Leesfragment: Mokum: A Guide to Amsterdam

27 november 2015 , door Koen Elzerman e.a.

Deze week verschijnt Mokum: A Guide to Amsterdam.

Mokum is niet zomaar een reisgids naar Amsterdam. Als onderdeel van de reisgids serie Never Walk Alonely Planet, mijden de auteurs de reguliere opsommingen van ‘to do’s’ en ‘places to be’. In plaats daarvan bevat de gids een gevarieerd aanbod van kritische essays, alternatieve wandelingen, persoonlijke impressies, fotoreportages, tekeningen en confronterend historisch materiaal. Al lezend door Mokum, komen zowel bezoekers als bewoners van Amsterdam terecht in een ontdekkingstocht naar de ware essentie van vrijheid in de stad. Aan bod komen onder andere de enorme culturele diversiteit, verborgen oases van vrijheid, gesloten plaatsen van onvrijheid, etnische en religieuze conflicten, en idealistische voorvechters van allerlei typen vrijheid in de stad. Is Amsterdam nog steeds de meest vrije stad ter wereld?

In januari 2011 organiseerde de redactie, onder leiding van hoofdredacteur Christian Ernsten en in opdracht van het Amsterdams 4 en 5 mei comité, een intensief workshopweekend, waarbij kunstenaars, wetenschappers, filosofen, fotografen, studenten en allerlei andere creatievelingen werden uitgenodigd om een weekend op vakantie te gaan in Amsterdam. Voor sommigen betekende dit een vakantie in eigen stad, maar voor anderen waren dit juist de eerste stappen op Nederlandse bodem. Dit weekend resulteerde in een zeer divers aanbod van verassende visies op de stad, zowel grappig als serieus. Hiernaast waren enkele gerenommeerde namen als Merijn Oudenampsen, Ramsey Nasr, Cleo Campert en Jan Rothuizen graag bereid om op ieder hun eigen wijze een bijdrage te leveren aan deze zoektocht naar vrijheid in Amsterdam.

Hieronder volgt alvast een voorpublicatie van enkele bijdragen.

Cinematic Cycling

By Vincent Schipper & Christiaan Fruneaux

Remember this scene?

Eric, with Olga on the back of his bike, weaves through the streets of Amsterdam harassing a passing car? This iconic scene, from Verhoeven’s Turks Fruit, proved to be one of the most lasting images of Amsterdam and what this city represents.
Released in 1973, the movie symbolized the social changes that reshaped society in the 60s and at the beginning of the 70s. The movie represented the aspirations of a new generation, by young people who aspired to take ownership of their lives and their surroundings.
The scene embodied all the romantic notions people had (and still have) of living in Amsterdam. It represented youthfulness, individual freedom and personal mobility. The act of cycling was portrayed and perceived as rebellious and freedom loving. It made the city accessible, authentic and intimate. Since then, not much has changed. For many, cycling still is an essential part of the local lifestyle.
Turks Fruit, of course, does not represent the diverse social realities of the city. It mainly represents the city center. Amsterdam is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, but one has to venture outside the city’s historical center to encounter this. The movie is interesting because, as one of the most successful movies in Dutch cinematic history‚ (it was even nominated for an Oscar) it was instrumental in shaping and distributing the dominant image of the city as a liberal stronghold.

Haunted Monument

By Christian Ernsten & Aukje Dekker

The desolate former ‘Begraafplaats Zeeburg’ (Zeeburg cemetery) in Flevopark is an eerie place, an unintended monument to the community of poor Jews who used to inhabit the city. To us it strangely mirrors Eisemann’s neatly orchestrated sculpture in Berlin. After the German occupation and the annihilation of Dutch Jewry during the Holocaust, the cemetery, previously the largest in Europe, fell into ruin, then oblivion, and finally was transformed into a swampland, preurban ecology. Only in 1983, when writer Boudewijn Büch called public attention to this place, did its haunted quietness prevail again.

How to explain a whore?

By Jimini Hignett

The Red Light District is by far the most well-known area of Amsterdam, and for many adult, tourists this is the reason to visit the city. The locals, however, are confronted with prostitution at a young age. How do you explain a whore to a seven year old boy?

