Photo: Jan Kees Helms

The bridge

A little uncomfortable but as nonchalant as possible I lean against the bridge railing. On every corner there is a tour group standing listening to what a tour guide is explaining while both a trash collection and a beer delivery truck are trying to cross the bridge from opposite ends.

The bridge crossing the Oudezijds Voorburgwal at the Lange Niezel is jam packed with people. It brings back memories. A couple of years ago, I stood here myself with a group of students. We stood watching two tom cats in a fierce battle as they were screeching, growling and tumbling in the street. The ginger cat ended up winning when the black cat suddenly dropped from the highest point of the street into the canal. His opponent looked at him there in the water, turned away full of bravado and sauntered off to the pub he called home. With the help of a couple of construction workers and a lot of onlookers we managed to rescue the cat from the water. It’s a story I love to tell in detail whenever I am crossing this bridge with anyone.

Until the beginning of the 90s a lot of solicitation and dealing happened on the bridge. At that time, the few rare and easily intimidated tourists in Amsterdam carefully avoided this area. Clients of sex workers were taken to a by-the-hour hotel a little further up, or to one of the dark alleys that didn’t have locked gates then. If there was a junkie shooting up, you just moved on to the next alley.

The Indonesian shop where I used to buy my groceries is gone and replaced by a souvenir store. If I turn to look to my left I see the Lange Niezel. Once raw and edgy it’s turning into just another dime a dozen boring street. ‘Luckily there’s still the Febo,’ I sigh and promise myself to come back soon and get some chips. The spectacular view of the Saint Nicholas church towering over the cityscape surrounding the bridge helps me to forget the sometimes questionable urban renewal projects.

I am woken from my reverie with a start when the driver of the beer delivery truck hits the gas. Shocked, a group of people obstinately standing on the corner suddenly jump away and press themselves up against the bicycles parked on the bridge. Now they have a story to tell about this bridge too and how they almost lost their toes.