If a single individual may be said to “personify” the Holocaust—a status that is surely an unbearable burden—that person must be Anne Frank. Her diary, compiled as a series of letters addressed “Dear Kitty” and kept for more than 2 years until her arrest on August 4, 1944, has come to symbolize the plight of millions of Jews during the Nazi terror. “The Diary of a Young Girl” (1947) includes photos of Anne and the people she hid with, plus a map of the secret annex in the house on Prinsengracht .

For a personal insight into Vincent van Gogh’s life and art, read Ken Wilkie’s “The van Gogh File: A Journey of Discovery” (1990). What began as a routine magazine assignment in 1972 to coincide with the opening of the Van Gogh Museum became exactly what the book’s subtitle indicates: Wilkie followed Van Gogh’s trail through the Netherlands, Belgium, England, and France. Along the way, he met some of the last surviving people to have met the artist.

Nicolas Freeling’s “Love in Amsterdam” (1962) was the first in his series of Inspector Piet Van der Valk detective novels, and even though it’s the Amsterdam of almost a half century ago, the city is easily recognizable, and something of a co-protagonist. Much the same could be said of Alistair MacLean’s thriller “Puppet on a Chain” (1969). In 1980 Dutch novelist Cees Nooteboom set his finest work, “Rituals,” on the streets of Amsterdam, while Sylvie Matton captures Rembrandt’s descent into bankruptcy all too vividly in 1997’s “Rembrandt’s Whore.”

For non-fiction, Simon Schama’s “The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age” (1987) lets you inside Amsterdam’s greatest period and is simultaneously lighthearted and scholarly. Most of the 700 pages feature works of art that are explained in the text. Schama succeeds in his intention “to map out the moral geography of the Dutch mind, adrift between the fear of deluge and the hope of moral salvage.”


Amsterdam-born film director Paul Verhoeven is probably the best-known Dutch filmmaker—although that doesn’t mean that Verhoeven’s Hollywood films, such as “Basic Instinct,” “Robocop,” and “Starship Troopers,” contain anything inspired by his hometown. Closer to home is his wartime resistance drama “Soldier of Orange” (1977), starring Jeroen Krabbé and Rutger Hauer. Another wartime drama, “The Assault,” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1986.

Amsterdam was also the backdrop in “Ocean’s Twelve” (2004) and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” (2017), which featured a chase scene on the canals. And in the 2014 film adaption of John Green’s hit novel “The Fault in our Stars,” the bench where the couple kisses has become a pilgrimage site for the movie’s many fans. It can be found on the Leidsegracht canal.

Although The Netherlands is not a big producer of fictional films, it does have a reputation for creating outstanding documentaries. Filmmakers Heddy Honigmann, John Appel, and Coco Schrijber are among those who benefit from an excellent infrastructure for documentaries, made possible by Dutch television and the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the biggest documentary film festival in the world, which is held annually in mid-November.


About the only well-known song in English to feature Holland in a starring role is “Tulips from Amsterdam” (1956), which was originally written in German. This dose of concentrated saccharine keeps the unlikely company of pot-smoking, sex-tourism, and gay parades as a popular image of the city.

Amsterdam has been immortalized in only a few pop songs, however; notably the “Ballad of John and Yoko” by John Lennon, following the pair’s notorious “bed-in” at the Amsterdam Hilton in 1969. And Neil Finn of New Zealand band Crowded House wrote the following lyrics after spending a wasted weekend in the coffeehouses of Amsterdam: “Lying in the streets of Amsterdam/Nearly fell under a tram,” which are hardly going to win any prizes for sentiment but probably echo the experiences of many a newbie visitor to Amsterdam.

Today, electronic dance music is one of The Netherlands’ main cultural exports. Famous Dutch DJs like Tiësto, Hardwell, and Armin van Buuren perform their sets for huge audiences around the world, with extravagant light shows equal to those of the biggest pop stars. The Amsterdam Dance Event, held every year in October, is the biggest conference and festival of its kind, drawing around half a million visitors over five days.

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