Comic shop Lambiek has to move

Lambiek is probably the world’s oldest continuing comics store, founded in 1968 in the Kerkstraat in the centre of Amsterdam and still located there fortysix years later. However, after the summer this will change as Dutch newspapers report Lambiek has to leave the Kerkstraat due to high rents. Worse, according to Micheal Minneboo Lambiek might close altogether.

That would be an incredible blow to Dutch comics; Lambiek has ben a driving force in alternative and art comics here, as a shop and gallery and since 1994 also through its comiclopedia, still the best source for information about more obscure cartoonists. For Amsterdam, the loss or move of Lambiek out of the centre would mean another loss of a prominent independent shop.

But Boris Kousemaker, the son of founder Kees Kousemaker, is still optimistic about Lambiek’s chances: the advantage of a long history is having a large group of customers and friends willing and able to think and work along for a solution.

Boeing employees sweeping the streets of Amsterdam?

volunteers for the street cleaning day

So I was bringing my garbage bags to the collection point (an underground storage bin, meaning I can bring out my garbage whenever I need to, instead of once a week) and I saw this group of people standing there. Nosey as I am, I immediately asked what was happened and it turned out to be a sponsored cleanup of the neigbourhood. Apparantly these happen regularly, but at times I’m in work so I’ve always missed them. Organised by the stadsdeel, usually these include volunteers from the neigbourhood, but not this time. This time there was a group of volunteers from Boeing (!) of all companies, sponsored by their company to spent an afternoon cleaning up one of the poorer districts in Amsterdam. This is something Amsterdam city council encourages in the current climate of budget cuts, a nice and easy way for companies like Boeing to show off their social conscience and a cheap way for Amsterdam to get some work done that normally should’ve been done by city employees.

brooms

It’s well intentioned on all sides of course and certainly not as bas as what happened in Den Haag, where at least one street cleaner lost his job, only to have to do the same work to keep his unemployment benefits, saving the council 400 euros a month… Yet it still feels wrong to have this corporate voluntarism, even if it’s the best the stadsdeel can do at the moment. I’d rather see people getting paid a living wage to do this work, work that needs to be done, than having to rely on volunteers to do the same work, especially volunteers from big multinational corporations hoping to get some good p.r. from it.

Last ever Queensday (for now)

Queensday loot

No, I refused to take part in the whole abdication/crowning spectacle. I didn’t go out to witness it, avoided the telly and only went out to the local freemarket to do some traditional Queensday shopping. You never know what you might find after all. In this case there wasn’t that much, but I couldn’t be bothered to get into town proper. Still managed to score 11 DVDs and some classic Dutch comic strip Kapitein Rob compilations.

Apart from this annual ritual of cleaning out our attics and selling them to our neighbours for them to store it in their attics, I’d rather have a republic.

The February strike

Laying of the wreaths at the Remembrance ceremony at the Dokwerker

On 25 February 1941, less than a year into the nazi occupation of the Netherlands, communist union leaders called for a general strike against the increasing persecution of the Jews. The resulting two day strike in Amsterdam and various other cities in North Holland, the February Strike was the first and only massive public protest against the persecution of the Jews in occupied Europe.

Amsterdam had long been a Jewish city, with a large Jewish neighbourhood in the centre and south of the city. Even before the Germans had conquered Holland, there had been clashes between Jewish people and sympathisers against the indigeneous Dutch fascists of the NSB, the National-Socialist Movement. After the occupation the latter became bolder and started systematically harassing Jewish Amsterdammers, who in turn defended themselves, often with the help of their non-Jewish neighbours and friends. This culminated in a street battle at Waterlooplein on 11 February, when a group of NSB thugs attacking Jewish owned businesses were themselves attacked by a communist strike team of Jewish and non-Jewish residents. As the smoke cleared, one NSB man was left mortally wounded, who died on the 14th.

This incident, as well as similar one when the German SD tried to raid a Jewish-owned icecream parlor and got their asses kicked, was the excuse the nazis needed to institute the first razzias, driving together several hundred Jewish men, beating and torturing them, before sending them off to the concentration camps. This razzia took place on February 23-24, with the communist appeal for a general strike following the next morning.

