Awesome Amsterdam Adventure (Part 2)

Day 2 in Amsterdam started with a somewhat early breakfast in the hotel. I think we were eating by 8. We had to make our way to the station to catch a train to Haarlem. It was only about a 15 minute train ride or so, really quick. Actually, it was my first train experience – that I know of. Since we got to Haarlem by about 9 or so, things were still pretty sleepy in the town. We walked from the Station to the Corrie ten Boom House/Museum/Clock shop.

This sign juts out into the street above the clock/watch shop which the ten Boom family used to run. The entrance to the house is off the alley to the side.

You don’t have to make a reservation, you can just show up and there’s a schedule outside the door to the house that tells you when the next tour is and in which language (Dutch/English). They take a max of 25 people and my Mom really wanted to make sure we got into the first one so we did in fact make a reservation. There was only one other family – from the States – who was in the tour with us. It’s not as popular a place as the Anne Frank House, but I actually liked it better. It might have something to do with the fact that Corrie and her family were Christians and their faith and love was the most important thing to them. It plays a huge role in their story and why they did what they did. People don’t always respond well to the gospel. My Mom had seen the movie The Hiding Place which tells Corrie and her family’s story.

The Ten Boom’s were watch/clock makers and repair-people. They were able to use the shop as an excuse for the constant stream of people coming to and from the house during the occupation. Of course curfews made things a little difficult, but Corrie was able – with the help of many people and the Dutch underground – to supply food stamps and other things to those families and homes sheltering Jews. They had a system to let people outside know if it was safe or not to enter the house. They didn’t turn anyone away, even when one of the Jews they ended up sheltering permanently was an old woman with terrible asthma who had been turned away from every other shelter. And a man whose features were so Jewish he would have been arrested on the spot without question. His family had been taken in by others, but they wouldn’t keep him because it was too risky.

See the little triangle clock statuette there in the bottom middle of the middle window? If that was in the window people knew it was safe to enter the house. If it wasn't there they knew to steer clear.

One of their ‘boarders’ was an electrician and he installed a bell and buzzers all over the house. It was loud enough to be heard throughout the house, but not outside. At one point there were 7 Jewish adults living with the Ten Boom’s. They had to climb up a couple of flights of steps to get to the secret room. They were able to go outside a little, on the roof, because the railings surrounding the porch-like area was covered. So as long as they crouched down and stayed quiet they could get some fresh air. The secret room was a small slice of room behind a false wall placed in Corrie’s bedroom. The false wall was made of brick so as not to sound hollow. There was a little door that could be raised at the bottom of a bookshelf. The Jews living in the house had to store all of their belongings minus the clothes on their back in the hiding place when they weren’t in use. When the room was built Corrie was told that they had to run drills to try to make sure everyone one of the Jews in hiding would be able to reach that room from anywhere in the house in a minute or less. And not only reach the room, but all be inside it. This was no mean feat! This meant at least 2 flights of winding, circular, narrow stairs (I can’t remember exactly) – if they were in the dining room – and a climb through a tiny hole. During dinner this meant taking plates, cutlery, and anything else that would give away another person eating there, all done as silently as possible with no dropped food or anything. At night this meant grabbing bed sheets and blankets and flipping the mattress so as not to give away there is a warm spot from a sleeping person. They finally managed to shave the time from 4 minutes to 70 seconds. Quite impressive if you ask me. I wouldn’t have wanted to run up those stairs that fast!

Can you imagine running up two fights like this as fast and as quiet as possible? I guess if your life depended on it you would.

One day when Corrie was quite sick (fever, dizzy-ness, headache, etc) a man came to the shop and refused to speak to anyone but her. Her wouldn’t look her in the eyes and there’s a Dutch saying along the lines of ‘you’ll know the measurr of a man by the way he looks at you’ or something like that. Basically, whether or not he looks you in the eye. He kept going on about needed money to save his wife (or someone) and was really distraught, but wouldn’t look her in the eye. She was suspicious because of this, but didn’t want to take the chance that he was telling the truth and someone suffered for her inaction. It was a lot of money, but she told him to come back at a certain time. He finally looked her in the eye. Later that morning there was a raid on the house. She was in bed at the time and remembers waking up to a buzzer sounding and not remembering scheduling a drill for that day. She remembers hearing the wheezing of Mary (the women with asthma) and praying for God to heal her and stop the wheezing before the soldiers came in the room. Miraculously it worked. Corrie had prepared a prison bag that had all the essentials she would need including medicine for her sister. I didn’t mention it before, but at this time I believe Corrie was already 51. In her haste she had thrown her prison bag in front of the door to the secret room. The soldiers ordered her to get dressed and come downstairs. As she went to reach for her bag she realized they might be able to see the door that way so she left it. It was a really hard thing for her to do. So, the Ten Boom’s and some other relatives and friends who had been there for a Bible study (which if not illegal at this time was not something you wanted to be caught doing) were all herded into the dining room and one by one taken into the clock shop and questioned.

