While the sticky notes valued and affirmed some people’s disinterest or dislike for art, one of my favorites noted that sometimes the most valuable things are hard and challenging; that you sometime have to work a little to understand. Sometimes interacting with art is hard and confusing. But pushing past that difficulty can lead to incredible rewards and insights into the lives of others and yourself.
The best sticky note of all was in the main corridor, near the ticket office. It something along the lines of, art makes you see what artists loved; makes love what artists love. There is something about that approach and philosophy to art that I really connect with. I love thinking about paintings or any kind of artwork as a documentation of love. Each one is a persuasive argument or a bit of evidence, trying to allure and convince the viewer, or just even call to their attention, that there is beauty and thing to love in the world. I don’t really want to tell people how to go about interacting with art, but the next time you are in a museum, gallery, or even if there is a cheesy painting in your dentist’s waiting room, try to think about them as evidence of something someone loves.
Other than having emotional feelings about what art is and how to approach it… I saw some amazing work around the museum. I was blown away by some of the smaller, less famous paintings, especially those by Rembrandt. The way that he uses small bits of paint, gestural marks, and seemingly intuitive, not over-thought, simple marks to create the illusion of lush fabric and textures is insane. Look at the details of these paintings…. ahh I’m still drooling over what he does with paint.
People were of course crowding around Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Rembrandt’s Night Watch like they were the only things worth seeing in the entire place.
The craziest part about the Rijks was that I (almost physically) ran into Julia Maltby, a friend from high school I haven’t seen in 4 years!! We were in a small gallery off to the side and there she was with her mom! It was crazy! We talked for a little while and then exchanged contact information so that we could try and meet up to watch the Netherlands play in the Quarter Finals for the World Cup that night! I absolutely love how small the world is sometimes, and how weird forces and circumstances bring you together with people in ways you could never imagine.
Kristan and I also visited the Van Gogh Museum that afternoon. It was INCREDIBLY crowded, and the way people moved through the gallery spaces was like cattle being herded from one food trough to another. Kristan and I tried to jump around and spend more time with paintings that we thought were particularly amazing (which was basically all of them). The museum did not allow pictures, but seeing the way Van Gogh used color was inspiring and such a good reward after fighting through so many people.
That night, Kristan and I headed to Albert Cuypstraat to watch the World Cup Quarter Finals. During the day, this street is a huge market, so we figured a lot of people would be out watching the game on big screens. The Dutch looooove soccer, and were especially excited for their team to be so far along in the tournament.
So, in addition to randomly running into Julia in the Rijks, my friend Lauren Stander also happened to be in Amsterdam that weekend and texted me to meet up for the game!! Lauren and I first met when we went to sleep away camp together (I’m sure this means nothing to you, but we were Green Feather Princesses together – Camp Matollionequay’s highest honor) and then we were really good friends my freshman year at Pitt! This summer, she is and au pair in Spain, and was randomly in Amsterdam for the weekend! I hadn’t seen her in a couple summers, and it was so great to see her!
After a long game, and the nerve-wrecking shoot-out, HOLLAND WON THE GAME!!! The bar we were at went berzerk! Broken glasses hit the ground everywhere around us, and we all started jumping up and down, screaming and cheering. It was amazing. Walking through the streets, the whole walk home, and into the early morning outside of our widow, people were yelling, cheering and just really excited. The atmosphere in the city was palpable. It was so awesome to be apart of such an enthusiastic celebration!!
The next day was our final day in the city, we had a one more night and a train back to Leipzig the next morning. We had been staying in an apartment with Air BnB, but this morning we moved closer to the center of the city, to a hostel. This wasn’t just any hostel. “Shelter City”, located in the heart of the Red Light District is the hostel where BOTH of my parents worked and lived while they studied abroad in college. They both really wanted me to stay there while I was in the city, and it was kind of crazy to be in the same place they were 25 years ago! My parents met because of Amsterdam, so staying at this hostel was really special for me. I think the story goes that one of them had studied abroad in Amsterdam, and another one of them wanted to (I’m not sure who went first). Anyway, someone suggested that they talk about Amsterdam and introduced them. I guess the rest is history. So, in a way, this hostel is one of the reasons why I and my family exist. It was surreal to be there and I am so thankful it was still in it’s original location. My mom recognized the courtyard and new exactly where my room was in relationship to where she stayed. Today (7/29/14), is their 25th wedding anniversary. I’m so thankful for them both and so thankful for Amsterdam for bringing them together. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my parent’s guidance, advice, and support.
For our last day, we split up and wandered around the city together. I had couple things on my list to do, but I mostly just meandered around. I happened upon an organ concert in De Nieuwe Kirk in Dam Square. It was beautiful to be in such a large and historic church and to hear organ music – I have always weirdly loved the organ, something about it’s range and depth.
It was a kind of rainy day, but I liked the overcast. I found the most adorable french bakery tucked away in an ally dear a canal. I spent some time there writing post cards and relaxing.
For the rest of my day, I took a ferry across the river to the NDSM Wharf across from the city. I had read about the free ferries and the wharf on Lonely Planet, and I am sooo glad that I had the time to check it out.
The Wharf used to be a major port for the city, but has since been repurposed as more of a cultural center. I visited the NDSM hangar, which is known as Kunststad (Art City). Inside this massive space, there was work being exhibited, and there were tons of these little pod-like studios where artists were working. It was an awesome space. It seemed like a place where there was a real community and energy of support. I’m definitely going to keep the Kunststad in mind for the future. Across the river from one of my now favorite cities sits an artist community and wharf dedicated to culture. What could be better?
I walked around the rest of the wharf, had lunch at this resturant right on the water, and just really enjoyed exploring alone. Happening upon spaces like the NDSM Warf made me so excited for what I will happen upon over the course of this whole year.
While exploring, I came upon this blue wall. I don’t know what it was about the wall, but I think it was the most beautiful thing I saw in Amsterdam, maybe even in Europe. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it was just incredible. The size of it, the color of the blue, and the funny way that some of the squares of paint didn’t quite match – I sat on the curb and looked at it for a good while. I got some strange looks, but I just couldn’t look away.
That evening, Amsterdam sent me off with one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. I saw a pinky color starting to creep in as I was walking by the canals. I followed it and found the most beautiful orange and red sunset I had ever seen. Sitting by the canal with the sun setting was the best way to spend my last evening in a city I had really fallen in love with. I am so glad and thankful I was able to visit Amsterdam over my time in Europe. It taught me a lot more than I had expected, and was more beautiful than I imagined. I know this won’t be the last sunset I see in the city.