• Saturday, September 23, 2023

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  • NDSM Wharf: Notes on an Expat's first encounter

    You can still imagine the gigantic ships slowly approaching from the bay onto the slope, underneath the grand crane. The engineers in their suits and the work force scruffy and strong. The NDSM Wharf in Amsterdam Noord still carries the traits from back when it served as a shipyard. The brick warehouses, the long wide slopes, the spacious roadways and of course, the monumental crane. The wharf which manufactured bulk carriers, cargo and war ships up to 1937, finally closed in 1984,  due to the decline of the industry. Today the area once again boasts with the power of creation, this time moving away from matters of transport and trade and becoming an important player in Amsterdam’s creative industry. This I was about to find out when I took my first trip to the not-so-derelict NDSM Wharf.

    As I exit Centraal Station on the free ferry the change of setting is noticeable. Floating on the expansive IJ lake I can finally breathe again after a long day battling in the small streets back in the heart of Amsterdam. The views aboard take you far far away from the 17 century mansions of the Prinsengracht. Rimming the IJ is an aesthetically unpleasant collection of insanely designed post-modern buildings, featuring dizzying diagonal lines and unrecognisable materials. Something of a comical take on architecture. As the ferry approaches the surprisingly large crane the half sank black submarine welcomes us to the darker side of Amsterdam.

    The look is derelict but somehow sturdy, a piece of history yet an image of a futuristic dystopia. Look to your left however and the IJ Canteen is the first clue to your actual whereabouts. The restaurant offers a humongous selection of spirits, displayed against one of its all glass walls. A beautiful sight to be enjoyed on days when the sunshine lights up the different coloured liquids inside the bottles. After half a dozen of oysters it is time to explore the decrepit scenery that lies beyond. Walk a little further and a recognisable 3 letters pop up adorning a warehouse. M-T-V. A fully working office building , not a post-apocaliptic MTV headquarters.

    Back on my walk I contour a life-size tree made out of rusty metal, a piece of art which seems to have grown naturally from the seeds spread from the surrounding ageing materials. Fair enough the Lonely planet calls it ‘recycled-junk street-art’, but it fits so perfectly with the scenery that its description deserves some poetry. I also spot an old abandoned tram, perfectly placed for a photograph with the big crane as the backdrop, and an enormous Tiki head looking into the distance.There is definitely a ‘Berlinesque’ air about the place, graffiti, decaying warehouses, rubble. And young, good looking people. Some zooming past on their skateboards heading to the Skatepark housed in a warehouse a couple of buildings past MTV. Holding no skateboards or skills I took a quick peak inside. Expecting a couple of makeshift ramps I was faced with a polished wooden surprise, an ultra professional set of ramps, pipes and handrails, miles away from the usual inner city concrete skatepark. And a shop selling all the latest gear.

    My next stop was the ‘arts city’. Which was to be a revelation of course. The derelict hangar turned out to be a congregation of studios subsidised by media and visual arts start-ups, where 250 artists put the massive space to good use. The studios have been set up in rows of piled up containers divided by walkways resembling again some sort of sci-fi film set. I wonder how many of them have had their work shown in the local art galleries, VOUS ETES ICI or the Nieuw Dakota. The latter which describes itself not as a gallery but as ‘a network platform, a continuous process, in which collaborations can be made visible in the form of presentations / exhibitions’.

    To finish my expedition I sat with with a glass of biertje (beer in Dutch, still grasping the pronunciation) and a massive bowl of nachos in the lovely Noorderlicht Cafe, a greenhouse of tranquillity and stupendous views over the IJ. And yet more poetic ‘recycled-junk street-art’.


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