Though the strike in the end was largely futile, it did serve to rip the mask off the nazi occupier. After its brutal repression it was no longer possible to believe things could continue as usual. In Amsterdam the strike is still remembered each year with a march past the Dokwerker, the statue created in remembrance of the strike in 1951, located on the Jonas Daniel Meijerplein, a centre of the old Jewish neighbourhood.

What makes the Februarystrike special is not just that it was such a public act of resistance, but that it was organised by the Dutch communist party and the communist aligned union, at a time when Nazi Germany and the USSR were still nominally allies. It was also one of the few public acts of resistance in the Netherlands, where the majority of the population not unnaturally just tried to keep their head down, while unfortunately the civil administration and bureaucracy went much to far along in their normal patterns of obedience to authority, even when in service to evil. It’s a proud moment for the Dutch left, one of those times when it took a principled stand, even if an ultimately futile stand, where it led the ordinary people of Amsterdam in, even if for just two days, resisting the deportation of their Jewish neighbours.

Metro Art

Art in the Metro

The Amsterdam Metro’s oldest trains are some thirty years old, dating back to when the underground was first opened in the late seventies. They were revamped and gotten a mid life update a couple of years ago and to give them a fresher image, the GVB got some forty artists to design a carriage. The above is my favourite, a representation of what a similar carriage would look like in Mumbai. The complete set of carriages can be seen at the GVB website

Noord isn’t quite Amsterdam

Lonely Planet have just called Amsterdam the second best city to visit in the world, but in Amsterdam, Amsterdam Noord is a bit of an ugly duckling, never really considered part of the city. It’s located over the IJ, the main riverway running through the city and therefore separated from the rest of it, historically consisted of various small villages that were almagated into Amsterdam and traditionally has been one of the city neighbourhoods more troublesome inhabitants had been banished to. Apart from that, it has always been dominated by heavy industry: the old Fokker aircraft factories used to stand not far from where I live, while the Shell factories have only be recently demolished to make room for houses. For most part, if you didn’t live in Noord, you had no reason to go there.

map of Amsterdam

This is all slowly changing though. In the past decade Noord has become somewhat desirable, as the usual gentrification subjects — students, hipsters, artists, upcoming yuppies — discovered that it had some of the last low priced but attractive neighbourhoods left in the city, while the municipal authories have been doing their best to get the socalled creative classes and industries to settle in what were once places of heavy industry. In all this they’ve been helped by the coming of the north-south metro line, which will make Noord that much more accessible from the city centre. In the neighbourhoods around the line there has been an influx of first time house buyers; in my own neighbourhood I’ve seen the older working class retirees, as well as the first and second generation Moroccan families slowly disappear to be replaced by a lot of young Surinam-Dutch families as well as *shudder* hipsters.

I quite like living here, in not quite Amsterdam, but still only ten-fifteen minutes by bike from the centre. Somewhat poorer perhaps than some of the other parts of town, fewer amenities — no neighbourhood pub! — but a good neighbourhood to live in and slowly getting better.

Drawing comics in Noord

flyer Noord comics competition

Edith-Made-it (aka Edith Kuyvenhoven) is a Dutch cartoonist working and living in Amsterdam Noord, the huge neighbourhood north of the IJ that isn’t quite part of Amsterdam proper still. (It’s also where I live). She graduated as a graphic designer from the Rietveld Academy and has been doing the usual cartoonist things: freelance for various magazines, getting her first album of autobiographical comics out, selling the usual shirts and merchandise, organising a comics drawing competition for school children in Noord, for the second year in a row even…

The setup is simple: all school children in the last two classes of primary school or high school in Noord can participate, the best three in each category (primary school / high school) get a small prize (from 40 to 80 euros worth of comics) and there will be an exhibition of all the nominees. At the same time Edith also provides workshops at schools or libraries during the competition. It’s the sort of cheap, grassroots art activity that comics are ideally suited for because, well, you don’t really need expensive equipment to make comics, all children love drawing and comics and it’s cheap enough to do that you can do it out of your own pocket; no subsidies required.

It’s a great initiative and I hope Edith is as succesfull with it this year as she seemed to have been last year. I only wish I’d known about it then.