They wouldn’t admit to hiding any Jews, knowing that it would be almost impossible to find the secret room. And in fact, I don’t believe the German’s ever found it. They found the spot where all the jewellery and things were hidden, and under the bottom step where all the food stamps were, but not the secret room with the 6 Jews (one of them was away at the time of the raid – the electrician – he was installing a buzzer system somewhere else). The ‘all’s clear’ sign had been knocked from the window and broken. One of the soldiers noticed Corrie look at it and picked it back up, put it together, and placed it in the window. Shortly after an unsuspecting person came to the door yelling that one of the others had been caught. They too were arrested and the soldier said ‘I knew it!’. He had a feeling about the clock statuette. All in all because of this I think they arrested 35 people that day. The Ten Boom’s also had a working telephone – pretty sure that also wasn’t allowed. Of course they had codes – all to do with clocks and watches – so if someone was tapping the lines they wouldn’t be found out. But that day a lot of people from the underground had been discovered and people weren’t taking precautions like normal, they were distraught. Corrie answered 3 or 4 phone calls in an unusually brisk manner, but it wasn’t until the last that the person on the other end caught on and hung up before saying anything.

Corrie and her family were all put on a bus and shipped out of Haarlem along with many of their friends and underground helpers. They were taken to prison with the others before being sent to concentration camps. Corrie was the only member of her family to survive. She was released due to a clerical error. All the women of her age were meant to be executed, but somehow (by the power of God) her name was put on a list of younger women and she was released. She spent the rest of her life telling her story and spreading God’s message across the world. It’s a very moving story. One women, one family willingly risked so much to save the lives of God’s chosen people.  There’s so much more to the story and I actually got out the book I bought there (for the first time since I bought it) and read a little bit to try to get more information. I know the people hiding had to stand in that place for at least a day if not more with no food or water. They had to wait until they were sure the coast was clear. And since the Germans were positive Jews were being hidden the house they made sure to look everywhere.

This is me trying not to get stuck in the door. The bedroom isn't that much wider than what you see in the picture. The width of the secret room was only about 2 1/2 feet or so, I think. Not very wide. With 6 adults it was standing room only.

I have to say, this tour moved me much more than going to the Anne Frank house. I think it was because it was more personal and not as many people. The women who gave the tour was an elderly volunteer, she was a child during the occupation. One ‘yeah!’ moment for me was when she informed us that it was the Canadians who liberated Haarlem. So far in my travels in Belgium and to Dachau, Germany it had been the Americans doing all the liberating. Not that that’s a bad thing! Liberation is liberation no matter who did it. It seems that the Canadians did more liberating in the Netherlands and the Americans in Belgium. I’m proud to be North American ;).

We had lunch in Haarlem before making our way back to Amsterdam. I forgot to mention that before the tour while we were waiting for it to open my parents spent a bunch of time in a cheese shop that’s just a couple of shops down from the museum/house. They bought some (picked up after the tour), but not before having a taste of a bunch of different kinds. The guy helping them was very helpful and enthusiastic. Lisa and I stood outside (I think the smell might have been a little too overpowering for me, can’t remember) watching traffic jam up on the small street. There was a truck making a delivery and because the street was narrow and because he wasn’t able to pull very far to the side, traffic was held up for a while. I thought it was funny. But only because it wasn’t me stuck in it. I think apart from the morning and the evening that street was pedestrian only.

Dutch cheese!