Passing through the Red Light District with Flint on the back of the bike, we get a flat tire.
I lean the bike upside down against a shopfront and get out the puncture repair kit. In the next doorway there is a woman, early twenties, impractical heels and fancy underwear. She raucously propositions the men as they stroll past. Flint is seven. He stands across the street at the canal side, hovering by a tree, watching the world, observing the hooker, intrigued. She is jolly and makes some of the men laugh too.
Flint dutifully looks both ways and crosses over to ask me, who is this woman who is so funny? Why is she telling jokes to passers-by? Why is she wearing her bikini in the street? How do you explain a whore to a seven year old boy?
How to explain to this boy, for whom, so far, love is so unreserved an assumption – a given, not a transaction? How to explain this exchange and yet spare him the fears of imagining a future in which he too may feel the need to trade money in search of a necessary intimacy? How to put into words – hard enough for myself, never mind in the language accessible to this child – my perceptions of this awkward and vulnerable web of sex, comfort, loneliness, warmth, gratification, intimacy, abuse, need, love and the lack of it, power and the lack of it? How to put into words the substance of such yearnings, such surrender? How to reveal such things of grown men and women to a boy? How to explain that somehow the woman has decided on this as a way to get money and now she is selling the use of her body to a man whom she doesn’t know? That he will pay and be allowed to fuck her, then he will go away again and she will wait for another man to do the same thing. Should I leave in place the impression of jolly, joking, raucous camaraderie, or undermine it with descriptions of social and psychological problems? Of the possible desperation of drug addiction, of boyfriends who may coerce her into doing this work because she can earn some money fast and give some of it to them, that if she doesn’t then perhaps they will hurt her. Such implausible indifference or inconceivable desperation.
How to explain all this? And to make it sound light-hearted, convincingly. Stuck between the rock of condonement and the hard place of complexity. Well, sometimes a bloke really wants a cuddle. And if he doesn’t have a girlfriend then this woman would give him a cuddle if he gives her some money. It’s what she does to get money. It’s her work. It’s like a job.

Oh god, how awful to be a boy, and to have the prospect of having to pay some strange woman in a scratchy bikini to give you a cuddle. How can I protect him? How can I say – may you never encounter this need? How can I be sure you will be cuddled enough?
Next door down, a teenaged-looking girl in red and black underwear steps out into the road, a stud in her bottom lip and a can of heavyweight lager in her hand, yelling viciously in Dutch after a retreating punter. Heads turn, eager for action, and she hurls an explanation to the street in general – Yeah, well, any other bastard trying to sneak a photograph is going to get beer all over him. The face of a teenage mother from a Ken Loach film – Bradford in the 80s. A passing punter slows pace to eye her up and down and without dropping the cold I’d-as-soon-knee-youin-the-groin look, she holds up three fingers of her beer-free hand – thirty euros – her price. Flint has withdrawn back across the road, put off by the shouting. I am relieved that this gesture has apparently gone unnoticed and doesn’t require explanation.
Bike fixed, the light is paling and the atmosphere has become more predatory: filling the width of the lane, a cluster of young men in identical orange T-shirts, the lettering on the backs declaring them to be from some English school, freshman’s initiation week. Noisy bravado from a couple of lads who have been jostled towards the narrow, fenced-in dead-end alley that is the least imaginative corner of this market – several steps down, corrugated fencing reflecting the row of identical red lamps back onto the sluice-clean white tiled walls of the peeskamers. (How telling that the Dutch have for this a specific word. Originally meaning ‘crib’, it describes these partitioned off cubicles where the girls await their customers.) The remainder of these lads still in their teens cluster together, shivering in their T-shirts, on their faces continual waves of worried unease, a panic of peer pressure.
Heading for home now, we pass the statue of Belle, modelled after some blinkered nostalgic fantasy of the confident self-made prostitute, posed in her bronze window frame in this city of pathological tolerance.
Leaving the Red Light District, the last house with red lanterns has been decorated to make it cosy for Christmas and up the outside of the building there is a pretend Father Christmas carrying a bag of toys up a rope to the girls inside.
Flint asks me again about whores. He has been mulling on it. What if the woman doesn’t want to give the man a cuddle? What if she doesn’t like him?
Well then, she might say – no, she doesn’t want to cuddle him for money.
But that’s a shame for him.
I don’t know what to say.
And what if she wants the money? he asks.
Then I suppose it would depend how much money he wants to give her. Maybe if it was a lot of money then she might choose to cuddle him anyway. Even if she doesn’t really want to.
Or if she is very poor, he says.
Yes. Or if she is very poor.
Sometimes it’s a pain in the arse being an artist – ideas for things nagging at you, demanding to be made – that bloody statue is continuing to bother me. Gnawing at the edges of my peripheral mind, hassling me to be dealt with, is the title ‘Monument for the Fallen Whore’, and the image of a pile of mattresses stacked high, made of concrete – the Princess and the Pea – hollow from the underneath being dropped by crane, irremovable over the top of the bronze hooker.


