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Lying about Amsterdam

Writing at this website on Saturday, Rick Moran summarized a report from Agence France Presse about Amsterdam. In an interview with the Dutch daily Trouw, that city's official ombudsman, Arre Zuurmond, had complained that its “city centre becomes an urban jungle at night.” There are, in AFP's words, “illegal car and bike races zooming through the streets, open drugs sales and general mayhem.” As Zuurmond put it: “Criminal money flourishes, there is no authority and the police can no longer handle the situation....Scooters race through the pedestrian areas. There is a lot of shouting. Drugs are being bought. There is stealing. People pee and even poop on the streets.”

Who are the culprits here? Zuurmond was clear on that one: “enticed by cheap travel, groups mostly of young men – mainly from elsewhere in the Netherlands or Britain – frequently roam the inner city's canal-lined streets at weekends, on pub crawls or to celebrate stag parties drawn by easy access to drugs and the notorious Red Light district.” Zuurmond singled out for concern the downtown square called Leidseplein, where, he claimed, “The atmosphere is grim, and there is an air of lawlessness.”

Sorry, but this is all the purest of nonsense. I'm in Amsterdam quite frequently – most recently in June, when, as it happened, on several days in a row, I walked a great deal around parts of the city center, including Leidseplein and the fringes of the Red Light District. I did much if not most of my walking during the hours between midnight and six A.M. I like walking, and after forty years in New York City I know how to keep my eyes open – and I know Amsterdam well enough to know where I'm likely to be safe.

In downtown Amsterdam, with a few exceptions, you're safe. That's not the dangerous part of the city.

Those young Dutch and British guys who, Zuurmond warned, roam around in packs on the weekend? They could scarcely be more harmless. Yes, they may get drunk and ogle the garishly red-lit whores behind those windows and even urinate in the canals. Big deal. Who doesn't urinate in a canal at 3 A.M when necessary? Zuurmond actually complained about “shouting.” Shouting? Really? He also referred to drug sales. In Amsterdam? What a shock. Call Captain Renault. I've been visiting the city for over twenty years and I know that it's absolutely impossible to walk down certain central Amsterdam streets at any time of day or night without having guys sidle over to you at every corner offering to sell you drugs. It's not a big deal. All you need to do is keep walking. They won't hurt you.

As for car races through the streets, have you ever seen a street in central Amsterdam? There are only a couple of them on which it's remotely possible to imagine racing cars. Again, in all my years of visiting the city – including several months of living there a long time ago – I've certainly never seen a car race in the streets. As for bike races, step outside in the middle of Amsterdam, or for that matter any city in the Netherlands, at almost any time of day and you'll think you happened upon a bike race. That's what makes it the Netherlands – a flow of bike traffic on every major thoroughfare that makes rush hour in L.A. look like a vacation in Kiribati.