Amsterdam Sights



Vondelpark Review

On sunny days, Amsterdam's "green lung" is the most densely populated section of the city. Vondelpark is the place where sun is worshipped, joints are smoked, beer is quaffed, picnics are luxuriated over, bands are grooved to, dogs are walked, balls are kicked, lanes are biked, jogged, and rollerbladed on, and bongos are bonged. By evening, the park has invariably evolved into one large outdoor café. The great thing about this park is that, as long as you stay relaxed and go with the flow, you can dress however, hang however, and do whatever. A mysterious man danced around the park for years on 1970s silver roller skates, wearing silver body paint and a silver G-string (even in winter), with shaved legs and chest, headphones, and a silver cap with propeller, and nobody batted an eyelid.

In 1865 the Vondelpark was laid out as a 25-acre "walking and riding park" for residents of the affluent neighborhood rising up around it. It soon expanded to 120 acres and was renamed after Joost van den Vondel, the "Dutch Shakespeare." Its naming was explained in the 1945 guidebook for Canadian Liberators (Dutch on so many levels): "We hardly ever seem to allow a great man to be great in his lifetime but we honor him copiously when he is dead. This prevents them from becoming conceited and it doesn't cost much to name a park or street after them." Landscaped in the informal English style, the park is an irregular patchwork of copses, ponds, children's playgrounds, and fields linked by winding pathways. The park's focal point is the open-air theater, which offers free summer entertainment from Friday through Sunday. Forms of specialized exercise to be found in the park include spontaneous tai chi and group meditation (usually dotted around the park).

Over the years a range of sculptural and architectural gems have made their appearance in the park. Picasso even donated a sculpture, The Fish, on the park's centenary in 1965, which stands in the middle of a field to deter football players from using it as a goalpost. The terraces of the Blue Teahouse, a rare beauty of functionalist Nieuwe Bouwen (Modern Movement) architecture, built beside the lake in 1937, are packed throughout the day, starting with dog walkers in the early morning to clubbers by night.

Updated: 08-27-2012

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