With its long history and despite its troubles, it’s hard for me to imagine Amsterdam without its Red Light District. It’d be like imagining Amsterdam without its coffee shops. But that’s another story.
Right-wing alarmists complain that political correctness runs amok. Imagine their despair to learn the Amsterdam Museum banned the phrase “Golden Age.” The reason: the golden years weren’t golden for everyone. But terms like “Golden Age” make history more accessible, and god help us, we need to talk about our history more if we want to change our future.
In 1596, 100 Africans arrived in Middleburg, Zeeland – the first black people known to set foot in the Netherlands. The city fathers declared them free, but the ship captain who wanted to sell them as slaves objected. Within months, they were on their way to the Caribbean to be sold as slaves. Why is this story relevant today?
Quick: Name the biggest company the world’s ever seen. Apple? Amazon? Some bank or real estate developer? Nope. To guess correctly, you’d have to pick a company that went out of business in 1799.
In’t Aepjen still exists as a tavern to this day, though it is monkey- and flea-free, and as far as I know, its patrons are not in danger of being pressed into three years’ service with the merchant marines.
The Dutch had always been close to water, of course. It’s hard not to be when much of your nation is below sea level anyway. There’s an old saying that “God made the world, but the Dutch made the Netherlands,” and that’s certainly true when you consider that through the use of polders, dykes and sheer willpower, the Dutch pulled much of their land out of the sea.
When you’re writing historical fiction, details matter. It was important to know when ships bearing luxuries from overseas might be arriving back in port to Amsterdam. So off to the internet I went.