Amsterdam’s canals: Happy Birthday, channel system!

For 400 years, the world famous canals run through the center of Amsterdam. The duct system is tourist attraction, popular residential location and bicycle graveyard – as the workers have the time built, researchers are still puzzling.


Amsterdam – The long grip arm descends again into the murky water of the Herengracht. A crowd of tourists had gathered at one of the many bridges and watched the spectacle. Bike after bike is in the clutches of the boot loader. Together they land on a rusty heap in the middle of the boat, freeing the canals of garbage and other bulky items. Why the channels can be used as a bicycle graveyard, remains a mystery. The gentlemen of the Amsterdam city planning have certainly had something else in mind when they created the channel system 400 years ago on the drawing board.

The end of 16 Century it had become close in Amsterdam. Immigrants from around the world soon found no place within the old city limits around the present station. “The people came with money and skills. This meant a lot of potential for the city,” says Lohman Wite, manager of Grachtenhuis, a museum about the history of the famous canals. In order to make room for immigrants and boosting trade, it was decided to expand the city.

In Grachtenhuis is presented today with a light installation, what happened then: the mayor, treasurer, engineers, architects, and not least, a representative of the military discussed together what the city should enlargement. Plans were rejected, made new. It took place, it should be nice. Ramparts in defense but were a must. Finally, it was agreed, four major channels circle around the old city center to create: Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht.

Built on Sand

“Within the new walls should be enough room for everyone, rich or poor. The Jordaan was built for the workers, for example,” says Lohman. Recognize that’s still on the lower ground floors – as compared to those of the magnificent houses along the major canals. “In Jordaan was not simply amassed so much sand.”

And sand to accumulate was necessary, because Amsterdam is below sea level. That alone was enough but not to implement the ambitious plans of the city architect in practice. Each house took stakes to not just after the building again to sink into the muddy ground. When the centuries old wooden posts today must be replaced, which is a costly affair. “From the bottom floor of the house are concrete pieces gradually drilled into the ground,” says Lohman.

The pile structure explains how developed the canal houses and why they are never much more than four or five stories: your weight would otherwise push the piles into the ground – and thus create their own quasi sinking. Much remains a mystery even for Lohman: “No one is quite sure how the workers have made the how they have kept the water from entering into the channels while they dug.”

Four channels, 80 years to build

Sure that a lot of workers are hired for the major project urban expansion is needed. “Many German came to build the channels for us,” says Marc Paping. The Dutchman, who introduces himself as “Paap” offers, in his private canal boat tours. Instead of large-scale advertising poster for other channel drives him mouth-to-mouth is better. Create a website for it is already too much of courtship. “It is much more typical for Amsterdam,” says Paap.

And so he cruises in the summer months with the lucky ones who were made aware of its range, through the large channels and small side arms of the city and tells of historical events surrounding his beloved waterways. The duct system, which is now a World Heritage Site, was built in the period of 80 years in three phases.

West of the main station south Jaap cruises past the Anne Frank House at Prinsengracht up to Leidsegracht, perpendicular to the four major channels. “Up here was the first phase,” said Paap. The second followed quickly by further Leidsegracht the semicircle following through to the Amstel, Amsterdam’s broad river. “When they wanted for the third phase of construction came, it has been observed: ‘We have built too much’ and leased the space once used as arable land, the area is still ‘plantation’..”

Too much living space for the city – which can be imagined today no one who has ever been on the Amsterdam housing market move. Homes in the city are in high demand – especially those with canal views. “Overall, 40 percent of Amsterdam can see from their homes a channel,” says Paap. And he should know, after all, he sits with his houseboat when requested canal view in the front row.

From houseboat to houseboat hippies yuppies

Houseboats are the Amsterdam cityscape as the Hagelslag called Dutch chocolate sprinkles onto the breakfast toast. Although they have since the first days of the sewerage system in the city are at home, at that time for poorer strata of society, her first boom came in the sixties. “There was no place in the city. Moor boats could buy cheap and the life on the houseboat was cheap at that time,” said Vincent van Loon, on the Prinsengracht operates a houseboat museum.

And of course a houseboat fitted perfectly into the image of the alternative lifestyle, the many examined in the sixties realize. Today it looks quite different. Long the houseboat existence holds on price with the rents of the canal houses. “From the hippies became yuppies,” van Loon.

The supply has the 21st Century adapted. All boats are connected to the city power grid – and the last floating homes are currently connected to the sewage system. Earlier centuries, the channels were used as sewers. “The houses also used the channels until the early 20th century as a sewage system,” explains van Loon.

Many parties anniversary

The World Heritage-channel system as a sewer? The 400th Birthday is a thing of the past. Instead, the Amsterdam are now very concerned about the water quality of their channels. “We keep the water clean in three different ways,” says Paap. “First comes fresh water from the river Amstel. Needs From there about three days to get the old water to the north at the central station once transversely force out through all channels. Then there are boats that gather a network the trash from the water surface.” And finally there are the crane boats, fishing on the bottom of the channels of garbage – and around 15,000 bikes per year out of the water.

Especially after the many festivals and on the canals the cleaning crew is required. And of the parties, it is the anniversary year be even more than usual, anyway. Beside the Koninginnedag wherein at 30 in each year April turned the canals into a seething sea of ‚Äč‚Äčorange and the many party boats cause a traffic jam in the canals, it’ll be like when Grachtenfestival in August something classic. “Rise of the composer” is the motto of 16 to 25 August. Like everything and everyone in Amsterdam are also the musicians be close to the water, but they are partly on stages in the channel itself

But not only the anniversary of the protected canal system will this year attract tourists. After much renovation, the Rijksmuseum will reopen its doors. And the Concertgebouw celebrates its 125th Birthday. Stand at the beginning and closing of the Jubilee but the channels in the heart: “Two magical winter” is the title that you want under the artist enchanted the Amsterdam canals with light art.

Lea Sibbel / dpa / sto

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