Issue #006 Published: 17-03-2016 // Written by: Quico Touw

Interview Amsterdam Alternative – Nina van der Weiden

“Although Amsterdam might often remind you of Disneyland in terms of its crowds, do not be fooled by the rental bikes in bright green, yellow or red colours, the winter caps with ‘Amsterdam’ written on them in bold letters or the coffee shops with Dutch treats. Whereas Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck head back home after closing, Amsterdammers actually live in Amsterdam…” Nina van der Weiden (1989) a political scientist and writer of How to Avoid the Other Tourists – Amsterdam. A tour guide that represents the Amsterdam ‘Amsterdammers’ live in. We met up for an interview:

1. Hi Nina, you wrote a great and unique tour guide, but nowadays there are so many online blogs and other tour guides, how is yours different?

I was aware of the huge number of blogs and tour guides already available about Amsterdam. However, in my opinion, most of the blogs and tour guides show the same Amsterdam: the canals, Museum square, hipster restaurants and so on. What I missed in all those blogs and tour guides was the true Amsterdam experience of Amsterdam. Moreover, the blogs and already existing tour guides are filled with somewhat standardized language usage and pictures. Therefore my main focus lies on the content. I also replaced the pictures with illustrations. And all of the tour guide is black and white. I do not think that a city as Amsterdam needs brightly coloured pictures to attract people to the city.

2. Your book is also for Amsterdammers. Isn’t difficult to convince Amsterdammers that they probably don’t know their own city that well?
Well, it is not about convincing them that they do not know their own city that well. It is about convincing them that there is much more to discover in their own city that they weren’t aware of. A more positive spin. When you have lived your whole life in one place you have your habits and fixed bars and restaurants where you meet up with friends and family. Usually you will not put much effort in discovering every hidden gem in town. But, when you are on holiday, backpack trip or exchange you want to explore every square metre of a city and go off the beaten track. Well, that is at least how I am. My tour guide is a bit of holiday for Amsterdammers in their own city. 

3. What does ‘Amsterdam Alternative’ mean to you and how does it relate to your guide?
Amsterdam Alternative shows the strength of collaboration. This unity of non-profit venues is the perfect example of the one plus one is three principle.  The resemblance between AA and How to Avoid the Other Tourists Amsterdam is the underground/underdog position of both. We both ignore the mainstream and put emphasis on uniqueness. Moreover, we are both independent. Where many guides and blogs are being paid by restaurants, museums or music venues to write something about them, How to Avoid the Other Tourists Amsterdam wanted to keep the tour guide as ‘clean’ as possible and therefore as legit as possible. In addition, both AA as How to Avoid the Other Tourists Amsterdam have been self-published. 

4. Amsterdam has been changing quickly over the last decade. Neighbourhoods that used to be ‘no-go’ areas are now the most popular places to live. The gentrification process of Amsterdam is in full swing. There are many things to say on this subject, but relating to your guide, what have you seen of this process during your research?
I wrote my tour guide in about 1,5 year and a lot has changed in only 1,5 years’ time. Especially the waterfront along the IJ in Amsterdam Noord, Bos&Lommer in West and the Transvaalbuurt in East are experiencing a huge increase in restaurants, bars and refurbished houses mainly for young urban professionals. My aim while writing this tour guide was not to write about every new hotspot or hipster venue like many blogs do, but a guide that covers an Amsterdam that Amsterdammers in general know. 

5. How can your guide help neighbourhoods keep their identity and (partly) prevent further gentrification?
I do not believe that my guide (or any other guide) can prevent further gentrification, actually I think it is hard in general to prevent gentrification. I do think that my guide helps neighbourhoods in keeping their identity. I emphasize the different identities of each neighbourhood. The neighbourhoods in Amsterdam are rather small, but the funny thing is that they all have an unique character. I believe that the identity of a neighbourhood is guaranteed by emphasizing the differences between them.

6. Whats next? How to Avoid the Other Tourists – Stockholm / Barcelona / Berlin?
A dream of mine is to become the new standard tour guide for unknown places. I would love to make a series with all the capitals of Europe. My next project will probably be Barcelona since Barcelona is having many issues with tourists, especially during spring and summer time. The inhabitants of Barcelona are even protesting against the number of tourists and put banners in front of their balconies with ‘tourists go home’. Wouldn’t it be lovely to change that vibe by writing a tour guide?