The Dam on the River Amstel

Following Belgium, my dad and I took a BlaBla Car up to Amsterdam on Christmas Eve. Neither of us had ever been to The Netherlands apart from the airport. We were both greatly impressed! It’s a beautiful city, its relationship with the water is fascinating, it is packed with cultural offerings, and tons of things were open even on Christmas Day.

DSCN0084On our first night we decided to head out and find the land exhibition of the Amsterdam Light Festival, an annual winter festival that showcases artistic demonstrations of light around Amsterdam. Many people visit the festival by way of a canal cruise, but the land exhibition was set up on the harbor to allow access on foot, not by boat.

The artwork ranged from delightful to nonsensical, but we enjoyed the experience. Even more so, we found that the National Maritime Museum (which we walked straight through to get to the light art) was open late and free for Christmas Eve. After the light art we geeked out at the museum a bit. Dad particularly enjoyed the Dutch Atlas exhibit (they had a very cool old map on display as well).

The rest of our trip was made up of city tours, canal tours, and lots of lots of museums. I liked piecing together more and more clues about the history of Amsterdam and The Netherlands and interweaving them with my other knowledge of history and culture to build a full story of Amsterdam, Netherlands, and the world.


Here’s the official list of the museums we made it to:

  • ARTIS-Micropia (microbiology museum)
  • EYE Filmmuseum
  • Foam (Photography Museum of Amsterdam)
  • Jewish Cultural Quarter – National Holocaust Memorial
  • Jewish Cultural Quarter – National Holocaust Museum
  • Jewish Cultural Quarter – Jewish Historical Museum
  • Huis Marseille – Museum for Photography
  • NEMO Science Museum
  • Rembrandt House Museum
  • National Maritime Museum (we actually went here twice)
  • Van Gogh Museum
  • Dutch Resistance Museum
  • Amsterdam Tulip Museum
  • Anne Frank House

I’m certainly impressed by the ground we covered, but I have no doubts that others have blown us away in terms of the cultural offerings of Amsterdam, even in the same amount of time that we were there. However, in some ways, it’s more telling to list the museums that we would have liked to have gone to but didn’t get a chance to see:

  • Jewish Cultural Quarter – Portuguese Synagogue (this would have completed the Jewish Cultural Quarter for us, but we lost track of time and arrived when it was closing)
  • Rijksmuseum
  • Outsider Art Museum – Hermitage
  • Hortus Botanicus – Botanical Garden
  • Museum Our Lord in the Attic
  • Museum Het Schip – School of Arts and Architecture
  • Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
  • Tropenmuseum Ethnography/Colonial Museum
  • Museum Van Loon
  • Museum of the Canals
  • Houseboat Museum

I think Dad also wanted to go to the cheese museum, but I have no regrets.

Clearly there was a Jewish focus to our museum-going. Despite knowing about Anne Frank, I was fairly ignorant to the vibrancy and size of Jewish life in The Netherlands prior to the war. Hearing so much about the growth of the community, flourishment, and downfall was very sad. Something my dad said actually brought to my memory a conversation I once had with my Peace Corps friends Matt and Thomas, somewhere on a dirt road among the highland farms in Estelí, Nicaragua (it was during this trip). I asked them if they thought that something like the Holocaust could ever happen again, particularly in the United States (I suppose it’s this sort of intellectual conversation that attracted me to them as friends).

It was October 2015 and Trump was campaigning for President. I was learning for the first time about Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, and the rhetoric of the alt-right. Matt and Thomas felt that it was not possible for something like the Holocaust to happen in the United States, but I was skeptical of that position then, and I feel even more so now that it is certainly possible. Indeed, it has happened many times since WWII. Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Kurdistan, and most recently the Rohingya are just a few examples of systematic extermination campaigns.

To think that there is any sort of American exceptionalism that would prevent atrocities like these from taking place is patently false. Nor can we rest on a sense of superiority brought about by being from a more developed country. There have been oppression campaigns in more developed countries since WWII as well. Alan Turing and the chemical castration of homosexuals in the UK comes to mind, as well as assimilation programs against aboriginal peoples in Australia and Canada. In the US, I can easily envision a suppression campaign that ends in the detainment and disappearance of Muslims and immigrants. Latinos, LGBTQ individuals, journalists, and other foreign nationals are also particularly vulnerable in the current environment.

These conversations bring us very far from me sharing with my readers a pleasant trip to Amsterdam. However, I’m glad that Amsterdam has the monuments and museums to teach us and remind us about these horrible moments in history. Just take this as a reminder that there are no laurels that we can rest on, and education, engagement, and activism are still necessary. This is particularly true when so many people would vote for men like Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Roy Moore. Even more so, a subset of our society has shown shown their face by willingly running people over with vans and killing them in Charlottesville just because they disagree. Courts, law, society, and the education system need to work together to prevent these instances from growing or happening again. I’m particularly impressed by the small number of my friends who work in the courts system and federal civil rights divisions. I’ve seen them toil and persevere despite many difficulties.

Back to Europe …

On December 29 it was time for my dad and I to part ways. He flew back to New York that morning to spend New Years with my mom, and I went on to England in the late afternoon to spend New Years with my camp friends.

My most liked Instagram post ever is from Amsterdam:

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Amsterdaming with my dad

A post shared by Eric Insler (@einsler) on

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