Once back in Amsterdam Lisa and I went off to do our own thing. She wanted to take me to the coffee-shop where you could buy brownies…or space cakes. Oh yeah, we’re bad. As an aside for those who don’t know; a coffee-shop sells marijuana, a café sells coffee.  We ended up wandering around, not knowing where we were. We managed to find this place we had been the day before and followed a group of kids in bright orange t-shirts because we figured they were going to the Anne Frank house (we were right) and the place Lisa was trying to find had sort of been around there. Her had Dad had found it the day before. Of course there are coffee-shops everywhere, it’s just trying to find one’s that sell baked goods. In our somewhat aimless wanderings we stumbled upon a shop that sells legit Absinth. It’s not green (yellow in fact) and you don’t light in on fire. Don’t let those sneaky Bohemians in Moulin Rouge fool you. The man selling it was very helpful and took us seriously. It was Lisa who wanted to buy some. I thought maybe because we are still sort of young (Lisa younger than me) that he would treat us that way, but he didn’t. Then again, we can be mature when we want/need to be ;).

And here are the different types of Absinthe as well as accessories to go with it.

We didn’t find what we were looking for on the other front. The Absinthe was something Lisa wanted to look for, but we weren’t really looking for. It was a fluke that we even saw the sign. And I guess we managed to find 1 of only 2 stores in Amsterdam that sell the real stuff. Finally after walking almost non-stop for about 3 hours we started to make our way back to the hotel. We hopped on a tram. We should have just walked, we weren’t that far. We started going in the wrong direction (I was still getting used to all the little tram details). I figured it would be easiest to head back to the station and then get on the right tram from there. We finally got there and got on a tram I thought would take use to our stop. There were so many, I just got one of the #s mixed up. It was not the right tram. But we got on just as it was getting ready to leave and we couldn’t get off. This one in fact only made about 6 stops and went right out of the city! Ahhh! And we were already going to be late in meeting our parents. Finally at the 2nd stop we got off, crossed to the other side and went back into the city. We then got on the correct tram and made it back in one piece. In rain because, yes, it had started raining during all this.

We ended up going for supper at a little place across the ways from our hotel. We got there just before they closed down the restaurant. After supper we wandered around more through the shops looking for little things we wanted. Some things we found, others we didn’t, and spirits weren’t the highest. Lisa and I left our parents again on our quest to find the right coffee-shop. And to see more. So we took off in a different direction. We ended up making a big circle and thankfully after a fruitful search making it back to familiar territory. We found this coffee-shop:

So classy. And right on the edge of the Red Light District too.

There are a bunch of ‘The Bulldog’ shops and I swear we went into each one. Finally outside this one there was a security guard who asked for I.D. As we were taking out our passports we asked if they had any baked good because there was no sense going in otherwise. And they did! The guy behind the counter was really open and friendly and pretty cheesy too. We were polite, saying things like ‘we would like’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’. One thing led to another and he said ‘that’s how I knew you were Canadian, you’re so polite’. I wish I could remember the rest of our conversation with the guy because it was really entertaining and I thought it would make a great story for here. But alas, 3.5 months is too long for my brain. I know one thing you’re probably all wondering about was whether we saw the Red Light District. The answer is yes. Again, by accident. Beside this shop was an alley. In this alley there were scantily clad women in windowed rooms selling all kinds of things I would never sell and doing it in the glow of creepy red lights. We walked through this alley to get home and to say that we did. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but I think it was something bigger (there were other alleys) and more…pronounced? I just thought since it seems like such a big deal and something that everyone always associates with the city, I thought it would be a little more obvious.

After finally achieving one of our goals for the day we quickly headed back to the hotel. We were tired, our feet were sore, and we just wanted to go to bed. And so ends day 2 of our Awesome Amsterdam Adventure!

Click here for information on the movie The Hiding Place which is based on the ten Boom family, the raid on the house, and their time spent in Concentration Camps.

Click for full album!

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  1. What an awesome adventure! Great pics as well. Again, I feel like I’ve just taken a mini-vacation after reading this post. Sharing it now on FB 🙂

    • Yeah! I’m glad. I’m excited to get around to this weekend, but it will be a little slow going. Hopefully you will enjoy your mini-vaca in London via my blog when I do get around to posting about it ;).

  2. I am so happy you are getting around Europe while you are out there! Amsterdam is a cool city. I believe the Van Gogh museum is in Amsterdam…highly recommended! I hope you can take a train to Paris…can’t come back to North America if you haven’t seen Paris!

    • I like visual art, but it’s not at the top of my interest list even though I can appreciate it. I thought of trying to get to the Van Gogh museum, but since I was with my family we had to find stuff to do that we all wanted to do. We did get to Paris, Aug. 9th I believe. Pictures are up on my FB page (I think, or maybe it’s my profile, I can’t remember) and it was great. The Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge…it was quite the experience. Only one day and there’s not much you get to see in one day, but now we can say we’ve been there.


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