The Museumplein is a huge, somewhat favorite place in Amsterdam. There is a water surface, which mutates in winter to the ice rink, nothing more. As a tourist one was therefore happy about the red and white lettering in front of the Rijksmuseum on the edge of the square. “I amsterdam” stood there, more than two meters high and 23 meters wide, the perfect backdrop for a selfie against a historical background. Thousands of visitors sat here every day in scene, the most popular was the “d”. It was possible to pose and laugh, the ensemble was an icon, almost like the Eiffel Tower or Trevi Fountain.
But it was also a symbol of mass tourism, which is what bothers Amsterdam. That’s why it had to go. This week, the city had the letters removed, at the request of the green-left faction in the council, which was able to convince a majority. “I amsterdam stands for individualism, while we want to show solidarity and diversity in this city,” said Femke Roosma. “In addition, this slogan reduces the city to a marketing story.”
“I amsterdam” is an extremely successful campaign, later copied by cities like Moscow (“Wow Moscow”) or Lyon (“Only Lyon”). The advertising agency Kessels Kramer invented it in 2004, together with the big letters. At that time, the city was worried about their image, their dusty saying “Amsterdam’s’s” hardly lured anyone to the canals. The better the new one worked: The tourists flocked, also because of the boom in Asia, and increased the wealth of the city. In 2014, the first concerns were expressed in the media. The Kalverstraat in the Wallen had to be closed because of overcrowding, from “gedrukte”, crowds, around the canals and bridges was now everywhere the speech. Density stress. At that time, 14 million visitors a year were counted, and the question arose that even cities like Venice and Barcelona posed: Is there too much popularity?
In May, mayor Eberhard van der Laan gave the official answer: Yes, we have a problem with tourism. The city center had changed significantly, it looked like a festival area. Whole houses turned into Airbnb lodgings, interesting shops in brightly colored Nutella, Waffle or Goudashops. Residents felt bothered by drinking, roaring hordes. The “puking Briton” on bachelor tour became a hate character. And especially scary: that was only the beginning. Amsterdam is approaching the 20 million visitor mark; by 2030, if it goes on, 30 million are forecasted.
The city responded. It imposed ever-harder restrictions on Airbnb, stopping the notorious Bierfietsen, where drinking buddies cycle through the streets together, banishing cruise ships and tourist buses from the city center, banning the construction of new hotels, closing illegal pensions. And many more.
Since then, it has not got much better with the crowd. The new vacancy in front of the Rijksmuseum will not change that much. The action was only “powerless symbolism,” a critic scolded. Others asked if there were any more pressing issues: crime, the housing shortage, the rising cost of living, forcing many to move away. But Green politician Roosma is about fundamentals. One has to break away from the image as “Stad waar alles kan”, the city where everything is possible (and allowed). Tolerance and liberalism are important to Amsterdam, which in the seventeenth century gave refuge to people from all over Europe who were persecuted for their beliefs or their views. But: “Freedom knows limits, the freedom of one ends there, as the freedom of the other begins,” said Roosma in a recent discussion. One has to talk about those who “take too much freedom”. The former city councilor Frits Huffnagel proposes to systematically punish all rule violations for half a year, such as ignoring the prohibition of alcohol actually applied in the city center. That would get around quickly. His former colleague Carolien Gehrels thinks even further. One should control the behavior of the visitors over prices, approximately by means of a clever chip card: Who wanted in the red light district, would get deducted 25 euros, there would be a discount for the visit in the Stedelijk museum.
And the beautiful letters? Fans will find replacement. They are also located at Schiphol Airport and other parts of Amsterdam. Even the ensemble in front of the Rijksmuseum is not scrapped, but goes on a tour of the city after a renovation. First stop is a student hotel. In the end, the big announced reduction of the slogan was again: Marketing.