Maybe Amsterdam has always been “A-Party-City” even in the old days for the sailors who managed to get back alive after a trip to the East or West Indies (under the most appalling conditions), having their jenever (Dutch kind of gin) in quantities beyond our imagination and roaming the streets in a drunken state; also the merry-making during special markets, the ‘kermesse’ (originally a fair to celebrate the church patron of a town) with intoxicated and bawdy public behavior, transposed to the football fan celebrations, the Queens-Day and Gay Parade extravaganza of now-a-days. With its Red Light district and ‘coffeeshops’, ‘paddoshops’ and other places and opportunities to consume recreational drugs, a major part of the tourists choosing this town, choose it to go partying, to get stoned and drunk, whereby sex – if it can be performed at all in such a state - will often be more in the tourist’s imagination than for real.
One man’s pleasure easily turns into the other man’s burden and in certain tourist hot spots of town the negative effects of this kind of tourism are felt on a daily basis by the inhabitants. The cheap package deals of Easy Jet and the like have introduced plain-loads of partying-tourists who congregate in the Red Light District, around the Nieuwmarkt, Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein. The Britons have carved out their niche in the area with the highest number of whores, bars and pot-sellers and are known for roaming around in flocks and – as herd animals – tend to be more noisy, than the more individual Latin and Teutonic city roamers. This may all sound like some form of calvinist abhorrence of (public) pleasure display, coupled with a tourist-phobia, but, as can be expected, it is the Dutch themselves who tend to make most of the noise and nuisance. Forgone are the days that popular outbursts of gaiety and pleasure where happening only on the aforementioned ‘patrons days’, as a kind of social safety valve in the tradition of the Roman maxim “give the people bread and games.” Partying has become the central core of Dutch society as has been recently researched and visualized in a splendid way by the Algerian/Belgian photographer Morad Bouchakour in his book “PARTY! in the Netherlands”, published in 2002.
Let me quote just a few lines from the introduction of this book by Bas Heijne: “if there is so much concern in the Netherlands about how traditions are allegedly no longer being honored, then why are the Dutch throwing so many parties? If there’s one thing this country has, it’s a party culture. No occasion escapes unnoticed. There is isn’t a day without an excuse to celebrate.” The book depicts “almost every conceivable type of party, at every level of society” in the Netherlands and, however amazing the book maybe in its visuals, we are spared the noise on which most of the parties shown are thriving.
Noise – loud and unappreciated sound if you wish – is a spatial thing. It invades, often far beyond what can directly be seen, it may bounce on water, from walls, come back under unexpected angles, it may creep in through resonating floors or ceilings, it may be high pitched or subsonic, it may be continuous or bursting in with a sudden shock. A loud party of the neighbors is something one may need to tolerate once in a while, but it always is an intrusive act upon one’s personal living environment, lest one chooses to join the neighbors party or flee one’s house.
The inner city of Amsterdam is a network of canals, a product of its original watery and muddy environment and the needs for local transport and its initial function as a European staple market with traders houses and warehouses along what the Dutch call ‘grachten’. Most of the inner city is situated on, or nearby these waterways. As the original transport functions were lost, modern forms of tourism took over the canals with rather big motor boats equipped with panoramic windows and sound systems used by a guide explaining all the views. This last thing has – over the years – been modernized and most tourist boats are now fitted with localized small speakers at the individual seats, so the people living or working along the canals have been freed from the echoing simplistic explanations with each passing of yet another tourist boat. Another considerate measure toward people living in the museum-like inner town, have been a municipal policy to supplant the polluting diesel motors of the tourists boats with electrical motors, a slow process of enforcing that has taken many years, but has really improved the ‘soundscape’ of the city.
