Tuesday, August 1, 2017

served by tram lines 13 and 17

I'm reading the diary of Anne Frank, a true-life dystopian young adult book. The first time I read The Diary of a Young Girl, I was about 15, and the book was a class assignment. I'm reading it now for a couple of reasons, the primary one being that it's set in Amsterdam, where you know we've recently been. We've been to the house where the Franks hid themselves from the Gestapo for two years, so I can picture the house, the street, the canal that the house overlooks, etc. I've heard the bells of the Westerkerk, a church whose tower we saw almost every morning when we left our apartment.


Westerkerk tower in the distance. Photo: Mighty Reader

We did not, however, actually set foot inside the Frank's house. We stood on the pavement in front of the house, confused for a few minutes before we walked on in search of a place to eat breakfast. It turns out that you need to order tickets to the Anne Frank House online, at least a month in advance. So next time, if we remember.

Frank mentions in her diary that the house is served by tram lines 13 and 17. Mighty Reader and I have ridden on both of those trams, which still serve the neighborhood. The public transportation in Amsterdam is pretty good. Frank also mentions bicycles several times, and her sadness that under the Gestapo rules Jews are not allowed to own bicycles (or ride the trams or the ferries or in cars or move about in any way except on foot). Because a Jew on a bicycle is a danger to public order, one assumes.


Typical Amsterdam scene, bikes thick on the pavements. Photo: Mighty Reader

We managed to drag all of our luggage via tram from the apartment to Amsterdam Centraal Station when we traveled by train outside of Amsterdam. The trams are not large but they have reserved areas for luggage, prams, and wheelchairs. People were polite about giving us room for all our junk. In 1943, a person schlepping four pieces of luggage around would've been subject to being stopped and searched on the chance that he was a Jew trying to escape town. A Jew on the loose in Europe was a danger to public order, one assumes.

Without our luggage, we managed to bike just about everywhere. Mighty Reader will tell you that she loves her own bike--a 21-speed hybrid she calls "Bessie"--so much because the bike represents personal freedom, the ability to get up and go wherever, whenever, in a swift, light and maneuverable manner. I don't quite feel that way about my Cannondale (lately dubbed "Bernardo"), but it's always good to be out on the road on our bikes.


Bessie and Bernardo shopping for books in Seattle. Photo: Mighty Reader

The cycling culture in Holland, especially in Amsterdam, is terrific. Everyone yields to bikes, even trams and pedestrians. There are bike racks everywhere, bike paths running parallel to streets and roads, bike shops galore, and the understanding that bikes are not rude intruders into a city whose streets are owned by cars and trucks. It was a little bit of a culture shock to return to the streets of Seattle, where drivers have not quite embraced the idea of sharing the road. We have become more assertive cyclists after our brief visit to Amsterdam, though I'm not sure that's a wise development.

I cannot imagine Amsterdam under the control of the Gestapo, with some of the population's civil rights dramatically curtailed, forced to wear an insignia that publicly identifies them as enemies of the state until the state decides to cart them away to death camps. The prohibition against owning a bicycle was the least of their worries, but equal protection for all under the law helps keep us from objectifying our neighbors, allowing us to maintain our own claims to humanity. Equal protection under the law is the basis for the moral authority of democracy.

11 comments:

  1. wonderful pictures; my mental images of Amsterdam stem from reading the mystery novels of van de Wetering, with lots of canals... the reality, i see is different, with narrow streets and high buildings...
    interesting info re the bike culture and heavy bicycles... i wish it was easier to ride here... my daughter gave me her carbon fiber 27 speed; heretic that i am, i stripped all the unnecessary stuff of it and converted it into a one speed which weighs in at 12.5 lbs. i ride it around Longview a lot, amazing and terrorizing the denizens...

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    1. Excellent! I know a guy here at the university who rides an ultralight fixie and I'm just in awe. I could never make it up these hills with just one speed. My dream is to have a stripped-down lightweight seven-speed with a rear caliper brake and nothing else. Well, a saddle. But no rack, fenders, any of that.

      Yes, Amsterdam in my imagination was dark and grimy, but instead it was bright, clean, and very pretty. I am trying to imagine the city in clear weather, the shop signs gleaming with fresh paint, while the SS rounds up citizens and the RAF bombers fill the sky on the way to bomb the Ruhr valley.

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    2. nerve shattering images... my bike is just a one speed, not a fixie... re the brake: put it on the front, not the back... 70% of braking power is done in the front; it does take a bit of getting used to, tho...

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    3. I always get confused about the difference between fixie and single-speed. Did you just ditch the derailleur, shorten the chain and pick a gear on the cluster? How does that conversion work?

      I would kill myself if I had only a front brake! It sounds exciting, though...

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    4. i got a kit for the single rear sprocket(it includes spacers to line it up with the chain wheel) and removed two of the latter(i used the most appropriate one-you have to decide what gear ratio you want). ideally, you're not supposed to be able to fit a chain onto this combination without horizontal dropouts, but i got a chain tool and some chain and fussed around with links until i got a setup that worked with the vertical dropout that was on the frame... i've ridden it for maybe four hundred miles now with no problems... if memory serves, an 18 tooth sprocket with a 42 tooth chain wheel is about right... if you use a carbon fiber frame, don't drill holes in it to lighten it up: they break sometimes... but even with an aluminum frame, you should be able to come out at around 16 lbs, or so... good luck!

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    5. oh, i forgot: yes, ditch the derailleur: so, no shifting to worry about... but i don't know if this would work up where you live... i've read about a German manufacturer that makes a seven speed rear hub with coaster brake, but i think they're quite expensive... plus you get the pleasure of sorting out spokes and lacing your own wheels(i've done that, it isn't as hard as it looks...)

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    6. oh, again: on a fixie the cranks rotate all the time-you can't coast...

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    7. So you have to take the chain apart to replace the rear tube or patch a flat? I suppose if you have a master link and a chain tool, that's no big deal, and anyway I've never had to fix a flat on my bike in the decade I've owned it (though I have Kevlar tires that apparently never wear).

      I did some googling, so I understand the one-speed conversion kit now versus the fixie. Interesting. Not that I'll do that to my Cannondale.

      The 7-speed hub w/coaster brake idea looks interesting, too. I'm not afraid of assembling a wheel, either.

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    8. no chain disassembly: it's just like any other bike... the chain circles the chainstay, but the wheel can be removed just by loosening the axle nuts...

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  2. "The prohibition against owning a bicycle was the least of their worries, but equal protection for all under the law helps keep us from objectifying our neighbors, allowing us to maintain our own claims to humanity."

    Yes—have you ever read Viktor Klemperer's war diaries? He was a professor of Romance literature in Dresden, and his diaries document not several years of visible violence, because he wasn't privy to that, but a slow increase of laws and prohibitions that would, each on its own, be a bizarre little inconvenience, but which endured as a whole added up to dehumanizing oppression. No bicycles this week. Then no pets next week. Then no using public transport the week after that. And so on, until any trace of normal living is grounds for arrest. All of which is my roundabout way of saying that I appreciate that your time outside Anne Frank's house prompted this post.

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    1. A moral erosion, you might say. I'll see if the university library has the Klemperer; it looks interesting and useful. I wish we'd looked into tickets to the Frank House when we were planning our trip, so we could've gone inside.

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