Church Disco in Amsterdam

This post deviates a bit from the beaten track to which EuroSavant readers are accustomed in that it does not take as its jumping-off point any sort of news article. Also, it has to do with something in Amsterdam, my home-base but nevertheless someplace to which I try not to give any special prominence on this site merely because of that fact.

No, it wasn’t a news article that got me thinking, but rather an e-mail from Vrij (Dutch: Free), which is basically one of the many party-impressario organizations in town – you know, they find someplace to hold a party, promote it, arrange for the equipment, DJ, security, bar staff to be there, and then make their money from tickets and drinks sold minus those costs. And the latest groovy venue they have found, for their party coming up on Friday evening, 14 September, happens to be the Oude Kerk or Old Church – Amsterdam’s oldest surviving building, dating from around 1306 and, well, basically a church.

I admit: this isn’t the first time they have done something like this. I recall receiving e-mailed tidings of at least two previous parties held in the Westerkerk – a different Amsterdam church, not as old of course, but still a plenty old church (1631, if you must know), with the city’s highest churchtower, where Rembrandt is buried (but anonymously, because he died indigent, so we don’t know exactly where), etc.

Maybe I didn’t take a close look at those Vrij communications back then. Anyway, the latest e-mail about the Oude Kerk 14 September event can really take you aback. (Its content is repeated exactly on a webpage on the Vrij site – in Dutch only, of course).

Now, keep in mind that the Oude Kerk happens to lie pretty much in the middle of Amsterdam’s famed Red Light District. The Vrij copywriter makes substantial use of that, in that second sentence from the top:

This sultry red light edition will sell out its tickets in record time, and here we’d like to offer you a look behind the red curtains. Here’s what is sitting behind the window.

Get it? “Red curtains”? “Behind the window”? Unambiguous references to the ladies of the night who ply their trade in the immediate neighborhood. And the “sultry” meaning corresponding to that Dutch zwoele, as in English, carries with it distinct sexual overtones.

Well, and what is sitting behind that window? A selection:

  • Right up top there is listed a geil back-room massage, “including happy end!” Geil, by the way, in Dutch (as in German) means “lecherous, lascivious.” Now, despite all this sort of language one would still hope that what is being spoken of here is a regular sort of message – especially given the special nature of the venue – rather than that sort of activity for which “massage” is so often a euphemism elsewhere in this part of town. But how can one be sure that they will not be turning tricks within the Old Church now, in addition to all around it? Parties like this are not supposed to be mere fronts for prostitution, especially within the oldest church in town, even if that town is Amsterdam – right?
  • Leger des onheils. Well, Leger des Heils is Dutch for the “Salvation Army,” so the only possible translation of this is “Unsalvation Army.”
  • Lustige Lodie’s 16 mm erotheek: What is an erotheek? That “ero(s)” there in the front part of the word makes you nervous, right? And your instincts are correct: it’s a sex-toy shop. And the “16 mm” suggests that erotic films are part of the equation. Yes, that’s what they will have there on September 14, there under the venerable 700-year-old roof of the Oude Kerk.
  • Finally, we have De biecht fabriek. “The confession factory.” Because the very idea of “confession” is just so quaint, don’t you think? – as is the notion of “sin” to which it is conceptually related.

The text continues after the bullet-points: “All this accompanied by the sensual sounds of the VRIJ resident DJs,” of which the first-listed is Reuben Alexander who, funnily enough, is described as “fully recharged for you guys after a journey of spiritual discovery of a month to the wellspring of music.”

Cool! Hey there, Reuben, on that “spiritual journey” of yours did you happen to discover anything, anyone, any place that you would consider as sacred, that is, as worthy of veneration, as something you would never dare to build a party around, as somewhere where your “sounds,” as “sensual” as they might be, would be strictly out of place? You’ll be playing (and earning a pretty penny as well) on September 14 in the oldest Christian church in Amsterdam, so that apparently does not qualify . . .

. . . with its more than seven hundred years of history (that’s about 28 generations) behind it, through wars, plagues, plundering by the Protestants, occupation by Louis XIV’s and Napoleon’s French, the German Nazis, etc. . . .

. . . with who-knows-how-many skeletons of the deceased of centuries ago buried beneath the very church floors upon which inebriated young people will be deliriously hopping in a few weeks’ time . . .

. . . with ground that is supposed to be consecrated, dedicated to religious worship, but which apparently these days is open to whichever highest bidder to earn money for the local Amsterdam governmental coffers.

Naturally, I’ll have nothing to do with this, or with any party held in any other church. But it makes me think about the attitudes some outsiders have of Amsterdam, as the ultimate place where anything goes. I still do think that that is inaccurate, that the city is peopled by serious, industrious and, yes, moral inhabitants, despite the Red Light District, despite the Gay Pride weekend (highlighted by the ultra-exhibitionist boat-parade along the canals – we just got through with that less than two weeks ago) – and now this. I see that I might have to think again.

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