23 June 2012

The Museum of the Amsterdam Canals

The Dutch name for this museum, Het Grachtenhuis, translates as Canal House which is a better name for it than The Museum of the Amsterdam Canals as it says very little about canals.

What it says a lot about is the history of Amsterdam and it does this through the stories of real people.

This was my third history of Amsterdam in three days. The other two had primarily looked at buildings and planning so the people angle was different again.

The Canal House (as I shall now call it) was easily technically the cleverest museum that I have ever been to and the clever things were very clever without being so clever that they swamped the story that they were trying to tell.

You have to have the audio guide and that is magic too. It knows what room you are in and tells you the appropriate story. In some of the rooms you can choose additional stories too.

The main part of the museum, up on the first floor is where all the clever stuff is.

There are a series of rooms and each one does something involving movement and sound.

In the first room you sit and watch a short video (if that's the right word) of the early history of Amsterdam.

All the buildings and backdrop here are white and images play across them.

This is a clever way of showing the seasons and major events like fires.

Another room shows some of the houses being built and little models inside can be seen cutting wood and knocking it in to place while the audio commentary adds the sounds of construction.

A highlight was the cleverest room.

A model house shows how each of the rooms would have been used while video (again the word is wrong) figures enacted little scenes for us.

If you look carefully you can see the piano through the pianist.

Each room in the house has its own story that you can select from the commentary. Surprisingly the English translation is very modern and very good.

The rooms are laid out in a circuit and there is one way through. I wish I had understood that from the outset and then I would have spent more time in the map room and taken some pictures there.

At one point you are asked to look outside through a window at the garden below where, you are told, the flower bed has been divided with metal sheets to show the pattern of houses in a specific street. Most of the plots are the same size but richer people bought two plots together to build one large house.

Another room had a large model of Amsterdam and I mentioned in a previous post that I always take photos of such models, and I did.

There was another film in this room and that required the shutters to open and close, which they did all by themselves.

This was a good room and I sat through the film twice.

I think some of the guides who were making sure that people did not get lost or stuck were getting a little bemused by then at how slowly I was going round. There was so much to see and I wanted to see it all.

The ground floor was a touch more traditional though we still had the audio guides and one room was stuffed with iPads promoting their Go!Canals app.

We were told the story of one of the previous owners of the house. A family had fled to Amsterdam from the south (that seemed to happen a lot) and set up in banking and architecture.

For a while they owned a chunk of the new territories in what is now the USA before it got occupied by land-grabbers they had to sell it.

The reception rooms of the Canal House are decorated as they would have been when the house was built and on display are several items relating to the house and its first occupants, such as these plans for the house, paintings and some business accounts.

By focusing on the people who lived through the history the Canal House tells that history in an engaging way that imparts knowledge while pretending to be simple entertainment. Nice trick.

1 comment:

  1. Just visited it today and share your opinion - was clever without being patronizing and I was actually enjoying multi-media presentation much more than I expected. It is a nice sequel to a story if you have already visited Amsterdam's History Museum.

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