Monday, December 01, 2008

Zwarte Piet

Zwarte Piet - or Black Pete/Peter - is Sinterklaas (Santa Claus)'s politically incorrect companion.

This guy is dressed like Black Pete, standing in Dam Square collecting Euros and giving away little spice cookies (ah yeah, just like years in the past - they aren't wrapped and are sitting there in a canvas sack with pigeons walking around - NOT gonna eat those!)

Poor Journey - the only one who is ever willing to stage a shot for me - reluctantly takes a Euro over and drops it into the can so he can have his photo taken.

After the photo, Black Pete asked Journey if he's been good this year. Journey knows that Black Pete carries a whip with him. So it only takes a few seconds for him to answer "Yes, I've been good!". There are so many things that are *wrong* about this character!

De Bijenkorf, an upscale department store in Dam square, is 6 stories tall (lots of escalators!). The center holiday display contains ropes with animated Black Pete's climbing to the top and then dropping back down.

Yes, those are stuffed dogs hanging from each of the Pete's behinds. When Black Pete climbs ropes to break into people's homes their dogs attack him.

From what I've read, Black Pete is a source of debate, and rightly so. Many foreigners are offended when the Dutch paint their faces black and march in the holiday parade.

Pete is the "bad guy" - the antithesis of Santa. He's the one who punishes unruly children. He used to carry a whip and look very menacing, but over the years the costumes have become a little more colorful and he's been a little more friendly to children.

A few years ago the Black Petes in the parade adorned colorful face paint, but the Dutch didn't like it. Advertisers have tried to get away from the black also, but the Dutch like their customs and it was not well-received.

Learn more about Black Pete here:

Learn more about DiBijenkorf (one of my favorite stores) here:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Our Thanksgiving Feast (Amsterdam Style)

It has become a tradition for us to eat our Thanksgiving dinner in Amsterdam at the Pancake Bakery. The restaurant is a small little place on the Prisengracht canal, just down from the Anne Frank house. When we first started coming to Amsterdam, we just happened to stop by on a cold day and loved the food. Since then we have found it listed in almost all of the tour books!

The bakery is on the 1st and 2nd floors of the building. A steep wooden Dutch staircase leads to the 2nd floor.

The menu is amazing! Most of the pancake and omelet selections were created in honor of specific countries or regions of the world. Pancakes are traditional thin crepe-style pancakes that are bigger than a normal-size dinner plate (yes, the plates here are bigger than a Corelle dinner plate!).

The staff cooks the pancakes and other foods on a grill not far from the tables on the first floor.

That's the Thanksgiving spirit! Jagger stares off into space, Justice chews an extra straw, Journey sips his Chocomel, while Jeff checks his "Crackberry". Of course I was embarrassing them all by snapping pictures and having the flash light up the whole restaurant!

My plate. I was the boring one this trip. After too many Stroopwaffles and slices of spice cake the night before, I just couldn't stomach a sweet pancake, so I ordered the ham, cheese and onion pancake. It was delicious - the pancake was fried with crispy edges. It was excellent with my fresh squeezed orange juice (we watched them squeeze it).

Jeff was a little more adventureous. He ordered the Canadian Omlet.

It contained Canadian ham and cheeses and was served with salad.

The look on Jagger's face when they brought his plate was priceless. He was quite amazed!

Jagger and Justice both ordered the Dutch Pancake plate. It was an enormous thin pancake, covered in powered sugar, cherries, vanilla ice cream, and mounds of whipped cream (the normal version usually includes cherry liquer too).

The first spoonful - all whipped cream, of course!

Whipped cream all over his face, he goes in for another bite.

Journey - the boy who loves chocolate - chose a pancake drizzled in chocolate syrup, with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and powdered sugar. I don't think he knew where to start!

Look at that develish face!

Justice tries to figure out where to start too!

He likes it!

All three kids tired out before their plates were empty (thank goodness!)

Journey sits back to relax after eating all of the whipped cream, ice cream, and half the pancake.

Justice wrestles with cutting the last of his pancake and then gives up.

Journey starts to go into a sugar coma.

Jagger can't take another bite. "Someone take it away!"

-After filling the childrens' stomach with complete sugar, we were sure to take the long way - the very, very, very long way - back to the apartment. And it worked! After walking through Amsterdam looking at the sights for almost two hours, the sugar had worn off and they were tired!

Overall it was a nice time. The kids don't usually eat a lot of sweets so this was a very special treat - something we only do in Amsterdam. And even though everyone was a little tired, we were able to give our thanks and discuss our gratitude for our health and happiness.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hollandsche Schouwburg (Holland Theater)

After visting the Dutch Resistance museum, we took a short walk over to the Hollandsche Schouwburg - Holland Theater.

Built in 1892, this theater was a popular theater, running many Dutch plays. During the 1930's many Jewish citizens lived in this area of Amsterdam, so the theater had a large Jewish following.

In 1941 the Germans changed the theater's name to Joodsche Schouwburg - Jewish Theater. After that, only Jewish actors and artists were allowed to perform here.

In 1942 and 1943 the theater became a deportation center for Jews in Amsterdam and surrounding areas - waiting to being taken to transit camps. After the transit camps they were taken to the concentration camps.

Many families were brought to the theater by force and had to wait hours, days, or even weeks inside the theater, unsure of their fate.

Inside the first floor of the theater is a large wall that lists the names of the 6700 families Jews killed by the Nazis. Of the 104,000 individual Jews killed, somewhere around 70,000 of them passed through this theater.

A candle in the center of the floor burns continually as a reminder.

The 2nd floor of the museum contained many individual photos of the families that passed through the theater. Everything was in Dutch so we were not able to read most of it. However, the photos were quite moving.

Many of the photos were of the efforts to remove Jewish children from a nearby child care/ nursery. I had read about this before and was familiar with it and recognized the photos. On one particular day, when the Germans were aggressive attempts to round up Jews, the workers in a nearby nursery saved over 70 Jewish children by smuggling them out in any manner possible - in laundry carts, trash bins, food storage bins, etc. In many situations the children were taken out as the city trains passed and handed off to anyone who opened their arms. When the Germans arrived at the nursery and found that many of the Jewish children were missing, many nursery workers were either executed or sent off to camps.

After World War II ended, the theater was neglected. The building was not used or maintained until the 1960's when the city of Amsterdam decided to create this memorial.

Due to lack of care, the original theater was in a terrible state of disrepair. They were unable to save the original theater and instead built a memorial on its original location. The pillar that you see in the center above is built on a star shape base - the Star of David. The jagged brick walls on either side are the original walls to the actual theater (where the seats were). The common area of the theater was re-built to be the welcome area for the museum (where the family name wall was).

An engraving on the cement wall is in remembrance of the families that passed through these walls.

Wooden tulips with memorial notes attached line the walls of the old theater area. These are left daily by visitors.

Jeff, Justice, and Jagger pause to think about everything we have learned on this day.