Saturday, July 21, 2007

Dam Square: Death and Shopping.

I have been percolating on this post for a while now, but last night got information from Frank that allowed me to pull together my thoughts on the subject of Dam Square in Amsterdam.

I took these photographs last Saturday, July 14, 2007. On that morning, I walked through Dam Square on my way to the commercial district, Kalverstraat, which is a pedestrian only street that runs north and south off of Dam Square. As I walked through the square, I was struck my how crazy and commerical it all was.

The square was teaming with crowds of tourists. There was a Lipton Tea van parked in the center of the square advertising some new product, with an announcer with a microphone shouting annoyingly ( I cannot tell you what he was shouting because between his thick accent and the distortions of the microphone, it was indecipherable). There were street performers and food vendors everywhere.

I was on the square as part of a mission to purchase something I needed from a shop, and to get out of there as quickly as possible. I found myself wondering why the tourists were even there. I wondered why people would spend money to travel to Europe and then spend their vacation shopping for crappy goods made in China or elsewhere, in a commercial shopping district that resembles an outdoor mall, buying goods that they could just as well buy at home. This aspect is stil a mystery to me.

Bordering the square is the Royal Palace (which was originally the city hall until converted to a royal residence. I don't know if it is still a royal residence, but I will find out), and there is a monument. I found myself wondering what was the significance of the square and what the monument was for.

Last night as we were walking to dinner, Frank and I crossed the square. It was deserted as we were walking through a torrential downpour (more about that in the post about my second dinner with Frank). Aside from the cars driving on the street which intersects the square, it was peaceful. As Frank and I passed the monument, he told me a little bit about the square's recent history.

In May 1940, the Netherlands were occupied by German forces in World War II. They were freed on May 5, 1945, when the German General in charge of troops in the Netherlands formally surrendered to the Canadian command. However, despite the surrender, not all German troops laid down their arms. Allied troops had not yet entered Amsterdam itself to disarm them.

On May 7, 1945, which was the same day that the German nation unconditionally surrendered by signing a document in a schoolhouse in Reims, France, the Dam Square was filled with people celebrating the liberation. On the corner of the square was an officer's club for German troops. These Germans attacked the crowd with a machine gun. It is a big, open square and there was no place for the people to hide. Twenty-two people were killed, and a hundred more people were injured. Finally, on May 8, 1945, Allied Canadian troops entered Amsterdam and restored a lasting peace.

The monument was erected in commemoration of the victims of the war. A text by Dutch poet A. Roland Holst is inscribed on the semi-circular memorial wall behind the column. The column itself reads, in Latin, "May here, in the heart of our country, this memorial, which the people carry in the innermost of their hearts, be a witness to God’s stars".

Somehow, it just seems too sacred a place to eat a hot dog and bow to the gods of capitalism.

For additional information about Dam Square, including its history, historical photographs and how it evolved over the years, see:

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