This story appeared in the May/June 2011 issue. Photo by Rene Mesman.
When I travel I don’t like to go to areas where thousands of tourists are taking photos. I like to find a spot that’s slower paced and where you feel like you can connect to locals. East Amsterdam is that kind of place. It’s a large area that includes the bustling neighborhood of Dapperbuurt, IJburg on the harbor, and Indische Buurt, where I live. Compared with central Amsterdam, this area is quiet and much less hyped. It’s for the traveler looking for the real, authentic Amsterdam.
Indische Buurt was created in the early 1900s, and many of the streets are named after former Dutch colonies. It has always been an area full of immigrants. Today, many people who live here are originally from Turkey and Morocco.
I really like the architecture in the neighborhood. If you look carefully, you can find art nouveau buildings, including the apartment house across from where I live with my husband. A nice secret a few minutes away is the Tropenmuseum, a grand, early 20th-century building that is home to a museum and library. They run permanent and special exhibitions about cultural development and ethnic identity in both wealthy and developing countries. I pass by here and imagine residents from 150 years ago walking by the same building.
Some spaces in the neighborhood were taken over by squatters and creative people in the 1970s and ’80s, but since I moved here a year ago, I’ve noticed more young couples, families, and nice cafés moving in. Everything is being upgraded. A big library is under construction, and Javastraat [one of the main thoroughfares in the neighborhood] was renovated with clean yellow tiles, which makes it look like a street in Istanbul.
For the time being, my husband and I live in an apartment not far from the Tropenmuseum, but soon we will move back into the building where we used to live on Javastraat. The complex is owned by a Protestant church that is very active in the neighborhood. The church decided to renovate the apartments and is planning to create a mixed community of tenants from various walks of life. My husband and I appreciate what the church is doing in the area.
Every few months there is something new in Indische Buurt. I’m happy with the changes. I am always discovering different places here, but at the same time I want it to stay the way it is, with people from everywhere. It shouldn’t just be upper-class people or just students or just immigrants. A bit of everything is what makes me feel at home.
I studied in Rotterdam and still like it—a lot of young designers live there. People in Rotterdam think of Amsterdam as being a bit superficial and all about its beautiful appearance. But Indische Buurt is smaller, more like a village. Living here, I’ve discovered that Amsterdam doesn’t feel so overwhelming. I feel like I am part of a community and I enjoy connecting with people from all over the world.
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