Last fall I had the good fortune to spend a week in Amsterdam. I fell in love with that beautiful and amazing city.
On the morning after my arrival, I was up very early due to my body adjusting to the time difference. I took the GVB train to Centraal Station and wandered the empty streets under a light drizzle while the cloudy sky slowly began to lighten at the dawn of a new day. Shops and most restaurants were still closed when I first began my solo exploration and the garbage and street sweeping crews appeared to be the only other life forms out on that early weekday morning. It was pure magic having that amazing city nearly to myself.
Hungry and looking for an authentic dining experience, I passed several restaurants and eventually returned to one of the first open eateries that I had passed and tried their breakfast buffet. They were in a building that was probably hundreds of year old, perhaps even older than my native country. The restroom was at the bottom of a very steep winding staircase that spoke to the age of the building, but the bathroom itself was quite clean and modern. I think that was an apt metaphor for Amsterdam; ancient architecture yet a clean and thoroughly modern city.
Despite nursing a head cold throughout my trip, my first trip to Europe was one of the highlights of my young, er, middle-aged life. When I prepared to leave, there was a part of me that wanted to stay and make a new life in this incredible place. Of course, that's a sentiment I generally have when I visit any new place.
While scouring our bookshelves for something to read a few days ago, I came across Diary of a Young Girl. I read the book in the 6th or 7th grade, or at least I started it, or maybe I just pretended to read it. I remember that it bored me at that age, being unable to imagine her life or even truly understand her situation at that time. Now, of course, I can read it in a whole different light.
A visit to The Anne Frank Huis was one of the highlights of my trip. I visited on a Saturday and very nearly left before gaining admission after seeing that the line stretched around the building. I decided to give it a try and the line moved very quickly, so I did tour The Secret Annex after all. I am so very glad I waited. It was amazing to see the rooms and the exhibits demonstrating the Frank's lives in hiding; to see actual pages from the diary, the very sheets that Anne Frank touched and upon which she wrote her amazing work.
In contrast to my first attempt to read the book, now I read it slowly in order to digest and remember the things I saw and to envision in my mind the eight of them living there. Her story now feels stunningly and sadly real to me. I have looked out those attic windows myself, the very same attic windows that were their only precious source of sunlight during those awful years in hiding.After I left the museum, I went to a coffee shop next door and had a bagel and espresso while I rested my tired dogs and reflected on what I had just seen and heard. Once rested, I wandered the streets nearby for close to two hours, just absorbing the scene and drinking in the area, trying to get a feel for life in modern Amsterdam as well as trying to picture it as it appeared to young Anne.
When I read about people arriving by trolly, I realize that I rode those very same tracks, exiting the train at the same stop, just a couple of doors away from The Secret Annex. I have walked along the canal fronting the annex, crossed the stone bridge a few meters down the street. As I read each page, I can see the place and envision their lives, tucked away atop the Opekta offices and warehouse, in a way unlike any book I've ever read. Page after page, I am blown away by Ms. Frank's wisdom, her awareness for such a young girl, and by her remarkable gift as a writer.I am currently up to February 1944 in the book. Though I know how it ends, I can't help hoping, pulling for the residents of the annex. I think to myself, D-Day is but four months away, the end of the war in the European theater barely over a year away. Just hold on a little longer.
In one final connection to my own life, I learned that the annex was raided and its occupants captured on August 4th, 1944, exactly 50 years to the day before the birth of our own Emmy Army Bunny.
At the end of the self-guided tour of the museum, there is a new interactive exhibit which asks questions related to politics and humanities and each person is able to express their viewpoints by clicking a button. You can then see the answers that were given by the people present in the room as well as a cumulative total by all who have participated in the exhibit.
I wish I could tell Mr. Frank, from the answers I saw on that interactive exhibit, that the world has caught up to his hopes. There was certainly a majority whose answers indicated agreement with those words but there was a surprisingly large minority whose answers show that hate, prejudice and distrust of others who are different from themselves is still alive and well in our world.
I'm sorry Otto, we're not there yet.
Missing photos found! (Thanks Aline).
Anyone interested in seeing photos from my trip in Oct 2010 can view them here.