Ice to warm the heart in Amsterdam
Wilco Van Herpen
The winters might be cold in the Netherlands, but a frozen canal or river perfect for ice-skating provides mountains of joy enough to warm up any Dutch person.It is always nice when a friend or relative fetches you from the airport whenever you visit your motherland. This time it was not my sister who was waiting for me, but a friend that I have known for years, Özkan Gölpınar. We are friends, really good friends. When he got divorced, he stayed at my place; when I got divorced, I stayed at his. We went together by car from the Netherlands to Turkey, I visited the village where he was born near Sivas. He saw the biggest ups and downs in my life and vice versa.
When Istanbul was not yet hip, we went in the winter of 1998 to make an article about nightlife in Istanbul for a Dutch magazine; without boasting unnecessarily, I can say that we were the pioneers of making Istanbul a hip and trendy place by showing another part of Turkey abroad. No misery, no politics but real nightlife.
So when I arrived at Schiphol, it was Özkan, who now works as a special member and adviser for the Dutch Council of Culture, who was waiting for me to take me to Amsterdam. While on our way to his house, we drove on Amsterdam’s highway, which was full of traffic. I suddenly remembered the time I visited the Netherlands during the 400th anniversary of the celebration of economic relations between the Netherlands and Turkey. Then-President Abdullah Gül was invited by Queen Beatrix for a number of ceremonies. Mr. Gül invited me as a representative of the Dutch community living in Turkey to join him during the visit. The busy highway I drove on now was empty that time. In front of the convoy and at the back of the convoy, uncountable numbers of military police had stopped all the traffic. It took us just 15 minutes to get from Schiphol to the center of Amsterdam; a trip that normally takes at least 30 or 40 minutes.
Finally, we arrived in Amsterdam and the first thing to do was visit a theater where I wanted to see a musical for children called “Minoes.” Minoes is a cat who transforms into a young and attractive woman because as a cat, she drank some chemical waste that fell from a truck. Annie M.G. Schmidt (a famous children’s book writer) wrote the story and years later, they even made a film about it. When I heard that there was a musical about it, I of course wanted to show this to my daughter Şira because she loved the film.
The musical was great with just six actors playing all the characters of the book. Four of the actors had to play double or sometimes even triple roles, but there was no moment in which I thought: “My God, what the heck is this?” Nowadays the cultural scene in the Netherlands is being hit by financial cuts from the government. This has led to a change in the financial support for all different kinds of productions and art projects. While once there was the government, nowadays you find companies who support (and some even make money) the cultural world. In the musical sector, there are two big producers: Albert Verlinde and Joop van den Ende. They build special theaters find actors, musicians and dancers and have produced many musicals. It might be really nice if in Turkey some of the bigger companies would do something like that – produce musicals for the people.
What I noticed was the diversity of the people; not just upper middle class or higher class people. It would be good if in Turkey there would be something like a Cultural Youngster Pass that enables young people and children to visit theaters and musicals more often. When I was young, I used such a pass frequently; it gave me very attractive discounts for concerts and plays I wanted to see, and it was really popular among all the children.
After the musical was finished, we went to the Leidseplein, a nice square in the heart of Amsterdam. Like every year during the winter, in the middle of the square was the famous ice-skating rink. Şira, feeling herself half-Turkish, half-Dutch, saw the spectacle and decided for herself that this was something really Dutch. “Papa, papa, I want to skate,” and before I realized it, I was standing with my daughter on the ice in the middle of Amsterdam. I can tell you, she really enjoyed it: Enough was not enough. She loved it and with her, countless foreigners.
What I noticed was that a lot of Moroccan and Turkish children also loved skating at that ice-skating rink. Surprised to see so many Turkish youngsters skating over there, I wondered why skating was not popular in Turkey. It would be such fun to have a skating rink in Taksim Square. Anyway, it is a very ugly, empty place not being used whatsoever in the heart of Istanbul. Build a big ice-skating rink (not only there, this could be done in many places in Turkey, like Ankara, İzmir, Diyarbakır, Trabzon and other places) and let the children (but also the adults) have fun on those two thin pieces of iron. I always say, you can see the warmest Dutch people during the coldest time of the year. When the rivers and canals are frozen and the Dutch get on their skates, you can’t find a happier and warmer nation then the Dutch. So do something like this in Turkey. There is already enough stress among many people and maybe this initiative would ease the stressed atmosphere a bit.