Jennifer Osei-Mensah takes on the challenge of Amsterdam’s overnight museum binge.
Once a year in Amsterdam, the museums stay open from 7pm to 2am and, for only €20, you can gain access to unlimited artwork and exhibitions as well as special events and workshops hosted specially for the occasion. It’s no secret that the majority of tourists don’t go to Amsterdam for the museums, but given Museumnacht is mostly advertised in Dutch and booking requires a Dutch identity card (shout out to my local friend who snuck this keen-bean tourist in) you really do feel like you’re seeing the real Amsterdam. Naturally, having paid so little for access to about 50 galleries all over the city, we embarked on a mission to attend as many events, and photograph as many famous works as possible in five hours.
We started the night at a bar in NDSM (Nederlandse Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij, Dutch Dock and Shipbuilding Company that used the area until the 70s), a reclaimed wharf that’s a 5-minute ferry ride from Amsterdam Centraal and boasts bizarre architecture alongside affordable housing. The area is intimidatingly hip. Said bar, Pllek, may look like a heap of shipping containers from the outside, but is decked out with wood-burning fires and floor to ceiling glass windows looking out over the canal. From there we ventured into a building euphemistically called The Domesticator, which resembles a man fornicating with a dog. Take that as you will. It was in the ‘head’ of the dog that we attended a vibrator-making workshop, one of the ‘cultural events’ on offer. We dug out our GCSE science, choosing motors and resistors to fit into a circuit, thus customising our vibrators. The convenors of the workshop explained that this was a way of getting people interested in electronics and design, but making it relevant and useful. A very good philosophy, but we still giggled like school girls the whole way through.
Next it was time for some more conventional culture. We caught the ferry back to the central station and the tram to Museumplein, Amsterdam’s answer to Cromwell Road. We posed for the compulsory tourist pictures inside the letters of the I Amsterdam sign, and passed under the stunning façade of the museum into a crowded pop-up bar inside the foyer. It was a slightly ridiculous juxtaposition: people buying beer by the metre, just downstairs from some of Rembrandt’s finest works. First stop was supposed to be the Night Watch or Nachtwacht, Rembrandt’s colossal and renowned painting, but we got stuck in a silent disco on the way. Nachtwacht eventually found and admired (and used as a spectacular selfie backdrop), we headed downstairs to pose, ruffs and all, for an imitation Baroque painting, given to us as a polaroid.
Step three was the iconic Van Gogh museum. The main reason we wanted to visit, beyond seeing some of the most famous art in the world, was a chance to get our auras interpreted. This turned out to be a photo booth with an hour-long queue, and a surly staff member who told us to google the colours of our auras, as they are ‘really subjective’. However, we did literally run past the iconic sunflowers, and through a stunning multimedia exhibition which displayed Van Gogh’s illness towards the end of his life. There was another silent disco, which seemed to play solely ABBA, and a gorgeous selection of Gauguin and Laval’s paintings from the Caribbean.
Having sacrificed a large chunk of our evening to endless queues, we sadly did not have enough time to visit the Stedelijk Museum of modern art, nor take pictures of our nipples as part of which we had originally planned on doing. This wasn’t too much of a shame.
The last visit in our whirlwind tour was the Amsterdam Museum – a quiet and labyrinthine museum displaying the geographic and sociological history of the capital city. In a cobbled courtyard outside, they were serving hot soup to warm up fellow culture-vultures while they waited for a live band to play. This was probably the most relaxed and informative museum of the evening, exposing Amsterdam’s rich heritage. We ended the night at the station eating fries covered in Bindesauce, which is essentially melted peanut butter. What can I say? The Dutch aren’t famed for their cuisine.
Museumnacht was definitely a night to remember, our ridiculous and slightly hare-brained tour made possible by the impressive efficiency of Dutch public transport. It was a fantastic chance to see the best of Dutch culture without the crowds of tourists, but, beside that, when else can you dance in normally silent buildings, or gaze at masterpieces with a pint of Heineken? My advice to anyone visiting would be to focus your efforts on one or two museums in order to really make the most of them, as the ticket does allow you to revisit one museum for free during the week. What Museumnacht does really well is showcase the plethora of art, history and innovation in Amsterdam. I will definitely be going back.