Nothing but good news one would say, till the moment that the growing affluence of certain layers of Dutch society – who have a liking of showing off their wealth - combined with the miniaturization of electrical equipment, especially amplifiers and loudspeakers. The phenomenon of the party-boat parade was born. Luxury boats with drinks, loud chatter to cross over even louder amplified music. The nuisance of a party at your neighbors was exported to the canals of the inner city of Amsterdam. So ghetto-blasters changed their function and became yuppie-blasters, the crumbling walls of the ghetto were supplanted by the facades of lordly houses and the acoustic properties of the water surface combined with the bricks of the historic buildings worked together to give an optimum impact.
It is also in this period that smaller and smaller, and cheaper and cheaper sound-systems, were capable of producing more and more volume and so next to poor man’s ghetto-blaster, came the low class car sound system, that can turn a tiny car into a mobile discotheque. Once this mobility had been discovered, the separation of the private and the public came to a sudden end. Any fool may nowadays becomes a broadcaster of their own favorite music without any need for a radio license. One takes one’s car drives into the city, pushes up the volume knob and the capacity of the newest equipment is such that the car owner does not even need to open the window to let the passerby and even the inhabitant of adjacent buildings join into someone’s car-casts. At first something derived at by using bigger and bigger speaker boxes, and recently a even more bodily experience of loudness has been made possible whereby any part of the car’s body can be vibrated and becomes a sounding device. It was but a tiny step to transfer these systems to any kind of boat and go on a pleasure water tour.
These sound systems have become also an integrated party of partying on the water in Amsterdam, especially during the two yearly grand parades of Queens Day in April and the Gay Parade through the canals of Amsterdam in August. No environmental and lest health rules seemed to apply to these pleasure boating events, which on the other hand do force many inhabitants out of the city during these days, especially people living on one of the hundreds of housing boats along the cities canals.
After many complaints and petitions the local authorities have started to limit some of the loudness excesses, but the tolerated massive sound pollution on Queens Day and the Gay Parade, have made public loudness somehow socially acceptable. A person – like me – complaining about it would get a standard reaction from police and other authorities, like “well then you should not live in the inner town” and I remember some organizers of the Gay Parade responding on my complaint posted at their web site with “what is your age? maybe you better move to the countryside” (so much for the gay emancipation movement recursing to age-discrimination).
It was a most happy moment when last week I spotted several big size A0 posters on public billboards next to the river close to my house with the new municipal campaign: “prevent nuisance on the water.” The graphic language in rebus format did catch the eye immediately . Finally some officials caring about ‘ the sound of the city’, also attempting to argue instead of menacing with punishments or fines.
It must have been the same day, that a sudden moving sound of a whole group of drunks cut through the relative tranquility of our double glassed home… it could not be the usual football fans that load themselves with beer across the river at the Rembrandtplein before diving en masse into the subway that brings them to the big Ajax football stadium in the outskirts… the sound differed from this dispersed unstable crowds crossing the bridge … so I looked out of the window and saw and heard a vehicle – a Beer-Bar-Cycle passing (as depicted and described below). “What a shame”, these were my first words and of course I knew this kind of vehicle that until that day hardly choose to move through my part of town.
The municipal slogan was still fresh in my mind: “Prevent nuisance on the water” and so I thought “but what about nuisance on the land?” Which drove me to produce another rebus-banner to be posted soon on the streets of Amsterdam.
“Fietscafe, aka bike-bar -only in Amsterdam says lludovic’s photostream; “weekend in amsterdam (yes, it’s a mobile bar powered by pedals under their feet and a barman in the middle keeping them hydrated)” says M Baskett; ”Ubriacarsi pedalando. Si sale, si ordina una birra, si pedala in libertà, tra schiamazzi e risate… una cosa così la trovi solo ad Amsterdam” (Getting drunk while peddling. You go out, you order a beer, you pedal in liberty, from shrieks to bouts of (hysterical) laughter… such a thing one only finds in Amsterdam” says Tioma.
The official municipal folder nuisance on the water can be found at the web site of the department of inner waters of the town: BBA.