Walking around the now almost deserted centre of Amsterdam is an eerie experience. The vibrant noises and bustling streets usually awash with Amsterdammers and tourists alike are now exchanged with the once before inaudible melodies of the birds, every now and then broken with a tram bell as the handful of people still using its service passes by. Inside the inner alleys, high above conversations are heard as neighbours share a window chat, soft laughter and the pouring of drinks, or a softly lit face staring at a computer screen, working into the evening or raising a glass to loved ones in the now indispensable virtual hangouts. This is an Amsterdam incomparable to any other time, a collective new experience of a city adapting to a new paradigm.
Around De Wallen, or it’s international name of the Red Light District, the contrast is even starker. The unexpected good weather would normally have each square metre of real estate tightly filled, with the terraces overflowing and restaurants brimming with customers as a slurry of boats parade up and down the canals. In the absence of the crowds the area feels unrecognisable, the sounds and smells unique, the lack of air travel leaves a seldom seen magnificent rich blue sky complemented by the yellow and orange underneath… a rediscovery of an earlier world.
This week we enter the 10th week of the so called ‘Intelligent Lockdown’ and, as neighbouring countries begin to relax their own quarantines, Amsterdam will follow soon with the reopening of schools later this month. Soon these streets will return to what they know best. Perhaps it will be many more years until we see something comparable, but I am sure that the whole experience will leave a profound impression in the mind of how we live in cities, and how it is possible in such a short period of time to have noticeable cleaner air and less noise pollution. Perhaps we could learn, as we treat own bodies, that rest is a fundamental part of wellbeing and health? Who knows? At this point there are many possibilities of how the After will differ to the Before.
In one of the red alleyways on the way home a young couple cycles past me holding hands, talking a route that before would have been impossible to use, the dark shadows smattered with the red neon. During this period, the human contact that we are able to maintain is a vital necessity, incomparable and not under threat from any virtual experience. What Amsterdam and many other friends in different countries around the world have displayed, is that although we may be in lockdown, between us all, there is a light that will never go out.
Words and photos by Richard Rigby, Creative Artworker & Photographer at Design Bridge Amsterdam.