The Gradual Disappearance of Amsterdam’s Cultural Free Haven

Valeria Mongelli Columns, Opinions, the amsterdammer 3 Comments

Amsterdamse Doe Maatschappij (ADM) – a creative haven and the Netherlands’ largest squatted community – is under serious threat. Here is why we should all stand up and fight for it.

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ADM symbol on a home-made poster by ADMers. ADM free haven is the Netherlands’ largest squatted community, repeatedly threatened of eviction. The Board of State has recently ordered squatters to leave before Christmas 2018. Valeria Mongelli / The Amsterdammer

ADM is not only a squat. It is a space of freedom and creativity, a testament of the value of diversity against cultural mass production. However, in a few months, it may cease to exist.

The history of ADM is defined by the fight for freedom and for human rights. Since its beginning, this community has been threatened by real estate speculation and politics. ADM, a former shipyard in Amsterdam-Westpoort, was squatted in 1997. The next year, the owner and real estate trader Bertus Lüske (also known as Bulldozer Bertus), tried to forcibly and illegally evacuate the site with an excavator. His excavator partially demolished the main building while squatters were asleep. The damage to the building is still visible and has since been transformed into artwork by its creative residents. Police eventually ended the illegal eviction, after which Lüske was accused and convicted for attempted manslaughter.

Lüske passed away in 2003, but his heirs continue to threaten the existence of ADM. They have publicly stated that they want to re-establish shipyard activities on ADM land. At the same time, they have quietly started a court case to demand the removal of an important clause in the original contract, stating that only shipyard activities are allowed on ADM land. That would allow them to build new developments on ADM land, tripling its value. The municipality tried to negotiate with Lüske’s heirs to purchase this land. However, the negotiations broke down as the asking price was far too high.

The court case involving ADMers, the municipality of Amsterdam and Lüske’s heirs is still ongoing. Yet, the Board of State ordered the squatters to leave by Christmas Day, without hearing the court’s final verdict.

Despite the continuous threats of eviction, ADMers have built a unique space teeming with creativity, a beautiful and chaotic experiment of interaction between people and nature. Over 130 inventors, sculptors, craftspeople, musicians, painters, theatre performers, directors, photographers, itinerant bakers, designers, and writers comprise the ADM community. ADMers have planted trees on the land, helping to create a distinctive ecosystem within the industrial harbor. Hundreds of animal species are part of this vibrant ecosystem and many of them are protected by Dutch and European laws. All of this is put on display during the annual ADM festival – a festival almost unique in Europe.

ADMers recently brought an additional court case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg with the attempt to preserve ADM’s cultural and artistic heritage. They hope to receive protection from E.U. human rights law, since the Dutch system failed to guarantee.

The municipality has offered one solution to ADMers – with a long list of caveats. They propose to allocate them new space in the north of the city, but this land could only be occupied for a maximum of two years. This band-aid solution would severely diminish the long-term survival prospects of the ADM. Moreover, this new space would only be available to those officially registered on the old ADM land. This is in addition to harsh noise restrictions (no noise after 10 p.m.), no amplified music, no houseboats, no right of swimming, no barbecues, no open fires, no right to organize festivals and no right to cultivate land. This list of draconian measures would deprive ADM of all the elements that have made it such a unique cultural experiment spanning over two decades, and would surely spell the end of the community.  

Deputy Mayor, Udo Kock (from the social liberal party D66), who is responsible for finance and economic affairs for the City of Amsterdam, publicly stated that ADMers’ privileges should be eliminated. He said that ADMers should observe the same rules as other citizens, in complete ignorance of the uniqueness of ADM community. A reader of Het Parool has then accused him of speaking of ADMers in a derogatory manner.

To make matters worse, we have heard nothing more than silence from the City Board guided by Femke Halsema (GreenLeft), the recently-elected leftwing Mayor of Amsterdam. Despite her positive rhetoric towards diversity and alternative cultures, the current political coalition has not accomplished anything to preserve alternative cultural heritage. Some ADMers put it best in respect to this cultural aspiration: “You already have what you are looking for.”  

Ideally, each and every Amsterdammer should stand up and fight against the destruction of this fundamental piece of the city’s alternative culture. Some citizens are already showing support by signing the pro-ADM petition, by sending financial contribution, by volunteering at ADM events, and by fighting the destruction of Amsterdam’s alternative culture. On December 15, a demonstration will take place in Jonas Daniël Meijerplein to protest against the sell-out of Amsterdam’s public and cultural spaces. 

Valeria Mongelli is a student at University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

  • Reporter (Spring 2018)
  • Reporter (Fall 2018)
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Comments 3

  1. Valeria is unrightful to say that Parool accused Kock of talking about adm in a deregatory way.the reference article u linked is reader s opinion sent to the paper…

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  2. Pingback: THE AMSTERDAMMER Building in Center Occupied by Protesters: End Housing Shortage and Gentrification | THE AMSTERDAMMER

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