Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Amsterdam Day 3: Anne Frank Huis

On the first day of 2013, we slept in a bit, but not too much because we wanted to beat the crowds at the Anne Frank Huis which opened at midday. Unfortunately many other people had the same idea, and so we spent an hour and a half waiting in the cold to get in, comparing the purpling of our fingers and staring up at the clearing sky. Why could it be dry today, and not last night?

The wait was worth it, though. We thought they were only letting in groups of twenty or so at a time (hence the long line) but really the line moved slowly because the house was absolutely full of people. Despite this, the atmosphere of the place was amazing - very quiet, with everyone looking at the stories and relics of the secret annexe's inhabitants and being respectful.

The house was Anne's father's office and warehouse, and Anne and seven other people shared a few rooms at the back of the building for two years until they were betrayed by an anonymous tip and sent to concentration camps. Of the eight, only Anne's father survived the war, and went on to publish Anne's diary.

You start out in the front rooms, where the warehouse and offices were in Anne's time. Only the office workers knew about the annexe's inhabitants, and Anne, her family and the others had to be careful the warehouse workers didn't hear them. There are photos of the office staff and Anne standing in these same rooms, and it's surreal to think of them there. You climb some very steep stairs and after a few more rooms, you climb behind the bookcase and enter the annexe.

First is the room in which Anne's parents and sister slept, with curtains shut and light dim. The rooms are actually larger than what I'd thought, but if you consider eight people living here for two years in very little light without going out, and without being able to make noise for fear of discovery, it was probably incredibly claustrophobic. Next is Anne's narrow room that she shared with one of the other inhabitants, still with her pictures of film stars and art pasted on the walls, and then the washroom with its basin and not much else. The stairs to the upper floor are even steeper - they take about as much floor space across their rise as they do across their width - but above is the main living room where two more people slept at night, and then Peter's small room with its ladder up to the attic and the window where Anne and Peter used to look out at the world.

It's so strange to think of everything that went on in these rooms, both the day-to-day living and the final day when the people were taken away. The rest of the museum shows pictures of Anne at all ages until 13, when the last photograph of her was taken. It seems incredibly sad that we can read her words but not know what she looked like in those last years, and that there is a 'last photo' of her that shows her at such a young age. Another section talks about discrimination, and trying to figure out the right thing in a world that has so many different ways to define 'right' and 'wrong'. The Nazis thought what they were doing was right. Many people today who do terrible things think the same.

By the time we left the museum it was 3.30 and we needed food. TOWSR wanted more chips (a dependable gluten-free lunch) so we went to Febo and I tried out the hamburger vending machines. The burger was actually pretty good - I guess they replace them lots and they spend less time in there than they might do in McDonalds warmers. Next we tried to find chocolate, and despaired of ever finding a proper supermarket (where do Amsterdammers buy their food from? Do they eat out every night? We are unsure). And lastly, back to the hostel to warm up...


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