As you grow up, you start to shed some hobbies and interests not deemed “cool” anymore by friends who grow up faster than you. Things like playing videogames and stealing the Playboy magazine from the grocery store; things you still like to do, and kind of excel in. Like an over-attached girlfriend you don’t want to go back to, you don’t want the same, but something that’s at least equal in pleasure.
The realization that sets in, though slowly, is that your friends are a little bit more different from you than you thought they were. Even though you hang out together as much as you used to, they develop interests not quite up your alley. One of them starts to listen to folk music a little too much for your taste. Another finds his destiny in internet dating. It seems that you are more unique than you thought you were, and something needs to be done to stress just how unique you really are. What you do: you pick up traveling.
This could be a fine introduction to a novel, because none of it really happened to the extent described here. This writer believes that it is in his best interest to maintain a certain level of anonymity. Still, it is not entirely untrue either. I grew up in Amsterdam and went to school there, somewhere in the nineties (long time ago). But it was another kind of discomfort that made me leave, and not return for a couple of years. The little lake of uneasiness my brain was floating in, like a goldfish in a bowl, was a general feeling that the city I grew up in, where most of my friends lived and where I went to school, had become stagnant. I thought I was going places, but this city had trouble catching up to me. Having made it my own through my teens into early adulthood, there were few things that remained exciting or new. The feeling that the city was yours to be conquered was absent. I had conquered it, so I left the next siege to the newly arrived with their fresh, young faces. At times I imagine an imaginary life and its stages into adulthood. I imagine the path to take in order to find some form of excitement around every corner. If you experience a certain amount of chaos, danger and unpredictability early in life, these things don’t impact you as much later.
Amsterdam is a city that has seen a lot of change these last six to seven years and, I would say, it has changed for the better. Long ago, there was a city a little bit rough around the edges. Like an old avocado, the inside stayed robust, but the outsides were sometimes a little mushy. The tourist strolling around and limiting himself to the beautiful city center didn’t notice that, but moving into either western or eastern direction, you sensed a certain mushiness to it. You would probably not pick up that same avocado at the grocery store. The south-side of the city was, and still is, a place where being hipster and ‘creative’ would never land you a mortgage. The north of the city is separated from the center by a large canal where cruise-ships and at least three ferries take up all the space. This neighbourhood was never really considered a true part of the city. But that is changing, because where you’ve always had to catch one of the ferries to make it to ‘that place’, soon you will be able to go by metro. As Amsterdam is highly popular, the north will become the place where you’ll want to be in a few years.
The changes that kind of redefined the city took place in the time I was not present. Crashing waves of surprise thus slammed into me once I returned, and what I saw there I must say I liked. If youthfulness equals success and beauty, then Amsterdam is the Benjamin Button of the last ten years. The old avocado with its beautiful heart turned from dark brown into light green again and found itself yet again dangling from a branch. Skyrocketing rent in the eastern and western neighbourhoods, the never ending current of young, hip and ambitious students from the province and abroad, and young newlyweds with babies forced a certain type of youth out of those streets.
The city has acquired a new character. It radiates success and ambition now. Investments in infrastructure, like tearing down the old and building the new, have coalesced with a new kind of equilibrium that was mostly young and white.
If you want to live close to the city center, you’d better be able to pay. But in a city quite small like Amsterdam, the fringes are rarely more than half an hour away. The city feels cleaner, safer and more welcoming to visitors. But they overdo it at times. The red-light district is not what it used to be. Don’t expect Hamburg’s Reeperbahn. It’s Reeperbahn PG12: accessible with parental guidance. I don’t blame you if you expect to find drugs, hookers and a little rock and roll upon visiting the city: I would too. But Amsterdam is just not that city anymore. For this citizen, it’s not an entirely bad thing.