All last week I was in Amsterdam doing a film thing. More specifically (apart from a brief sojourn to the city centre to take in its many cultural highlights – think: coffee shops of both varieties, crowds of stoned British tourists and more bikes than I have ever seen in my life), I spent my time in Amsterdam Noord, a neighbourhood just across the IJ that’s only a brief ferry ride from Centraal Station. With what soon turned out to be an over-optimistic hope that I would get some tourist-ing done, I’d prepared myself by buying a second-hand copy of the Amsterdam Rough Guide, 2008.
It turned out I was mistaken twice over: as well as having little time to see the sights (I was way too busy mentally preparing myself for the event I was attending – see below), the single page the R.G. deigned to spend on Noordwas hardly illuminated: it was nothing more than a few dismissive paragraphs that could be summed up by the phrase: “industrial dysto-scape.” There was a brief note at the end saying that the city had some bird-brained hopes of turning Noord into a cultural hub one day soon.
Fortunately for me, in the ten years or so between the guide being written and my arrival, this promised day had come, with Noord being transformed into a buzzing, fun offshoot of the main city. The crown in the jewel of that decade’s urban development was the EYE Film Museum.
The EYE is an imposing structure, looming over the dockside in a way somewhat reminiscent of a sleek millionaire’s yacht scudding over crystal clear blue waters. Inside, the sense of opulence continues, with a terraced central atrium that serves as the museum’s main bar and restaurant. The room has the feel of an amphitheatre, except instead of overlooking Ancient Greek steppe, the view through its panoramic window is towards the very modern face of the Dutch capital. The whole place has a slickness that should be off-putting, but it is somehow counter-balanced by the warmth and passion for film of the many happy milling Amsterdam residents who throng there.
The rest of the neighbourhood takes its lead from the large bark-like thing moored at its gateway – sleek, showy, and sometimes a little OTT (the less said about the “sensational” swing that pendulums members of the public over a 100 metre drop at the nearby A’DAM Tower the better). Despite the vibe, Noord is, however – certainly compared to the centre of the city – a sort of oasis. It is quieter, and the people you pass on the streets seem calmer, less frenetic, friendlier. Without the cloying prettiness of the canals or the in-your-facedness of the sex-industry-dominated red light district, this little suburb to the north feels more like a place to spend time in than to pour through, somewhere liveable and lived-in.