Amsterdam is world famous and has a very interesting history. It was house to Anne Frank during the Second World War, it is where Heineken brewed their first beers, and it is where the famous painter Rembrant van Rijn painted many of his paintings. It is built on 11.000.000 wooden poles. And it all started as a fisher’s village in the 13th century. Just like most villages in the Netherlands it all evolved around water. The Amstel, in the case of Amsterdam.
Golden Age and Jewish influence
The town became official in 1300 and underwent quick development in the 14th and 15th century. After Antwerp (Belgium) was conquered by Spain, many wealthy Jews moved to Amsterdam. The city welcomed them and they, like everyone else in Amsterdam, had freedom of religion. The first synagogue was built between the Houtgracht and where you can now find the Waterlooplein. In 1671 the building of the Portuguese Synagogue started which was finished in 1675. The building is still there and is a major tourist attraction, but also still in use for service.
The money the Jews brought with them was used to organize trips to India. These trips were very successful, leading the foundation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602. This company was to become the first multinational in the world. The city was a major shareholder. It was the start of the Golden Age and the city had an immense urban expansion. The planners of the city took into account both beauty and functionality, which resulted in the canals and the now famous Jordaan.
The first half of the 17th century Amsterdam became the center of the art scene. Still famous painters like Johannes Vermeer painted in this inspiring city.
¨Fun doesn´t last forever¨ as the Dutch would say and at the end of the 17th century the economy crashed. But with the connection between Amsterdam and the open sea, made possible by the North Sea Canal (1876), Amsterdam flourished again. Steamships were seen in Amsterdam´s port on a daily basis and Amsterdam became very important for the spice trade.
This new economic prosperity resulted in new wonderful constructions like the Amsterdam Central Station and the Carré theatre.
The Netherlands remained neutral during World War 1, but was still very much affected by it, mainly in the form of serious food shortages. Many products became rationed. In 1917 a ship full of potatoes entered Amsterdam. The potatoes were intended for the army, but the local population wasn´t going to let that happen. It started the ´potato riots´ and an interesting period in the city of Amsterdam.
The crisis years just before the Second World War lead to the reduction of unemployment benefits. Protests were the result, mainly in the Jordaan. People threw rocks at the police and the streets were paved to stop the supply of rocks.
The Second World War did little physical damage to Amsterdam (as opposed to other Dutch cities, like Rotterdam which was destroyed for a big part). However, it lost ten percent of its population as a result of the Nazi´s persecution of the Jews. Hunger, just like during the First World War, was a problem for all habitants of Amsterdam and also took its toll on the population numbers.
Immigrants have always been a big part of the life in Amsterdam. You have already read about the Jews from Antwerp for example. In the 17th and 18th century immigrants even formed the majority of the cities habitants. Most of them were German Lutheran Protestants. The influence is still very clear in the present as you will find many German surnames. Integration was surprisingly smooth. It was easy to find work as a craftsman, but they were forced to join the guilds and to serve in the city patrol. A quick integration was often the result. The city council in those days consisted of people with Dutch, German, Flemish, French and Scottish backgrounds.
After the Second World War many original ´Amsterdammers´ (habitants of Amsterdam) moved to smaller cities around Amsterdam (like Purmerend for example). But at the same time lots of immigrants from Turkey, Morocco and Suriname boosted the population.
Nowadays Amsterdam is home to people from 180 different countries and you will find English is just as much widely spoken as Dutch.