The rain finally stopped during the night leaving us with a cold day teetering just on the edge of snowing. Cold or not, we needed a walk and set out to explore Amsterdam.
The hairy thing about walking in Amsterdam is the bikes. I know it’s trite but there really are bikes just everywhere. They’re like ninjas: quick, silent and deadly. As they have their own lane wherever we walked they ought not to have been an issue, but a combination of us looking the wrong way and the uncanny speed a local can move on a heavy steel bike with no gears, led to a couple of near misses.
Bike speed is quite deceptive. We’re used to cyclists on racing bikes wearing lycra and helmets. They’re built for speed and so are like a red, flashing warning sign that the cyclist is going to be moving fast. Here the bikes are all upright models, looking heavy and sedate. And the cyclists are all dressed in street clothes without helmets. So all the visual clues we naturally look for are missing. You see a little old lady riding along on her upright bike with a dog in a basket at the front and you think to yourself “No worries I’ve got plenty of time to cross the cycle lane.” But the next thing you know the bike is skidding to a halt within centimetres of your shin and you’re eyeball-to eyeball with the dog – or something like that but even more worrying depending on your height and gender.
We ended our walk at the Anne Frank House. Now we’d debated whether to take the kids in. We’d not taken them to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem or the concentration camps in Poland. But we’d talked about their meaning a lot and thought the kids were up to a visit. I’m glad they saw it, and they did handle it well.
Anne Frank House is a wonderful rendition of her story. As you walk the rooms where she and her family hid for over two years, you gain a real insight into what it was like. The story being personalised to an individual makes it incredibly compelling; but using her own words the Museum manages to convey the wider issue. When the family was betrayed and arrested the SS removed all the furniture from the annexe in which the Franks had led their hidden life. Otto Frank insisted that the rooms remain unfurnished, and it was such a good decision. The relatively empty rooms with quotes from Anne’s diary on the walls really push you to use your imagination to bring the family’s existence to life.
It’s a sad place to visit if you’ve a bone of empathy in your body. Near the end of the tour we came across a group of people from Britain in their early 20s. There was one big boofy guy who looked like a rugby player who’d lost his pub. His mournful expression attracted the attention of one of his mates who went up, put his arm round his shoulders and asked quietly “Are you alright mate.” The rugby player just shook his head.
The kids were saddened too, but I think it’s important they understand the issues. Otto Frank in publishing Anne’s diary said something like “Only by remembering the past can we avoid repeating it in the future.” Unfortunately, I can’t remember the quote exactly or find it on the web.
When I asked the boys just now if they could remember what he’d said, Callum paraphrased it as “The past has already happened and we can’t stop it, but only by knowing about the events in the past can we stop them occurring again in the future.”
Now that’s a good lesson for the kids to learn.