After 2 days of listening to some very interesting presentations on dark tourist sites around the world (but mostly in Europe), I was eager to take a dark walk through Amsterdam with the conference’s organizer, Karel. He had custom-made a tour that focused on “darker” parts of Amsterdam’s past, based on his own research and experience as a tour guide in the city. He carried an umbrella, like any tour guide would, but at the top of his was a skull – it got more attention than I expected, especially from the ladies!
As this is a special tour that he put together, I’m not going to explain it in full detail here, but will just talk about a few of the highlights from the tour. The first place we stopped at was across from the National Monument on Dam Square. Across the road from the square is a small plaque that mentions the slaughter of Dutch citizens that took place on May 7, 1945, when German soldiers turned their machine guns on the people celebrating the end of the war there.
We then went to a Begijnhof, a place where women could live and lead religious lives without having to take orders. In fact, quite a number of these places throughout Belgium and the Netherlands are now considered a World Heritage site. Anyway, at the one we were at, we were told about Cornelia Arens, a sister at the Begijnhof who was adament that she would not be buried in a Protestant church, and said that she would rather be buried in the gutter (she died on October 14, 1654). So that’s what they did, they buried her in the street. She’s still there (within the grounds of the Begijnhof), there’s just a simple slab to mark her gravesite. It was interesting to see regular tourists jump out of the way when they were told they were standing on a grave (as they were taking selfies). Honestly, if you didn’t know, what it was, then you really wouldn’t know.
Another stop on the tour was a side street in the red light district. If you look up you’ll see a sign suspended from the buildings that says “Help”. Back in 1996 some guys were fighting and another guy stepped in to break it up. He ended up being beaten to death at that spot. That provoked a huge reaction from the locals to do something about unreasonable violence, which lead to a number of measures being put in place to help people in those situations. And of course, the sign is there now as a reminder to all of what happened there.
We also stopped by a number of churches that just had a square outside of it, but of course that square used to be a cemetery. There were small reminders all over the city – little plaques up high on a building, a few gravestones placed off to the side of another, skulls and skeletons where you least expect them. Overall it was a really interesting tour, and if you ever have the opportunity to do something similar, I highly recommend it.
Monuments: Mostly wall plaques and reliefs found throughout the city (we stayed in the centre). Some were larger of course, like the war monument.
Grounds: The city streets of Amsterdam.
Visitors: Well, this is Amsterdam so we were surrounded by locals and other tourists. None of course, were doing the tour we were, though of course we ended up in some similar locations.
Notes: We did this late in the day and I was using my iPhone, so couldn’t really get a lot of good shots of the often very small and far away memorials (if there were any).
Cemetery: Not one in particular, although the sites we visited ranged all over the city centre, including the red light district.
Established: We covered hundreds of years of history on this tour
Location: Amsterdam city centre
Hours: Day or night, it’s always available.
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