By Rogier Klomp

Burqa spotting

By Christina Godiksen & Jan Willem Petersen

The burqua is subject to discussions and symbolic policy measures. But how many people actually wear it? If you’ve not seen one, here is a guide to help you out.

Amsterdam (un)veiled?


Various governmental parties are currently putting new regulations and laws forward which they like to veil in terms of protecting traditional values and liberties. In line with the recently adopted Burqa ban in France, the Netherlands is to follow suit. As a direct result, this first of its kind practical Burqa spotting guide was born.
Over the last decennia the ‘tolerant’ attitude of the people in the Netherlands began to be seen as part of Dutch culture. Amsterdam was no exception of this perception. Government bodies actively drafted policies that aimed to condone levels of ‘civil disobedience’. Despite the fact that the guiding principle for condoning this ‘civil disobedience’ can be traced in precise legislation, it is a subjective act of selective enforcement that often regulates urban life. The elasticity till what extent authorities would execute law by the letter became locally know as ‘gedoogbeleid’. Under increasing national and international influence the carefully crafted balance between enforcers of the law and their presumed ‘common sense’ approach to law enforcement have come under intense pressure.

City vs State

In reaction to the proposed Burqa ban, the Chief Commissioner of the Amsterdam police force said: “I do not see myself as an instrument of national government; simply executing what is being demanded. I still use common sense before I proceed”. Arguably, the above statement is as controversial as the proposed Burqa ban. A member of the national government stated; “The Amsterdam authorities seem to think that they live in a ‘red’ enclave where they can establish their own rules, and where the laws from The Hague (seat of government) can be set aside. An Amsterdam ‘free-state’ is unacceptable”.

Here, Amsterdam underlined its uniqueness as a city, and its imbedded culture to resist forces that challenge civil liberties. In this process, a valuable shift can be witnessed. The city authorities have outlined that they will apply ‘common sense’ when it comes to laws directed from national government. The condoning of ‘civil disobedience’ has transformed to ‘state disobedience’.

The ban

As might be expected, the discussion did not stop with the ban prohibiting the Burqa in public. At first glance there were misconceptions, as headscarves became ‘confused’ with full veil outfits. But now we can witness that such notions are being transformed in political propositions, almost daily. A week scan of the newspaper reveals the most extraordinary schemes. First, with a veil you are prevented to take up any work at public institutions. Secondly, not only can you not work as a civil servant, also entry to the provincial city hall will be off limits. Thus, pertinently denying access to the Dutch democratic system, even when a person is an elected politician. In the near future we can also witness a veil ban in the regional bus services. The underlying thought seems to be that bus services are state funded, therefore directly supportive of women with veil. What we are witnessing is a new type of ‘invisible’ city wall; which by restricting access to various parts of public life for a targeted minority would effectively create a class system of ‘insiders’ and outsiders’.

The guide

The chapters from the guide will challenge the reader to put the above discussion to the test and experience the realities on the ground. Furthermore, the guide will uncover the mysterious territories of potential Burqa sightings. It advises the reader on how to optimize for maximum achievements. Above all it will furnish the reader as to apply common sense.

Biking behaviour

By Thomas Franssen

Bikes are an essential part of the Amsterdam traffic food chain and its riders feel untouchable. Now learn how to disturb this feeling of supremacy.

Our relation to bikes and why we yell at you because of it

We do not ride our bike because we care about our health. Nor do we see it as a fun, outdoorsy activity. We just want to get from A to B as fast as possible. Biking is the fastest way to get around. As simple as that.
Our bike is not a part of our identity; it is part of our body. Our bike was never aestheticized or commodified. Biking was never seen as hip as it is in other countries. Functionality was all that counted. Then the hipsters came along with their fixed-gear obsession. Now there are bikes without breaks because… I don’t know why. But it will probably kill them. So maybe, just maybe, they are all gone when you come to our city.
We are kings of the road. In an accident between a car and a bike, the driver is legally liable unless proven otherwise. So really, we are untouchable and our attitude matches that status. Pedestrians on bike paths are anomalies in our urban flows. They are obstacles that must be evaded, scared, yelled at or physically harmed.
Our natural predator in the urban food chain is the taxi. Taxi drivers are just as arrogant as we are and it is annoying that they don’t accept our supremacy. But you, you are our greatest enemy, dear tourist biker. You annoy us to death. You are the subject of stories during coffee breaks; you’re almost an obsession. We move into a state of permanent rage over the summer because of you.
But you also give us a chance to release our frustration and anger. And for that we thank you. For giving us a legitimate reason to scream and curse when we feel like it. Without you, Amsterdam isn’t what it should be.

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