- Published on Sunday, 21 July 2013 01:22
- Written by MASEMBE TAMBWE
- Hits: 1549
When I returned from the Netherlands almost a fortnight ago, I was mobbed with a million and one questions about the great city of Amsterdam where I spent four fabulous days there.
I saw the magnificent canals, dined at exquisite restaurants, visited the Heineken Museum, rode in trains and trams and attended the Sensitisation White concert that drew over 40,000 people who danced the night away to techno and trance music.
While there I noticed a number of things that can only be found in Amsterdam, some were pretty weird coming from Bongo land yet at times hilarious. What did the merchants and administrators envision when they started the construction of the ring of canals in 1613?
Did they look beyond a smart solution taking into consideration an explosive growth of the City? Did they foresee the achievement of a masterpiece? Did they know that generations of artists, philosophers and global traders would prosper here? Did they envision an international melting-pot of cultures connected by innovation, art and an entrepreneurial spirit?
Did they see a new story behind every door, around every corner, in each alleyway? Or did they predict the happy faces of visitors walking across stylish bridges and enjoying the view of eye catching façades and picturesque canals? Four hundred years later, we look back on and try to figure out how they could have forged ideas for a metropolis in the making with canals.
They must have seen the power of the water and the options for economic and cultural development, and translated this vision into an incomparable architectural solution, a Dutch masterpiece that was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010. Amsterdam is made up of a total of 165 canals covering 100 kilometres, 800 houseboats, 6,800 buildings, and 2,000,000 cubic metres of water.
The canals have witnessed 400 years of extraordinary architecture, industry, innovative art, international trade, heated discussions, exuberant parties and cultural development. Amsterdam is the home of Heineken beer, named after the family that owns the brand and a real estate company that owns hundreds of buildings in Amsterdam.
The museum named The Heineken Experience takes up four floors and has 18 attractions with several interactive exhibits. Here you’ll experience Heineken’s rich history and the tradition and craft of brewing. Here you learn about the people behind this multinational company, now the biggest international beer distributor in the world.
Attractions at the Heineken Experience include a mini brewery, a tasting bar, as well as the ‘Stable Walk’, where visitors can access the stables to view Heineken’s iconic Shire horses which still deliver beer throughout the city. A visit to the Heineken Experience attraction takes about 90 minutes, and two drinks are included in the admission price.
Amsterdam being the city where Heineken was invented, has hundreds of bars and pubs however, it is only in Amsterdam where patrons have to pay to use the bathroom when the bladder gets full even when what you were consuming came from the same pub where the loo is.
Only in Amsterdam do you find coffee shops draped in Rastafari colours and on entering the coffee shop, you get engulfed in thick fumes of marijuana smoke and instead of finding different brands of coffee, you get an assortment of Bhang flavours as well as cannabis energy drinks.
Coffee shops are establishments in the Netherlands where the sale of cannabis for personal consumption by the public is tolerated by the local authorities (in Dutch called gedoogbeleid). Under the drug policy of the Netherlands, the sale of cannabis products in small quantities is allowed by ‘licensed’ coffee shops. The majority of these “coffee shops” (in Dutch written as one word) also serve drinks and food.
Coffee shops are not allowed to serve alcohol (although in the past some coffee shops in central Amsterdam have transgressed this law without reproach) or other drugs, and risk closure if they are found to be selling soft drugs to minors, hard drugs or selling alcohol. The idea of coffee shops was introduced in the 1970s for the explicit purpose of keeping hard and soft drugs separated. The majority of people have heard about Amsterdam’s Red Light District well before their visit.
Leaving nothing to the imagination, some stereotyping about this area are true: there are plenty of sex shops, peep shows, brothels, an elaborate condom shop, a sex museum and prostitutes in red-lit windows. Prostitution has enjoyed a long tradition of tolerance in Amsterdam. Safety is key there.
In addition to preventing forced prostitution, the aim is an open and honest approach. Sex-workers there have their own union, plenty of police protection, an information centre (for visitors as well), frequent monitoring and testing and professional standards.