Ice skaters on Prinsengracht, Amsterdam

Ice skaters enjoying the late afternoon sun on Prinsengracht.  

In the distance is the Westertoren — the most sung-about church tower in the Netherlands.  In the diary of her life during the Second World War, Anne Frank wrote that she could hear the bells of the Westerkerk. 
The house where she and her family hid during the occupation is just a stone’s throw away from the Westerkerk.

Prinsengracht and Leidsegracht

While crossing a bridge over the Leidsegracht where it intersects Prinsengracht, Pieter Goemans was inspired to write the song, “Aan de Amsterdamsche Grachten” (To the Canals of Amsterdam). That was in 1949.

Dick Schallies, of the well-known Dutch Metropole Orchestra, wrote a melody for it. Johnny Kraaikamp was the first to sing it, but it wasn’t until 1956 that singer/actor Hans Boskamp cut a record with the song.

Later the song was covered by dozens of artists. The most popular version is by Win Sonneveld.

After Goemans died, in 2000, his ashes were scattered at the intersection of Prinsengracht and Leidsegracht.

The rendition in this video is by Tante Leen, a popular singer from the Jordaan district.

Many a foreigner, while not quite clear on the lyrics, can at least agree with the sentiment of the song:

To the canals of Amsterdam
I have pledged my whole heart
Amsterdam fills my thoughts
As our country’s most beautiful city

All those Amsterdam people
All lights late in the evening on the square
Nobody can wish for anything better
Than to be an Amsterdammer

At house stands at a canal in old Amsterdam
Where as a boy of eight I visited my grandmother
No I see an unfamiliar man in the front room
And that lovely attic has also been turned into an office

Only the trees dream, high above the traffic
And over the water sails a boat, just like back then

In August 2010 Amsterdam’s historic grachtengordel (literally, belt of canals) around the city’s center has been added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

The Canals of Amsterdam

Originally the canals of Amsterdam had several functions:

• they allowed for goods to be delivered from the harbor (and the markets at Dam square and Nieuwmarkt) to storage facilities and stores throughout thecity.

• they were used as defence moats

• they served to guide the water of the Amstel River through its former delta.

Nowadays its most popular use is recreation.

Taking a canal tour is one of Amsterdam’s top tourist attractions.

Swimming in the canals is discouraged — if not outright prohibited. People do fall in, though. Those who live to tell about it are always taken to a hospital for a tetanus shot.

Note that many of the houseboats lining the canals are not yet hooked up to the city’s sewer system.